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Rabbits/Rabbit with Head Tilt Dies


We adopted a stray lop bunny five years ago. She has always been sickly with an upper respiratory infection. We returned from a two-week trip on Friday to find that Ebony had a head tilt; her left ear faced down. I scheduled an appointment with her vet for today but couldn't wait. As we were getting ready to do a walk-in appointment yesterday, Ebony stopped breathing.

What causes head tilt? Can it appear suddenly? (Ebony was in the care of our grown children, who didn't notice anything was wrong when we were away.) Could Ebony's upper respiratory infection have caused complications? (I read online that head tilt is curable.)

One more thing...Soon after my husband noticed that Ebony stopped breathing, I picked her up. She pooped and then peed. Does that happen at or after death? I'd like to think that she was still alive when I picked her up and that she died while I was holding her.

Dear Lisa,

I am so sorry about your terrible loss.  I'm glad you were with Ebony for her last moments, and it is possible that her little spirit did not leave her body until you held her.  The heart can continue beating for several minutes after breathing stops, so what you hope for is very likely the case.

Head tilt is a symptom of a bacterial (or sometimes parasite) infection, not an actual disease.  The head tilts when inflammation of the structures of the middle and inner ear cause lack of balance or even vertigo, and the head tilts to compensate.  The condition is treatable, but--like any infection--treatment is not always successful.  If you say Ebony was always sickly, the the infection may simply have become systemic before you could get her veterinary help.

Ebony's URI might have been related to her head tilt; sometimes bacterial infections can spread from one area of the body to another.  Also, rabbits with chronic runny noses often have dental problems that can facilitate spread of infection from the teeth to the nasal passages and the middle/inner ear.  Once the infection becomes that widespread, it can become life-threatening.

This type of problem is more common in lop-eared rabbits than in up-eared rabbits.  Not only does the ear canal not get the normal amount of air and drying out (which helps inhibit bacterial growth), but they often also have shortened faces that predispose them to dental malocclusion and related problems.

So it might be that she was a ticking time bomb because of her genetic heritage.

I am very sorry for your loss.  I hope this helps make things a little easier.




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Dana Krempels, Ph.D.


I've lived with companion rabbits for more than 35 years, and consider them members of my family. I can answer any questions about the biology and health of rabbits, from the commonplace to the unusual. But please note:

RULE #1:

Find a rabbit vet at for immediate help, and don't risk your bunny's life by spending time asking questions online! If you can't get in touch with your vet, read these Emergency Sick Bunny Instructions.

If you have found a wild baby rabbit, please read these EMERGENCY INSTRUCTIONS FOR WILD BABY RABBITS and then use this link to FIND A LOCAL WILDLIFE REHABILITATOR who can give you the right advice.

RULE #2:
Help me help you! Please make your subject line informative if you have an urgent question. then LET ME KNOW IN THE SUBJECT LINE so I can give your question highest priority over non-urgent questions. If you don't do this, then I can't guarantee timely assistance!

For all the best, most accurate rabbit health, care and behavior information, visit The House Rabbit Society.


I have been rescuing and rehabilitating domestic and wild rabbits for about 30 years. I have written articles for many rabbit rescue publications, as well as for the veterinary journal, Exotic DVM. I own EtherBun, the internet's largest listserve dedicated to health, care, and behavior of domestic rabbits.

Houserabbit Adoption, Rescue, and Education, Inc. (H.A.R.E., Inc.) president National House Rabbit Society (Board member)

Exotic DVM
Warren Peace (Journal of the House Rabbit Society of Miami)
Various newsletters of the House Rabbit Society, nationwide

Ph.D - Biology
B.S. - Biology
B.A. - English

Awards and Honors
Lightspan Academic Excellence Award for web site on rabbit health and biology

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