Ronda has an eye problem.

About three weeks ago, Stacie noticed a bit of discharge from the Netherland dwarf rabbit's left eye. It started out as somewhat clear, but most recently has become off-white and thicker in nature; now, Ronda is sneezing and rubbing her left eye with her left front paw and against Stacie's leg.

I do not think the infection involves the eye, but more likely the tissue around the eye and the eyelids called conjunctiva. When this tissue becomes inflamed, commonly associated with bacterial infection, we call this conjunctivitis. In Ronda's case, there may be an even deeper-rooted problem.

Rabbits can harbor a few different types of bacteria in their upper respiratory tract and around their eyes that can cause infections. Some rabbits can be carriers, never displaying symptoms but infecting others. There are also rabbits that harbor the bacteria for extended periods with no problems, only to break out later. I suspect Ronda falls into this latter category.

There is a small tube or duct that drains tears from the eyes into the nose. This nasolacrimal duct might be the source of Ronda's "deeper-rooted" problem.

Ronda needs to have her eye examined and then swabbed for a bacterial culture for microscopic examination. Because the nasolacrimal duct is infected, there will be sensitivity just in front of Ronda's left eye toward her nose. That is the likely source of the off-white discharge. This duct will carry the bacteria down into the nose, causing infection and sneezing.

Treatment involves antibiotics, oral and topical. Testing will identify the bacteria causing the problem, which is important for long-term prognosis. One type of bacteria that can cause this process in rabbits is Pasturella, which can be difficult to cure. It usually responds well to treatment but can reappear.

Another step that is almost always necessary is a nasolacrimal duct flushing. This flushing involves a light plane of anesthesia and a very fine needle inserted down into the duct to flush and clear out accumulated material. The antibiotics cannot penetrate into this debris, and if not removed, the debris provides a refuge for the bacteria.

With a good flushing and antibiotic therapy, Ronda's infection can be eliminated. One thing is almost certain, this condition is unlikely to improve on its own.

(Jeff Kahler is a veterinarian in Modesto, Calif. Questions can be submitted to Your Pet in care of LifeStyles, The Modesto Bee, P.O. Box 5256, Modesto CA 95352.)

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