Red Eye in Rabbits Explained

Red Eye in Rabbits Explained

Health & Safety

Red eye is a common health issue rabbits tend to suffer from, it's a painful condition that causes irritation and swelling around the eye and/or on their eyelids. As soon as you notice there may be a problem, you need to make an appointment with the vet to check things out because there may well be an underlying problem that's bought the condition on. This includes quite a few systemic diseases which could prove more serious than red eye itself.

Symptoms of Red Eye to Watch Out For

Although the symptoms of red eye can depend on the underlying cause of the condition, there are some common signs to look out for which could include the following:

  • Rabbits may suffer impaired vision
  • Their eyelids are often quite swollen and painful looking
  • There could be a discharge from their eyes
  • There may be extra tissue/skin around the rabbit's eyes
  • There could be a nasal discharge due to an upper respiratory infection or cold
  • There may be hair loss and crusting in the mucous membrane – which is around the eyes, nasal area and cheeks
  • Rabbits can be lethargic when suffering from the condition
  • They can appear depressed and not interested in things that are going on around them
  • Rabbits often have an abnormal posture when suffering from Red Eye
  • They may have facial masses

The Causes of Red Eye

Due to the fact there could many causes for red eye to rear its ugly head, it makes it very hard for vets to identify the exact cause of the condition. With this said, there are some factors which may include the following:

  • There could be a bacterial infection which is causing the condition and this includes things like Treponema cuniculi, otherwise known as rabbit syphillis
  • Conjunctivitis is a common complaint seen in rabbits which could cause red eye
  • Keratitis is a fungal infection of the eye that might be as a result of an injury to the eye and which could be the underlying cause of the condition
  • Glaucoma – this is a condition that may cause red eye and if left untreated, can cause a rabbit to go blind
  • Dental disease – this can often bring debris out in the eye which results in it becoming inflamed or it may even block a tear duct which results in the rabbit suffering from red eye

Diagnosing Red Eye

You would need to take your pet to a vet who treats rabbits – not all vets do, so this is something you need to check out with the surgery. The vet will perform numerous tests in order to diagnose the cause of the condition. These tests may include taking skin cultures and they may examine the rabbit's eyes to make sure there are no cataracts or other ocular diseases developing which could not only impair your pet's vision but overall health too.

However, if the vet still cannot diagnose the condition after having carried out these initial tests, they may want to do more specialist tests which might well include the following:

  • A test known as a “tonometry” which measures eye pressure, particularly useful when diagnosing glaucoma and other similar conditions
  • A “Schimer” tear test which detects dry eye, often the cause of red eye
  • The vet may want to do a cytologic examination which identifies any infection that may be present in tear ducts as well as the surrounding tissues
  • A flurorescein stain test which helps vets rule out a condition known as ulcerative keratitis – this is often an underlying cause of red eye

Treatments Available for Red Eye

The treatment a vet may advise really does depend very much on the underlying cause of the condition. One example of this would be if the cause of red eye is due to dental disease extracting the tooth may be deemed necessary and as such cure the Red Eye. However, if the cause is bacterial, the vet may well prescribe a course of antibiotics for the rabbit to take.

Red eye is a very painful condition and as such vets usually give rabbits with the condition, a topical anti-inflammatory medicine which helps alleviate the discomfort. Sometimes, a rabbit may well need a short course of topical steroid medication and this is particularly the case if the rabbit is suffering from ulcers or if the healing process is taking too long.

Managing and Living With the Condition

If your rabbit has contracted red eye, then immediate treatment needs to be administered after a correct diagnosis has been reached by a vet. However, the after care you offer your pet is crucial with some rabbits need longer term pain management than others. You may find your pet needs to have repeat eye examinations at the vets to make sure the healing process is going well and that any inflammation is being properly managed. Should too much pressure be on the eye for too long, this could lead to the rabbit going blind which is why it's crucial to stabilise the pressure.


Rabbits are lovely creatures and they can bring a lot of pleasure to children as their first pet. However, when they are sick, they need veterinary attention as quickly as possible to prevent any condition they may be suffering from getting any worse and causing them undue discomfort. Red eye is painful and needs immediate treatment but only after a vet has correctly diagnosed what the underlying cause might be. Once the vet has diagnosed and treated a rabbit with the correct medication, the after care you give your pet is crucial for them to make a full recovery.



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