Category: dental-disease-rabbits

Overgrown teeth

The incisors, premolars, and molars of rabbits grow throughout life. Rabbits do not possess any canine teeth, but do have peg teeth which sit just behind the upper incisors. The normal length is maintained by the wearing action of opposing teeth. Malocclusion (mandibular prognathism, brachygnathism) probably is the most common inherited disease in rabbits and leads to overgrowth of incisors, premolars and molars, with resultant difficulty in eating and drinking. However, malocclusion can develop in later life due to incorrect diet, especially one lacking in the correct calcium to phosphorus ratio or through trauma to the teeth or jaw.

A temporary correction can be made by burring the overgrown incisor teeth down with a dental burr and filing any pre-molar or molar overgrowth down. Cutting teeth with bone, wire cutters or nail clippers is not recommended due to the pressure it exerts upon the teeth. This often leads to them shattering, resulting in tooth root infections and abscesses.

Because malocclusion is generally considered to be inherited, rabbits with this condition should not be bred from. However, young rabbits can damage their incisor teeth by pulling on the cage wire, which results in misalignment and possibly malocclusion as the teeth grow. This type of malocclusion or one caused by trauma to the teeth, may resolve by itself after burring of the teeth, but may take more than one treatment.

One of he most common reasons that rabbits are taken to a vets is for teeth problems. This may be for either incisor and/or cheek teeth overgrowth.

Dental disease in rabbits can cause immense pain to the rabbit since the incisor teeth can grow up or down into the opposing lips. Cheek teeth often cause painful ulcers on the tongue or cheeks, even possibly semi-severing the tongue!

Abscesses are a common problem associated with dental disease since the tooth roots can grow up into the eye or down into the lower jaw. Such infections are difficult if not mostly impossible to treat and euthanasia is often the kindest option for the rabbit.

Runny eyes are another common problem associated with teeth problems since any overgrowth of the upper tooth roots can impinge upon the tear duct, stopping tears from draining from the eye to the nose as they are supposed to do, so they overflow onto the face. This can make the rabbit’s face very sore.

The best way of avoiding teeth problems is to purchase your rabbit from a reputable breeder who knows the history of your rabbits family and has ensured that only those rabbits who have no dental disease in the breeding line have been used. However, this isn’t going to ensure that your rabbit doesn’t develop dental disease, since the most common cause of dental disease is a poor or incorrect diet.

Rabbits teeth grow at 2-3mm per week and this needs to be constantly worn down by chewing on abrasive foods. The best diet for a rabbit is one that mimics what wild rabbits eat.& Unlimited amounts of fresh meadow hay and access to graze on grass provide the rabbit with fibrous and abrasive feeding matter which not only creates a side to side chewing action, which is perfect for wearing the teeth down, but also ensures the rabbit is getting a high fibre diet, ensuring the gastrointestinal system is kept moving.

On top of the hay and grass, offer a small amount of an extruded nugget food, of which there are several varieties available now to prevent the rabbit from selectively feeding. Rabbits who are allowed to selectively feed, and pick out certain pieces of the muesli style rabbit food, over-time become deficient in calcium and phosphorus which allows the teeth to loosen in the sockets slightly and misaligns them, leading to dental disease. If you do feed a muesli type food then ensure the rabbit eats all of it before you offer anymore.

Allow your rabbit to have fresh greens daily and avoid mineral supplement blocks for them to gnaw on. These are unnecessary for rabbits fed a balanced diet and do not promote correct dental wear, and can cause other health problems.

Providing straw/wicker mats, plaits, baskets, etc for your rabbit to chew on is another way of getting them to chew on abrasive materials and keeping them entertained at the same time.

Avoid feeding sugary treats bought from pet shops and excessive quantities of fruits.

It is important to check your rabbits teeth on a regular basis, at least on a weekly basis, to ensure you pick up on any potential dental problems before they start causing your rabbit any discomfort. Whilst checking the incisor (front) teeth is possible, it is impossible to check the rabbits cheek teeth without taking your rabbit to a vet, so knowing what symptoms a rabbit may show with dental disease is important.

Symptoms vary; the rabbit may salivate or have matted fur on the inside of their front legs from where they have been wiping the saliva. Weight loss may occur if the problem is allowed to go on for a while before treatment is sought. The rabbit may go off certain foods and favour others or stop eating completely – this is an emergency and veterinary attention must be sought straight away.

The rabbits eyes may discharge, lumps may be felt under the rabbits chin, the rabbit may sit and grind its teeth loudly in pain and be uninterested in its surroundings. If abscesses have developed then swellings may be seen anywhere around the rabbits face.

