Dental problems in rabbits are quite common.
The majority of people are aware that rabbits have four large incisors (front teeth) but you may not realise that behind their upper incisors are two tiny incisors. These are know as the peg teeth.
Rabbits also have six upper and five lower molars (cheek teeth) on each side. The rabbits incisiors are used to cut through vegetation whereas the molars are used to chew and grind down food into smaller pieces. Rabbits teeth, like horses teeth, have evolved over time to break down tough vegetation such as grasses, weeds, and twigs. In order to compensate for the constant wear their teeth receive, their teeth are ‘open rooted’ meaning they grow continuously throughout their lives.
If a rabbit consumes a diet which is low in fibre, such as a poor quality mix or pellet only diet, this will not be a sufficient amount of fibre to wear down the rabbit’s teeth. When this situations occurs, the tooth grows higher and meets the opposing tooth in an abnormal position. This leads to abnormal wear and, over time, the development of sharp edges to the tooth – these are know as spurs. These spurs can cut the tongue and cut into the cheeks, potentially resulting in soft tissue damage, ulceration and abscesses.
When rabbits teeth don’t meet this is termed malocclusion. Maloccluded teeth result in abnormal pressure against one another resulting in root impaction and elongation of the teeth. It is these impacted roots which may eventually result in jaw abscesses.
Once a rabbit has malocclusion it is highly unlikely he will ever have normal teeth again and will require regular anaesthetics to file his teeth.
Rabbits can be given a dental just like cats and dogs but as always, prevention is better than cure. By carrying out tooth trims and increasing the amount of fibre in the rabbits diet we can keep them more comfortable and improve their quality of life. It is vitally important that rabbit owners are aware of these complications so they can monitor their animals and detect problems early, which will result in a better success rate for dental procedures.
Your vet can give your rabbit a full dental check and will be able to advise you on a nutritionally-balanced diet to help reduce dental disease.