Is It Normal for Rabbits to Have Eye Boogers or Discharge?


Are frequent eye boogers normal?

As responsible pet parents, we are always on the lookout for anything that may indicate illness in our pets. One of the things you may notice is eye boogers. You may feel that you are constantly pulling little crusty boogers out of your rabbit’s inner eye, making you fear that something is wrong with your rabbit.

It is normal to see a small number of eye boogers on your rabbit every day. You can pick them off, or wait for your rabbit to clean their own face. However, if you notice excessive watery eyes, balding skin around the eyes, or redness, then your rabbit might require medical attention.


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How frequently should you see eye boogers on your rabbit?

In the same way that you’ll see a couple of your own eye boogers every morning, you should expect to see a little crusted onto the inner corner of the eyes after your rabbit wakes up from a long nap. You may even notice this multiple times a day since rabbits will frequently take naps in the middle of the afternoon.

If all you’re seeing is this small amount of eye crusties or boogers, then you have nothing to worry about. However, if you see excessive watery eyes or eye boogers and crusting that is bad enough to cause matted fur or even fur loss, you may want to see a veterinarian. 

floating eye gunk
You may occasionally see a floating piece of gunk on your rabbits eye. This is normal and not harmful to the rabbit.

Are boogers floating on a rabbit’s eye normal?

You may also see the occasional booger on your rabbit’s eye itself.  While I wouldn’t go so far as to say this is common, it’s also not abnormal and not dangerous. This is more common in dwarf rabbits and breeds with bulging eyes, but any breed of rabbit can get the occasional gunk on their eye.

Rabbits have a thin, transparent membrane (the third eyelid) covering the outside of their eye that does a good job at protecting it from dust and debris. This can result in a small buildup of a white-ish gunk that builds up if a strand of fur or particle of dust is stuck to the rabbit’s eye. You can remove these pieces of gunk from your rabbit’s eyes if you want, but usually, it’s better to wait until they remove the gunk on their own during their grooming routine. This way you won’t accidentally harm your rabbit’s eyes or scratch their cornea while you try to remove the harmless piece from their eye.

rabbits grooming each other
When rabbits groom each other, they will often focus around the forehead, ears and eyes of the other rabbit.

What to expect if your rabbit has a partner?

If your rabbit has another partner rabbit, you might notice less of the daily eye boogers than if you have a single rabbit. When rabbits live in pairs, they will groom each other as a form of affection. One of the areas that can get special attention is their eyes. 

Most of the time the more dominant rabbit will get their eyes cleaned by their partner, including the eye boogers, crusties, and floating gunk. Sometimes the rabbits will clean each other’s eyes in a mutual relationship. Either way, you probably won’t see many eye boogers if you have multiple rabbits living together.

Is it okay to pick the eye boogers off your rabbit?

If you notice your rabbit has an eye booger, it’s perfectly fine to carefully pick it off. Since this is what rabbits do for each other when they’re in pairs and groups, it can also be seen as a form of bonding between you and your bunny. 

Of course, you want to be careful that your nails don’t scratch your rabbit’s eyes or skin. You also want to be sure you don’t pull so hard that you take off fur while you’re at it. Always be gentle and careful when touching areas around your rabbit’s face and eyes.

What is abnormal eye discharge in rabbits?

While it’s normal to see a few eye boogers or crusties daily, some types of eye discharge are abnormal and can indicate health problems or infections. If you notice any of the following symptoms, I recommend scheduling an appointment with your rabbit veterinarian. 

  • Constant watery eyes (epiphora). Rabbits don’t cry, so weepy eyes are a sign that something is wrong. It could be something as simple as a minor allergy or irritant in their environment, or it could be a more serious illness or infection.
  • Thick, sticky discharge. If your rabbit’s eyes are producing a thicker discharge, this is usually a sign of some sort of eye infection or allergies.
  • Balding patches and irritated skin near the eyes. Even if there does not appear to be a lot of excess discharge at the moment, balding patches and irritated skin near the eyes are usually a sign that the rabbit is rubbing the eye area or there has been eye discharge sitting on the skin. It can also be a sign of an eye infection.
  • Large areas of crusted or scabbed skin. Any large crusts or scabs near the eye are a sign of injury or infection.
  • Pink eye (the whites of the eye). Unless your rabbit has red eyes, you should not see a significant pink tinge on the whites of their eyes. This is a sign of pink eye (conjunctivitis).
  • Bumps or pus around the eye. Any unusual bumps around the eye could be an abscess, often caused by dental problems.

