How well does a rabbit see me?


Photo of white rabbit

Rabbits make such great pets for so many of us, but sometimes we make them jump when we are right in front of their nose.  They can also get startled when we are carrying a large object or shopping bags.  None of us want to upset our bunnies, so I did some research on their eyesight.

Rabbits have a wide range of vision due to the eyes being on the side of the head.  They have poor depth perception up close but can see objects further away clearly.

It made sense to me that a rabbit would have to be able to see dangers further away, but I wanted to find out more.  If you want more information on what your rabbit can see, then read on.

What a view!

Rabbits have large eyes that are high on the side of their head.  This gives a rabbit an almost 360-degree view and can see far above their head.  Without moving their head, the rabbit has a large field of vision, giving them excellent vision against predators such as coyotes and wolves. 

Rabbits eyes have developed to detect from almost any direction predators quickly. The rabbit is very good at working out an escape route from where it is located at all times.

The rabbits eyes are just one way that they survive in the wild. If you would like to find out some more ways, I have written an article here.

Photo of rabbit

The two large eyes can be blue, brown, blue-grey, marbled, or red.  They can be almost any color except green.  As the rabbit’s age, the color of the eye darkens. 

Do rabbits have good vision at night?

Rabbits have eyes that are like humans. However, the rabbit can see better in low light. 

Among other things, rods and cones make up the eye.  The rods help to see in low light levels (night) whereas cones see in higher light levels (day). 

The rabbit has far more rods than cones, allowing it to see better than humans in the dark.  This increased vision comes at a cost as the image is not as high a resolution as a human.

The rabbit is not a nocturnal animal but also does not like to sleep at night and stay up all day.  Rabbits are crepuscular, which means they are most active at dusk and dawn.

Their eyesight is particularly good for this time of day as their vision is not suited for either bright day-time or dark night-times.

Why can rabbits not see in front of their nose?

Rabbits have a blind spot under their chin and in front of their nose.  As the eyes are placed on the sides of the head, about 30 degrees of their field of vision overlaps, with 10 degrees in front of them being the blind spot.

The blind spot is approximately 10 degrees in front of their nose.  This leads to minimal three-dimensional sight for the rabbit.  The rabbit uses a similar system to birds called parallax to determine the distance of an object. 

This involves bobbing their head up and down while looking at the distant object.  The closer the object is, the more it moves.  This is also called eye scanning.

Photo of rabbit

As the rabbit does not see very well in three dimensions, the world is very two-dimensional to them.  The rabbit would not know at first look if a fox was 100 yards away or 10 yards away.  The world to the rabbit is almost like looking at the screen you are reading this on.

If you place a treat in front of your rabbits’ nose, then it will not be able to see it, but it will use its smell and taste to find it and what it is.  Rabbits have sensitive lips and mouths, and very sophisticated taste buds to select their food.  Their whiskers and sense of smell also help to choose the correct food.

Now you know why your rabbit is looking at you funny.

Can rabbits see in color?

The rods and cones that makeup part of the rabbit’s eye tell us if the rabbit can see in color.  The cones contain pigments that give the ability to see color, whereas the rods do not have the color vision pigments.

The eyes of a rabbit hold more rods than cones; reaching 300,000 per square mm compared to 18,000 cones per square mm. 

The cones are not sensitive to red light; however, they are sensitive to green and blue.  Most of the retina is made up of sensitive green cones, but there are also areas where there are just blue cones.

While they can tell blue and green apart, other colors are seen as grey by the rabbit.

If you have ever seen a rabbit jump and twist its body, you may have wondered what it was doing and why. I have written an article on this here.

Can my rabbit see me or am I just a blur?

Rabbits have eyes that are similar to humans. However, the rabbit will see with lower quality, granular vision.

Rods and cones, among other things, are what make the human eye. The rods help to see in low light levels, whereas for higher light levels the cones are used. The rabbit has far more rods than cones, allowing it to see better than humans in the dark. 

This increased vision comes at a cost; however, as the image is not as high a resolution as a human with more cones in their eyes.

This gives the rabbit a vision that is easier to see in the dark but gives a low quality effect.

This can mean that when you are carrying a shopping bag or lifting an object, the rabbit may get scared as it doesn’t recognize you when you are carrying something.

Why do rabbits have red eyes?

Some rabbits have red eyes, and this is caused by albinism.  Albinism was bred into rabbits intentionally to have a line that would produce white rabbits all the time. 

Albino rabbits have no pigmentation within their bodies.  This reduces the coloring of the iris, which is the colored part of the eye.  There is also no color in the retina, the light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eye.

By looking into their eyes, the red color you see is the red blood in the back of the eye.  Albino rabbits are sensitive to sunlight and will often move to shade to comfort their eyes.  Remember if you have an albino bunny that the eyes and skin are very sensitive to direct sunlight. 

