Rabbits are prone to an assortment of eye problems due to their anatomy. Sometimes these problems are preventable but other times things just happen and you need to know what to do.
Rabbits have very large eyes that are on either side of their head so that they can see things coming at them from all sides. These large eyes are also usually farsighted so that they can see a predator approaching from far away but because they are so far on either side of their head they have a blind spot directly in front of them.
Because of this natural placement their eyes are also prone to injury.
Rabbit Eye Foreign Bodies
By using cotton tipped applicators (Q-tips), saline rinse, and sometimes even some eye lubrication, your vet should be able to remove the irritant from the affected eye. But sometimes the foreign body is so difficult to remove or your rabbit won't open his eye up enough to remove what doesn't belong that some light sedation, or anesthesia, is administered. This will relax your bunny and allow your vet to work more quickly without causing further harm to the eye. If you are comfortable doing so, you can take some human eye washing solution and attempt to flush out your rabbit's eyes at home if you think there might be something stuck in them.
Rabbit Eye Abcesses
The eye itself can be punctured, become infected, and abscess, but more commonly the area directly under the eye swells up and an abscess forms due to a wound. You may notice a bump under your rabbit's eye just suddenly appear one day. This could be from a scratch or bite that got infected.
Regardless of the reason for the abscessation, your rabbit will need it to be lanced (popped) by your vet and cleaned out. This will allow it to drain and get the infection removed. The vet may use a scalpel blade or a needle to lance it and then gently express the pus out of the abscess. Then, depending on how bad the area around the eye is, your vet may send you home with eye drops and systemic antibiotics (usually a liquid you give in your rabbit's mouth) to prevent the infection from spreading.
Rabbit Eye Ulcers
When something gets stuck in your rabbit's eye (such as bedding) or other trauma occurs to the eyeball itself, damage to the cornea can occur and an ulcer can result. An ulcer is basically a hole in the cornea and it can be a small spot or cover the entire eye.
Ulcers, as you can imagine, are very painful. Your rabbit may be holding his eye shut or be scratching it with his paw. These are signs that the eye hurts and is irritating to your rabbit. To diagnose an ulcer your exotics vet will use a special eye stain that will stick to the ulcer on the eye itself if there is one. Then they will use a black light to cause the stain to light up on the ulcer. If an ulcer is found you will be sent home with special eye drops and your rabbit will need to be rechecked in a few days or week to make sure the ulcer is going away.
Rabbit Eye Conjunctivitis
Also known as "pink eye," conjunctivitis is the inflammation of the pink part that surrounds your rabbit's eye. This pink to red colored fleshy part is called the conjunctiva. Rabbit eyes usually get bacterial conjunctivitis and require an antibiotic eye drop or ointment. They can get conjunctivitis from dirty water or an environment that would harbor bacteria, such as a dirty bedding or litter box.
Rabbit Eye Proptosis
This is probably the worst type of eye problem and the thankfully the least commonly seen one in rabbits. Proptosis is when the eyeball pops out of your rabbit's head. Really the only way this would ever happen is if your bunny gets squeezed so hard (this usually only occurs due to major trauma like a dog attack) that his eye comes out. It usually has to be removed, as it will be hanging from the optic nerve, but sometimes it can be surgically replaced.
Rabbit Eye Iris Prolapse
Also referred to as a protruding iris, an iris prolapse is when a part of the iris (the part of the eye that constricts and dilates) is protruding through a hole in the cornea. It is painful and may go away with simple eye drops but sometimes surgery is needed to replace the protruding portion of the iris and suture the hole closed.
Blindness in Rabbits
Sometimes rabbits are born blind due to congenital issues and other times trauma or other situations cause blindness. Regardless of the reason for being blind, bunnies should do just fine without their sight. They will be able to smell where food is in a cage but may have trouble navigating outside of a regular enclosure.
You can help prevent eye problems in your rabbit by keeping their enclosure clean and choosing soft bedding such as a recycled paper material. Get your rabbit checked out yearly by an exotics vet so that they can look at their eyes more closely. Only you can keep your rabbit happy and healthy and by knowing what could go wrong with their eyes is one way to help keep them healthy.