Pet Factsheets

Living with a blind rabbit

For various reasons, rabbits may suffer from partial or complete loss of sight. Whilst this may seem distressing and something owners worry about, rabbits normally adapt well as long as some simple guidelines are followed.

How good is a rabbit's eyesight?

Rabbit's eyes are placed laterally so they have a good field of vision but struggle to see objects close up and have a blind spot right in front of their nose. For this reason, they have an acute sense of smell and remarkable hearing, with each ear being able to move independently.

It is also believed that rabbits see in two dimensions, seeing better in low light, which helps as they are most active at dawn and dusk.

Why do rabbits lose their sight?

There are a variety of possible reasons and causes as to why a rabbit may become blind.

Glaucoma
This occurs when the intraocular pressure in the eye/s gets too high. The affected eye/s can become damaged to the extent that sight is lost, especially if the problem goes untreated for any length of time. You may notice signs of glaucoma, such as cloudiness of the eye, enlargement of the eye, conjunctivitis, or your rabbit may be unable to close the affected eye/s.

Cataracts

Often rabbits are born with cataracts or they can develop spontaneously without any obvious cause. A cataract is an opaque film on the lens of the eye which distorts vision and can cause blindness if the entire lens is covered. One or both eyes can be affected. Surgery to remove the cataract may be an option and should be discussed with your vet.

E. cuniculi

This parasite is believed to be widespread within the domestic rabbit population with a variety of potential problems and clinical signs attributed to the parasite.

Uveitis occurs when the E. cuniculi spores migrate during pregnancy from the mother to the foetuses and into the lens of the eye/s. Some rabbits don't require treatment and the condition will settle down on its own. Others, however, require medical management or enucleation in severe cases.

Untreated eye infections

Any infection of the eye/s that goes untreated can lead to permanent damage to the eyes affecting the rabbit's sight. For this reason, it is important to get your rabbits eye examined if you notice any discharge, swelling, redness in or around the eyes, or signs of pain such as anorexia, lethargy or depression.

Injury to the eye/s necessitating enucleation of one or both eyes

It is possible to remove one or both of a rabbit's eyes if they are diseased or injured to an extent that they are painful and a hindrance to the rabbit. Normally both eyes are not removed together and if possible, a few weeks is left between surgeries, but this may not be the case in penetrating injuries, or ruptured ulcer.

Congenital deformities

These may mean that the rabbit is born blind or with non-functioning or even missing eyes. If the eyes are deformed and painful then enucleation may be necessary.

What are the signs of blindness?

The rabbit's eye/s may appear cloudy or hazy, red, swollen or discharging. Some eye conditions can be painful, so the rabbit may be scratching the eyes making them sore.

Signs of pain, as mentioned previously, may be secondary to the underlying eye problem.

You may also notice your rabbit bumping into objects, moving with their nose close to the ground, or they may become less keen on moving around as their vision becomes limited.

How will my vet diagnose blindness?

Your vet will want to take a close look at your rabbit's eyes to determine exactly what the problem is.

An intraocular pressure check, check for ulcers, a retinal examination and a thorough clinical examination, and possible referral to an expert eye vet (ophthalmologist), may all be required.

How can I help my blind rabbit?

The single most important thing for blind rabbits is to keep the rabbit's environment constant. They will soon learn where things are and if these are constantly moved around the rabbit will struggle to adapt to the environment.

Food bowl should be placed in the same place each day, as should litter trays, water bottle/bowl. For safety reasons, for exercise it is best to allow the rabbit access to a secure run, rather than the entire garden.

House rabbits must only be allowed access to safe rooms where they cannot injure themselves on the corners of objects and should not be allowed access to stairs.

Blind rabbits often benefit from the company of another rabbit.

What is the prognosis for a blind rabbit?

Blind rabbits do not seem to suffer and if the reason for their blindness is controlled/corrected, and they are not in uncontrolled pain, then there is no reason why they shouldn't continue to live a full and happy life.

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