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 carrying large objects or shopping bags. None of us want to upset our bunnies, so I researched 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 see dangers further away, but I wanted to find out more. Read on if you want more information on what your rabbit can see.
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 its head. Without moving their leader, the rabbit has a large field of vision, giving them an excellent picture 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 finding an escape route from where it is always located.
The two large eyes can be blue, brown, blue-grey, marbled, or red. They can be almost any color except green. As the rabbit ages, 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 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 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 suitable 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 head’s sides, 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 thing is, the more it moves. This is also called eye scanning.
The rabbit does not see very well in three dimensions, so the world is two-dimensional. The rabbit would not know 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 rabbit’s nose, 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 fare.
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 can see color, whereas the rods do not have color vision pigments.
A rabbit’s eyes 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 the red light but are susceptible to green and blue. Mos comprises sensitive green cones, but there are also areas with blue cones.
While they can tell blue and green apart, the rabbit sees other colors as grey.
If you have 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, make the human eye. The rods help to see in low light levels, whereas the cones are used for higher light levels. The rabbit has far more rods than cones, allowing it to see better than humans in the dark.
However, this increased vision comes at a cost 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 carry a shopping bag or lift an object, the rabbit may get scared as it doesn’t recognize you when having 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, 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 eye’s back. Albino rabbits are sensitive to sunlight and often move to shade to comfort their eyes. Remember, if you have an albino bunny, your eyes and skin are exposed 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 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.
The membrane covers the cornea when the globe is retracted into the socket. 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
- Receding eyeball
- Startled by normal sounds
- Delayed response to stimulation
- Dilated pupils
- Cloudy eyes
If you think your rabbit may go blind, please 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 quickly get foreign objects 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 a cause, although it can happen from a dirty cage or litter box. If you notice that your rabbit starts to rub his eyes with his front feet, 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 from their hay bedding, 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 gaze shut, this could indicate an ulcer.
Ulcers can be superficial or deep and may be treated with a topical antibiotic applied daily. Again, 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. It could be keratitis if you see excess tears or eye redness on your rabbit.
Vets can prescribe antibiotics for keratitis; however, ensure you take your rabbit as soon as possible.
Abscess – If you notice any thick sticky pus coming from your rabbit’s eyes, 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 something in your rabbit’s vision shouldn’t be, that is known as a foreign body. Food, a piece of bedding could have got lodged in there. The rabbit can get many things stuck there with such a giant eye.
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 if this is causing more pain to the rabbit, 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 their pain and can stop eating or drinking. Most eye issues can be cleared with antibiotics but can worsen quickly if not treated.
How to prevent issues to your rabbits’ eyes
Clean living environment – Bacteria cause most eye infections, so a clean-living climate is essential for their health. Clean bedding, cage, and water are necessary as bacteria can cause significant disease in the eye.
Rabbit proof – Make sure you 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 rabbits, such as rubbing their eyes or weeping, please speak to your vet immediately.
For health-related questions, always consult your veterinarian, who has examined your pet, knows the pet’s health history, and can make the best recommendations for it.
We have seen that rabbits have an excellent range of vision due to the eyes being on the head’s sides. 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 is a member of the American Society of Mammalogists and a member of the American Birding Association. Bryan is especially fond of mammals and has studied and worked with them around the world. Bryan serves as owner, writer, and publisher of North American Nature.