Dental disease is not just a problem for cats and dogs – don’t forget rabbits! Debs Smith explains more about dental disease in rabbits.
One of the major conditions that we see rabbits for is dental disease – this can result in some serious health problems.
Rabbits and rodents are unusual in the fact that their teeth continually grow. In fact rabbit’s teeth can grow an astonishing 2mm every week or the equivalent of 10-12cm every year! Rabbits use their incisors to cut the food, then their tongue moves it towards the molars which grind the food. It is important that they have the correct diet to encourage natural chewing behaviour and wear of the teeth. It is when this tooth wear is decreased or abnormal that there is risk of dental disease occurring.
Due to the fact that rabbits are prey species they will often hide signs that there are problems until disease is quite advanced but some of the common things to look out for are:
- Being picky with food or change in eating habits
- Dropping food
- Wet fur on face or legs
- Reduced faeces
- Weight loss
- Reduced grooming / poor coat condition
- Caecotrophs/faeces collecting round their bottom
- Discharge from eyes or nose
- Swelling on the jaw or face
- Quiet and subdued behaviour
How Do We Assess Dental Problems in Rabbits?
A full clinical examination will be performed to fully assess your rabbit’s general health. We will then feel around the jaw line to look for any swellings which may be from bone remodelling or an abscess. After looking at the incisors for any sign of overgrowth or malocclusions we will use an otoscope (the tool that we usually use to look into ears) to have a look at the molar teeth. At this time we will be looking for spikes on the teeth or ulceration on the tongue or cheek.
Common Dental Problems
This is easily identified as the incisors are clearly visible often curling round (overgrown incisors can change how their jaws move so can affect the molars as well).
What can be done? There are two treatment options:
a) The incisors can be burred using our high speed dental burr and can usually be done conscious in an extended consultation. This is a temporary measure as the teeth will regrow and may require to be done every 4-6 weeks.
b) Incisor removal. Due to our pet rabbits being domesticated and their diet predominately being hay and a small amount of pellets removal of the incisors is a possible solution as they will then learn to use their lips to move food into their mouth unlike wild rabbits that need their incisors for ‘cutting the grass’. This does require a general anaesthetic but is a permanent option.
This can be due to trauma, but overgrown teeth are more prone to breaking. This can lead to abscesses, difficulty in picking up or chewing food due to pain.
If there is abnormal wear of the molar teeth this can cause sharp spurs or spikes on the molar teeth, on the upper teeth this would usually be on the cheek side (buccal) of the upper teeth and the tongue side (lingual) of the lower teeth.
What can be done?
To treat molar problems in rabbits they do need to under go a general anaesthetic. This will enable us to fully assess the molar teeth and then, like horses, use a dental rasp to treat any spikes or spurs and reduce the length of the teeth if needed.
Removal of the molar teeth is often a more complex procedure and may require referral. Due to the constant growth of the teeth treatment is often recurrent.
The main way of preventing your rabbit getting dental disease is feeding an appropriate diet. The main component should be plenty of good quality grass and hay to provided plenty of fibre and mineral particles to actively wear the molar teeth down, this should form the bulk of their diet. They do also require a small amount of dry food which we advise to be pellet form to prevent selective feeding to provide the vitamins and minerals that they require.
Also, regular check-ups to assess their teeth for early detection and treatment of any problems.