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Why do Rabbits Have Red Eyes? 7 Possible Reasons

Bynewsmagzines

Jun 5, 2023
Sick young rabbit with conjunctivitis and respiratory infection at a vet clinic

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Sick young rabbit with conjunctivitis and respiratory infection at a vet clinic
Dr. Marta Vidal-Abarca Photo

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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They say that the eyes are the window to the soul, but what if your rabbit’s windows are looking a little different than usual? Red-colored eyes may be normal in some bunnies if present since birth, but they can spell trouble for others when there is a color change, both suddenly and over some time. Here are seven possible reasons rabbits have red eyes, plus what to do if you notice this problem in your bunny.

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The 7 Reasons Why  Rabbits Have Red Eyes

1. Genetics

Is it normal?: Yes
Need to see a vet?: No

We have listed this reason first because it is the only one that means there is nothing wrong with your bunnies eyes! Like us, rabbits can have different colored eyes because the iris has different amounts of melanin, the pigment that gives color to skin and fur as well.

Some rabbits have red eyes because of their genetic makeup. Rabbit breeds with the albino trait may naturally have red or pink eyes. Albinos of any species lack normal pigment (melanin) in their hair, skin, and eyes. These rabbits’ eyes aren’t truly red. Instead, the coloration comes from light refraction on the iris. Aside from the color, their eyes should otherwise be and appear healthy, with normal lids and no discharge.

Young White Albino Rabbit lying on Grass
Image Credit: Ian Fox, Shutterstock

2. Conjunctivitis

Is it normal?: No
Need to see a vet?: Yes

A rabbit’s eyes and eyelids may become red if they’re suffering from conjunctivitis or inflammation of the conjunctiva, the thin layer that lines the eyeball and eyelids. Conjunctivitis is one of the most common causes of red eye in rabbits. It can be triggered by foreign material, irritation, allergies, or infection commonly caused by bacteria or viruses.

An upper respiratory tract infection can also cause conjunctivitis. Other signs of conjunctivitis may include swelling around the eye, eye discharge, or “cold” symptoms like nasal discharge. You may notice your rabbit’s appetite and energy level decrease if they suffer from an upper respiratory infection.


3. Uveitis

Is it normal?: No
Need to see a vet?: Yes

Uveitis is another potential reason why a rabbit may have red eyes. This eye condition involves inflammation and almost invariably, infection of some of the tissues inside the eye (uvea).

Bacterial infections caused by Pasteurella or Staphylococcus are common culprits. Swollen eyelids, discharge, or signs of illness like lethargy and not eating are all possible clues that your rabbit suffers from this condition.

Typically, you’ll need to treat the underlying disease and your rabbit’s eye problem. If left untreated, uveitis can have serious consequences to your rabbit’s eye and general health.


4. Glaucoma

Is it normal?: No
Need to see a vet?: Yes

Glaucoma, another possible cause of red eyes in rabbits, occurs when the fluid that is produced and drained inside the eye (aqueous humor) can’t exit the eye properly and builds up inside the eye. This extra fluid increases the pressure within the rabbit’s eye, which can be extremely painful.

Glaucoma is hereditary in New Zealand white rabbits and other breeds.1 Your rabbit may show signs of pain, like lethargy, holding their eye closed, or blinking frequently. Eye discharge may also occur. If not treated quickly, glaucoma can result in vision loss.

blue grey eyes rabbit-pixabay
Image Credit: ReganE, Pixabay

5. Corneal Wound (Ulcer)

Is it normal?: No
Need to see a vet?: Yes

A corneal wound (corneal ulcer) is another reason a rabbit may have red eyes. This condition often occurs after the rabbit suffers an injury or trauma to their eyes. The wound can easily get infected by bacteria or fungus having serious consequences for your rabbit’s vision.

As with most other eye conditions, you may notice a discharge, swelling, squinting, and signs of pain if your rabbit suffers from a corneal ulcer. The surface of the eye may look visibly damaged as well, and it is common for the cornea to look opaque or blueish.


6. Dental Disease

Is it normal?: No
Need to see a vet?: Yes

A rabbit may have red eyes because of an issue with their teeth. Dental disease may lead to problems in a rabbit’s nasolacrimal duct, the narrow and tortuous tube that drains their tears down to their nostrils. Besides red eyes, you will probably notice swelling of the eyelids, matted fur and crusting, and thick discharge around the eyes. You may also notice other signs of dental disease, like foul odors, lethargy, or reluctance to eat.


7. Injury

Is it normal?: No
Need to see a vet?: Yes

Finally, a rabbit may have red eyes due to an injury or trauma. An injury to the eye or a head may cause bleeding around the eye or into the eye. Unless an owner happens to witness the rabbit getting hurt, they may not be aware that anything happened until signs, such as red eyes, appear. If the eye is injured, you may also notice squinting and other signs of pain. Early intervention is key in avoiding any potential complications such as vision loss

bunny rabbit closing face,eyes with paws, shy pet grooming,crying or shamed
Image Credit: Olga Smolina SL, Shutterstock

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What to Do If Your Rabbit Has Red Eyes

As we learned, red eyes are only normal if your rabbit was born that way. All other causes of red eyes typically require a trip to the veterinarian. Your vet will examine your rabbit’s eyes and general health and likely ask questions about what you notice at home and any possible injuries.

To diagnose what’s going on with your rabbit’s red eyes, your vet will do a complete eye exam and may perform tests to check the eye pressure. They may also place a special dye in your rabbit’s eyes to check for an injury to the eye’s surface.

If your vet suspects the red eyes are a side effect of another issue like dental disease or infection, other tests may be needed. Treatment for red eyes will depend on which condition is diagnosed. Your rabbit may need eye drops or medications to treat a whole-body infection.

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Conclusion

No matter what’s going on with your rabbit’s red eyes, dealing with the issue quickly is essential. This will avoid further eye complications and any impact on your bunny’s general health. Any disruption in a rabbit’s eating habits can lead to GI stasis, a life-threatening slowdown in their digestion. Keeping your rabbit in a safe, clean environment and providing regular preventative health care may help you avoid many of these reasons for red eyes. Observe your rabbit regularly and deal with any problems that occur quickly.


Featured Image Credit: Anca Popa, Shutterstock

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