A rabbit is said to have watery or runny eyes when there is excess tear production that may make their eyes to appear glassy, or there may be tears dripping or running from their eyes. This can be a constant problem, or it may come and go.
Tears play an important role in bathing or cleaning the eye as well as preventing it from drying. Once they have done their role, they are drained via the nasolacrimal canal or tear duct located at inner eye corners. These tears are afterward emptied into the nasal cavity.
However, sometimes, there might be excessive production of tears (epiphora) or they may not be able to drain properly.
Symptoms to expect
Some of the most often symptoms noted, besides the dripping tears (tearing and glassy eye appearance) include the following:
- Matted or wet fur around the affected eye
- Matted or wet front paws (since these pets use them while wiping tears)
- Ocular discharges or exudates that may be mucus-like, yellowish, or colorless. Normal tear discharge should be slightly milky and translucent.
- Fur loss if the condition is not treated for a long time.
- General eye discomfort
Besides the above symptoms, there might be others which associated with the exact cause such as a runny nose, eye redness, sneezing, labored breathing and so on.
Causes of rabbits with watery eyes
There are many causes which can be infectious (caused by pathogenic viruses, fungi or bacteria ) or non-infectious if caused by any other conditions including congenital ones. The most common causes include the following:
Conjunctivitis in rabbits, also known as weepy or pink eye refers to the inflammation of conjunctiva that can be caused by bacteria such as Staphylococcus, Bacillus ssp., Micrococcus or viruses including myxoma, enteroviruses, among others.
Also, foreign bodies, entropion, distichia, trichiasis, glaucoma, dental disease, as well as high dust and ammonia content in the air can cause it.
Depending on the cause, conjunctivitis often causes an ocular discharge that may be colorless, yellow or mucoid and it could also be having pus and mucus. Other symptoms include matted fur on the face and paws, eye rubbing, lethargy, swollen red eyes, and so on.
Conjunctivitis can be treated using antibiotics (both systemic or eyedrops), topical non-steroid anti-inflammatory, fixing any teeth problems (especially apical intrusion), eye flushing with saline solution, and so on. The exact treatment option will depend on what causes conjunctivitis.
Snuffles (colds or rhinitis)
Snuffles refers to an upper respiratory infection that can be caused by bacteria, fungi or viruses. It is most commonly caused by the Pasteurella multocida bacterium but Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Staphylococcus aureus, Bordetella bronchiseptica, among others can cause it.
Besides tearing, other symptoms may include sneezing, nasal discharge, coughing, snuffling sound, head shaking if ears get infected, conjunctivitis, among many other symptoms.
Your vet will use various antibiotics to treat this infectious disease that is often caused by bacteria or antivirals and antifungals if caused by viruses and fungus respectively.
There may also be recommendations such as keeping proper hygiene, avoiding overcrowding, and so on.
Congenital problems including having short faces common in dwarfs and lops can be a cause. Such bunnies have a kinked or narrow tear duct, and this can be a possible cause of the excessive tearing.
Various external pressure may pinch, partially or totally block the tear duct or nasolacrimal canal. When this happens, excessive tearing may result. Common problems that may exert pressure on this duct include:
Dental problems, especially root intrusion for teeth located directly beneath the nasolacrimal canal can cause pressure or obstruction. When this happens, tears have nowhere to go (cannot drain as expected). In such a case, they will accumulate and start flowing out.
Also, infections including tooth abscess and inflammation of maxilla molars can put pressure or block the tear ducts. If scarring occurs, teeth removal may not resolve the problem of runny eyes and this may be a lifetime problem.
Finally, maxillary osteoporosis common in old rabbits or in those that have certain diseases can reduce bone density. This can cause root intrusion and pinch the nasolacrimal canal or block it with time as your furry friend eats.
Eye, bone, or sinus cancers (neoplasia) may cause pressure on the tear duct or block them with time causing this problem. Surgeries, injuries or trauma can also cause the same problem.