Do rabbits have three eyelids? 

The rabbit has a third eyelid also known as a nictitating membrane.  This membrane keeps the eye clean so that they can be more aware of approaching predators.  Rabbits sleep with their eyes open to help with this.  Although rabbits blink approximately 10-12 times an hour, the third eyelid does not blink. 

When the globe is retracted into the socket, the membrane covers the cornea.  Although the third eyelid will partially close with sleep or under anesthetic, it never closes more than two-thirds past the cornea.

How do you tell if your rabbit is blind?

Although rabbits do have blind spots in front of their nose, it can be very upsetting to find your rabbit is blind in one or both eyes. 

Here are some tell-tale signs that your rabbit could be blind or going blind.

  • Acting less sure of their surroundings
  • Bumping into obstacles
  • Redness of the eye
  • Swollen eye
  • Nervousness
  • Receding eyeball
  • Startled by normal sounds
  • Delayed response to stimulation
  • Dilated pupils
  • Cloudy eyes

If you think that your rabbit may be going blind or is blind, then please go and see your vet for their advice.

Problems with rabbits eyes

There can be several problems that rabbits have with their eyes. As rabbits have large eyes, they can easily get foreign objects in them and are susceptible to disease and injury.

Here are several of the most common eye problems that rabbits have:

Conjunctivitis – This can also be known as ‘pink eye’ or ‘weepy eye’.  This can develop without there being a cause for it, although it can happen from a dirty cage or litter box.  If you notice your rabbit start to rub his eyes with his front feet, then this could be a sign of conjunctivitis.  Conjunctivitis is inflammation of the pink flesh around the eye and you may begin to notice their eyes watering or a thick discharge.     

Conjunctivitis can be treated with antibiotics by your vet and the treatment will work well if caused by an infection.  Consult your vet sooner rather than later.

Ulcers – The cornea can be easily damaged whether from their bedding of hay, from fighting or any number of things.  An ulcer is a hole in the cornea.  If you see your rabbit scratching at its eye with its paw or holding its eye shut then this could be an indication of an ulcer. 

Ulcers can be superficial or deep and may be able to be treated with a topical antibiotic applied several times daily.  Again, go and see your vet as soon as you notice any problems.

Keratitis – Keratitis is inflammation of the cornea.  This can be caused by a minor injury or a foreign body in the eye.  If you see excess tears or eye redness on your rabbit then it could be keratitis.

Vets can prescribe antibiotics for keratitis, however make sure that you take your rabbit as soon as you can.

Abscess – If you notice any thick sticky pus coming from your rabbits eyes then it could be an abscess.  There may be swelling of the eyeball due to a chronic infection around the periorbital region.

Your vet should be able to prescribe antibiotics for this.

Foreign body in the eye – If there is something in your rabbits eye that shouldn’t be then that is known as a foreign body.  Food, a piece of bedding could have got lodged in there.  With such a large eye the rabbit can get a lot of things stuck in there.

By using a saline rinse or cotton swab, you may be able to remove the foreign body yourself.  However, if you do not feel comfortable with this or this is causing more pain to the rabbit then take them to the vet.

Treatment for all eye problems will vary based on the diagnosis.  Make sure you take any eye issue seriously and act on it quickly.  A rabbit can soon get depressed because of the pain they are under and can stop eating or drinking.  Most eye issues can be cleared up with antibiotics, but can get worse very quickly if not treated.

How to prevent issues to your rabbits’ eyes

Clean living environment – Most eye infections are caused by bacteria, so a clean-living environment is essential for their health.  Clean bedding, cage and water are essential as bacteria can cause a major infection in the eye.

Rabbit proof – Make sure that you take care to rabbit proof the situation where the rabbit is.  Sharp sticks, pencils, and other objects can easily damage their eyes, especially if they don’t know they are in front of them.

Unusual behavior – If you see any unusual behavior from your rabbit, such as rubbing its eyes or weeping, then please speak to your vet straight away.

For health-related questions, always consult your veterinarian, as they have examined your pet, know the pet’s health history, and can make the best recommendations for your pet.

Conclusion

We have seen that rabbits have an excellent range of vision due to the eyes being on the sides of the head.  We now know that they see well in low light conditions, although not pitch black.  They can see the colors of green and blue due to the rods in their eyes and now understand some of the problems a rabbit may have with their eyes. 

Bryan Harding

Bryan has spent his whole life around animals. While loving all animals, Bryan is especially fond of mammals and has studied and worked with them around the world. Not only does Bryan share his knowledge and experience with our readers, but he also serves as owner, editor, and publisher of North American Mammals.

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