Dental Disease in Rabbits
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Keeping an eye on your rabbit’s teeth is important to make sure you spot any issues early on. In this article, we take you through the different types of dental disease, the symptoms to look out for as well as the treatments available and what you can do at home to protect your rabbit’s teeth.
Rabbit teeth are very different to cat and dog mouths. The only teeth that are visible from the outside are four large incisors (front teeth), however, rabbits also have two tiny incisors behind these, known as the peg teeth. Rabbits also have six upper and five lower molars (cheek teeth) on each side. A rabbit’s molars are square-shaped and sit very close together to make a block, called an arcade.
Rabbit’s teeth are used to chew tough vegetation such as grasses, weeds, and twigs. To compensate for the constant wear their teeth receive, rabbit teeth are “open rooted”, meaning they grow continuously throughout their lives. Wild rabbits spend many hours a day chewing grass or other vegetation; this allows the teeth to wear down at a rate that matches the continual growth.
If a rabbit’s teeth don’t wear down properly, or evenly, they can develop overlong teeth with sharp spurs that cut into the cheek or tongue. Occasionally, this causes back pressure on to the tooth under the gumline, causing overlong roots. Long roots can lead to abscesses, especially in the lower jaw, or can press on the tear ducts causing runny eyes and infections.
Dental disease in rabbits often worsens gradually over time. This makes it harder to spot changes as they can happen slowly. If a rabbit completely stops eating, this is an emergency and they need to see a vet that day – not eating for longer than a few hours can cause secondary problems in the digestive tract, and can even be life-threatening.
Signs that your rabbit may have dental disease and needs to be checked include:
- Eating less than normal
- Eating more slowly than normal
- Picking out certain bits of the diet
- Dropping food out of the mouth or around the bowl
- Wet fur around the face
- Reduced grooming (seen as poor coat quality, dirty bottom or retained undercoat)
- Weight loss
- Runny nose or eyes
There are two key causes of dental disease in rabbits:
- Poor diet
If the diet is too low in fibre, such as a pellet only diet, this will not be sufficient to wear down the rabbit’s teeth. The teeth quickly grow too long, causing them to meet the opposing teeth in an abnormal position. This further prevents them wearing down properly, causing uneven wear and sharp spurs.
85% of a rabbit’s diet should be hay or grass, allowing them to chew almost constantly through the day. The remaining parts should be 10% leafy green vegetables and just 5% pellets or nuggets to ensure they get all essential vitamins and minerals.
Some rabbits have teeth that grow in an abnormal position, called malocclusion, meaning that they don’t ever meet properly, even if their diet is good. These rabbits are likely to have dental disease from a young age. Breeds with shorter noses, such as the Netherland Dwarf and Lionhead breeds, may have crowded teeth that contributes to malocclusion.
Over-long incisors can be seen on examination or may even be spotted at home if they are extending past the lips. Rabbit’s molars (cheek teeth) are impossible to see from the outside. A special tool called an otoscope can be used by your vet to look at the cheek teeth, but even then, it is impossible to get a full view. The teeth can only be fully examined under anaesthesia, and this is recommended if there is a strong suspicion of dental disease based on the symptoms described above.
It is important that your rabbit has a health check every 6-12 months, such as during their yearly vaccination appointment, as this allows your vet to keep a close record of their normal bodyweight, and get your rabbit used to having their teeth checked.
Dental disease will almost always require treatment under anaesthetic. Any sharp spurs will be trimmed or burred back, and the teeth filed to try and restore a normal alignment and tooth length. Uncommonly, if just the incisors (front teeth) are too long, they can be shortened with the rabbit awake.
A 20% discount on dental treatments is included as one of the many benefits included when you join The Healthy Pet Club.
The single factor that can help prevent dental disease is feeding a high-quality diet with an appropriate amount of hay and/or grass. Feeding too many pellets or vegetables will make your rabbit less likely to eat roughage, so don’t be tempted to offer more of these higher value items than is needed nutritionally.
Any rabbit that is diagnosed with dental disease should have its diet assessed. Improving the fibre content of the diet can reduce the risk of further dental problems. However, once a rabbit’s teeth wear incorrectly, this is likely to be a recurrent problem and need multiple dental procedures throughout the rabbit’s life.
Feeding an appropriate diet is essential to ensure your rabbit’s teeth wear properly and evenly. Lack of good quality roughage can lead to uneven wear, painful sores in the mouth and malocclusion of the teeth. A dental procedure can try to correct this, however, many rabbits will continue to have some dental problems even if their diet is improved.
Early detection of dental disease in rabbits is important. If a rabbit stops eating altogether, this can be extremely challenging to treat and even become life-threatening. Rabbit’s molars (cheek teeth) are impossible for you to see at home but will be examined during routine health checks. If you notice any problems with your rabbit that could be related to its teeth, it is essential to contact your practice and arrange a dental check as soon as possible.
Please note that the content made available on this webpage is for general information purposes only. Whilst we try to ensure that at the time of writing all material is up to date and reflects industry standards, we make no representation, warranties or guarantees that the information made available is up to date, accurate or complete. Any reliance placed by yourselves is done so at your own risk.