Eye problems in rabbits

What do rabbits see?

As is the case in us as humans and many other animals, the retina of a rabbit consists of rod cell and cone cells. However, the ratio of rods and cone cells in rabbits differ from those in humans. It is thought that rabbits are partially colour-blind, in that they are mainly only sensitive to blue and green. In very bright conditions their eye sight is significantly reduced. 

Rabbits see objects with a kind of grainy image of its surroundings and also rely on the other senses, such as smell, to identify objects and people. Due to the position of the eyes on either side the rabbit’s head; it has the ability to see almost 360° around itself except for tiny areas, directly behind them and under the chin. This greatly helps them in the wild where they need to be aware of the risk of predators in the area.

What should a healthy rabbit’s eyes look like?

Healthy eyes in rabbits should always be clean and bright. They should not weep any discharge, there should not be any dust or debris on or around its surface, or be cloudy in appearance. There should be no visible cuts or abrasions on the eye and neither should there be an inflammation or redness. Each eye of the rabbit has a tear duct and this is responsible for maintaining the correct lubricating conditions it requires. In addition to keeping the eye moist, the rabbit has a Nictitating Membrane which is better known as the third eyelid which also provides the eye with protection.

Below, a very simple diagram of a rabbit’s eye is shown.

Diagram of rabbit's eye

What problems can rabbits’ eyes have?

Some rabbits can go through their entire lives without having any visible signs of eye problems. Despite this others can, unfortunately, be especially prone to afflictions of the eyes and so it is important to know what to watch out for. Some problems, if left untreated can lead to fatal consequences for the affected rabbit.

Eye Infections in Rabbits

If your rabbit is suspected to have an eye infection, then it should immediately be taken to the vet in order to prevent the problem spreading. Conjunctivitis and pasteurellosis are both possible eye infections your rabbits may contract. You can spot these infections if the eye is swollen and red and if some discharge is observed at the corners. Abscesses can occur all over the body and can be a result from the two infections mentioned previously. If there is an abscess behind the eye then this is very painful and the main sign is a distinct bulging of the eye. Tear ducts are also able to become infected in rabbits. Infected tear ducts result in a viscous discharge and the infected eye may be partially closed.


This viral infection has been given a section of its own due to its dangerous and fatal consequences, a deadly disease; myxomatosis should always be vaccinated against in rabbits. Affected rabbits will initially have inflamed eyes and so veterinary help should be sought immediately. It is an extremely contagious disease and so animals suspected of having it should be isolated.

Allergies in Rabbits

If a rabbit has an allergy then this can be presented as weeping or running eyes. This may be caused by the bedding used being two dusty. This can be simply rectified by buying dust free bedding. Dust free hay should also be used. Some aerosols may result in an allergic reaction. An allergy can also lead to conjunctivitis. If the signs and symptoms are presented, that is to say that if the rabbit does have weepy or runny eyes then the vet should be contacted in case of another causal factor and for treatment advice.

Scratches on the Surface of the Eye

Once a rabbit has had its eye scratched, there is high risk of the formation of an ulcer. This can be very painful and may cause the eye to appear cloudy. Scratches and ulcers can cause the rabbit to partially close its eye and there may be an almost pin prick like dip on the surface of the eye. Scratches can occur from harsh knocks or even from coarse straw which ideally should not be used as bedding as a result of this exact problem. A vet should be immediately contacted if this occurs.

Teeth and Eye Problems in Rabbits

If a rabbit’s teeth are allowed to overgrow, then this can have adverse effects on its eyes. The rabbit’s tear duct may be blocked as a result and lead to weepy or runny eyes. Overgrown teeth can lead to abscesses forming behind the eye. Often treatment includes both the teeth and eyes. This problem can easily be prevented by caring for the rabbit’s teeth with the appropriate diet and by having regular checks.

Other possible causes of rabbit eye problems

The rabbit may have an ingrown eye lash which can cause a lot of discomfort for the affected animal. As in humans, rabbits can also have cataracts. Owners can first notice this when the eye appears cloudy.

How do I keep my rabbit’s eyes healthy?

Healthy eyes in all animals are very important, especially in domestic rabbits. Reducing the amount of dust in the animal’s living area is very important as this can be argued to be the main source of eye problems. Keeping the bedding and all areas clean plays an important role in maintaining the health of rabbits, and this is also true for keeping their eyes in good condition.

Regularly checking the pet’s eyes can prevent any small problems from progressing and if anything is spotted then the vets should be called immediately. As already mentioned, some eye problems can lead to infection in other parts of the body and can even lead fatal consequences for the affected animal. Ensure that there is no discharge, accumulation of dirt or debris, cuts or abrasions, inflammation or redness on and around the eye. 


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