Since rabbits breed so quickly and can expand their numbers in such a short time, many pet owners are curious about baby rabbits. One of the biggest questions we get is when baby rabbits will reach certain milestones in development. Knowing these answers helps rabbit owners keep their rabbits healthy and happy.
When do baby rabbits open their eyes? Baby rabbits open their eyes around day 10 to 12. Some rabbits may open their eyes a little earlier or a little later. Some delay has to do with the breed but usually indicates a health issue.
It’s hard to wait for baby rabbits to open their eyes, but don’t try to rush this process. Kits’ eyes are closed at birth for a very good reason, and trying to force them open sooner will cause irreparable damage. There’s so much more to this topic, so please read on!
Why Are Baby Rabbits Born With Their Eyes Closed?
Even though rabbits are mammals like humans, their development isn’t anything like ours. From gestation to birth to the developmental milestones they hit after birth, rabbits are a whole different animal. One of the main ways baby rabbits differ from baby humans is the fact that their eyes are closed at birth.
But it’s important to understand their eyes aren’t simply closed. Rabbits’ eyes are actually sealed shut before birth, and they remain that way for about two weeks after birth. They would not be able to open them during this time even if they wanted to. Just like puppies and kittens, who are also born with their eyes closed, baby rabbits need this “blind time” to develop properly.
For Mom’s Sake
Since rabbits breed so quickly, they need to get past the dangerous pregnancy stage as quickly as possible. Pregnancy is taxing on a mother’s body, slowing her down and sapping her energy. She is a prime target for hungry predators as long as she is carrying her babies.
To help keep Mom alive, Mother Nature decided to speed up the gestational process by focusing all Mom’s energy on creating viable kits that can live outside her body. Eyes are nonessential for life in a warm nest, so baby rabbits develop more important body functions and organs first.
Once the babies are born, blind and deaf, Mom tucks them away in a nest and goes off to eat. She will only return to the next once a day to nurse the hairless kits, then she runs off again. This behavior and early birth keep both Mom and babies alive in the wild.
For Baby Bunny’s Sake
Since a young rabbit’s eyes aren’t fully developed at birth, the body seals the eyelids shut to prevent injury to those delicate organs before they’re ready. Bright lights can hurt this underdeveloped tissue, as can even the slightest breeze.
Plus, baby rabbits are born in litters. A lot of damage can be done by squirming nestmates. Having your eyes sealed shut while you learn to move your body is a good way to keep those organs protected from thrashing siblings and sharp claws.
When Will Baby Rabbits Be Able to See?
When a baby rabbit opens its eyes around day 10 to 12, they can see a little bit. They won’t be able to see things very far away like their parents can, however. Most of a baby rabbit’s world will still be the nest and her litter mates, so she can see very well close up after her eyes open.
A baby rabbit’s vision is still developing even after her eyes open. Once her eyes are open, she can begin to grow and fine-tune her eyes by practicing focusing on things close up and far away. These peeks out of the nest and into the real world will help strengthen her eye muscles, preparing her for sharp eyesight in the near future.
It can take a few weeks before baby rabbits have visual acuity similar to adult rabbits. Depending on the breed, size, and health of the rabbit, this can take a couple of months, too.
For pet rabbits, it’s best to avoid shining bright lights into baby rabbit’s faces. Even if their eyes are still closed, some light will seep in through the eyelids and can cause harm.
Why Won’t My Baby Rabbit Open His Eyes?
Sometimes, something goes wrong. There could be a problem during gestation inside your rabbit’s mother, or there could be a problem after your rabbit is born. In either case, it could be very bad news.
If a baby rabbit has not opened his eyes by the 12th day, your vet should be called. The vet may advise you to wait another 2 to 3 days, but likely they will want you to bring the bunny in for a checkup.
Some causes for late eye-opening include:
- Birth defects—eye issues, eyelid problems, optic nerve developmental delays
- Poor maternal nutrition—not enough fiber, vitamins, or other nutrients
- Poor quality milk—caused by poor nutrition or defects in the mother rabbit
- Inability to nurse causing malnutrition—due to cleft palate or other deformities
- Injury or damage to newborn—from rough mother, other rabbits, nest mates, predators
- Neurological damage or underdevelopment—early birth, injury, or brain and nervous system deformity
It can be very scary when a baby rabbit can’t open his eyes. But it’s best to stay calm. It’s tempting to try to help your baby bunny open his eyes, but please don’t!
Can I Help My Rabbit Open Her Eyes?
No! Please don’t ever try to force a baby rabbit’s eyes open. Without knowing the cause of delayed opening, you could permanently injure your baby rabbit. You could damage her eyelids, the nerves in her face, or even the eyes themselves. This can lead to paralysis, blindness, or even death.
Only your vet can decide if it’s safe to try to help a bunny open its eyes. And it should only ever be your vet who tries.
Even though serious and complicated medical issues could be keeping your bunny’s eyes closed, it could also be something very treatable. A bit of conjunctivitis could be the cause. If that’s the case, your vet will simply wipe away the crusty bits, apply some antibiotic cream, and then send you home with instructions.
Likely, if it’s just a small eye infection, you’ll be directed to apply a warm compress a few times a day. Then dab a little ointment on the bunny’s eyelids. In no time, she will open her eyes and you may never be able to tell she had a rough start at all!
Baby rabbits are so cute when they hop about, fluffy and warm and bright-eyed. But they don’t start out that way. Hairless, tiny, and blind, newborn rabbits should not be handled. Keep bright lights away from these delicate babies and never force their eyelids open.
Your patience will be rewarded in ten to twelves days when your sweet litter of fluffy bunnies opens their eyes and begins poking their heads out of the nest to say hello. Until that day, be sure to give Mom the best nutrition, a warm place to sleep, and lots of water. She’ll take care of the babies in their early days.