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All of our rabbits are special in their own ways, but sometimes unexpected circumstances make caring for them extra challenging. Providing the care they need no matter what comes along is both difficult and rewarding.

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Hi everyone!

Welcome back to Animal Wonders. I'm Jessi, and this is Cheeks.

I absolutely love caring for all the rabbits we have here at Animal Wonders, and like many of the rescued animals that live here, caring for them comes with its own challenges. Today I'd like to share the highs and lows of caring for our rabbits because. I think our story shows off some of the realities of rescuing and caring for animals in a variety of ways. [CHEERY INTRO MUSIC].

So we've taken in some amazing rabbits over the years:. Cheeks, Hazel, Earl Grey, and Bigwig. All of them are Netherland dwarfs or dwarf mixes, and they each have their own stories and personalities.

I really like having rabbits for the educational side of our organization's mission, but I also like being able to take in rabbits that need a safe and permanent home. With each rabbit that comes in, our care has changed depending on their needs and wants. Cheeks was our first little guy that we took in.

He was such an incredible ambassador for 9 years and was probably our most popular animal at local events. Everyone knew his name and he was our most requested ambassador at shows. For the last 2 years, Cheeks has been retired and he's living a low stress life with all of his particular needs being met.

Cheeks was retired when he started showing signs of severe GI distress over even minimal stress. Some things that really upset him are: free time in a larger space like the hallway or outside, switching out his favorite toy for a new one, traveling to shows, and nail trims are especially stressful. Since he's about 11 years old and in his golden years, we've made the choice to just give him what makes him the most comfortable, even if that means he keeps his raggedy old hedgehog toy and stays in a small enclosure.

Because it's what he wants. He still gets lots of attention every day and he clearly loves it because he comes running to the front of the enclosure for pets and gives lots of licks in return. So as we made the choice to move Cheeks into retirement, we still wanted to educate about rabbits, so when we were asked to take in Hazel a couple of years ago, we said yes.

Hazel has such a sweet and gentle personality, and that makes him just the best ambassador because he's so relaxed about traveling and excited audiences. But we wanted to make sure that Hazel was introduced to another rabbit as soon as possible so that he would have a companion for life. We did try introducing Cheeks and Hazel and it was not a good fit, so when a family asked if we had room for their pet rabbit, we hoped it would work out much better.

We welcomed Earl Grey into Animal Wonders and set a vet appointment for Hazel to get neutered to give them the best chance at becoming friends. The two took a bit to get to know each other, but once they formed a bond, they were just the best buddies. Now, Earl Grey came to us in pretty rough shape, with a respiratory infection and urine burn on his back end from an unclean environment.

But after a month of special care in quarantine where he got a clean environment and was switched to a nutritious diet, he made a great turnaround. And after moving in with Hazel, Earl Grey became an ambassador and met so many kids over the summer and the beginning of last school year. He educated thousands of kids, and I'm so incredibly proud of his legacy.

Unfortunately, even with great care, sometimes things happen that you can't control. A few months ago, Earl Grey got really sick and stopped eating, so we gave him supportive care including 3 times daily Critical Care syringe feedings. When we just couldn't get him stable enough on his own, we did a full work up and discovered that he had a congenital malformation of his teeth.

His molars were growing into his airway inside his skull, causing inflammation and pain, and there was nothing we could do to fix it. Since we couldn't ease his pain and there was no cure, we made the hard decision to have him humanely euthanized. As we mourned Earl Grey, we also knew that Hazel would be missing his friend too, so we started looking out for another rabbit that might be a good companion.

This came right around the start of the pandemic, so everything got way more challenging. But surprisingly, about two months ago one of our employees who had been working remotely said her friend was looking to re-home her rabbit. He was an unneutered 3 year old male who was friendly but not well handled, and he had never had a companion before.

She sent us a picture with the description, and we couldn't help but notice that he looked really similar to Earl Grey. As it is with rescuing displaced animals, even when something sounds like it will work out perfectly, it usually ends up being really complicated. But I was hopeful that it would work out, and I wanted to give him a chance.

So we took in this big boy, who is going through a shed right now. We got Bigwig all set up to go through his quarantine period, he was given a full exam by our vet, neutered, and transitioned to a nutritious diet of hay, pellets, and a variety of fresh produce. After his quarantine was complete and he was deemed healthy, we started the introduction to Hazel.

And it went so well! Surprisingly well. Bigwig and Hazel didn't fight at all, and they quickly figured out their hierarchy.

See, rabbits always have a hierarchy in their relationships, and when you're introducing them they can sometimes take awhile to work that out. Bigwig was immediately dominant and Hazel was calmly submissive. A week later the two were living together and I was so happy that they were such a good fit.

Then, things went sideways. One morning I walked in and found Hazel was not doing well at all. He was disoriented and couldn't stand up straight, and his head was tilted completely to one side.

I got him to the vet to get him checked out so we could see what was the cause of this sudden head tilt. Head tilt is a symptom that rabbits exhibit for a variety of reasons, and it's imperative that you figure out the cause and start treatment right away for the best chance of their survival. And here's our sweet little Hazel.

So, back to his story... We ran some tests including an ear exam, palpation of his neck and spine, and sending a blood test to the lab. There was no sign of an ear infection or an injury to his vertebrae, so our vet could temporarily rule those out and focus on the most likely cause, which is a parasite called Encephalitozoon cuniculi.

