Red Eyes, Eye Scanning & Rabbit Vision

Many aspects of how rabbits are put together are a mystery to the people who have them. This article is to help unravel one of those mysteries for you, a rabbit’s vision.

We see a broad color spectrum with lots of depth perception to help us navigate the world around us. Rabbits being prey animals, have evolved with eyes on both sides of their head in order to see 360 degrees. This is so they can always be on the lookout for approaching predators. Ironically, a rabbit has a blind spot directly in front of their nose. Their whiskers and smell are normally used to detect things in that area (and sometimes their teeth).

REW Bunny (red eye white)

REW Bunnies (red eye white) tend to eye scan the most

Bunnies are far sighted and do not see very well up close. They also tend to see in greens and blues because most of their food is green stuff.

Rabbits see things in two dimensions. They do not easily tell distance and have virtually no depth perception. They can see a cat, but cannot visually tell if it is ten feet or fifty feet away. Their vision can identify a cat, but they tend to use their other senses such as smell and hearing to determine how far away it is.

When a rabbit sees things with both eyes, he sees a flat picture that is similar to page in a coloring book. Imagine taking one of those extra wide panoramic pictures and wrapping it completely around your head and then being able to see the whole picture at once. This is hard for most people to imagine and conceptualize. This is why we don’t easily understand a rabbit’s vision. It is absolutely nothing like our own.

Then add to that the lack of a full color spectrum and the inability to see things up close and now you are beginning to understand a rabbit’s vision. This is why they tend to rely more on their hearing and sense of smell to alert them to danger around them. Their vision is important, but for up close work (like eating) they use their nose more than their eyes.

I often have people ask me about a common rabbit phenomenon called, eye scanning. It is a bit disturbing the first time you see it and it consists of a rabbit kind of weaving and bobbing like a drunk person in order to look at something. The first time I saw it, I thought the bunny was developing some kind of neurological problem or MS.

It turns out that it is more common in red eye bunnies, but I have seen a couple of non-red eye bunnies do it, as well. Usually the bunny will be sitting upright and his head will kind of weave from side to side. If you look closely, you will see that he is eying or looking closely as something, switching from one eye to the other in his gazing at it.

What he is actually doing is trying to get a better look at something, by using both eyes to view it. I think that for some rabbits, it helps them better gauge their surroundings. I think that they do it more when they are unsure of a location or curious about what is happening nearby.

My big New Zealand bunny does not care for cats and will thump whenever she sees or hears them. Often, she will start thumping and I cannot figure out what she is alerted to. Then I will see a cat way way off in the distance that she is seeing. To her she just sees a cat. She does not know if it is ten feet away or over one hundred feet away, like it really is.

Another common mystery is, why rabbits have red or pink eyes. This is actually the result of albinism. It was intentionally bred into bunnies in order to have a blood line that would produce all white bunnies all the time. Albinos of all species have pink or red eyes because it is due to the complete lack of pigmentation within their bodies. Normally it is a mutation, but this mutation has been bred to exclude all other varieties, in rabbits.

This is usually a recessive trait in most species and so when any genes are present to give color, the color is dominant and will be present. However, it is possible for a non-albino to give birth to an albino (all white with pink eye) offspring due to both parents have the recessive gene hidden in their DNA.

Albinos are sensitive to sunlight, due to their lack of pigmentation and red eye white rabbits are no exception. They can find glaring bright sunlight a bit annoying and will often seek shade to comfort their sensitive eyes. Keep this in mind when taking your red eye bunny out and about. Their sensitive eyes and skin do not like hot direct sunlight.

36 thoughts on “Red Eyes, Eye Scanning & Rabbit Vision

  1. Hello. I wanted to ask a question about my seal point doe..she has the “scan”.. is it at all possible to breed her? Will it harm her or her offspring?. Will she pass the scan on?..sorry about the questions. Just dont want to harm her or her kits

    • Scanning is usually done by the red eye rabbits, but I have seen other types of bunnies doing it, too. It has to do with the way that they see the world around them. Remember, rabbits cannot see any depth of field. This means that they cannot tell how far away something is when they see it, the way that we can.
      They scan to try and get a better picture of their surroundings. They see 360 degrees but in a flat coloring book type picture. They see mostly greens and blues and not much of oranges and reds. If you can imagine taking a 360 panorama picture and then wrapping it completely around your head, that flat look would be what a rabbit sees.
      They move their head to try and get a slightly different perspective to help them identify their surroundings. It has nothing to do with anything bad and it does not affect their quality of life or ability to do anything that other bunnies do. This is not a handicap and is a natural normal part of being a rabbit, just like sitting up like a ground hog to see better around themselves.