All of these symptoms may indicate a dental problem and your rabbit must be seen by a vet as soon as possible.

This really depends on the type of dental disease and severity of it.

Facial abscesses associated with bony structures (osteomyelitis) carry a very poor prognosis since it is virtually impossible to remove the abscess, draining it often has no effect as it will simply refill and it is hard to get antibiotics to the site at a strong enough concentration.

If the rabbit is pain free or its pain can be managed successfully, it is eating and drinking and has a good quality of life, then sometimes rabbits can live perfectly happily with such abscesses for many months/years, but if the rabbits quality of life cannot be maintained then euthanasia is the kindest option.

Overgrowth of the incisor teeth can be maintained by frequent burring of the teeth, which is often possible to do on a conscious rabbit but may need repeating every 2-3 weeks. The incisor teeth can often be removed to solve the problem.

Cheek teeth malocclusion may need regular dentals under anaesthetic, to rasp off the sharp edges, often every 4-6 weeks, but sometime as long as 6-12 months between treatments is seen. The owner will need to be vigilant for symptoms. If the rabbit has a good quality of life between treatments and the owner is able to afford such regular veterinary care then this can carry on for many years. But if the rabbits quality of life is poor between the treatments or the owner cannot afford the financial commitment, then putting the rabbit to sleep is often the only option. It may be possible to remove the offending cheek teeth but such surgery is complicated and most vets will refer the rabbit onto a more experienced rabbit vet if they are not confident at performing the surgery, which may be expensive to the owner. Furthermore, pet insurance will often not cover dental disease, so always check with your insurance company before embarking upon treatment, if paying for it yourself may be a problem.

When it comes to dental disease prevention is much better than cure, as since most forms of dental disease cannot be cured, they are expensive for the owner and often painful for the rabbit, so always ensure your rabbit is fed a good diet and be vigilant for dental problems.

Dental disease in your rabbit

Rabbit’s teeth are open-rooted, meaning that they continuously erupt and grow throughout its life. If a rabbit has congenital or acquired dental disease, then the teeth may overgrow or grow distorted, which can cause life-long problems. This factsheet aims to discuss the common causes and treatments for dental disease in rabbits.

Rabbits have four upper incisors and two lower incisors which are used to slice and cut food into smaller pieces that are then transported by the tongue to the premolars and molars for chewing. Rabbits also have “peg teeth”, which are the small teeth that sit directly behind the upper incisors. Unlike dogs and cats, rabbits do not have any canines, but have a gap where the canines would be, called a diastema.

The upper jaw has six cheek teeth, consisting of three premolars and three molars on each side. The lower jaw has ten teeth, consisting of two premolars and three molars on each side. It is not possible to distinguish between premolars and molars and they form a row of teeth which are all used for grinding.

The incisors grow approximately 2-3 mm per week with the cheek teeth grow approximately 2-3 mm per month. Growth rate and dental wear is variable; dental wear is affected by the abrasive nature of the diet and duration of grazing.

Wild rabbits live on a grass-based diet, which is naturally abrasive. It is this constant abrasive chewing action that allows wearing down of the constantly growing teeth, and maintains normal occlusion.

Domestic rabbit’s teeth act in exactly the same way, however, their diets differ, as does the variety of breeds and head shapes. Wild rabbits have slim, long heads, whereas many breeds of domestic rabbits are brachycephalic, which means they have a short-nosed face; this can affect proper alignment of the teeth in the mouth.

If the rate of eruption of the teeth is not balanced by correct attrition, as can happen if the diet is not appropriate, e.g. rabbits fed only a pelleted diet, then dental disease may result.

There are several things that can go wrong with your rabbit’s teeth. Firstly, dental disease can be congenital, this means that rabbits that are bred from parents who have dental problems, or known problems in the breeding line, and are likely to inherit the problem themselves.

Congenital malocclusion is normally apparent by the age of 9-18 months and normally require life-long treatment in order to keep the rabbit comfortable and eating normally. Incorrect or poor diet however, is the most common cause of malocclusion. Rabbits need a high fiber, abrasive diet in order to guarantee adequate gut function and dental wear. If fed a diet low in abrasive particles that is consumed rapidly, their teeth will quickly become overgrown.

A rabbit’s diet should consist of at least 70% grass/good quality hay, which should always be available. Most rabbits will consume their body weight in hay each day. A variety of fresh greens and vegetables (28% of the diet) should be fed daily (one handful morning and evening). A small amount (only 2% of the diet) of good quality extruded nugget-type commercial pellet should be fed to prevent selective feeding to ensure provision of the necessary vitamins, minerals and proteins. This is the main way to prevent dental disease from occurring.

