My Rabbit Has Inflamed Red Eye! Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment

Red eye in Rabbits (1)

The discovery of red, inflamed eyes (also known as ‘red eye’ or hyperemia) in a rabbit may be alarming to many pet owners. Many owners want to know if it’s a serious condition or if it can be passed to other rabbits. 

What are the causes of hyperemia or red-eye? An injury or irritation usually causes a red eye in a rabbit. It can also be caused by a bacterial infection, damage to the eye, or in rare cases, dental infections. The most common type of bacteria, Treponema cuniculi, causes swollen eyelids. Conjunctivitis is an infection caused by trauma to the eye. Corneal Ulcers are the most common causes of eye disorders and can cause red-eye.      

This article will cover the causes of red eye in detail. 

What should owners do if they notice the red-eye in their rabbit?

Usually, the most of the causes of red eye can be treated either at home or by a vet. Antibiotics can usually counter infections. If something is stuck in the rabbit’s eye, it should be washed out with a saline rinse or gently removed with a q-tip. However, should the rabbit exhibit fur loss or swelling around its eyes, grinding teeth, or lethargy, take it to the vet immediately. More serious ailments such as abscesses, ulcers, or inflammation due to dental disease can only be diagnosed and treated by a vet.

This article covers the causes, treatment, and prevention of the most common conditions resulting in rabbits presenting red, swollen, and inflamed eyes.

Why are Rabbits Prone to Getting Red, Inflamed Eyes?

The anatomy of rabbits’ eyes is the main reason they are susceptible to hyperemia. The large size and position of the eyes on the sides of their heads mean they are more likely to get things stuck in them, resulting in irritation or infection. It is also more probable objects in the environment injure them. The location of the tear ducts, below the eye and just above the teeth, increases the likelihood of dental issues affecting their eyes as well.

What are the Causes of Red, Inflamed Eyes in Your Rabbit?

Below is a list of the most common illnesses that give rise to hyperemia in rabbits and the recommended treatment in each case.

1. Conjunctivitis

Conjunctivitis is the most common cause of red, inflamed eyes in rabbits. The disease, also known as pink-eye, is most often caused by bacterial or parasitic infection. Conjunctivitis could also be an early warning sign for more serious issues like myxomatosis. 

Due to the uncertainty surrounding the reason for conjunctivitis development, it is recommended any rabbit exhibiting these symptoms is taken to the vet immediately and subsequently separated from other animals as the disease is highly contagious.

The vet will generally focus on treating the underlying cause of conjunctivitis, which may involve antibiotics, anti-inflammatory medication, or numbing eye drops.

2. Dental Disease

Due to the proximity of rabbits’ eyes and teeth, a common cause of inflamed eyes could be a dental infection. As the body fights off the infection, local inflammation may spread to the eyes and cause them to become red and watery. 

If a rabbit exhibits these symptoms, carefully examine its mouth, teeth, and gums for discoloration, sensitivity, or swelling. Normally, a veterinarian will prescribe antibiotics to treat the infection and may extract the tooth in more extreme cases. 

3. Dacryocystitis

Red, inflamed eyes accompanied by tear staining, fur loss around the eyes, and white discharge could be the sign of an inflamed tear duct. Dacryocystitis is a secondary illness caused by dental disease, a tear duct blockage, or local infection. A simple case may be treated by duct flushing; however, it may take more complex measures that are not guaranteed to work if the teeth are involved.

The most effective preventative measure is to provide the rabbit with a high-fiber diet, including grass or hay, to ensure dental health.

4. Keratitis

Keratitis is a fungal infection of the eye that causes both the rim and cornea to become red and inflamed. This is typically accompanied by a discharge and, at times, ulceration. 

If diagnosed early on, keratitis is easily treatable by topical antibiotics. However, if it progresses unnoticed, the rabbit could require surgery. 

5. Foreign Object in the Eye

Something getting stuck in a rabbit’s eye is a prevalent cause of redness and irritation. It is also one of the first causes to rule out when diagnosing hyperemia. The simplest way to go about it is to examine the eye in natural light. Avoid using flashlights or other bright light sources as rabbits have light-sensitive eyes.

If the foreign object is spotted, it should either be rinsed out with saline solution from a sealed bottle (to prevent contamination) or gently removed with a clean cotton swab. If a saline solution is used, ensure the foreign object hasn’t simply disappeared behind the lower eyelid. 

