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A Guide To Eye Problems in Rabbits

Aimee Labbate
  • Aimee Labbate

  • RCVS: 700039

 

What causes eye problems in rabbits?

Rabbits are prone to developing eye problems, which can happen for various different reasons, including:

  • Dental disease: this is a common cause of eye problems in rabbits since the roots of their teeth grow very close to their eye sockets and tear ducts. The teeth continue to grow throughout a rabbit’s life, so if they are not worn down by feeding sufficient fibre then the teeth can become overgrown and can cause problems with the eyes. Please see our Dental Disease factsheet for more information on dental disease in rabbits.
  • Trauma from a scratch can cause an ulcer on the front surface of the eye (the cornea).
  • Inflamed tear ducts (dacryocystitis): this is most commonly caused by dental disease in rabbits, where the teeth are overgrown and the root puts pressure on the duct, blocking it and leading to inflammation and infection of the duct.
  • A foreign body stuck in the eye e.g. a piece of hay.
  • Abnormal eyelash growth can cause lashes to rub on the eye(s).
  • Cloudy eyes can be a sign of cataracts (a certain type of parasite can cause this in young rabbits).
  • Myxomatosis: this is a very serious viral disease of rabbits that can affect the eyes. It is usually fatal.

What are the symptoms of eye problems in rabbits?

The typical symptoms of eye problems in rabbits include:

  • Discharge from one or both eyes
  • One or both eyes partially or completely closed
  • Red/pink eye(s)
  • Reduced appetite
  • Rubbing at the eyes (may lead to mucky forelimbs)
  • Cloudy eye(s)

How is it diagnosed?

The vet will perform a thorough physical examination including examination of your rabbit’s mouth and eyes. They will introduce a special dye into your rabbit’s eyes that will highlight any scratches or ulcers. The vet will also carefully check for a foreign body in the eye or abnormal eyelash growth.

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How is it treated?

The treatment will depend on the underlying cause of the eye problems, but may include:

  • Antibiotic eye drops or ointment for bacterial eye infections and infections involving the tear duct (dacryocystitis).
  • Flushing of the tear duct if it is blocked.
  • Pain relief if a corneal ulcer is present.
  • A dental procedure under general anaesthetic (if this is the cause of the eye problems). This usually involves trimming any overgrown teeth with an electric burr. The vet will also remove any spurs on the teeth. They may sometimes recommend that a tooth is removed, although this is avoided where possible.

What is the prognosis?

Many eye problems will resolve with appropriate treatment e.g. antibiotic eye ointment. However, some problems can be more stubborn or recurrent, particularly where there is underlying dental disease.

How can I prevent eye problems?

Not all eye problems can be prevented, but some certainly can. These measures can help to reduce the risk of your rabbit suffering from problems with their eyes:

  • Check your rabbit’s eyes regular to pick up on any issues early.
  • Since many eye problems are caused by dental disease in rabbits, it is important to feed them an appropriate diet to help reduce the risk of dental issues.
    • This means feeding them sufficient amounts of fibre (grass and hay) to keep their teeth worn down, preventing them from over-growing.
    • As a guide, this means feeding at least their body size in hay (or fresh grass) each day; a handful of fresh greens in the morning and evening and just a tablespoon of pellets once daily (or twice daily if your rabbit is over 3.5kg).
    • It is best to not feed a muesli-style diet but to give pellets instead.
    • Regular check-ups by your vet are important to pick up on any dental problems early – they can look in your rabbit’s mouth using a special instrument and it can be done conscious in most rabbits.
  • Keep their enclosure clean and ensure they have plenty of room to run around freely.
  • Ensure they are up to date with their vaccinations against myxomatosis.

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