Trauma is another potential trigger for dental disease. Rabbits that are dropped and bang their mouth or may pull on the wire of their hutch/enclosure are prone to traumatic dental disease. Any factor that alters the position of the teeth may, in fact, result in their elongation and malocclusion. This type of malocclusion can sometimes be cured through burring the teeth (normally the incisors) at regular intervals, with appropriate instruments, until they grow correctly again. This may take several months, and often, despite this repeated treatment, it is not possible to solve the problem completely.

Selective feeding is a big problem with rabbits and many owners are still unaware of it.

Rabbits that are housed indoors and fed mainly on mixed cereal food, with limited access to vegetables or grass, will pick only the pieces that they like most, leaving the rest of it.

It is therefore imperative that if you feed a muesli type dried food you do not re-fill your rabbits bowl up until all the food has gone, and consider swapping your rabbit onto an extruded nugget type food to prevent selective feeding.

Wild rabbits that have unrestricted access to grazing and browsing, or even pet rabbits that consume a varied diet based on hay, grass and vegetables, are less likely to develop dental disease, when compared to those rabbtis that are allowed to selectively feed on their low fiber mixed cereal ration.

Rabbits may just suffer from malocclusion of the incisor teeth, in which case burring the teeth as and when is necessary, in many cases, is sufficient to manage the problem. Never allow anyone to clip your rabbit’s teeth with nail clippers or any other type of clipper. The pressure that is put onto the tooth during clipping is likely to crack and split the tooth down to the root; this can potentially result in a tooth root infection, which can be very difficult to treat.

Overgrown incisors are a hindrance to many rabbits and, in the majority of cases, they are better off having them surgically removed. Rabbits adapt perfectly well to having no incisors, as they begin to use their lips to hold and pick up their food. Consult your vet if you are considering having this done.

Molar and premolar malocclusion is more complicated. Often a rabbit may begin with incisor malocclusion and, as the jaw is pushed out of alignment, the molars and premolars will overgrow as a consequence.

Common clinical signs in cases of dental disease include reduced appetite (the rabbit goes off certain foods, sometimes hard foods, sometimes softer ones), may salivate profusely and have a wet chin, or matted fur, at the front paws where they have been wiping their mouth. Weight loss may occur if the problem develops slowly and the rabbit may become depressed.

Discharge from the eyes may be evident when elongation of the upper tooth roots is responsible for impinging on and blocking the nasolacrimal ducts. The upper tooth roots can, in severe cases, even grow into the eye sockets. If you feel along your rabbits lower jaw you may fee bumps due to teeth overgrowing into the bone.

Radiography of the skull is recommended in any case of suspected dental disease, in order to assess the status of all the tooth roots which can be overgrown or distorted. The x-ray will also allow assessment of bone involvement and will show how extensive the problem is. The nasolacrimal ducts can also be evaluated at the same time.

Rabbits with dental disease affecting the cheek teeth require general anaesthesia, often on a regular basis, in order to appropriately assess the teeth, remove any sharps edges and restore a more normal occlusal plane. This may need repeating as often as monthly for the rest of the rabbit’s life, so it is also a serious financial commitment for the owner. The welfare of the rabbit has to be, in any of these situations, of primary concern.

In more advanced cases surgery may be necessary to remove cheek teeth if they are not stable in their socket, or if they are infected. Your rabbit may be referred to a more specialised ‘rabbit vet’ for this type of surgery.

Facial abscesses are common in rabbits and may be associated with bony structures in the skull. Abscesses often carry a poor prognosis since it can be impossible to surgically remove and completely clear the infection. Systemic antibiotics are often ineffective, especially if not combined with surgery, in reaching the site of infection due to the poor blood supply.

Surgery is the only available option in many of these cases. Beads containing antibiotics can be implanted into the infected site during the surgical procedure which slowly release antibiotics directly to the abscess over a period of time. Many vets also apply manuka honey locally over the abscess site following a surgical procedure, this is due to the good antibacterial properties of this natural product.

If, with appropriate treatment, your rabbit is pain free or its pain can be managed successfully, and has a good quality of life, they will live perfectly happily for many months or years, however, if the rabbit’s quality of life, at any point, cannot be maintained, then euthanasia is the kindest option.

Dental disease in rabbits is a complicated and often preventable problem. Always ensure you feed your rabbit a good diet to try and prevent problems arising. If you are concerned about your rabbit’s teeth, consult your vet as soon as possible.