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Rabbits/Rabbit eye problems? Bulging eyes.


I have a 4 year old neutered male dwarf who I had staying at my mother's house for a few months. One day about a month ago she told me that his eyes looked a little pick around the rims but after a couple days she said she thought they looked okay. When I went home for the holidays a couple of weeks ago, I was in a panic because I noticed that both of his eyes were bulging out of his head. I never knew rabbits had a third eyelid, but I noticed these as well when I saw him. I took him to the vet immediately and they gave me drops to give him twice a day for 7-10 days to see if that would help, assuming it was a simple infection or irritation before something more serious. After a day or two his eyes started to look better and I didn't notice as much bulging. I was relieved but I continued the drops for a full 10 days. Since then, I've brought him home with me and have been keeping a close eye on him. Since I've stopped giving him the drops, I've noticed the rims around his eyes are starting to look a little pink again and little bigger. Also, when I pick him up sometimes I hear a slight sniffling like he has a stuffy nose. I was afraid his eyes would start bulging again, so I gave him some more drops. Was this the right thing to do? Of course, I've read some things on the internet and scared myself into thinking this could be something serious like a head abcess or who knows what else. I guess my question is, if the drops helped the first time around, should I assume it was just a simple infection? And if so, was it normal for his eyes to bulge out like that? If they look a little pink again, should I give him more drops to prevent what happened before?
Thanks for your help!

ANSWER: Dear Stephanie,

The coincidence of the eyes looking less bulgy and the application of the eye drops might mislead you.  A problem like this is more likely to be caused by a retrobulbar (i.e., behind the eye abscess) if it's only on one side.  However, if both sides are bulging, then it's possible that your bunny has a mass in his thorax that is impeding the return blood flow from his head.  This will cause the large, venous sinus behind each of eyes to swell and push the eyes outward.

Thymoma (a usually benign cancer of the thymus) is a frequently seen cause of signs such as those you describe.  Fortunately, there are treatments, though they might not be cheap:

I would recommend you get your bunny to a rabbit-experienced veterinarian:

for full diagnosis, including thoracic radiographs, dental exam, etc.  Without a complete exam, it will be impossible to find out the cause of the problem.  Note that the eyes will often bulge more obviously when the bunny is stressed, with or without a thoracic mass.

If the vet suspects a head abscess, then you might ask about injections of dual-acting Penicillin G Procaine/Benzathine, which is often very effective against infections in the head.  It can truly be life-saving.  

But before you start on any course of treatment, you have to know what you're fighting.  So it's off to a rabbit-savvy vet, ASAP.

I hope this helps.


---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: This sounds like very bad news. I was hoping a simple eye infection could cause the bulging eyes, but are you saying there is no possibility of that? I was wondering if you have any idea what the cost range would be for the types of tests I need to have done for him? And is it possible to treat this condition with medicine or is surgery/radiation the only option? I am very worried now.
Thanks for your advice!

Dear Stephanie,

Veterinary costs vary so much by state and region that it is impossible for me to guess what it might cost in your area.  The best way to find out is to just take bun to a good rabbit vet for a preliminary exam and diagnosis.  A radiograph/x ray should not break the bank, and will help with the diagnosis, identifying a mass in the chest if it is there.

Please read the articles I sent before, since there are medical alternatives to surgery or even radiation.  Though corticosteroids are usually contraindicated in rabbits, I know of some vets who have helped reduce the size of a thymoma with these.  It's not a permanent solution, but can help.

But to calm your worry, there is no better way than get to a rabbit-savvy vet (preferably one who knows about the thymoma possibility) so you know what is actually going on and can make an informed decision about the right treatment.

I hope this helps.



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Dana Krempels, Ph.D.


I've lived with companion rabbits for more than 35 years, and consider them members of my family. I can answer any questions about the biology and health of rabbits, from the commonplace to the unusual. But please note:

RULE #1:

Find a rabbit vet at for immediate help, and don't risk your bunny's life by spending time asking questions online! If you can't get in touch with your vet, read these Emergency Sick Bunny Instructions.

If you have found a wild baby rabbit, please read these EMERGENCY INSTRUCTIONS FOR WILD BABY RABBITS and then use this link to FIND A LOCAL WILDLIFE REHABILITATOR who can give you the right advice.

RULE #2:
Help me help you! Please make your subject line informative if you have an urgent question. then LET ME KNOW IN THE SUBJECT LINE so I can give your question highest priority over non-urgent questions. If you don't do this, then I can't guarantee timely assistance!

For all the best, most accurate rabbit health, care and behavior information, visit The House Rabbit Society.


I have been rescuing and rehabilitating domestic and wild rabbits for about 30 years. I have written articles for many rabbit rescue publications, as well as for the veterinary journal, Exotic DVM. I own EtherBun, the internet's largest listserve dedicated to health, care, and behavior of domestic rabbits.

Houserabbit Adoption, Rescue, and Education, Inc. (H.A.R.E., Inc.) president National House Rabbit Society (Board member)

Exotic DVM
Warren Peace (Journal of the House Rabbit Society of Miami)
Various newsletters of the House Rabbit Society, nationwide

Ph.D - Biology
B.S. - Biology
B.A. - English

Awards and Honors
Lightspan Academic Excellence Award for web site on rabbit health and biology

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