Blindness is not uncommon in older rabbits. And one of the best ways to prevent blindness is to make sure your rabbit has an unlimited supply of its favorite natural food.
In this article, I will explain how you can tell if your rabbit is blind.
Then we will discuss the most common cause of blindness in rabbits and what you can do to prevent it. Finally, we will give you some advice on living with a blind rabbit.
How Can You Tell If Your Rabbit Is Blind?
In some ways, rabbits with normal vision can see better than their owners can.
Rabbits are farsighted. It’s a natural adaptation that helps them see predators coming from a long way off.
A healthy rabbit has a nearly 360° field of vision. Your rabbit’s eyes are on the sides of its head, so it can see up, down, and to the sides. To a limited extent, your rabbit can see objects and animals approaching it from the rear.
There are only two ways that healthy rabbits don’t have great vision:
- Rabbits have more rods than cones in their retinas. As a result, they can see well in the dark but they can’t see the color red. To compensate for this inability, they have a very keen ability to distinguish shades of green in the plants they eat. They also can distinguish shades of blue.
- Rabbits can’t see objects right in front of their noses. That’s because their eyes are located on the sides of their heads. Chances are, of course, that your rabbit is nibbling anything right in front of its mouth, so it identifies close-up objects by smell, feel, and taste. If you try to snuggle up to your bunny’s face or give it a boop on its head, it has only a grainy image of you until you are about six inches (15 cm) away, and then it cannot see you at all.
The importance of knowing the limitations of normal vision in rabbits is realizing that your rabbit looks at things from the side of its head.
When your rabbit is looking over to you affectionately, it isn’t facing you. It turns its side to you. Not looking straight ahead is not a sign that your rabbit is blind.
There are other indications that loss of vision may be a problem.
- Your rabbit bumps into things. Anything that is not in its usual place becomes an obstacle. Your rabbit may not be able to find its litter box if you move it.
- Your rabbit will explore its play area around its walls. It may use its whiskers to feel its way forward.
- Sudden loud noises become especially terrifying for your rabbit. Your bunny may scamper away into a corner or into its hiding house much more quickly than it used to.
- Your rabbit’s eyes look cloudy. Or they may look red, hazy, or cloudy. There may be a mucus discharge. Your rabbit may scratch its eyes if they itch or ache. Scratching can lead to infections.
In rare instances, rabbits may lose their sight after an injury.
Going blind is more likely to be a slow process. There is one condition that robs rabbits of their vision more than any other.
Also read: Can Rabbits See in the Dark?
The Unpronounceable Most Common Cause of Blindness in Rabbits
Most cases of blindness in rabbits result from a condition known as dacryocystitis.
That’s pronounced da-cro-cys-ti-tis.
But don’t worry about the pronunciation. The condition is also known as weepy eye.
Dacryocystitis is a condition of inflammation in the tear ducts of the rabbit’s eyes. It can occur in one eye or in both eyes.
The tear ducts leading to a rabbit’s eyes are long and winding. They are close to the rabbit’s nose and teeth.
Any infection in the teeth, gums, or nasal passages can easily spread to the tear ducts, where they can cause conjunctivitis and other infections of the eyes.
This condition can start when a very small foreign object gets stuck in a tear duct.
This can be the end of a blade of grass, or a seed, or a tiny insect. Tears can sometimes form a sludge that blocks the tear duct.
Weepy eye can also follow:
- Dental disease, such as an abscessed tooth or a gum infection.
- Bacterial infection, especially with Pasteurella. This infection will also cause the rabbit to tilt its head to one side. It’s more common in larger rabbits. Dwarf rabbits usually do not get Pasteurella.
- Wounds to the eyelids. These can result from scratches by other animals or by the rabbit’s running into a thorn.
- Respiratory infections. Any infection that makes your rabbit sneeze or cough can also cause weepy eye.
Symptoms of dacryocystitis in rabbits
Tear ducts carry tears away from the eyes to the nasal passages.
If the tear ducts become inflamed or blocked, tears will spill over the rabbit’s face. In the earlier stages of dacryocystitis, you may notice:
- Wet skin around the eyes and across the face.
- Swelling around or under the eyes.
- Tear stains on the fur on the rabbit’s face.
- Matted fur or yellow crusts around the affected eye or eyes.
- Yellow, green, white, or gray discharge from the eye.
- Less interest in play, withdrawing from other rabbits, not interested in being petted.
- Increased time spent in hiding.
- Decreased appetite, weight loss, and lethargy.
- Red and/or swollen eyes.
- Withdraws in pain when the face is touched.
Treating and preventing dacryocystitis
If you notice the symptoms of weepy eye, get your rabbit to the vet right away.
Bacterial infections of the tear ducts are often treatable with broad-spectrum antibiotics that your veterinarian can prescribe. Simple antibiotic treatment can often save your rabbit’s sight.
Or, even better, take these simple steps to prevent weepy eye.
- Make sure your rabbit has enough high-fiber, dry, clean timothy hay to nibble 12 to 14 hours a day. The usual recommendation is to give your rabbit a volume of timothy hay the same size as its body. Chewing on the fibers in hay keeps your rabbit’s teeth shorter (so they do not grow into the face) and cleaner (so dental disease is less likely). Chewing motion also helps to keep tears flowing.
