Help an ailing bunny rabbit & his owner.
February 23, 2009 8:21 PM   Subscribe

Can you help me keep my bunny fed? He has head tilt and has trouble getting food.

Head tilt is just what it says - instead of a normal position, his head is turned so it is at an angle to the floor. He isn't in pain but is really disoriented. The Vet has him on antibiotics and there is a plan B in place if that treatment doesn't work, but this never clears up quickly.

The li'l guy really hates being fed by hand, he wants to nibble & chew on his schedule like he used to. But how? We need the food to sit at a proper angle in order for him to reach it and once he grabs the food it begins to move out of position.

We feed him lettuce, carrots and he has access to pellets (really hard for him to get at) and blocks of pressed timothy hay which he eats as he can. I'm going to throw in parsley as a treat, as well as other assorted green things to keep him interested in his food. We also try to get some pineapple in him now and then (good for digestion).

What I'm hoping for is some engineering options that will help keep food at the proper angle. So far we've come up with skewering food (not easy with lettuce in terms of keeping it standing up) and hanging carrots (then they move around).

His head is tilted to the left as you're facing him - it's a pretty severe angle, I'd say if normal position has his mouth at 90 degrees to the floor, right now it is at 150-160 degrees.

Any feats of engineering marvel you can think of? I will try anything I can make out of untreated wood, cardboard and hempish-string types of things. Untreated wickers are fine too, I just need to avoid rubber & plastics (don't want bunny chewing toxins).
posted by Salmonberry to Pets & Animals (7 answers total)
Have you tried these things? My former rabbit loved those things and they clip to the side of the cage.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 8:45 PM on February 23, 2009

Get one of those grates used to keep hay raised on the side of a cage. Sometimes they're called hay mangers and look like this or this. You could put loose hay or lettuce in there.
posted by barnone at 8:49 PM on February 23, 2009

Best answer: Anyway, uhh, I guess you're probably aware of this, but there's an actual website devoted to caring for bunnies with head-tilt, which might have some useful information for you: OnTheWonk. Best of luck to the little fella.
posted by turgid dahlia at 8:54 PM on February 23, 2009

I came in to suggest the hay manger route. The one I have is solid sheet metal rather than mesh and can be clipped to the outside of the cage so the veggies or hay sticks through the bars.

Is there any chance your dude would eat some Critical Care on his own if you put it on a plate that he could nibble at? I had a sick bunny awhile ago who also was not interested in syringe feeding. I would make a very thick paste of Critical Care (like super stiff mashed potato, not quite play-doh but close) and pile it up on a plate. He'd nibble at it when he felt like it. He seemed to enjoy the taste of the stuff. It's only available from vets though.
posted by cabingirl at 9:05 PM on February 23, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks for these - no, I didn't know about OnTheWonk, that's a great resource, and I'll look at the critical care option too. He's a bit of a fussy eater.
posted by Salmonberry at 9:16 PM on February 23, 2009

There's a yahoo group called EtherBun that has a gajillion bunny-owning members, some who are quite knowledgeable. If you don't get good solutions here at AskMe, that would be my next suggested resource.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 10:03 PM on February 23, 2009

My friend Emily had a bunny for years with head tilt. I asked her for advice and this is what she said:
Captain Bunny did not have any trouble eating when he was feeling ok. When he was having an ear infection I sometimes hand fed him or syringe fed him. I would feed him yogurt (acidophilus is important especially if he's on antibiotics), juice (apricot, pear, apple, peach -- all natural of course), applesauce, and bananas. He could smell the banana like 20' away. He would sometimes go into a roll in his box just trying to find where the banana was while I was on my way over! He never had trouble eating his favorites unless he was really sick. Some people feed vegetarian baby food.

I just re-read all the head tilt info on House Rabbit Society and the main thing is to keep the gut moving. If the bunny is not "into" eating he may be feeling blue in some way. So feed all the favorites, all those irresistible treats to keep him eating and happy. I also read to stick with the more pungent smelling and flavored foods. When he is feeling better he should go back to eating. He may just be adjusting, physically and emotionally. Keep him comfy and keep the stress down.

Captain Bunny had various degrees of head tilt, it changed with every infection (I think he had like 6 infections over 2 or 3 years), and he managed to eat like a pig with lots of enthusiasm. I did give up on a food dish and just placed a pile of pellets on the ground. I was also able to switch to a water bottle. He was just messier and needed his home cleaned daily. He was also very easy-going and did not get as easily stressed as most bunnies do. I don't think he cared which way was up as long as the bananas kept coming. He lived to be over 8 years, 4 years with head tilt.

As far as elevating the food:

1. If he is having trouble finding the food at ground level try whole leaves of ruffled kale and chunks (like a big wedge) of cabbage that are "taller" than a dish of pellets. Kale and cabbage are much more nutrient rich and fiber rich than lettuce anyway. The ruffled kale and crinkled cabbage may be easier to grab onto.

2. Could also try one of the hay feeders that clips to the outside of a wire cage, then the bunny could pull pieces of greens out of that. If he is in a box or bin due to head tilt a small whole could be cut into the side. The hay feeder provides a chute style delivery system.

3. What about one of those ash trays that have a bean bag style bottom? It would elevate the food and could be squished into an angle. One could possibly make something custom with that concept.

4. What about a rigging up an elevated, angled "ledge" across one side of the bunnies home? Perhaps a piece of pvc pipe cut length-wise and angled. The edge could be covered with wood or metal, although I would see if he chewed it before getting too complicated.

Pass along this link they have a wealth of info and take questions.
She also said I could give you her email address, so MeMail me if you want that.
posted by Karlos the Jackal at 12:24 PM on February 24, 2009

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