You may have noticed that some rabbits (especially white rabbits) have red or pink eyes. It seems unnatural. None of the popular pets, be it dogs, cats, parrots, etc., share this characteristic. This characteristic makes these rabbits popular among some pet owners. (1)
But what are the underlying causes of such unique eye pigmentation?
Is it natural, or a symptom of an underlying disease?
Let’s find out.
Causes of red eyes of some rabbits
Most often this trait is exhibited by albino rabbits. Such rabbits are pure white in color – they have no pigment (ie no melanin) in their fur, skin and even eyes. So, the eyes of such rabbits are red or blue. (2)
Albinism is an inherited trait. Such rabbits cannot produce tyrosinase, an enzyme that helps synthesize melanin from the amino acid tyrosine.
So, white albino rabbits have red/ruby colored eyes, (3) not because of any red color or red iris. His eyes appear red because the iris reflects light from his blood vessels instead of pigments.
Red eyes can also be due to some diseases!
‘Red eyes’ in rabbits without white fur can simply be caused by an eye infection, medically referred to as hyperemia (dry eye). It means redness in the eyes. This may be due to an increased amount of blood in the blood vessels of the eye, which may be caused by certain allergies, (4) bacterial/fungal infections, conjunctivitis, or perhaps glaucoma. It can also be caused by an injury, or due to overgrowth of the tooth in the eye. In such cases, see your veterinarian as soon as possible. This can eventually lead to vision loss. (5)
Such rabbits may also show some other symptoms, eg. Tears in the eyes, baldness around the eyes (fur loss), lethargy/loosening attitude (due to pain/irritability), swollen eyelids, etc.
Also, not all white rabbits have red eyes. Remember this. A white albino rabbit will have red eyes from birth. If you have a white rabbit whose eyes have recently started to look red, this is definitely a cause for concern. Consult your vet and let them know that your rabbit did not naturally have red eyes.
Any white rabbit will likely have the albino gene. But it may be suppressed. Having a gene does not mean that an organism will have that genetic disorder.
But there is an evolutionary or survival-related logic behind most things in nature. So, what are the advantages and disadvantages of having red eye?
red eye damage
Although red eyes in themselves are not bad, there are some vision problems in such rabbits.
- Such rabbits feel trouble in bright light. Their vision works better in shady places, and they prefer such conditions.
- Objects may initially appear slightly blurry to them until they are in focus.
- If you thought such rabbits would see better in the dark then you are wrong! Such rabbits have fewer rods in their eyes (the photoreceptors that help us see in the dark), and therefore cannot see well in the dark. Hence, they prove to be an easy prey in the wild. You probably won’t find many albino rabbits in the open for this reason.
- Since their skin has no pigmentation, they are more vulnerable to UV rays, skin cancer, sunburn, etc. Also they are as healthy as other normal rabbits.
benefits of red eyes
Well, red-eyed albino rabbits are otherwise very healthy. Albinism is not a disease that can spread to other rabbits or humans. So, you can keep them as pets. Just keep the lights low and don’t let them go too much in the sunlight.
The main advantage of such a genetic condition is simply that they are rare and look good – the sheer white fur and red eyes have a visual appeal. Therefore, many rabbit lovers prefer to keep such rabbits.
Rabbit Breeds in which Albinism is Common
Any rabbit can suffer from albinism. However, this defect is not prevalent in most rabbit breeds, possibly due to a suppressed recessive albino gene.
However, there are certainly some rabbit breeds that exhibit this genetic defect more than others. Some of these are listed below:
- Himalayan rabbit or Russian Rabbit
- Californian Rabbits: They are a cross-breed between the Himalayan and Chinchilla.
- Florida White
- Giant Angora