Eye Problems in Rabbits

Rabbit eye close up
Getty Images/Jorg Witte/Eye Em

Due to their normal anatomy, rabbits are prone to a variety of eye problems. Rabbits have very large eyes that are located on either side of their head. This eye placement is helpful in the wild because it enables a rabbit to see things coming at them from both sides. Their large eyes are also usually farsighted so they can easily see a predator approaching from far away.

illustration of common eye problems
Illustration: Kelly Leigh Miller. © The Spruce, 2018

Why Do Rabbits Have Eye Issues

But despite their benefits, rabbit eyes also have weaknesses. Because they are so far on either side of their head, rabbits have a blind spot directly in front of them. They are also so large that objects often injure them. Common eye issues can range from foreign objects in the eye, abscesses, ulcers, and more.

Foreign Bodies in the Eye

A foreign body is anything that is in your rabbit’s eye that shouldn’t be there, such as a piece of bedding, food, or something else that doesn't belong in or around an eye. These items are often lightweight and easily end up getting stuck in a large eye.

By using a cotton swab, saline rinse, and sometimes even some eye lubrication, you may be able to remove the item from your rabbit’s eye. If you are unsuccessful, take your rabbit to your exotics vet so that they can safely remove the foreign body without injuring the eye. Sometimes the foreign body is so difficult to remove or your rabbit won't open it’s eye up that some light sedation, or anesthesia, is administered. This will relax your bunny and allow your vet to work more quickly without causing harm to the eye.

Rabbit Eye Abscesses

The eye itself can be punctured, become infected, and abscess. More commonly, the area directly under the eye swells up and an abscess forms due to a wound around the eye. You may notice a bump under your rabbit's eye just suddenly appear one day. This is usually from a scratch or a bite that got infected.

Regardless of the reason for the abscess, your rabbit will need it to be popped by your vet and cleaned out. This will allow the abscess to drain and therefore the infection to be removed. Your vet may use a scalpel blade or a needle to pop the abscess and then gently squeeze the infected material out of it. Depending on how bad the area around the eye looks, your vet may then send you home with eye drops and systemic antibiotics (usually a liquid you give in your rabbit's mouth) to prevent the infection from spreading.

Rabbit Eye Ulcers

When something gets stuck in your rabbit's eye (such as bedding) or another trauma occurs to the eyeball itself, damage to the clear, outermost layer of the eye called the cornea can occur and an ulcer can result. An ulcer is a hole or defect in the cornea. It could be a small spot or can cover the entire eye.

Ulcers are very painful. Your rabbit may be holding its eye shut or be scratching the eye with its paw. These are signs that the eye is painful or irritating to your rabbit. To diagnose an ulcer your exotics vet will use a special eye stain that will stick to the ulcer on the eye. Then your veterinarian will use a special light that illuminates any stain that is sticking to an ulcer. If an ulcer is present you will be sent home with medications and your rabbit will need to be rechecked in a few days or week to make sure the ulcer is going away and not getting worse.

Rabbit Eye Conjunctivitis

Also known as "pink eye," conjunctivitis is the inflammation of the pink part that surrounds your rabbit's eye. This pink to red colored fleshy part is called the conjunctiva. Rabbit eyes usually get bacterial conjunctivitis and require an antibiotic eye drop or ointment to treat it. Rabbits can get conjunctivitis from dirty water or an environment that would harbor bacteria, such as a dirty cage or a litter box that they like to lie in.

Rabbit Eye Proptosis

This is probably the worst type of eye problem and thankfully also the least commonly seen one in rabbits. Proptosis is when the eyeball pops out of your rabbit's head. Really the only way this would ever happen is if your bunny gets squeezed so hard that his eye comes out. This horrific problem usually only occurs due to a major trauma like a dog attack. The eye typically has to be removed, as it will be hanging from the optic nerve. Sometimes it can be surgically replaced.

Rabbit Eye Iris Prolapse

Also referred to as a protruding iris, an iris prolapse is when the part of the eye that constricts and dilates, called the iris, sticks out of the clear, outermost layer of the eye, called the cornea. You may see this visible bump on the surface of your rabbit’s eye. An iris prolapse is painful and may go away with simple eye drops but sometimes surgery is needed to replace the protruding portion of the iris and suture the hole in the cornea closed. This is not a common eye problem.

Blindness in Rabbits

Sometimes rabbits are born blind due to congenital issues and other times trauma or other situations cause sudden blindness. Regardless of the reason for being blind, pet bunnies should do just fine without their sight. They will still be able to smell where their food is in a cage but be aware that they may have trouble navigating outside of an enclosure that they are not used to being in. There is no cure for blindness in rabbits unless the blindness is caused by a cataract that can be removed.

Treatment

Treatment for rabbit eye issues will vary based on the diagnosis. Most infection-based problems can be cleared up with antiobiotics. Rabbits cannot take all kinds of antibiotics so it is important that you seek out a veterinarian who is knowledgeable in rabbit medicine. Take any eye issue seriously and consult your vet right away if you suspect something is wrong with your rabbit's eye.

How to Prevent Rabbit Eye Issues

While not all eye problems can be prevented, there are some precautionary measures you can take to keep your rabbit healthy. A clean environment, cage, and water are imperative. A dirty living situation will breed bacteria. If any of this bacteria enters the animal's body, or eye, through a scratch or cut, it could result in a major infection. Take precaution with your rabbit both in and out of the cage, with extra care taken for the rabbit's eyes. Don't play with or have sticks or other objects that could poke it's eye in the cage or out during playtime.