Any condition that inflames the sinuses mucous membrane may spread to the nasolacrimal canal lining and possibly resulting in the tearing problem. Conjunctivitis, nasolacrimal canal infection, upper respiratory conditions and so on can also be a cause.
There are a number of tear duct diseases that can lead to watery eyes in rabbits. Common conditions that might affect this duct include the following.
This is the inflammation of the lacrimal sac may cause opaque white or mucus-like discharge. Also, any swelling of the membrane lining the eye or tear duct due to various conditions including allergies or infections can cause weepy eyes.
Accumulation of cellular debris in the duct
Accumulation of the nasolacrimal canal cellular lining cells which are often shed and replaced can cause obstruction. In such a case, flushing by a veterinarian may be necessary from time to time.
Various neurological disorders including facial nerve paralysis that may be from things such as trauma including trauma after surgery, stroke, can cause drooping eyes or damage the lacrimal pump. Both will interfere with the normal functioning of the tear duct.
Going on with causes, any condition that results in excessive tear production may be a cause of runny eyes if the rate of tear production overwhelms the rate of draining. Things such as corneal injury, irritation, squinting due to exposure to bright light could be possible triggers.
Sometimes, excess tearing may be due to an eyelid malfunction which could be both congenital or acquired. Conditions such as trichiasis (abnormal eyelash growth), downward eyelid rolling or sagging (allows tears to flow out and not into the nasolacrimal canal), inward eyelid rolling (causes eyelashes to irritate the cornea), and so on can causes of watery eyes in rabbits.
Also, reduced tear viscosity due to malfunctioning or impaired Meibomian glands (on the upper and lower eyelid) can result in the tearing.
Whereas some of the causes of these defects may be treated, others might need corrective surgery, if the problem is to be fixed.
Although glaucoma is rare in rabbits, it does occur. If it occurs, it will cause excessive pressure inside these animal’s eyes and it will often affect the "retina and optic nerve, resulting in blindness” 
In its advanced stages, it can cause an enlarged eyeball stretching nearby tissues. This will cause inflammation which may trigger excess tear production.
Diagnosis and treatment
As we have seen, there are many causes of runny eyes. Therefore, it needs the help of a veterinary ophthalmologist to conduct a proper diagnosis and recommend the required treatments. If you notice constant watery eyes, let your vet know and do not attempt any treatments at home.
During diagnosis, vets may check for sensitivity to light to detect corneal injury, use temporary dyes to stain eyes as a means to detect fungal infections as well as ulcers or perform culture and sensitivity tests if they suspect a bacterial infection.
Also, endoscopy, radiography, and ultrasound may be used to detect any abnormal masses while biopsies will be helpful for cancerous cases.
Mild cases, especially those that cause tear duct blockages such as accumulation of debris will require mild ophthalmic drops or eye drops with corticosteroids (if mucous membrane inflammation is the problem) and antibiotics (to kill bacteria). If the problem does not resolve, flushing may be recommended.
Dental and sinus problems will also be addressed via surgery, topical and systemic medications which may be antibiotics, antivirals or antifungals depending on what the cause of epiphora in rabbits is.
Besides treating the various causes of teary eyes, keep their cheek clean and dry to reduce chafing, fur loss or accumulation of debris. All of this will encourage bacterial infections.
When cleaning these areas, use a clean tissue or soft piece of cloth and contact lens cleaner or ophthalmic saline solution as they are all safe. Also, you can use a mild antiseptic during cleaning as well as washing your bunny's face daily.
Your furry friend may be unable to open his or her eyes if excess exudates accumulate and dry while the eye is closed. Use the above cleaning methods to soften and remove any accumulated debris.
Ensure you provide a clean environment free of the various pollutants and avoid overcrowding as this often stresses these animals and can spread the contagious causes of the tearing.
Also, go for the right diets to provide the required nutrients as they are vital to good health and reduced instances of infections.