The redness and inflammation should clear up soon after this unless the surface of the rabbit’s eye has been scratched or damaged, in which case you should take the rabbit to the vet right away.

6. Respiratory Infection

Also known as ‘snuffles,’ an upper respiratory tract infection could cause a rabbit’s eyes to look red and inflamed. The infection is most likely bacterial and concentrated in the sinuses. A rabbit’s sinuses are located close to its eyes, so any infection of the upper respiratory tract will affect them as well.

The best course of action would be to allow a vet to run a Culture and Sensitivity test to identify the exact strain of bacteria causing the infection. Antibiotics will then be prescribed, and the full doses recommended given to the rabbit.

7. Allergies

Similar to humans, rabbits can have allergic reactions to things in their food or environment. Red, inflamed eyes may be accompanied by sneezing, irritated skin that leads to scratching, and a runny discharge from the nose. The source of their allergies could be anything from mites or dust to cleaning products not properly rinsed from their bowls or cages.

If it is suspected the rabbit’s symptoms are due to an allergy, the best thing to do is identify the allergen through a process of elimination and remove it from the rabbit’s environment or diet.

8. Ulcer

Ulcers are caused by something scratching or rubbing against a rabbit’s eye. Symptoms accompanying redness and inflammation are sensitivity to light and the rabbit keeping its eye closed. 

Ulcers can only be diagnosed by a vet using a fluorescein stain that marks the ulcer in green. If the diagnosis is confirmed, a vet will prescribe a topical antibiotic to prevent infections from developing. Most ulcers heal on their own in less than a week.

9. Abscess

Another eye condition caused by dental disease, abscesses, usually forms behind the eye due to food particles reaching the root of a tooth and causing infection. This results in pus pooling behind the eye and causing the eyelid to bulge and the eye to appear red and inflamed. 

Abscesses must be drained by a vet who will make a small hole to open it, carefully squeezing out the pus and liquid. A course of antibiotics will follow this to ensure the infection is cleared up.

10. Myxomatosis

An often fatal disease that can be prevented by vaccination, myxomatosis is caused by a virus passed on by other rabbits, mosquitoes, or fleas.

Symptoms include red and inflamed eyes, breathing problems, lethargy, and swelling around the face and genitals. If your rabbit has not been vaccinated against myxomatosis, the chances of recovery are meager. In this case, your vet may recommend euthanasia to prevent further suffering. 

It is vital that rabbits are given the myxomatosis vaccine every year and that their environment is kept as insect-free as possible.

11. Glaucoma (Primarily Found in New Zealand) 

Glaucoma is a condition that stems from a recessive trait primarily found in New Zealand rabbits. It is an eye disorder caused by elevated levels of pressure in the eye. This pressure affects the nerves in the eyes, causing red, swollen, infected eyes and, in more serious and later on cases, partial to a full loss of sight. Glaucoma is primarily found in New Zealand white rabbits. 

How to Prevent Eye Problems in Rabbits

There are many ways you can reduce the chances of your rabbits contracting red eye. These include:

  • Avoid using shavings as bedding as the smaller particles can cause eye irritation.
  • Provide a high-fiber diet so that teeth are kept in good condition.
  • Ensure the rabbit is always up-to-date with its vaccinations.
  • Keep the living environment clean and well ventilated to avoid attracting insects.
  • Clean any furniture or equipment the rabbit comes in contact with regularly, lowering the chances of transmission of bacteria or parasites.
  • Check the rabbit’s paws for clumped fur, which may indicate it is rubbing discharge out of its eyes.

Conclusion

Rabbits naturally hide illness as a survival tactic. Predators tend to target weaker rabbits, so concealing signs of pain or injury may be their best means of survival. This makes it very difficult for owners to know when something is wrong. It is, therefore, imperative for rabbit owners to pay special attention to the wellbeing of their pets.

Most eye problems, especially those causing redness and inflammation, are easily treatable if caught early on. Regular checks of the rabbit’s eyes, paws, and head greatly increase the chances of spotting potential problems before they get serious.

Thus, with some forethought and extra attention to the living space, diet, and general wellbeing of their animals, rabbit owners can prevent or treat at home the majority of the conditions mentioned above.

Bri Cave

Hi, I'm Bri Cave. I'm a born and raised farm girl and, even though I now live in the city, I take every chance I can to get back into the countryside. Growing up, horses, chickens, and sheep were my best friends, and now I use the experience I gained then to help others care for their farm animals. I absolutely adore all creatures whether domesticated or not.

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