  2. It possibly a good idea to add that albinos are also affected by lightning and its imperative the cages are coverd at night.

  3. Hi there,
    I have an adult Male Netherland Dwarf and he’s pure white with red eye. I was told he was Albino however, a friend told me that it is common for Netherlands to have red eye without actually being Albino. Is that true? But that’s not my question anyway. I was just wondering what effect direct sunlight has on an Albino bunnies eyes? I’ve noticed that my Finn has a watery eye but there is no discharge or inflammation – if anything the skin around the eye is slightly pinker but the main thing is the wateriness. He seems fine in himself so before I jump to conclusions about it being really bad I was wanting to know if there was a simple answer that wouldn’t be life threatening.
    Thanks!

    • This may be cause for him to visit a rabbit vet specialist. One of the signs of teeth problems in young rabbits is watery eyes without an infection present. Teeth problems are most common in Netherland Dwarf rabbits in our area and I will assume that could be the case where you are located due to their popularity and proclivity to teeth crowding. Do not take him to a dog or cat vet because they will not know how to deal with this problem, since it is specific to pet bunnies. If you need help finding a rabbit vet in your area, please let me know.

  4. Hello, I have four wonderful bunnies in doors , with as, this is a family mum,dad, babies, boy and girl. We have no vets we can trust where we are. they are cruel and call our bunnies cats Do you know of any vets in our state NSW. Australia.

    • The best international list of rabbit vets is located at rabbit.org

      I was able to locate the Australian chapter of the House Rabbit Society and if you visit their website or contact their members, they will know every rabbit qualified vet in Australia. I did not check their vet list, but I am certain that they will have the answers you seek.

      Here is there website: http://www.rabbitrunaway.org.au/

      You did good to seek out a rabbit vet specialist. You will not regret it.

  5. We just got a REW last night. This blog was very helpful. She was doing the thumping earlier today and I had no clue what she was doing. I thought she had something in her paw lol now I’m thinking she was doing it at my dog. He’s not a cat but he’s the size of one. She also does that scanning so thanks for that info that was interesting to learn!!

    • There is a lot to learn about pet rabbits. You will be learning for years about your new girl. The quicker you learn, the less chance of a major disaster or trouble. With rabbits, it is what you don’t know that always ends up hurting them.
      Hug her for me!

      • She got plenty of hugs :) I have been doing tons and tons of reading and learning so much. She is such a sweet girl. We absolutely love her to death. She has a very loving personality :)

  6. Hi!
    I have a baby bunny with pink eyes, but he has grey ears and a grey mustache… Will his eyes change colors? I thought pink eyes only ever went with all white bunnies…? No?

  7. Hi! I have a question. I’m a long time bun parent but recently found a REW running loose in our neighborhood. She is predominantly white but has a cream colored nose tip and ears. She also has red/pink eyes. I’m wondering if she’s truly an albino? I’m confused because of her slight color. Thanks!

  8. I just wanted to point out that eye scanning in most creatures is used to give a “3 dimensional” image of something, it offers a certain level of depth for distance gauging as well and is especially important and common in creatures with one eye (humans included) or fixed eyes that cannot move(ie owls) and side eye creatures like fish, birds, prey animals, etc. When you see your rabbit or other animal tilting its head or eye scanning while looking at you or something else its getting a more dimensionally detailed image of the object of it’s stare. You can have fun experimenting with this by blinding one eye yourself; an interestig aside however is if you have full binoculer vision like most humans(or “illusionary 3D vision”) you can use eye scanning with both eyes to get a dramtically more depth and image building from your own eyes giving a much closer image to how an object actually is! It can be a bit nausiating to do but its quite fun and really useful for certain activities like hunting and sculpting!

  9. Does anyone know how to determine whether a bunny’s eyesight is failing. We have a 9-year old netherland dwarf who has long used his beard to ‘see’ everything up close, but lately I’ve been wondering if he is unable to see much at all.

    • Usually, you will look to see if the bunny reacts to any stimuli, such as movement or things coming towards him. Often, you can see a cloudiness in the eyes if it is due to cataracts or age. I think you might want to take steps to protect this bunny if you suspect his vision is failing. This would mean no outside visits, extra bunny proofing and not letting anything lie around on the floor. Blind bunnies remember where things are but unexpected objects can be a hazard for them to negotiate. If it were me, I would be discussing this with a rabbit vet specialist. He may have more insight into your bunny’s situation than I do.

