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 Special-Needs Rabbits: Working with Headtilt

by Alicia Maria Rosa-Perrotti

Starting on this journey wasn't one that I had planned or one I knew I even wanted but it has been joy even through the struggles. I want people to see that a bunny can continue to live a full life despite the tilt. It doesn't make him or her less perfect. It doesn't make them less happy than other bunnies. It just makes them special. 

I also don't want people to think that I believe EVERY rabbit with head-tilt can live with it. I think that you have to give your rabbit a chance to overcome it. I do know that it isn't just you fighting, you willing the bunny to live. It is the bunny fighting to live. You make a team, you work together to get through the tough days. 

Sometimes like when I started this you feel so overwhelmed. So scared, so hopeless. In those times seek out those who understand and lean on them till you get through. Sometimes those moments are short other times it is long. Just know that you will get through the muddy waters and see the sunshine again. 

Maybe growing up with a brother who is bipolar and watching my mom fight every day for him to get through. To make people see that he wasn't different that he was still a kid. She fought and taught us that when something is worth fighting for you fight. To choose our battles wisely. I chose my battle. Ringo Apple, and Gabriel are still a bunnies, they just needs a little help. 

Choosing Ringo as my battle there are still skirmishes. Like him not getting neutered. There are risks in that but one we let slide. Him getting a little more food than he should. Well, in the bad times I rather him have more weight he can afford to lose than weight he can't afford to lose. I pick and choose my battles when it comes to him. With Apple other than just making sure she has a safe space incase she rolls there isn’t much I have to do. Gabriel after his treatment we are just helping him learn to adapt to the tilt. 

Ringo was my first head-tilt bunny. He had been sneezing from the first day we brought him home July 8,2005. I thought sneezing was normal because I didn’t know bunnies I just knew dogs. The next day a friend of my soon to be husband thought that a great housewarming gift would be a bunny. Not just any bunny… a Flemish giant… Yea never in my life had I seen a bunny that big I should mention I had only seen bunnies twice in my life. Both times they were smelly backyard hutch bunnies. Turns out this bunny who we called Samantha was aggressive and I was scared of her. When I found out that she came from a bad situation I couldn’t let her go back. I started to do research in how to reach her in that I found out bunnies should see vets and that the sneezing like Ringo was doing was not normal. Within a week I had a vet and they were booked for an appointment for January 16, 2006. 

He started on one med after another each working for a short span of time but by April 1st I knew something was wrong. By the night of April 2nd I planned on making a vet visit. We knew he was off, not wanting to come out of his cage. When we took him out he ran back in. Than he hid under the couch when we went to pull him out he just started to roll. It's hard to say what tipped us off. I would say the key was just us knowing Ringo. Knowing his habits, knowing the things that make him who he is. Instantly from my research I knew what was going on. He was rolling and was trying to wedge himself against anything that would offer support. His head had gone from straight to almost a past 90 degree angle. I called the vet and told them we were coming, and emailed someone I knew from a yahoo group begging for her to call me and help. Thank god she answered my plea; she put me in contact with someone who had been through this before. They told me what to ask, what to watch out for. Most importantly that if I was told he needed to be put down to run that this vet had no clue what they were doing

Thank god that I already had a good start on it due to looking for a vet before we really needed one. At the vet the first thing I heard was “We don’t have to put him down, we can treat this.” That it could be long but it was possible. It is a battle we have fought for three and half years; we have had Ringo for four and half years. He went through several treatments before one finally helped him. It was me doing research and asking around that found it. What finally worked was azithromax and pen g combo for a month. He has been healthy for the most part; small flare ups quickly treated have kept it in check. I would love to touch more on the medical side but that is hard to write up for me not my field of expertise.

What I can tell you is what to ask, things that you should do. First is give yourself a moment to panic. Trust me it’s normal to panic. Your baby is sick and you know it. You have a right to be afraid. Your heart freezes and than breaks when you know that battle that is ahead. Be strong but don’t be afraid to lean on somebody. With head-tilt a lot of vets will jump to say e.cunniculi but the truth is with EC you would have already have seen some signs of illness. Most head-tilt cases are cause by an infection deep in the inner ear. Try to get a culture done to see what is causing it. It can be different things, with Ringo it was pasteurella and with Gabriel it was yeast. Have them run a sensitivity test to find what medicine would work best. Make sure you treat it all not just the infection. Treat the dizziness. Most vets would prescribe bonine. Treat the pain because yes there can be slight pain. Each case, each bunny is different. The basic protocol is the same just how each bunny handles it is different. The most important thing is that you try and have a vet before you really need one. Seek one out before the need arises. Have more than one, make sure you have someone to turn to at night and on the weekend. My vets office is open all week. All day there is always at least one that knows small animals.

With Apple she was stepped on when she was just a week old. It was an accident that most didn’t think she would survive but she did. Than a few months shy of her second birthday she made her journey from Ohio to Connecticut. We believe that she just has permanent nerve damage, Gabriel went several months untreated for head-tilt. Sadly with no treatment for so long his tilt is permanent not that is stops him or the other two.

The expense in Ringo’s case is honestly kind of scary but that is because we have been fighting so long. It goes into the thousands. Teresa we spent a total of $75. Apple was treated before she came to us and Gabriel’s bills the rescue handles. Our social life took a dive but one well worth it. Now that Ringo is stable we can get away for a few days and my brother will stay with them all. 

Ringo is my main reason for doing what I do. When our little Teresa came down with head-tilt our fast response because of our experience made sure that she made a 100% recovery. When I heard about Apple we didn’t realize that we were starting on new journey, one that now lead us to Gabriel an angel that needed a helping hand.

Now the hard part I am well aware that not every bunny can survive, that some just don’t have the strength. You have to know if your bunny can and you will. Then it is up to you to make sure your bunny doesn’t suffer and yes it means you may have to make the choice to end his or her pain. Just know that you are doing the right thing and they know you love them. Another scenario is you can’t afford treatment or you can’t handle it. Not everyone can than it is up to you to find someone who can. Don’t let the bunny suffer - work hard. There are others like me out there who will take these bunnies in. Who will love them and care for them. Don’t be ashamed if you can’t. It is hard and those who have dealt with it will understand.

Ringo has not at any time ever let the head-tilt stop him. He heads into everything at full speed and bowls every one over with his zest for life. Apple is a speed demon and a not so secret member of the Dutch mafia. She can be the sweetest thing on the face of the earth but can make sure you know where you stand with a well placed nip. Gabriel is a sweetheart who is still finding his footing in his tilted world. They do not let the tilt stop them, with there will to live and to show everyone just how special they are. They make sure that if you meet them that you fall in love and make the statement that there is something more to them.

Our babies made a big difference on how my husband and I view things. They each have taught us something different. Ringo to live and have hope. Apple to fight and have courage. Gabriel to forgive and to have joy. It gave us a jolt that has spear headed us into a goal of creating a sanctuary for bunnies like our three angels. It opened my eyes to the need for people who can foster, for people who can donate, for people who can speak out for those who can’t. To be a voice for the rabbits we love. Rejoice in the knowledge that their disability does stop them from being active loving rabbits that they live each day in harmony.

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