It’s not uncommon for rabbits to lose their eyesight as they age or as the result of a serious infection. The good news is that blind rabbits can still get around using their sense of smell, hearing, and the touch of their whiskers. I’ve lived with multiple rabbits who were fully or partially blind, and they were still able to live comfortably for many years.
Blind rabbits will explore in a much more cautious and careful way. Even with this caution, you may see them occasionally bump into an object in their path. Other signs include a rabbit who is easily startled by common sounds in their surroundings or visibly cloudy eyes.
Rabbits usually don’t become blind overnight. It will be a slow process up to the point where they cannot see anymore, so you might not notice these behaviors right away because they develop slowly over time as your rabbit loses their eyesight. If you read this list and believe your rabbit could be blind, it’s a good idea to get that confirmed with a veterinarian. You can also make some easy changes around your home to keep your rabbit happy and safe.
How to tell if your rabbit is blind
Sometimes there will be visible symptoms in your rabbit’s eyes that can help you determine if they have vision problems. Other times, the best way to figure it out is by observing their behavior and how they react to the environment surrounding them. If in doubt, you can always bring your rabbit to a veterinarian for a physical exam so they can help you determine whether or not your rabbit is wholly or partially blind.
1. Your rabbit has cloudy eyes
One of the most common causes of vision impairment in rabbits is cataracts. This is when a cloudy layer forms on the lens of the rabbit’s eye. It can happen in one or both of the eyes, and you’ll be able to see a white fog-like layer when looking directly into your rabbit’s eye.
In the early stages, cataracts will only cause partial blindness. They will make the rabbit’s vision slightly cloudy. However, as they progress, the foggy layer will become more and more opaque, causing blindness. You’ll be able to see a white layer inside your rabbit’s eye.
While there are surgeries available to correct cataracts, they are somewhat risky, especially for the elderly rabbits who are most likely to develop cataracts. For this reason, most veterinarians will not recommend surgery and will instead encourage you to make changes in your rabbit’s environment to help them get around more easily.
2. Your rabbit bumps into objects
Some rabbits will bonk into an object occasionally just because they aren’t paying attention to where they are going. This is actually quite common when rabbits are zooming at full speed around the room. They’ll accidentally bump into the wall or a piece of furniture because they are going too fast to stop.
However, if your rabbit regularly bumps into objects when they are hopping around at a regular pace, they may have a vision impairment. In these cases, they may be blind in one eye, and it’s affecting their depth perception. With only one eye, it’s more difficult for your rabbit to effectively avoid objects in their vicinity, so they accidentally bump into things all the time.
3. Your rabbit moves slowly and carefully
As rabbits begin to go blind, they become less confident of their surroundings. Rather than zooming around the room, the rabbit will carefully make their way places by sniffing and feeling around with their whiskers. Since they cannot see, the rabbit will be much more reluctant to run through open areas since they don’t know what they might run into.
You may notice them pausing to nudge objects in the vicinity to figure out how big it is and how to get around it. The rabbit can also use these large objects as landmarks to help them figure out where in the room they are.
A leg of a table, for example, is not likely to move very much. So the rabbit can use this non-moving object to create a map of the room in their head. They’ll nudge the table to make sure it’s there and locate themselves on their map.
- Read more: How rabbit whiskers help them navigate
4. Your rabbit is easily startled
If a blind rabbit is distracted and doesn’t hear you come into the room, they might be shocked when you start petting them. They are not always aware of what’s happening around them, making it easier to accidentally startle your rabbit.
Simple, everyday sounds can also be startling to rabbits when they can’t see and understand the source of the sound. Opening a can of soda, for example, can be an unusual sound that startles the rabbit since they are unable to understand what is causing the noise.
5. Your rabbit explores around the edge of the room
Rabbits who are blind often feel safer around the edges of the room rather than out in the middle. There are typically more objects that act as landmarks and hiding places along the sides of the room. It helps the rabbit feel safer because they know where they are, and they know they have places to hide when they get scared.
This was something I noticed with our blind rabbit Loulou. As soon as we let her out of the enclosure in the morning, she would hop around the perimeter of the room. It seemed as if she was trying to make sure everything was still where it was supposed to be so she could match everything up with the map she made inside her head. After she took her round, Loulou would feel much more comfortable going back to her usual spots to rest and play.
