Dental problems in Rabbits
Ever wondered why your rabbit wants to gnaw everything? Rabbits are hypsodonts, which means that their teeth grow continually throughout their life. In a normal rabbit the top front teeth slightly overlap the two bottom teeth and are kept worn down by the constant wearing against each other as the rabbit chews. These incisors are used for cutting the food into smaller pieces and the lips and tongue then move the food to the back of the mouth towards the molars. The molars are responsible for grinding the food into manageable fine pieces ready for digestion.
Malocclusion in rabbits is a common problem, found mostly in the smaller ‘flat’ faced breeds. It is advisable not to breed with a rabbit that has dental problems as this will more than likely be passed on to his offspring. Having said this, it is possible for a rabbit to develop malocclusion from an injury, or from habitual chewing on the wire in his cage.
Sometimes a rabbit will die for no apparent reason. Misaligned teeth can go undetected and the rabbit will eventually starve to death because the teeth become overgrown making it impossible or too painful for him to eat. If the bottom teeth are overlapping the top teeth and are unusually long, it is more than likely that your rabbit’s teeth are maloccluded. Although some veterinarians suggest regular clipping of these front teeth, this is very traumatic for the rabbit. There is also the danger of the teeth splintering which can cause life-threatening bacterial infections in the rabbit’s mouth.
A better way to treat malocclusion is to have the incisors completely and permanently removed. Only a veterinarian that is experienced in treating rabbits and their dental problems should perform this surgical procedure. Once the rabbit has recovered he will adjust almost immediately to this new way of life and you the rabbit owner will be responsible for cutting up his fresh food into bite-sized pieces. He will have no problem eating pellets and hay as his lips will ‘grab’ hold of the food, taking the place of his teeth. Remember to give your rabbit a high fibre pellet and plenty of hay, to keep his Gastro Intestinal tract working correctly.
If your rabbit has perfectly occluded front teeth, it is still very important to look out for signs of molar spurs. Molar spurs are sharp points that grow on the back teeth from uneven wearing down. This is sometimes caused from a diet that is too low in fibre. This too can be extremely painful and if left untreated will become life threatening. Molar spurs need to be filed down by an experienced veterinarian, while the rabbit is under a light anesthesia.
Rabbit owners can look out for any of the following signs which are related to dental problems.
1. An eye infection that won’t clear up is very often caused by the aggravation of overgrown teeth.
2. A wet chin is also a very common problem with rabbits who have problems eating.
3. Your rabbit eagerly hops to his food, but refuses to take a bite.
4. Change in dietary habit, e.g. refusing to eat pellets, but eating fresh food.
It is important to take your rabbit for yearly check ups, so that any problems can be detected early.
by Brandy Massam