Hi, I'm Bugsy! Mrs. Brighton asked if I would write a guest post, so here I am!
I'm a Huntsville Friends of Rabbits sanctuary bunny and I live at the main foster house. The reason I'm a sanctuary bunny is because I have head tilt. Head tilt is like vertigo, it causes such dizziness that bunnies can't stay upright, but instead lose their balance and roll. I have had a long journey to recovery, and I wanted to tell you all about it. I especially want you to know that head tilt bunnies can have an awesome life - please don't give up on us!
I first came to my foster mom and dad when I was just a few months old. My former people were going on vacation and needed a petsitter for me. They hadn't had me for very long and I had just developed head tilt. They had taken me to a rabbit savvy vet, and she had very cautiously given me a steroid shot which had helped. (Please note: steroids are very dangerous for bunnies, and my vet did this with very mixed feelings. It was a mild steroid, but she still did not feel comfortable about it!) Beyond this my people weren't really interested in getting me the aggressive care that head tilt bunnies need. They weren't bad people, but I'm not sure they understood how sick I was.
I was able to be in an open pen at first, but I deteriorated during the two weeks I stayed with my foster mom until I couldn't be in any space other than a padded carrier. My people agreed to let her take me back to my vet, who again very cautiously gave me a steroid shot as well as other meds. They helped, but not as much as before. When my people returned from vacation my foster mom had a long talk with them about what taking care of a bunny with serious head tilt would entail. They were very good people, but they felt they could not give me the aggressive care I needed. So at this point my foster mom became my real mom!
Notice how I am bracing myself with my front feet. It was such an effort to keep from rolling! Unless I was completely padded with towels I couldn't control myself. It was hard for my mom to watch because she knew I was suffering, but she had seen other head tilt bunnies recover completely and wanted to give me a chance.
The first thing my mom did was take me back to my vet for a complete workup to see if we could find the cause of my head tilt. Usually it's caused by an ear infection, or a parasite called e. cuniculli, and both are treatable (although the treatment can be long and intensive).
In my case neither of these was the cause, and we don't really know why I have head tilt except that there seems to be nerve damage. My former people used to let me run loose in their back yard, and they said I ate the plants out there. Maybe I ate something that caused damage to my nervous system. I guess we'll never know. Steroids helped, but since they are very, very dangerous for rabbits I couldn't stay on them. So my mom and my vet decided to treat me with some non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, meclizine (for motion sickness), and physical therapy.
For the first few weeks I was with my mom all the time. She couldn't carry me in her arms because being lifted sent me rolling, so she carefully carried my carrier downstairs in the morning and upstairs at night.
I slept next to the bed, too. Here's my dad saying goodnight to me.
Despite my wobbliness it soon became clear that I was the nose-iest rabbit ever. I just love being all up in everybody's business! As I got better I spent most of my time with my head on the carrier edge trying to see what everybody was doing. My mom encouraged me, as stretching my neck out and up like this is part of physical therapy.
And that carrier was not going to contain me for long! I was determined to get better.
I had people to help me, too! Besides my vet, one of my mom's friends, my Aunt Heather, was an occupational therapist who gave her lots of advice about how to help me. I got neck massages and other kinds of physical therapy. It helped so much.
It wasn't long before I was moving up! My foster mom figured out how to attach a water bottle to a small storage container in such a way that I wouldn't hurt myself on it.
It was great to be in a bigger space. Room to stretch out, and I could also have some toys! I soon learned to rearrange my towels to cushion my head.
I love sea grass mats, and my foster mom put them up above my head so I would have to stretch my neck a little to play with them. I still have my toys up like this, it's very good physical therapy.
I also used my water bottle as a toy. I actually ruined about one a month because I loved to jerk them around and chew on them! It was so nice to have water anytime I wanted, and not have to rely on my mom to give me syringes of water!
My mom and dad just loved me and tried to make sure I wasn't bored. My dad taught me how to give kisses!
And my mom took my tub outside when she was gardening, so I could get some fresh air and watch the birds. I love being outside (but ONLY when it's cool out and my mom is with me!)
Pretty soon I was doing so well my mom moved me to a bigger tub. I could really stretch out with this one, and my balance got better and better. I rolled much less frequently. I actually had two of these tubs, one next to my mom's bed, and the other in her studio. I was doing well enough so she could carry me downstairs in her arms, so it was easier just to have two tubs than carry one up and down. Being able to be held without rolling was a big step forward.
Aunt Heather found me an inflatable collar to help with my physical therapy. It was actually a type of e collar for dogs and cats who have had surgery, but for me it worked to keep my head from moving to the side, which helped me to keep from rolling. It also kept my head forward, which was important because my x rays showed that one of my neck bones was becoming deformed from having my head to the side so much.
I really didn't like the collar at first, but wearing it for a few hours a day helped me so much. I still wear it!
My mom took this picture of me relaxing. She just loves my big ol' feet!
I just kept getting better and better! Part of my physical therapy was being on the bed with my mom, propped with pillows, and getting my massages. I was more and more stable and I wasn't rolling hardly at all. This picture was taken with my favorite toy. It was actually made for parrots, but my vet said it was bunny-safe. These straw parrot toys are good for head tilt bunnies because they are soft. If we roll on them, they won't hurt us. They are also so much fun to tear apart!
After a few months of my storage tubs, I moved up again. I actually moved into a cage! Most bunnies would not be at all happy about a cage, but it was huge compared to what I had been in. It was twice as long and about a foot wider than my tubs. The extra space was just what I needed, and during my nightly physical therapy sessions on the bed my mom noticed that I didn't really need to be propped up with pillows any more.
So much room to move!!
After a few months of my cage, a happy accident occurred. My mom and dad went away on a trip and brought me over to my Aunt Heather's while they were gone. But they forgot to put my cage in the car. My Aunt Heather had the idea to put me in her dog's kiddie pool - minus the water of course! It was the best place ever! It was even bigger than the cage, and it had soft sides so I couldn't hurt myself. Surrounded with a low exercise pen so I couldn't possibly get out, my water bottle and toys could be tied to the sides. It was just awesome! I did so well in this pool that my Aunt Heather let me take it home with me! I think all head tilt bunnies should have kiddie pools!
My straw mats and hay box could still be put up a little higher than my head so I could have some physical therapy while reaching for them.
Streeeeeetchiing is good for me!
And now look at me! A couple of months ago my Aunt Heather surprised my mom and I with this giant kiddie pool she found at Dollar General! Notice there is no padding around the sides - I am so stable now that I don't need my rolls of towels anymore! My friend Miranda donated some awesome non-slip rugs that have helped me keep my footing, too. They've helped me so much.
I do still like to play with my water bottles though. I don't destroy them anymore, but I still shake them a lot. I have two, so despite all my shaking them I never run out of water!
So there it is - the story of how I have recovered from head tilt. I've gone from being a very sick bunny who couldn't stand on her own, to being a happy girl who bounces around her pool with minimal rolling. Although my head is usually at a jaunty angle and I know I look a bit strange, I have a pretty normal life now with just a few adjustments for my condition. I am such a happy bunny, and the only time I am ever in a carrier is when I am visiting my veterinarian!
So my message to everyone is: Don't give up on head tilt bunnies! It may take awhile for us to recover, but given a chance we can live very happy lives!