What is Dacryocystitis?

Dacryocystitis is a condition characterised by the blockage, inflammation, or infection of the nasolacrimal (tear) duct, which runs from the eye to the nose in most species, including rabbits.

Recognising the Symptoms

Signs of dacryocystitis may present in one or both eyes. Increased tear production often leads to crusting around the eye and hair loss in front of the eyes. Severe cases may present with red and inflamed skin in front of the eye and a clear, milky, or white discharge. Inflammation of the eye and damage to the cornea can occur in severe instances, causing the eye to appear closed and painful.

Rabbit weepy eye

Causes of Dacryocystitis

Certain rabbit breeds, such as Netherland dwarfs and mini-lop rabbits, are predisposed to dacryocystitis due to breeding practices favouring a shorter nose, which can result in a squashed tear duct. Other causes include:

  • Dental disease. Elongated tooth roots or tooth abscesses can squash the tear duct.
  • Incisor malocclusion (uneven growth of the incisor teeth)
  • Upper Respiratory disease or infections of the nose. Inflammation and infection caused by these conditions can block the tear duct.
  • Past episodes of dacryocystitis and subsequent scarring and narrowing of the duct
  • Systemic or concurrent illness. Mild dacryocystitis may be the first presenting sign in a number of low-grade infections.

Differential Diagnosis

Viruses and abscesses affecting the tear ducts can sometimes mimic the symptoms of dacryocystitis, especially if they develop suddenly over a 24-hour period.

Treatment Options

Flushing the tear duct and administering antibiotics and anti-inflammatories can provide significant relief in mild cases. However, recurrent tear duct issues often indicate an underlying problem, requiring ongoing treatment and periodic intervention.

Rabbit weepy eye

Tear Duct Flushing Procedure

Tear duct flushing involves applying local anaesthesia followed by inserting a small catheter into the tear duct, through which saline solution is flushed until the blockage is cleared. While most rabbits tolerate this procedure well without sedation, severe cases may benefit from sedation to ensure a more thorough and comfortable treatment.

Rabbit ct

Investigating the Underlying Cause

Investigating and finding the underlying cause of dacryocystitis is highly recommended as it gives a better chance of correctly treating the problem and indicates the long-term prognosis. Some of the testing we commonly perform is:

  • Dental radiographs (x-rays) – Under a short anaesthetic, a number of different X-ray views are taken of the head to check the tooth roots, a major cause of tear duct problems. We often also use contrast media to highlight the duct better.
  • CT scans – A CT scan is often the best way to investigate for underlying causes.
  • Laboratory Testing – A swab of the discharge can be sent to the laboratory to grow the bacteria involved and ensure we choose an effective antibiotic.

Ongoing Management

In cases where no underlying cause is found, repeated tear duct flushing, and anti-inflammatory and antibiotic therapy may be necessary to alleviate pain and swelling. Persistent or severe cases may require intensive treatment, including twice-daily tear duct flushing over several days.

Seeking Veterinary Care

If you notice any concerning symptoms in your rabbit or have questions about dacryocystitis, don’t hesitate to contact us for professional assistance and guidance.

Dr Hames Rabbit