What causes common eye problems in rabbits

There are many possible reasons for abnormal eye discharge. It can be from a temporary irritant in their environment, such as dust, or it can be caused by a more serious bacterial infection or even dental disease. To know the cause, you will need to visit a rabbit veterinarian for a correct diagnosis. From there you can treat the problem.

  1. They got dust in their eyes (or a small particle). Sometimes tears or watery eyes are not a big deal. If the rabbit recovers from the weepy eye very quickly (within a day or two), then it probably was the result of a temporary environmental irritant.
  2. Blocked or infected tear ducts. Blocked tear ducts are unfortunately common among rabbits, especially dwarf and lop breeds of rabbits. While this is usually not serious or life-threatening, it will not always be treatable and you may have to add cleaning your rabbit’s eyes to their regular grooming routine. This can also be the result of a bone or dental condition from inside the jaw. The tear duct can also become infected, a condition known as dacryocystitis.
  3. Overgrown teeth. A rabbit’s teeth are constantly growing and need to be worn down by chewing (such as hay). If their teeth get too long (especially the molars), they may be pushed deeper into the skull, blocking the tear ducts or causing abscesses along the jaw and around the eyes.
  4. Illness (such as snuffles). Upper respiratory infections can cause weepy eyes and a runny nose in rabbits. The symptoms may look like a simple cold, but this is a deadly disease in rabbits that requires antibiotics. If you notice cold-like symptoms in your rabbit, make an appointment with your vet as soon as possible.
    1. Learn more about snuffles in rabbits (the rabbit cold)
  5. An eye infection (such as conjunctivitis). The rabbit might have an infection in their eye, eyelid, or the area surrounding their eye. This can cause sticky discharge and the appearance of pink eye.
  6. Glaucoma. This is not a common occurrence in rabbits, but it occurs when there is a high amount of fluid in the eye between the lens and cornea. Advanced glaucoma will damage the eye, eventually resulting in blindness.
  7. Genetics. Unfortunately, some rabbits just have bad genes. Rabbits with shorter faces or larger eyeballs are more likely to have problems with the drainage of their eyes, causing persistent watery eyes. The tear duct can also become infected, a condition known as dacryocystitis.

Should you wash your rabbit’s eyes at home

If your rabbit has minor eye problems that are not serious you can help them a little bit at home to keep their eyes clean. In most cases, you can use a soft, damp hand towel or paper towel to gently rub the external areas around your rabbit’s eyes.

Don’t rub the area around your rabbit’s eyes hard, since the skin here is very delicate. Instead, gently rub away any crusted areas or matted sections of fur. Try to behave as if you are petting your rabbit more than cleaning them. After using the damp towel, use another soft towel to dry off the area.

Can you use eye drops on rabbits?

You should never use human eye drops on a rabbit’s eyes. These can cause stinging, irritation, and potential damage to your rabbit eye and cornea. 

If your rabbit does require their eyes to be flushed (consult a veterinarian first), you can use special pet eye drops instead. Vetericyn is a trusted brand that has a line of pet eye wash you can use. 

When to see a veterinary professional

If you are seeing a minor amount of eye discharge, such as a minor watery eye with no other symptoms, it’s safe to wait a few days to see if their eye improves. In many cases, the discharge is due to a simple irritant in the environment, like hay dust, and they will quickly recover.

However, since eye discharge can be a sign of a more serious infection, you should bring your rabbit to a veterinarian if:

  • A watery eye does not improve within 24 hours
  • There is any pus, skin redness, or inflammation
  • You notice bald patches around the eyes
  • You notice any other symptoms of illness (such as a lack of appetite, decreased energy, or a runny nose).

Sources

  1. A. Van Praag. “White eye discharge?” MediRabbit http://www.medirabbit.com/EN/Eye_diseases/Discharge/eye_discharge.htm
  2. Krempels, Dana Ph.D. “Chronic Runny Eyes In Rabbits.” House Rabbit Society. January 2011. https://rabbit.org/chronic-runny-eyes-in-rabbits/ 

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Amy Pratt

Amy Pratt is a lifelong rabbit owner who has been specializing with rabbits at the Humane Rescue Alliance. She helps to socialize the rabbits and educate volunteers on the care and behavior of these small mammals.

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