faces of a group of rabbits
The anatomy and placement of rabbit’s eyes are one reason for eye health concerns. Peyman Toodari/Unsplash

Due to their peculiar position and shape, eyes are one of a rabbit’s strongest assets in escaping predators and unexpected danger. Still, they are also a big weakness when it comes to disease and health issues. To fully understand your bunny’s delicate eye anatomy, as well as efficiently address any possible eye conditions, following is a concise and useful guideline to proper rabbit eye care. Always consult a rabbit-savvy veterinarian if you suspect your rabbit has a health issue.

Why Are Rabbits So Susceptible To Eye Infections?

Although it profoundly helps in the wilderness, the rabbit’s eye placement and size are what make them so vulnerable and susceptible to injury and trauma.

Since they are basically placed on the opposite sides of the head, rabbit eyes are too exposed and can easily get damaged by different foreign bodies like food, large-enough particles of dirt, or anything that could injure the delicate eye cornea, the transparent outermost layer of the eyeball. This can result in ulcers, eye abscess, and lesions, which, if developed into chronic infections, become very painful and cause swelling and itchiness.

Common Eye Problems In Rabbits And Treatment For Them

If you notice alarming symptoms like discharge, constant scratching, swelling, or redness, consult a trusted, rabbit-savvy veterinarian who will quickly provide your bunny with the right treatment. It may be just a common, treatable infection. A veterinarian who regularly treats rabbits knows which antibiotics and treatments are safe for rabbits. Eye problems develop promptly in rabbits and can indicate different issues, so never diagnose or treat your bunny without professional help.

Dacryocystitis

Another anatomical misfortune is the position of the rabbit’s teeth, several of which are just below the eyes’ tear ducts. When the upper teeth grow too long, or there’s another dental problem, the teeth put pressure on the nasolacrimal ducts and cause watering, swelling, and a sticky, white discharge. This inflammation, called dacryocystitis, is very irritating. You may notice your bunny scratching its eyes or keeping them shut.

For simple cases, vets usually treat this infection with medication and by flushing the duct to remove mucus and pus with a saline solution.

Rabbit Eye Ulcers

Ulcers occur from damage to the eye cornea, usually in the form of a defect, wound, or a puncture/hole in the eyeball. It’s a common problem that happens due to rabbits fighting, hay or grass affecting the eye, or just as a consequence of an accident. The damage causes a bacterial infection, which is very painful and irritating.

To treat an ulcer, your vet first determines the extent of it with fluorescein drops and then gives a suitable antibiotic treatment.

Conjunctivitis

This condition is basically a bacterial infection of the pink flesh surrounding the eye, called the conjunctiva. Also known as pink eye, conjunctivitis usually occurs when the rabbit is exposed to dirty water or lives in poor conditions like a filthy cage.

The treatment includes antibiotic eye drops or ointment.

Cataract

rabbit face
Check your rabbit’s eyes daily. Healthy eyes are bright and free of discharge or discoloration. Daniel Watson/Unsplash

You know your bunny suffers from a cataract if you notice a milky, cloud-like layer on top of one or both of their eyes. Various conditions cause cataracts, including a poor diet, diabetes, or genetics. A common cause in young rabbits is the parasite Encephalitozoon cuniculi, which can pass from mother to babies before birth. E. cuniculi can affect rabbits of any age and also can cause other health issues.

Surgical removal of the cataract is possible and usually recommended. Although it can cause partial or complete blindness, rabbits are able to adapt well to this vision impairment and rely on other senses efficiently.

Cataract surgery may also prevent one cause of the condition glaucoma. If a lens breaks free due to cataract, then it could prevent fluid drainage from the eyeball, which can cause glaucoma. Glaucoma is essentially high pressure in the eye. Rabbits with the condition cannot regulate the fluid in their eyes, which results in overproducing fluid or being unable to drain it properly. This blockage and pressure in the eye puts immense pressure on the retina, which can in turn lead to blindness.

Rare Eye Conditions In Rabbits

Iris Prolapse: Also referred to as a protruding iris, this condition occurs when the iris sticks out through the cornea. It is noticeable as a visible bump of the enlarged iris on the rabbit’s eyeballs. It’s a rare condition, but it needs to be treated immediately while the prolapse is small and without any other complications.

Eye Proptosis (exophthalmos): Exophthalmos is a condition that causes bulging of the rabbit’s eyeballs. This means that your bun’s eyes are actually popping out of the eye socket. There are many possible causes of this rare condition, some very serious but some completely treatable, such as a hidden abscess or tumor, head/eye socket deformity, respiratory problems, dental problems, stress, or a physical injury to the head or eyes.

The treatment includes a thorough examination to determine the right cause, usually an X-ray check and a CT scan, and then it will depend on the diagnosis.

How Can I Keep My Bunny’s Eyes Healthy?

Unfortunately, some eye conditions affecting rabbits are not preventable, but these precautionary measures can keep your rabbit’s eyes infection-free.

  1. Because bacteria cause infections, do your best to keep your rabbit’s living environment as clean as possible. Also, regularly practice rabbit grooming. Rabbits use their paws for cleaning behind ears and around eyes, so make sure they step on clean surfaces and have their front paws uncontaminated.
  2. Avoid playing with sharp objects like sticks, or with anything that can damage the eyes easily.
  3. Provide your furry pal with the best rabbit food that adheres to its nutritional needs. Dietary issues can be the underlying cause of many health issues, including eye cataracts or infections.
  4. Keep in mind the telltale signs of eye disease and immediately contact a vet as soon as you notice any symptoms mentioned above.

Although eye problems can be very detrimental in rabbits, the good news is some can be treated successfully if addressed on time and in the right manner.

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