The owner of Ginny the rabbit was alarmed to find that her once-healthy bunny had developed a striking head tilt.
The condition, known as torticollis, makes the neck twist, causing a bunny’s head to tilt dramatically to one side. It has many causes, including ear infections, strokes, brain tumors, and other forms of head trauma.
In Ginny’s case, however, her head was tilting because of a parasite—Encephalitozoon cuniculi.
Ginny was likely born with the protozoa in her bloodstream. It is common for pet bunnies to be infected by the microorganism, though it wasn’t recognized as a disease-causing parasite until recently. Lack of understanding of the disease may have been spurred by the fact that the intricacies of rabbits in general are not very well known to much of the public. Partly as a result of that, rabbits are the third most abandoned pet in the United States.
The parasite can be transmitted from a mother bunny to her babies before they are born, or a bunny can contract it by eating contaminated food or drinking water with the parasite in it. Once the parasite enters the bloodstream, it travels throughout the body of the bunny, mostly gathering in its neural pathways. In many cases, it can remain dormant. It is unclear if the parasite itself causes neural damage that leads to the head tilt while it is replicating, or if the bunny’s immune system does damage to the neural pathways while trying to fight the parasite. Severe cases can quickly become fatal.
Ginny’s owner, Caroline Rohwedder, who lives in Austin, Texas, said her pet appeared to be perfectly healthy in 2012 when she adopted the bunny, who was three years old at the time. But in 2013, that suddenly changed.
“I woke up one morning and her head was sideways,” Rohwedder told Caters News.
Rohwedder says Ginny received the best medical care possible, and she can now run and jump like any other rabbit. Ginny has seemingly learned to compensate for her new perspective of the world and her life with a tilted head is happy and healthy, says Rohwedder. Ginny even has an Instagram account documenting her adventures, with over 45,000 followers.
Dana Krempels, a senior lecturer and the director of undergraduate studies for the University of Miami’s biology department, has specialized in house rabbits for over 30 years. She says the head tilt can be reversible, depending on how fast it’s addressed and what the underlying cause is.
“Sometimes if you treat an acute case very quickly, it can resolve,” she says. “More commonly, it’s a chronic infection. Sometimes there’s a tilt that’s left over forever.”
Treatment for a head tilt can go on for weeks, and a blood test is the only way to know for sure if a parasite is causing the issue, Krempels says. There are drugs that can fight off the parasite, like benzamidazole, which is given once a day for a month.
If the cause of the tilting is a parasite, then the bunny may make a full recovery from the infection. But it could still end up with a permanent head tilt. In fact, the condition is more likely to be permanent from a parasite infection than from another underlying cause.
Rohwedder told Caters News that many people have suggested Ginny should be euthanized.
“It’s terrible because they are basing that on her looks, because they think she looks ‘broken’,” she says.
But the video suggests what Rohwedder insists—that Ginny is a happy, healthy bunny who loves treats and snuggling.
Krempels agrees that rabbits with tilted heads can live fulfilling lives.
“Once the underlying cause has been addressed and [is] under control, the bunny can be quite happy,” she says. “It’s not a cause for euthanasia.”