How do rabbits see the world?
The position of a rabbit's eyes on either side of their head provides them with the ability to see all around. Combined with their farsighted vision, rabbits can see predators approaching in the wild. However, rabbits have blind spots directly in front of them, directly behind them, and under their chin.
Your rabbit's sense of sight is also different to that of any other pets. For instance, rabbits are partially colour-blind, and in very bright environments their eyesight diminishes significantly.
What is the most common eye problem in rabbits?
The biggest problem with rabbits' eyes are with their tear ducts. These can become inflamed and watery, with a sticky discharge that gathers round the eye and surrounding fur.
Surprisingly, tear duct problems are nearly always linked to poor dental health.
This is because your rabbits' tear ducts run from one corner of the eye to the other just below their eyes and above their top teeth. If their teeth have grown too long, it puts pressure on the narrow ducts so they become blocked and infected. Your vet can treat this by flushing out the ducts with a saline solution to get rid of the puss and any infection.
What other eye conditions should I look out for?
Rabbits can suffer from conjunctivitis, also called 'pink eye', where the eyes look red and sore with fluid around the rim. For this, your vet will prescribe antibiotic cream or drops.
A foreign body in the eye, such as a sharp strand of straw, can cause redness and stickiness. To help this, bathe the sore or sticky eye using cooled boiled water and cotton wool, consulting your vet if the eye is still sore afterwards.
When the eye has a milky film, it is an indicator of cataracts. These are very common in young rabbits and are caused by a parasite infection at birth, which rarely has any other symptoms. It's a good idea to get cloudy eyes checked by your vet, but often no treatment is needed. Most rabbits usually adapt well to any reduced vision cataracts by relying on their other senses. Older rabbits with more advanced cataracts cope well so long as they're in an environment they know.
More serious conditions, such as an abscess, where you may notice a bulging eye or bump under your rabbit's eye, or an ulcer, squint, or the eye is closed or red, are treated using antibiotics, anti inflammatory drugs and painkillers, but your vet will advise you.
What do your rabbit's eyes say about their general health?
If your rabbits have bright healthy eyes, which are wide open, with smooth eyelids, equal sized pupils and no watery or sticky discharge from the eye it's more than likely their teeth are in good condition too. Teeth can be kept at the correct length by a supplying them with a good high-fibre diet of hay, grass and raw vegetables. Healthy teeth are the crucial link to general good rabbit health.
Rabbits' teeth grow continuously, so your rabbit must have a constant source of fibre to chew and grind down their teeth at the same rate. Nibbling and chewing high fibre food will stop their teeth from growing too long and causing blocked or inflamed tear ducts.
How can I help ensure my rabbit's eyes stay healthy?
By far the most important thing you can do to maintain your rabbit's ocular health is prevent dental disease by feeding them a diet that has adequate roughage and long fibre; i.e. grass and hay. You can find out more about feeding your rabbit the correct diet here.
Check your rabbit's eyes regularly for any changes. Spacious living quarters with open access to a run will ensure your rabbit has plenty of room to run around and stay fit and happy. Clean out your rabbit regularly to reduce bacteria and ammonia levels, as these can build up from wet, soggy paper, sawdust or straw, and irritate eyes and the respiratory tract. Rabbits help keep each other's eyes in good condition through grooming, licking and cleaning the fur around their companion's eyes to remove any minor discharge. This also prevents the skin around the eyes from getting sore.
Finally, ensure that your rabbit's vaccinations are up-to-date. The viral disease Myxomatosis can be prematurely mistaken for an eye condition at first, as one of the symptoms is runny eyes.
If you are worried about your bunny's eye health, always seek veterinary attention, where you will be provided with expert advice tailored to your specific situation.