Is pink eye in rabbit a sign of other problems?

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MODESTO, Calif. — Arnold is a 2-year-old mini Rex rabbit who has redness in the right eye. In the past few days, he's developed a white discharge in the eye. He has also begun to sneeze excessively. Karran, through her Internet research, is worried Arnold might have snuffles.

Snuffles is an upper-respiratory infectious disease caused by bacteria, and generally manifests as sneezing and nasal discharge. Arnold may have snuffles, however I suspect he has conjunctivitis.

Conjunctivitis is an inflammatory process of that can affect the lining or the eye socket and the eyeball. It is commonly caused by bacteria. I imagine the conjunctivitis was the initial problem, and it has now spread to Arnold's nasal passage.

There is a tube called a nasolacrimal duct that leads from the eye socket into the nasal passages from both eyes. This is how tears are drained from the eyes. Remember the last time you cried, resulting in your nose running as well? This is because the tears are flowing at a higher than normal rate through the nasolacrimal duct into the nose.

This pathway can carry infectious bacteria from the eye into the nose, where a new site of infection can occur. The infectious bacteria can then move from the nose into the lungs as they are inhaled during the breathing process. In Arnold's case, we do not have evidence, such as coughing, that might lead us to believe he has developed an infection in his lungs.

Inflammation within the nasolacrimal duct and involved nasolacrimal system is termed dacryocystitis. This can also occur as the bacteria set up shop in the nasolacrimal tissues. In Arnold's case, I am assuming the ailment is of bacterial origin, again starting with conjunctivitis.

It is past time to get Arnold treated. He needs to have the offending bacteria identified and tested to find out which antibiotic will destroy it best while doing the least harm. This is especially important in rabbits, as their digestive system relies very much on bacteria to produce energy from their food. Without the bacteria, the rabbits would not digest properly and would die. Not all antibiotics are safe for these little guys. Arnold will also need to be treated with appropriate antibiotic eye drops. These will help treat the conjunctivitis, the dacryocystitis and the nasal infection by draining through the nasolacrimal ducts into the nose. This will occur only if the ducts are not blocked by the infection.

This potential blockage brings up another point. The nasolacrimal ducts must be flushed out if they are not open and sometimes even if they are. Often with dacryocystitis, there is a buildup of pus in the ducts. That pus is not reached by antibiotics because there is no blood supply to the duct cavities. Flushing helps expel the pus and bacteria from the ducts. The flushing procedure involves anesthesia and flushing the duct openings in the eye sockets with saline solution. Some of these cases will need multiple flushing procedures to cure the infection over the long term. This is especially true with rabbits such as Arnold.

Another important point specific to rabbits that have developed dacryocystitis is the potential that dental disease is an underlying cause. Molar infections in rabbits can invade into the nasolacrimal ducts, causing infection. This can then move up the ducts into the eye sockets, causing infection there. Arnold will need to have his teeth checked at the same time he is having his ducts flushed.