Rabbits are herbivores, which means they have evolved over thousands of years to live on plant material. Unlike dogs and cats or us humans; rabbit’s teeth grow continually throughout their lives. This means that in order to keep them healthy, a rabbit must wear down its teeth at the same rate that they grow. They grow at roughly 1cm every month so that’s a lot of chewing to be done! Rabbits in the wild spend most of their time nibbling grass. Our pet rabbits need to have the same access to good quality fibrous food (mostly hay) in order to keep their teeth in tip top condition. Never give your rabbit a muesli type diet to eat.
So, the basic rule is to stick to the feeding regime set out in our recent blog about rabbit nutrition and hopefully your bunny won’t need any dental treatment from our vets.
Get your rabbit’s teeth checked regularly
It is vital that you have bunnies teeth checked regularly by your vet. Although you can see the two front teeth – top and bottom (the incisors) it is impossible to examine the cheek teeth (pre-molars and molars) at home. As members of The Healthy Pet Club, you are entitled to two health checks a year, one of which will be at your annual vaccination and another 6 months later.
Despite the availability these days of good dietary advice and commercially produced feed for rabbits, we still sadly see a lot of dental disease in rabbits. The main problems we see in our practices, are overgrown front teeth and overgrown cheek teeth.
Overgrown incisors occur when the top two teeth don’t meet properly with the bottom teeth. They can get so long they curl round and dig into the lips and gums. They are also prone to breaking which can lead to jagged edges where infection can get in. Either way, this is going to cause a reluctance or inability to eat, and of course pain. Many rabbits will tolerate having their front teeth reshaped using a special dental burr without an anaesthetic, making this a viable regular treatment a bit like having their nails done!
Overgrown cheek teeth
Overgrown cheek teeth can be more difficult to spot as they are hidden from view. You may however see one or more of the following symptoms:
- Drooling/ wet chin
- Change in eating patterns/ avoiding certain foods
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
- Reduction in droppings
- Bumps on the underside of the jaw
- Runny eyes/ conjunctivitis.
The teeth tend to grow sideways and spiky edges dig into the tissues of the mouth and the tongue, causing painful ulcers to form. At the same time the roots grow into the jaw, resulting in bumps on the bottom jaw. In the upper jaw they can press on the tear duct causing eye problems.
Rabbits that have been in re-homing centres are especially prone to dental issues. They may not have been fed appropriately before being rescued and some individuals are just unlucky despite having the right diet. Genetics also plays a part, with some breeds such as the dwarf rabbit, being more affected than most.
The good news is that caught early, the overgrown cheek teeth can be burred or filed down under an anaesthetic so that the symptoms of pain and ulceration go away. The bad news is that once a rabbit has developed these problems, it is likely to be a recurrent condition, and something that will require a lifetime of care. It is therefore very important to discuss this with your vet. Between you and your vet, whatever you decide is the best action to take for your bunny.