Rabbits are often presented to us as first opinion patients with chronic eye problems. Common signs include a watery ocular discharge, blepharospasm or swelling of the eye or lids.
Here is a quick review of the common eye problems you might encounter.
10 common eye problems
- Dacrocystitis – infection and inflammation of the nasolacrymal duct. In rabbits this is usually associated with dental disease as the tooth roots and duct are anatomically very close to each other. Movement, infection or inflammation of the tooth base will therefore have an effect on the drainage of the duct itself. In general practice we try to flush the duct to remove mucus or purulent plugs.
- Conjunctivitis – often referred to as ‘pink eye’. Common infections isolated in such cases include Pasteurella multocida, Staphylococcus spp., Treponema cuniculi (rabbit syphilis) and Mycoplasma spp.
- Ulcers – corneal damage is relatively common and is often associated with wounds sustained in fighting or from hay or grass. The assessment of ulcers is similar to the approach you would make with dogs and cats. Fluorescein drops to help determine the extent of the ulcer with an appropriate use of antibiotics and analgesics.
- Keratitis – a condition where the cornea becomes inflamed and painful. This may result in corneal oedema and a cloudy appearance. It’s important to ensure you give appropriate pain relief using topical or systemic NSAID’s.
- Epiphora – you will often find facial dermatitis occurring as a result of the continuous tear overflow. Good home care and nursing to clean away the overflow is essential to keep the skin protected. Barrier cream can be used on the skin.
- Myxomatosis – a disease in rabbits caused by the Myxoma virus. Infected animals may suddenly become very ill with conjunctivitis, pyrexia, loss of appetite and lethargy. Mucous membranes of the eyes, nose, mouth, genital and anal areas become swollen and inflammed. Most rabbits die within 14 days.
- Abscess – rabbits are great at producing the thick sticky ‘cream cheese’ textured pus within thick walled abscesses. Any chronic infection in and around the periorbital region will affect the eye. Typically there will be pain and swelling of the eyeball.
- Cataract – rabbit cataracts can develop as a result of several factors, including diet, trauma, genetics and infection. The common infective agent is the parasite, E.cuniculi. Uveitis and pain may result from the cataract. Surgical removal may be recommended.
- Glaucoma – in New Zealand White (NZW) rabbits, the condition is inherited as an autosomal recessive trait. The onset of disease in the NZW is often between 3-6 months of age. Signs include buphthalmos, generalised corneal eedema and blindness. Treatment of glaucoma is often frustrating.
- Buphthalmos – this is when the eye appears to bulge out from the globe. It’s sometimes associated with blood accumulating in the venous sinus behind the eye. Causes can include fear (stress), a retrobulbar abscess and glaucoma.