  10. Albino info’s great! There are now 4 rabbits living underneath my duplex. Started in April with one adult female, “Lily”, got loose from neighbors but they not want bother to catch it. Lily became friends with another neighbor cat even. My son caught her & blocked off crawl space, but nobody wanted her so he let her loose again. When I saw a dog chasing her, I opened a hole where she could once again find safety underneath my home. Meanwhile, I tried to find someone who’d like this pretty girl, to no avail. Fast forward to now – September 20th – 1st we saw a little solid gray bunny come out from under house with adult. As days go by, I’ve also seen a little pure black bunny & an all white bunny with pink eyes – which is what brought me here trying to learn about albino bunnies. These other 3 bunnies are only half the size of “Lily” & she doesn’t give them any special attention or show any sign of being their mom, as they’re totally independent. But I know nothing about rabbits. I don’t know if a wild buck found her, mated & these 3 are result or these 3 are new escapees who have found solace underneath my home. Regardless, they cannot continue to live underneath my home. I cannot find anyone who wants them (my son would trap if I could) & the local Humane Society would end up euthanizing them unless someone claimed them – which won’t happen as Lily’s owners don’t want her. Can you help me find a Rabbit Rescue group or someone that would like to have these beautiful bunnies – in my area: SW WA State – Longview/Kelso, WA or Rainier/St. Helen’s, Oregon is close too – especially before Winter & before my landlord discovers they’re living underneath the duplex (she’ll have them disposed of)? I think they’re Rex breed – but not sure since just using internet pics to try to determine – the albino has about 3″ tuft of hair on top head between ears, the gray & black ones have only about an inch high tufts – Lily is tannish gray body with dark ears & a white patch on her back between shoulders. she’s beautifully colored. I’m not allowed to have pets here – in case you wonder why I’m not just “keeping” them. Considered turning them loose at our Lake but several hawks, falcons & even bald eagles also visit there so my conscience won’t let me do that knowing they’d be easy prey. If you could help me find someone to take these rabbits to a better location I would greatly appreciate it. Meanwhile, thank you for great info website!

  11. I don’t even know how I stopped up here, however I assumed this post used to be good. I do not understand who you are however definitely you are going to a famous blogger should you aren’t already. Cheers!

  12. And people were asking me “what is wrong with the white (albino) rabbits? Why don’t you want to breed the white ones?”

    • Many people do not like the pink eyes that white rabbits have. Others, have cultural biases against them, especially some Latin cultures but others do, too. Personally, I think eye color makes no difference in their personality but it does appear to affect their vision. My pink eye bunnies do not like a lot of bright sunlight, just like Albino humans.

  13. we had 2 rabbits a brown female (patch) who died recently and a white male (fixed) with pink eyes (fluffy). He has dark patches on his nose, paws and his ears are all dark. We have noticed in the winter the dark patches are almost black yet in the summer they become very light grey. he will sleep with his eyes closed and squints when outside. The brown bunny never seemed to close her eyes even when resting. we have noticed after patch died fluffy will go and rest on her favourite spots (they had seperate favourite spots Fluffy under cover by the back door and patch under the old trampoline on the grass) and she rested on top of the hay bag while he preferred the old table beside it. He rests on the hay bag now and He doesn’t go near where she is buried and will hop wide around it.

  14. Hey funny guy I was wondering if it was okay to keep more of those red heat lamps on my albino bunny. One of those lamps that people used to keep little chicks warm. I keep it on her at night

    • Pet rabbits that live indoors do not need heat lamps. I have heard of people trying to use these lamps and electric blankets to keep outdoor rabbits warm but if you are worried about this, why don’t you have him live indoors where a pet rabbit belongs?

  15. I have a question, Do you think that my rabbit would be able to survive in Dubai? Well in dubai its usually really hot but no since its christmas the weather is better. Do you think its ok to put the rabbit the whole day out or the whole day in or both depending on the weather? I dont mind where i should put him but unles its safe. And one more question, if i put the rabbit in the house it kind of gets smelly. I think its because of the rabbit OR the hay and food… Could you please tell me the answer to the first one?

  16. so sorry but i have one more question. lol. ok so is it fine to have a biting brick for the rabbits teeth or do they still have to be trimmed?

    • Rabbits who have genetic malocclusion problems must see a vet every two or three months. Some less often and some more often but I have not heard of them grinding them down themselves. Most of the time the problem is in a back tooth that you cannot see. Rabbits have 28 teeth and only of them are up front.

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