Head tilt is exactly what it sounds like: Your rat will tilt her head to one side. This can often cause balance issues, as well as dizziness and nausea, and can be very worrisome to watch.
There are multiple ailments that can cause head tilt, some more serious than others. Other symptoms accompanying head tilt can give you an idea of what’s going on with your rat, but it’s always best to seek medical assistance from a vet.
The more serious causes of head tilt include stroke or pituitary tumor. Other symptoms of stroke include paralysis to one side of the body, unequal pupil size, seizures, and lethargy. If you suspect a pituitary tumor may be the cause of your rat’s head tilt, look for an inability to hold food in the front paws. If your rat shows any of these symptoms, please seek medical attention as soon as possible.
More commonly, head tilt is a symptom of an ear infection. Ear infections are generally secondary infections, and usually accompany an upper respiratory infection. Sneezing is a pretty solid indicator, as well as other breathing difficulties. If your rat is tilting her head to one side, and also seems to have some itching or pain in their ear, or discharge and funny smells, she likely has an ear infection.
You’ll want to have her ear infection seen and treated as soon as possible to avoid her head tilt becoming permanent. The sooner you can get her relief, the more thoroughly she will heal. Ear drops are a wonderful beginning treatment if you can’t get in to a vet immediately. You can find these in a health food store, such as Natural Grocers. Ear drops will usually contain a blend of oils, including garlic oil. Garlic oil is a natural antibiotic, and will help your rat begin to feel some relief from her pain. Be sure her ears are completely dry before putting drops in them.
You can also flush her ears out with warm saline. Saline can be made at home with half a teaspoon of salt to one cup of water, boiled for 15 minutes. Allow to come to room temperature before flushing her ears, and be sure to dry her ears completely after cleaning them. Your vet will likely prescribe a systemic antibiotic for your rat to take orally to help combat the infection causing her distress. If she won’t take this straight, you can add it to something she really likes, like baby food or yogurt.
If your rat does have an ear infection, keep a close eye to makes sure she’s eating and drinking well. Sometimes ear infections can make your rat feel dizzy and nauseated, making her less likely to eat and drink. If you’re concerned she’s not eating enough, get a high calorie food paste for her to eat to make sure she’s getting enough nutrition. You can also keep the powder in the bottom of the food bag for emergency feeding. Just add water to make a paste.
When my baby was having trouble eating and drinking during her recent battle with an ear infection, I would hold her steady in my hand so she could just focus on food and drink. It helped her a great deal in taking in enough food and liquid in those first couple days when she was off balance. These symptoms will usually go away pretty quickly though with quick and proper treatment.