With his big ears and that nose that works overtime twitching and sniffing, the rabbit makes a cute, engaging house pet. There are dozens of varieties of rabbits to choose from, available in a variety of patterns and colors, including black, gray, fawn, agouti and seal point. If you come across a white rabbit with red eyes, you're looking at an albino rabbit.
The Genetic Trait of Albinism
Albinism is an inherited trait, resulting in a lack of hair and skin color in an animal and red or pink eyes. An albino rabbit has a mutated gene combination that overrides all other combinations, resulting in a lack of the enzyme tyrosinase. Tyrosinase is responsible for controlling the production of melanin, or pigment; no tyrosinase means no pigment. In a rabbit, that means white hair and red eyes.
A rabbit who has tyrosinase can have a variety of fur and eye colors. The melanin pigments eumelanin, which is responsible for dark brown, and pheomelanin, which is responsible for other browns, are present in rabbit fur and eyes. If the melanin particles in a rabbit's eyes are small in diameter and widely dispersed, his eyes will be blue; if it's denser and larger in diameter, his eyes will be brown. The red eyes in an albino rabbit aren't because of red pigments; remember, he doesn't have pigment. Instead, his eyes appear red because the iris reflects light from his blood vessels instead of pigments.
The albino rabbit has fewer photo receptors, or rods, than a normal rabbit, so he can't see as well in dim light. His retina has fewer ganglion and amacrine cells, which transmit information from the rods to his optic nerve. He has fewer optic fibers leading to the same side of the brain, reaching the wrong part of his brain and ultimately, mixing up inputs. This may explain what is referred to as "scanning" behavior in an albino rabbit. You might notice your albino rabbit looking at something by swaying or weaving his head, as he switches from eye to eye to discern what he's looking at. Don't worry about his scanning; it's normal albino rabbit behavior as he takes in his surroundings.
Not Too Bright, Please
Aside from light sensitivity, an albino rabbit has no special health concerns to be aware of. It can be tough for an albino in the wild because his white coat is a big signal for potential predators. However, in the safety of your home, he should be fine. If he's confined to an area that gets lots of bright light, be considerate about his sensitive eyes and give him shelter that provides him some shade that will be easy on his eyes. To be sure, those bright red eyes make a startling contrast to his snowy-white coat, but there's nothing evil about an albino bunny; he's just special.
- Rabbits: The Animal Answer Guide, Susan Lumpkin and John Seidensticker
- House Rabbit Resource Network: Choosing Your Pet Rabbit
- Rabbit Welfare Association and Fund: Choosing Your Perfect Pet Rabbit
- The Bunny Guy: Red Eyes, Eye Scanning & Rabbit Vision
- Animal Sheltering Magazine: The Pink Eyes Have It
- Rabbits Online: Colour/Pattern Information