- Pay attention to your rabbit’s eyes and face. If you see unusual moisture around the eyes or on the face, or red, inflamed eyes, or swelling around the eyes, get your rabbit to the vet promptly. It’s not an emergency, but it needs treatment in a few days.
- Monitor your rabbit’s weight. Unexplained weight loss may point to problems in finding food. Your veterinarian can pinpoint the exact cause of the problem.
Also read: Why Does My Rabbit Have Red Eyes?
Other Causes of Blindness in Rabbits
Dacryocystitis is the most common cause of blindness in pet rabbits, but it is hardly the only cause of blindness in rabbits.
Here’s the rundown on other reasons rabbits lose their sight.
A cataract is a clouding of the lens of the eye. It results when proteins in the lens link together so light is distorted or blocked as it passes through the lens.
Rabbits can be born with cataracts. although cataracts are rare in rabbits that are less than 36 months old. The lens may form cataracts after an infection or an injury.
Some breeds of rabbits, such as New Zealand Whites, have a genetic risk of cataracts. Cataracts occur more often in purebred rabbits than in mixed-breed rabbits.
It is actually possible to give a rabbit the same kind of lens replacement surgery used to treat cataracts in humans, but very few veterinarians know how to perform it.
You can find more information about cataract surgery for rabbits from the Unusual Pet Vets.
Also read: How to Wash/Clean a Rabbit’s Eye?
Glaucoma is a condition of high pressure inside the eyeball. It gradually destroys the optic nerve.
Like cataracts, it is more common in New Zealand Whites, and the breeds derived from them, such as Cinnamon rabbits. Bunnies can be born with glaucoma, or it can develop as the rabbit matures.
Signs of glaucoma include bulging eyeballs. Your vet may be able to prescribe eye drops that help if the condition is diagnosed in time.
Encephalitozoon cuniculi, also known as E. cuniculi, is a parasitic infection. It can be passed from mother to kit during birth, or when the rabbit encounters spores in the air.
About 42 percent of all rabbits have this infection. Usually, the rabbit’s immune system can defeat it, but the parasite can cause blindness and paralysis in rabbits under stress.
Your veterinarian may be able to treat it with a medication called albendazole, but it is important to start treatment as soon as possible.
Blindness in rabbits can occur when other eye infections are not treated. Prompt intervention by your vet helps save sight.
Also read: Do Rabbits Get Worms?
How to Assess Your Rabbit’s Vision?
One effective way to assess your rabbit’s vision is to conduct a depth perception test.
You can do this by placing an object, such as a box or a toy, in their path and observing how they react.
If your rabbit can see the object, they will likely either hop over it or maneuver around it.
However, if they have vision problems, they may bump into the object or show difficulty navigating their surroundings. This can be an indication of vision impairment, such as blindness or partial blindness.
Living with a Blind Rabbit
The most important thing to remember when you are living with a blind rabbit is not to move things around.
Blind rabbits can learn how to find their food, their water, their litter box, and even their toys, if these objects are always in the same place.
Even blind rabbits need play time. For safety reasons, do not allow them to roam free in your backyard. Make sure they only play in a protected, quiet space.
Also keep in mind:
- Blind rabbits rely on their sense of smell. Avoid wearing strong perfumes or cologne around a blind rabbit. Keep the scent of household cleaners to a minimum.
- A blind rabbit will explore its world by chewing. Make sure your rabbit’s environment is free of electrical cords and furniture that chewing could damage.
- When you are cleaning your rabbit’s hutch, cage, or litter box, leave them some objects with familiar scents so they can find their way around. Toys, blankets, and pillows help them navigate the floor.
- Make some noise when you approach your rabbit, so it will not be startled. Talk to your rabbit, or shuffle your feet.
- Don’t pick your rabbit up unless it likes being picked up. Get down to your rabbit’s level to pet it or to check its condition.
- If your rabbit has a playpen, line it with baby crib bumpers. This keeps them from injuring themselves when they reach a wall.
- Maintain a routine with a blind rabbit. Feed it at the same time every day. Play with it at the same time every day. Introduce any changes to routine slowly.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are common signs of blindness in rabbits?
Signs of blindness in rabbits may include consistently bumping into objects, getting startled by normal sounds, slow movements, delayed responses to stimulation, nervousness, and various eye-related issues such as a receding eyeball, dilated pupil, redness, swollen eye, or a cloudy appearance in the eye source.
Do rabbits experience blindness as they age?
Yes, rabbits can experience vision loss due to age-related changes, similar to other animals. However, this might not always be the sole reason for vision loss, as other factors like genetics, diseases, or injuries can also contribute.
What diseases can cause blindness in rabbits?
Diseases that can cause blindness in rabbits include cataracts, glaucoma, uveitis, and infections that affect the eyes or the optic nerve. Timely veterinary attention can help prevent permanent damage and preserve your rabbit’s vision.
Can rabbits adapt to living with blindness?
Yes, rabbits are resilient animals, and they can adapt to living with blindness. They rely on their senses of smell, hearing, and touch to navigate their surroundings. Providing a stable, safe, and familiar environment for your blind or visually impaired rabbit can help them thrive.
Are rabbits born with vision issues or do they develop over time?
Rabbits can be born with vision issues or develop them as they age due to factors such as genetics, diseases, or injuries. Regular veterinary check-ups are essential for maintaining your rabbit’s overall health and catching any potential vision problems early on.
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