Meibomian cyst or the growth of a white nodule

on the rabbit eyelid

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Warning: this file contains pictures that may be distressing for people.


The meibomian glands, located in the tarsal plate of the eyelid, are sebaceous (oil-secreting) glands. Its secretions help lubricate the eyelids. Sometimes the glands become impacted or blocked and a meibomian cyst (chalazion) will develop. It is a slowly growing, firm nodule, located on the upper or lower eyelid. The accumulation of secretions within the glands is caused either by an impaction of the gland opening, a thickening of the oil or the presence of a tumor next to the glands that hinder proper drainage by compressing the opening. The distended gland may rupture and the freed material will irritate the surrounding tissue, which becomes granulomatous. The accumulation of secretion on the edge of the lids can lead to the development of bacteria normally found on the skin, or pathogen bacteria such as Staphylococcus sp. or Streptococcus sp. If the nodule is infected, it becomes painful and swollen.

Akira Yamanouchi

Swelling (arrow), or meibomian cyst, as seen on the outside of the eyelid of a rabbit.

Akira Yamanouchi

Meibomian cyst, as seen when the eyelid is lifted and the inside is seen.


While clinical signs are evident, the meibomian cyst must be differentiated from conjunctivitis, a hordeolum (sty, a localized infection or an inflammation of the eyelid margin involving hair follicles of the eyelashes), blepharitis, meibomianitis, or meibomian cell carcinoma.

Akira Yamanouchi

Prolapsed Harderian gland, or “cherry eye”


A meibomian cyst may disappear by itself, without need of treatment. The swelling can be brought down by the application of warm compresses on the eye, 4 to 5 times a day. If a bacterial infection is present, administration of antibiotics is necessary.

Usually, the cyst is lanced with a needle or a small incision, and the oozing gelatinous pus is removed. Curettage of the cavity follows. This step is repeated till the cavity is devoid of remaining material. The lose material is removed by flushing the cavity with a saline solution. If bleeding appears, application of pressure on the wound with a sterile gauze pad during a few minutes will stop it. An antibiotic ointment is given immediately after the procedure.

Akira Yamanouchi

Lancing of the cyst (chalazion) with a needle

Akira Yamanouchi

Removal of the thick gelatinous pus

Akira Yamanouchi

Removal of the capsule

Akira Yamanouchi

Administration of an antibiotic ointment in the eye, after the surgical procedure

The eyelid usually looks bruised and swollen after the procedure, due to the injection of anesthetic agents in the eyelid, and the use of clamping tools and forceps. This is normal and should disappear over the next days.

If the cyst is large, persistent or infected, surgical excision of the inflammatory granuloma is advisable. If the removed cyst presents tumor-like characteristics, it should be sent for analysis to a laboratory for histopathological analysis.

Post-surgical care includes the use of an antibiotic ointment during a few days and the gentle application of cold compresses, in order to reduce the swelling.

Usually, no pain medication is necessary. When the rabbit shows signs of pain or discomfort, meloxicam or ibuprofen can be given.


Thanks are due to Akira Yamanouchi (Veterinary Exotic Information Network,, for the permission to use their pictures.

Further information

Greiner JV, Glonek T, Korb DR, Whalen AC, Hebert E, Hearn SL,

Esway JE, Leahy CD. Volume of the human and rabbit meibomian gland system. Adv Exp Med Biol. 1998; 438:339-43.

Millar TJ, Pearson ML. The effects of dietary and pharmacological manipulation on lipid production in the meibomian and harderian glands of the rabbit. Adv Exp Med Biol. 2002; 506(Pt A):431-40.

Steagall RJ, Yamagami H, Wickham LA, Sullivan DA. Androgen control of gene expression in the rabbit meibomian gland. Adv Exp Med Biol. 2002; 506(Pt A):465-76.

Tiffany JM, Marsden RG. The meibomian lipids of the rabbit. II. Detailed

composition of the principal esters. Exp Eye Res. 1982; 34:601-8.

Tiffany JM. The meibomian lipids of the rabbit. I. Overall composition. Exp Eye Res. 1979 ;29:195-202.