Red Eye in Rabbits

By PetMD Editorial on Aug. 12, 2008

Hyperemia and Red Eye in Rabbits

Red eye is a relatively common condition which causes swelling or irritation in the rabbit's eye or eyelid. This appearance of blood vessels in the eyeball can develop because of various reasons, including many systemic or body diseases. If your rabbit has red eye, seek veterinary advice immediately, as it is generally a secondary symptom to a more serious condition.

Symptoms and Types

The signs and symptoms of red eye and related conditions often depend on the underlying cause. For example, if the red eye is due to a dental disorder, there may be signs of tooth decay or dental disease in the animal. Other common signs and symptoms may include:

  • Impaired vision
  • Swollen eyelids
  • Eye discharge
  • Extra tissue around the eyes
  • Nasal discharge and upper respiratory infection or cold
  • Hair loss and crusting in the mucous membrane, especially around the eyes, nasal area and cheeks
  • Lethargy
  • Depression
  • Abnormal posture
  • Facial masses


Because there are many causes to rabbit red eye, it is often difficult to identify the exact cause. However, some factors may include:

  • Bacterial infections, including Treponema cuniculi (or rabbit syphilis), which can cause swollen eyelids
  • Conjunctivitis, a common disorder causing red eye that can result from allergies, bacterial or viral irritants; sometimes occurring as a side-effect of a respiratory tract infection
  • Keratitis, which is usually a fungal infection of the eye, and which can follow an injury to the eye
  • Glaucoma, which if left untreated, can cause blindness
  • Dental diseases, which can bring debris in the eye, causing inflammation or blocking a tear duct


The veterinarian will run a variety of laboratory tests to diagnose the cause for the rabbit's red eye. This includes skin and other type of cultures, as well as exams testing for cataracts and other ocular diseases that can impair vision and health. If the veterinarian is still unable to diagnose the condition, they may run special tests including:

  • Tonometry – measures the eye pressure in order to diagnose glaucoma and other related disorders
  • Schirmer tear test – detects dry eye , a condition which can lead to red eye
  • Cytologic examinations – identifies infections within the tear ducts and surrounding tissues
  • Fluorescein stains – helps rule out ulcerative keratitis, a condition which can lead to red eye


Treatment is almost always dependent on the underlying cause of the condition. For example, if the rabbit's red eye is due to a dental disease, a tooth extraction may be necessary; whereas a case of bacterial-caused red eye may require an antibiotic prescription.

To alleviate the rabbit's pain, the veterinarian will prescribe topical anti-inflammatory medication. In some cases, animals will require a short-course of topical steroid agents, especially rabbits with ulcers, delayed wound healing, and those with certain infections.

Living and Management

Some animals may require long-term pain management. Still others may require repeat eye exams to help ensure the rabbit's eye inflammation is managed properly, and that eye pressure remains stable to help prevent blindness.

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