Dental Disease in Rabbits
Most people are aware that rabbits have four large incisors (front teeth) but may not realise that behind their upper incisors are two tiny incisors. These are known as the peg teeth. Rabbits also have six upper and five lower molars (cheek teeth) on each side.
The rabbit’s incisors are used to cut through vegetation whereas the molars are used to chew and grind down food into smaller pieces. Rabbit’s teeth have evolved over time to break down 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.
We see two types of dental disease in rabbits;
- If a rabbit consumes a diet which is low in fibre, such as a poor-quality mix or a pellet only diet, this will not be sufficient to wear down their teeth. When this occurs, the tooth grows too long and meets the opposing tooth in an abnormal position. This leads to uneven wear and, over time, the development of sharp edges, which can pinch the tongue and cut into the cheeks, potentially resulting in soft tissue damage, ulceration and abscesses.
- Some rabbits have teeth that don’t meet, called malocclusion. This can be a result of longstanding dental disease or can be the way the rabbit’s mouth has developed from being very young. Maloccluded teeth result in abnormal pressure against one another, leading to root elongation and overgrown crowns (the tooth above the gum line). It is these elongated roots, which may eventually result in jaw abscesses. Once a rabbit has malocclusion, it is highly unlikely they will ever have normal teeth and they will require regular anaesthetics to correct their teeth. By carrying out tooth corrections and increasing the amount of fibre in the rabbit’s diet, we can keep them more comfortable and improve their quality of life.
Early detection of dental disease in rabbits is important, if a rabbit stops eating altogether this can be extremely challenging to treat. Rabbit’s molars (cheek teeth) are impossible for owners to see but will be checked during examination at their yearly vaccination appointment using special equipment. If you notice any issues, please contact your practice to arrange a dental check as soon as possible.
Always ensure your rabbit has plenty of roughage (such as hay) and pay attention to the quantities and speed with which food is consumed. Eating less, eating more slowly, or staining of food or saliva around the mouth can all suggest a dental problem and should prompt examination by a vet.
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