6. Your rabbit’s eyes look unusual
Blindness in rabbits can be caused by more than just cataracts. If their eyes look unusual, it may be another physical sign of blindness. Some symptoms to look out for include:
- Swollen eyes or bug eyes
- Redness in and around the eyes
- Pupils that won’t focus
These can also be signs of infection or other rabbit diseases. If you notice any of these symptoms associated with your rabbit’s eyes, it’s a good idea to get them checked out by your veterinarian. At the same time, your vet will be able to help you determine if your rabbit is blind or partially blind.
Can blind rabbits be happy?
Blind rabbits can still live full and happy lives. Even if your rabbit becomes vision impaired at a young age, they can learn to get around and have fun. Without their vision, rabbits can still use their other senses to figure out their surroundings and live a normal life.
Much like dogs, a rabbit’s sense of smell is very strong. This will be the first factor in helping them understand their environment. Their whiskers have sensors deep within the follicles of the rabbit’s skin. They help rabbits feel their immediate surroundings to prevent them from getting stuck or bumping into objects.
Of course, a rabbit’s sense of hearing also plays a role in helping them understand their environment. Hearing can alert them to any other people in the room, helping them feel more aware and in-tune with the goings-on of the household.
If they are given a little time to adjust to their newly impaired vision, rabbits can absolutely learn to get around without a problem. You will undoubtedly notice that your rabbit is more careful as they move around, and they’ll be startled more easily. But your rabbit will get used to it and continue to live happily with you.
How to keep your rabbit safe and comfortable at home
If you have a blind rabbit, you’ll want to make some changes to their home environment to help them stay safe and comfortable. I wouldn’t consider any of these tips to be drastic changes. Instead, they are just little things to think about to improve the quality of your rabbit’s life.
- Avoid rearranging furniture. This includes the furniture in your rabbit’s exercise area and inside their enclosure. Blind rabbits are more likely to get confused if objects are moved around all the time. But if their environment remains predictable, they can get around almost as easily as they could before.
- Cover sharp corners. If you have any bookshelves, boxes, or furniture with sharp corners, try covering them with tape. You don’t want your rabbit to accidentally bump into the corner and injure themselves.
- Keep the room clutter-free. Random objects on the floor can be landmines for rabbits to get around. It confuses their mental map of the area, making the rabbit feel less safe, and too much clutter can cause accidental injury if your rabbit runs into it or trips over anything.
- Avoid using strong smells. Since rabbits rely much more on their sense of smell once they are blind, they can be confused by the use of perfumes, scent plugs, diffusers, scented candles, etc. It’s best to avoid using these kinds of strong scents in the rabbit area.
- Announce yourself to your rabbit. Make sure your rabbit knows when you’ve entered the room by talking softly to them when you’re around. This is especially important if you’re going to be interacting with your rabbit at all, since they can get startled if they didn’t know you were near. If your rabbit has one good eye, always approach them from that side.
- Keep stairways and raised platforms off limits. Many rabbits love going up and down stairs and platforms, but these can cause injury to blind rabbits who can’t see the floor when hopping down.
- Give your rabbit scent based activities. Give your rabbit fun foraging activities by hiding treats or dried herbs in a hay or digging box for your rabbit to find. These scent based activities are a great form of enrichment for rabbits who now rely on their sense of smell more.
- Avoid handling your rabbit whenever possible. Most rabbits hate being picked up, but it can be even more terrifying to blind rabbits. They feel much safer with the ground securely under their feet.
- “Blindness in Rabbits.” Disabled Rabbits. http://www.disabledrabbits.com/blindness.html.
- “Cloudy Eye in Rabbits.” PetMD. March 2016. https://www.petmd.com/rabbit/conditions/eyes/c_rb_cataracts.
- “How to tell if your rabbit is blind or deaf.” MediVet. https://www.medivet.co.uk/pet-care/pet-advice/blindness-deafness-in-rabbits.
- Praag, Esther vaan Ph.D. “Corneal abrasion and ulceration in rabbits.” MediRabbit. http://www.medirabbit.com/EN/Eye_diseases/Disorder/Ulcer/Ulc_en.htm.