Healthy rabbit eyes should:
- Be bright and clean
- Not be weepy or have discharge.
- Have no dust or debris around them
- Not be cloudy
- Not have any abrasions or visible cuts on their surface
- Not be inflamed or red
These pets have a tear duct that maintains correct lubrication. It also has a nictitating membrane (third eyelid) that helps protect the eye.
Most bunnies will go through their lifespan with no eye problems. However, others may not be so lucky. It’s therefore, important to know what to watch out for in case your bunny’s eyes become infected. Some problems can be fatal if left untreated.
Common rabbit eye infection signs
Some of the signs you should look out for include:
- closing or squinty eyes
- milky discharge
- foreign objects on the eye surface
Take the rabbit to the vet if you notice any of these symptoms.
Causes of eye infections in rabbits include:
1. Blocked tear ducts
Blockage of tear ducts could be caused by:
- Foreign objects including grass seeds, pollen, dust or grit
- teeth roots that push up the duct
- injury or abscess.
The vet will unblock the duct by flushing a solution through it. For foreign objects, the vet will remove them. In case of a blockage caused by teeth, your bunny may require surgery. An antibiotic is then administered to clear up any bacterial infections.
Allergies in rabbits cause red eyes and clear nasal discharge. The bunny will also tend to touch its face and nose with its paws or try to rub its face on the ground. This could be an allergic reaction to something in its cage or around it. Some of the irritants include:
- cigarette smoke
- fumes from the fireplace
- strong scents
- carpets and room fresheners
- carpet cleaning products
- mites and fleas
Failure to remove the allergen or overexposing the rabbit to it can cause bronchitis or chronic rhinitis. Your pet can also get respiratory infections. Use a fan to circulate clean air to relieve the allergies.
For treatment, the veterinarian will prescribe antihistamines or corticosteroids to reduce inflammation.
This is a serious condition that can cause blindness to younger rabbits. Symptoms will include
- a red and swollen eye
- smelly pus discharge
- closed eyes which indicate that there is pus building up behind the rabbit’s eyelids and this could be causing pain.
- The bunny becomes lethargic or uninterested in its surroundings.
- It stops eating well, which means you have to feed them with a syringe.
Conjunctivitis is caused by a bacterial infection that clears up quickly and easily if treated.
Conjunctivitis can also be caused by dental problems which include:
- Dental disease,
- swollen roots (causes watery eyes since the tooth is pressing on to the tear duct when swollen),
- incisors root elongation
- dental abscesses
Get it to the vet as soon as possible. You can clean the discharge on the eyes using a warm cloth. The vet will prescribe antibiotics to help with the infection.
4. Teeth Problems
Teeth injuries or abscesses can cause eye infections in rabbits. In fact, the minute you visit a vet with watery eyes, they must eliminate teeth problems first.
A general anesthetic is administered and then the vet rasps the teeth to remove sharp edges causing damage or pain. Abscesses are drained while any severely damaged tooth is removed. Antibiotics are administered to treat bacterial infections. The vet will then advise you to increase the hay diet so that the tooth is worn down naturally.
Myxomatosis is a poxvirus that affects rabbits only. Symptoms include:
- conjunctivitis (pet gets runny red eyes)
- high fever
- loss of appetite
- death within 48 hours.
- Swelling of the mucous membranes including nose, mouth, ears, and eyes.
- Swelling of the genitals and anal areas.
- Swelling of the face and pus discharge from the nose
- Difficulty breathing
- Lumps and nodules develop in severe cases
Bloodsucking insects like mosquitoes, mites, fleas, lice, and flies spread myxomatosis. Sometimes, though rarely, the disease is spread via contact with other rabbits or with objects (food dishes, clothes) that carry the virus from one bunny to another, or through aerosols. The rabbit flea is to blame for most cases though.
No specific treatment is available, but you can offer supportive care through antibiotics that prevent secondary infections, fluids and pain medication.
Domestic rabbits are very susceptible to the virus, so euthanasia is recommended in most cases.
Caring for your rabbit's eye
Ensure your rabbit’s eyes remain healthy by taking the following preventive measures:
- Keep their hatches clean and minimize dust.
- Keep their bedding and play area clean.
- Regularly check their eyes and ensure there are no abrasions or cuts, inflammations, discharge, redness or dirt/ debris accumulation.
- Keep them away from mosquito and flea-infested areas.
- Use flea preventatives like selamectin, after consultation with the vet, to keep fleas away.
- In the case of myxomatosis outbreaks, do not take the bunny for fairs or shows.
- Quarantine any sick rabbit and make sure not to transmit the disease through food, clothes and other supplies. You can use a mosquito net over the rabbit cage with the infected one as part of quarantine.
- Contact your vet for vaccination options, especially against myxomatosis.