So we started him on an anti-parasitic medication and waited for the results from the blood test. If he had the parasite, then we did the right thing by starting treatment right away. And if the test came back negative, then the medication wouldn't harm him and we could explore other causes.

A few days later the lab reported their findings, and we got a diagnosis that his head tilt had a 93% chance of being caused by E. cuniculi. The parasite E. cuniculi is not uncommon in rabbits, and it can cause neurological damage resulting in the dramatic head tilt, cataracts, and/or kidney failure. Diagnosing Hazel with the parasite meant that we were on the right track for his treatment, but it's not as simple as just giving him the medication and it's not a quick fix.

Hazel will need the anti-parasitic medication once a day for 30 days, and as he goes through his treatment, he'll also need lots of special care and attention for weeks or even months. Our vet also said that there is a chance that the head tilt could be caused by something else, like a deep inner ear infection that wasn't seen in the exam. Or it could be a stroke, or even something we can't determine without more intense investigation.

So, we're keeping a close eye on Hazel and doing everything we can to make him comfortable and keep him strong. Right now, we're two weeks into his anti-parasitic treatment, and while he is showing some signs of improvement, it's still really hard to see him in this condition. Since this is a common ailment for rabbits, we're lucky that there's information that we can look at to know the best way that we can help Hazel through this.

Some of the things we're providing him are: we've separated Bigwig to give Hazel space to heal. We've locked Hazel out of his hutch so he doesn't hurt himself trying to move too much. We're giving him Panacur for the parasite, and we also recently started him on antibiotics and a pain reliever.

This will cover all of our bases, since we weren't seeing as dramatic an improvement as we hoped to see within the first week. He's getting syringe fed Critical Care 3 times a day to keep him hydrated and to make sure his GI tract doesn't go into stasis. So we're dedicated to giving him the support he needs for as long as it takes.

The hard part about this diagnosis is that we can't see the future and we don't know how this will turn out. The reason I'm sharing all of this with you is because I wanted you to know that while we share a lot of the good animal stories on our channel, caring for sick and injured animals is also part of our mission. And this is what it looks like to do the best that you can and be dedicated to the well-being of these little guys, no matter what happens.

So, we're looking at a variety of possible outcomes for Hazel after his treatment is complete. Sometimes torticollis, which is what you call the twisting you see in Hazel, can be a permanent condition even after the parasite is eliminated, but the rabbit learns to compensate and can live a good life. Sometimes the parasite can go dormant and symptoms go away, and then they come back years later.

And sometimes the head tilt is so severe that the rabbit can't eat, drink, or hop around, and their quality of life is so poor that they need to be euthanized. But sometimes, and this is what we're hoping for, is the parasite is eliminated and everything goes back to normal. Now, this situation is even more complicated because we don't know where the parasite originated since we don't have a complete history on any of our rabbits.

At first thought, it seems like the newest rabbit, Bigwig, might be the culprit. But E. culini, which is spread through their urine, takes over 2-3 weeks from infection to the rabbit showing symptoms. And Bigwig was only with Hazel for 8 days before Hazel's head tilt suddenly showed up.

And that doesn't leave enough time for Bigwig to have infected Hazel. So, it's possible that the parasite had been dormant until now. Maybe Hazel got it from his mother or from when he was out in the wild for a month before coming to us.

Or maybe Earl Grey had it and didn't show clinical signs, but passed it to Hazel. We just don't know where it came from, so to be safe we're also treating Bigwig with the anti-parasitic medication because he was with Hazel for those 8 days and they shared a litter box. And even though Bigwig isn't showing any signs of being infected, he could still have it.

Now, as we're giving Hazel the support he needs to keep fighting this, we are seeing some improvements. For the first 3 days his eyes were moving nonstop, but now they aren't spinning as much. And he's also started to eat on his own, though not quite enough to keep him fully nourished.

These are some good signs, and they make me really hopeful for his recovery. But, we also have to keep in mind that we can't control how he reacts, and he might have permanent head tilt. And while some rabbits can live a good life with head tilt, others can't.

And Hazel's quality of life is our top priority. And that's one of the hardest parts of caring for animals. We can't always control what happens, and sometimes we can do everything possible to help an animal live their best life, and it's still not enough.

It hurts me to see Hazel struggling, and I know it might be hard for you to see it too, but I wanted to share what we're going through because these challenges are a part of caring for animals. And also, if you're going through this struggle too, I'm hoping this will help you know that you're not alone. I want to remember and highlight that our focus is to rescue displaced animals and give them a good home where we can share their awesomeness with others!

And we've done that for 4 amazing rabbits who all deserve to be loved and cared for to the best of our ability. Caring for rabbits comes with so many perks because they're just these adorable but powerful bundles of personality. My hope is that we can help Hazel through this, and even if he has a permanent head tilt he'll be able to eat and get around just fine, and then Bigwig can rejoin him as his support buddy.

Rabbits are really fascinating animals from a biological aspect, but also as individuals. Please give Hazel some extra good thoughts, and if you've been through something similar and you'd like to share, please leave your story in the comments so we can all learn and support each other. Thanks for letting me share our story, and I'll keep you updated on Hazel's recovery as things progress.

And I will see you next week with some more animal adventures. Bye! [BOLD OUTRO MUSIC].