Rabbits have very large eyes that are located on either side of their heads. This eye placement is helpful in the wild because it enables rabbits to see things coming at them from both sides. Rabbits' eyes are also usually farsighted so they can easily see predators approaching from far away. Unfortunately, because of their anatomy, rabbits are prone to a variety of eye problems.
Why Do Rabbits Have Eye Problems?
Despite their benefits in the wild, rabbit eyes also have weaknesses. Because of the eyes' location on each side of the head, rabbits have a blind spot directly in front of them. Their eyes are also so large that objects often injure them. Common eye issues in rabbits range from foreign objects in the eye to injuries and diseases.
Foreign Bodies in the Eye
A foreign body is anything 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 the eye. These items are often lightweight and may end up getting stuck in a large eye.
Rabbit Eye Abscesses
The eye itself may be punctured, become infected, and abscess. More commonly, the area directly under the eye swells up and an abscess forms because of a wound around the eye. You may notice that a bump under your rabbit's eye just suddenly appears one day. This is usually caused by a scratch or a bite that got infected.
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 may result. An ulcer is a hole or defect in the cornea. It could be a small spot or could 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.
Rabbit Eye Conjunctivitis
Also known as "pink eye," conjunctivitis is inflammation of the pink flesh that surrounds your rabbit's eye. This pink- to red-colored fleshy part is called the conjunctiva. A rabbit can get conjunctivitis from dirty water or an environment that harbors 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 also the least common one in rabbits. Proptosis occurs when the eyeball pops out of your rabbit's head. Really the only way this would ever happen is because of major trauma, such as a dog attack, or if your bunny is squeezed so tightly that its eye comes out.
Rabbit Eye Iris Prolapse
Also referred to as a protruding iris, an iris prolapse occurs when the part of the eye that constricts and dilates, called the iris, sticks out through the cornea. This is not a common eye problem, but if it occurs in your rabbit, you may see a visible bump on the surface of your rabbit’s eye.
Blindness in Rabbits
Sometimes rabbits are born blind due to congenital issues, and at other times, trauma or a medical issue like cataracts can cause blindness. Regardless of the reason for its blindness, a pet bunny should be OK without its sight. It will still be able to smell where its food is in its cage, but be aware that it may have trouble navigating outside of an enclosure that it's not used to being in.
Treatment for rabbit eye issues varies based on the diagnosis. Most infection-based problems can be cleared up with antibiotics. Rabbits cannot take all kinds of antibiotics, so it's important that you seek out a veterinarian who's 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 eyes. There's no cure for blindness in rabbits unless the blindness is caused by a cataract that can be removed.
Treating Foreign Bodies
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 its 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.
Regardless of the reason for the abscess, it's essential for your rabbit to visit your vet and have its eye cleaned out. This will allow the abscess to drain and the infection to be removed. Your vet may use a scalpel blade or a needle to open 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 via your rabbit's mouth) to prevent the infection from spreading.
To diagnose an ulcer, your exotics vet will use a special eye stain that will stick to the ulcer on the eye. Then they'll use a special light that illuminates any stain that's sticking to an ulcer. If an ulcer is present, you'll be sent home with medications and your rabbit will need to be rechecked in a few days or a week to make sure the ulcer is going away and not getting worse.
Rabbit eyes usually get bacterial conjunctivitis. A vet will diagnose it and it will require an antibiotic eye drop or ointment to treat it.
Treating Rare Conditions
If a rabbit has proptosis, the eye typically has to be removed, as it will be hanging from the optic nerve. Sometimes it can be surgically replaced. An iris prolapse is painful and also rare. It may go away in response to treatment with simple eye drops. Sometimes surgery is needed to replace the protruding portion of the iris and suture the hole in the cornea to close it.
How to Prevent Rabbit Eye Issues
While rabbit eye problems cannot be entirely prevented, there are some precautionary measures you can take to help keep your rabbit's eyes healthy.
- A clean environment, cage, and water are imperative. A dirty living situation breeds bacteria. If any of these bacteria enter the animal's body, or eye, through a scratch or cut, it could result in a major infection.
- Take precautions with your rabbit both in and out of its cage, with extra care taken to safeguard its eyes.
- During playtime, don't use sticks or other objects that could poke your rabbit's eye.
- Be aware of your rabbit's behavior and if you see it rubbing its eye, speak to the vet asap.