Cataracts in Rabbits and Ferrets

Cataract in a rabbit. Click here for full page view with caption

Summary Information
Diseases / List of Miscellaneous / Metabolic / Multifactorial Diseases / Disease summary
Alternative Names --
Disease Agents
In Rabbits
  • Encephalitozoon cuniculi. (B600.11.w11, B601.12.w12, J29.16.w2, J354.5.w1, J516.60.w1)
  • Pasteurella sp. infection. (B601.12.w12)
  • Congenital. (B531.16.w16, B601.12.w12, J4.167.w3, J29.16.w2)
    • Seen in five of seven rabbits in one litter. Repeated breeding of the parents and affected rabbits produced cataract and microphthalmia in one of 37 offspring. An inherited cause of the cataracts was not demonstrated. (J4.167.w3)
  • Secondary to trauma. (B531.16.w16)
  • Idiopathic. (B600.11.w11, B601.12.w12)
In Ferrets
  • The cause is unknown, but thought to be genetic or nutritional. (B627.13.w13, B631.29.w29, J29.6.w4)
    • Deficiencies in the diet may include:
      • Vitamin E. (B627.13.w13, B631.29.w29)
      • Vitamin A. (B631.29.w29)
      • Protein. (B631.29.w29)
    • A high fat content of the diet can also contribute to cataracts. (B627.13.w13, B631.29.w29)
      • High fat can cause lipid perioxidation cataracts. (B627.13.w13)
  • Other causes are thought to be metabolic, infectious or traumatic. (B627.13.w13)
  • Cataracts in kits suggests injury from parents or a congenital origin. (B627.13.w13)
Infectious Agent(s)
Non-infectious Agent(s) --
Physical Agent(s)
General Description
In Rabbits
  • Cataract - opacity of the lens and/or the lens capsule of the eye.
    • In congenitally affected rabbits, affecting the nucleus of the lens only, or also the cortex. (J4.167.w3)
  • In one rabbit bred from two congenitally affected rabbits, both cataract and microphthalmos occurred. (J4.167.w3)
  • Bilateral cataracts were seen in a five-month-old male New Zealand white rabbit associated with Encephalitozoonosis cuniculi. (J516.60.w1)
    • Right eye: triangular white opaque area in the anterior cortex at the 12 o'clock position. (J516.60.w1)
    • Left eye: "Nodular fluffy white masses" in the anterior cortex of the lens at the 4 o'clock and 8 o'clock positions, with posterior synechea at these locations distorting the pupil. (J516.60.w1)
  • Cataract together with capsular rupture and phacoclastic uveitis in rabbits with Encephalitozoonosis cuniculi infection. (B601.12.w12, J354.5.w1, J354.8.w1)
  • Note: cataract may be noted when a rabbit presents with chronic uveitis. (J29.16.w2)
In Ferrets
  • Variable degree of opacity of the lens. (B627.13.w13, J29.6.w4)
  • Sometimes blindness. (B627.13.w13, (J29.6.w4)
  • Unable to eat properly, probably due to blindness. (B627.13.w13)
  • If cataracts are bilateral, oestrous cycles may be absent or irregular. (J29.6.w4) [Oestrus in ferrets is photoperiod controlled]
In Ferrets
  • Both the nucleus and the cortex of the lens are involved. (B627.13.w13)
  • Retinal degeneration may be present. (B627.13.w13)
Further Information
In Ferrets
  • Cataracts in ferrets are common. (B631.29.w29, J29.6.w4)
  • 47% of young ferrets develop cataracts. (B631.29.w29)
In Ferrets
  • Slit-lamp biomicroscopy is recommended for proper examination of the ferret's eyes. (B631.29.w29, J29.6.w4)
  • Lens opacification starts as fine white, multifocal, punctate opacities in the posterior and anterior cortical/subcortical area and progresses to mature cataracts. (B627.13.w13, J29.6.w4)
    • Ferrets generally have slow formation of cataracts. (B627.13.w13)
    • Opacification extends through the posterior lens cortex. (B627.13.w13)
    • Note: Lens luxation, either anterior or posterior, may occur secondary to cataract. (J29.6.w4)
  • Urine analysis should be carried out to ensure the ferret is not diabetic. (B627.13.w13)
In Rabbits
  • Removal of the cataract by phacoemulsification. (B531.16.w16, B601.12.w12, J29.16.w2, J354.5.w1)
    • Note: regrowth of the lens cortex can occur in rabbits. (B601.12.w12)
    • Posterior capsular opacification can be severe in the rabbit. (B531.16.w16)
  • An intraocular lens can be implanted following lens removal. (B601.12.w12)
    • "Substantial deleterious reactions" have been reported several months after lens implantation. (B601.12.w12)
  • Symptomatic treatment. (B600.11.w11)
  • If serology or PCR on lens material acquired during phaecoemulsification (B600.11.w11, V.w133) confirms exposure to Encephalitozoon cuniculi, Albendazole or Fenbendazole treatment of the affected rabbit and in-contact rabbits, plus topical steroids to treat the affected eye. (B600.11.w11, B601.11.w11) See: Encephalitozoonosis in Lagomorphs
In Ferrets
  • Lens removal: (J29.6.w4) extracapsular surgery or phacoemulsification. (B631.29.w29)
  • Surgery should prevent secondary problems occurring, such as glucoma, lens induced uveitis (not as common in ferrets and more mild than in dogs), subluxation and luxation. (B631.29.w29)
    • When performing surgery, care should be taken to avoid the intrascleral venous plexus. (J29.6.w4)
  • Note: Ferrets with cataracts commonly adapt well. (B631.29.w29)
In Ferrets
Associated Techniques
Host taxa groups /species
Disease Author Debra Bourne MA VetMB PhD MRCVS (V.w5); Bridget Fry BSc, RVN (V.w143)
Referees Sheila Crispin MA VetMB BSc PhD DipECVO DVA DVOphthal FRCVS (V.w130); Dr David L Williams MA VetMB PhD CertVOphthal FRCVS (V.w133)

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