Most of the time, a rabbit’s teeth will be kept in the optimal condition by eating the proper foods. Please visit our rabbit feeding page to learn more about the proper diet to feed your rabbit. In addition, this page will cover information about dental disease and dental care.
Dental disease is one of the most common problems for veterinarians. Rabbit teeth grow and are worn down at a rate of 3mm per week. When a rabbit has dental disease, it can start in either the cheek teeth (molars on the sides) or incisors (front teeth), but eventually, it will ultimately involve both sets of teeth. Just because only one or a few teeth are noticeably affected, doesn’t mean you should wait to get your rabbit’s teeth checked out. Improper diet can lead to disease, but it might not be obvious or apparent for many years. Rabbits are usually 3 or more years old before they experience any challenges. Dental issues may be very subtle at first, but if something isn’t done quickly, the impact of heavy dental disease can show up.
At Northwood Animal Hospital we perform a dental surgery called a molar (or incisor) trim for rabbits whose teeth have grown too long. If your rabbit’s teeth are sticking out between his or her lips, it’s definitely time for an incisor trim. In addition to the front incisor teeth, the side molars in the back of a rabbit’s mouth can also grow too long. If this happens, some of the common symptoms are excessive drooling, difficulty chewing and swallowing. Please read the section below called “How Do You Treat Dental Disease?” for more information on molar trims. If your rabbit’s teeth are overgrown or if you’re experiencing any challenges, rest assured that our veterinarians have been seeing rabbits for 30+ years and we will take excellent care of your pet on its road to being healthy and living a long and happy life. Call us today or schedule an appointment to get started.
“What Are the Causes of Dental Disease?”
- Genetics: Certain anatomical abnormalities or problems in the jaw structure can influence whether or not the teeth can be properly maintained by normal wear and tear of the teeth. Because of this, extra care and services may need to occur to keep your rabbit healthy.
- Trauma: If a rabbit experiences trauma, such as a broken jaw, it could heal in an abnormal position. If teeth break, especially below the gumline, they can also grow back at an improper angle.
- Systemic Disease: Some systemic diseases cause problems for dental health. If a rabbit is weakened by disease, it may not be able to eat properly and wear down its teeth. Make sure to see your veterinarian frequently to monitor and maintain the dental health of your pet.
- Dental Infections: While not very common, abscesses of tooth roots can cause long-term dental problems, especially inflamed & overgrown tooth roots.
- Diet: While it might be easy to use a commercial pelleted diet with your rabbit, for the optimal lifespan of a rabbit, chewing and wearing its teeth down is important for the health of a rabbit. Pellets break apart easily in the rabbit’s mouth so they don’t wear down its teeth like quality greens or hay would. Thus the volume of nutrients received from pellets (HIGH) matched with the amount of work put in to get the nutrients (LOW) are detrimental to proper tooth wear. Because of this, we do not advise pet owners to use pellets as the only source of food for their rabbits.
“How Do I Know if My Rabbit Has Dental Disease?”
Although signs may be obvious, often they are not even noticeable to pet owners. Sometimes dental disease and problems are only discovered through a routine physical examination. Regardless, rabbits with dental problems will likely experience pain and discomfort or an inability to eat properly. Here are some of the following symptoms that you should look out for.
- Anorexia or Loss of Appetite: Because a rabbit eats with its mouth, if there are any dental conditions that cause pain or discomfort, like an elongated tooth root, out of alignment teeth, a tooth spur, an ulcer, etc., a rabbit may not eat in order to avoid the pain.
- Being More Selective About the Food: Depending on the dental condition and its severity, a rabbit may not eat harder foods like pellets, hay or carrots, but instead only eat certain softer foods like fruits and some leafy greens.
- Dropping Food Out of the Mouth: If a rabbit puts food in its mouth but can’t fully eat it, there’s a chance your animal might have dental disease.
- Excessive Tear Production: This happens often with the upper incisors, although not exclusively. The top of the upper incisor root is closely located next to the tear duct. The root can be inflamed and/or elongated, ultimately fully or partially blocking the tear duct. The tear gland will still create tears, but it will spill onto the face, instead of following the path of the duct. The eyes of your rabbit may appear wet or a crusty white material (salt and mucous) may accrue on the side. This can also result in bacterial infections, pus, and inflammation of the tear duct.
- Nasal Discharge: When the upper incisors have roots that are elongated or inflamed, the sinuses may experience irritation with nasal drainage. It can be difficult to distinguish this from upper respiratory disease and it’s critical to get x-rays to help in having a clear diagnosis.
- Salivating Excessively: Because of pain or not being able to close its mouth, a rabbit can accumulate saliva on the fur, in the corners of the mouth, the chin, and dewlap. Other causes are overheating, foreign bodies in the mouth, extreme overall weakness, or eating something that tastes bad.
- Tooth Grinding: Sometimes rabbits may grind their teeth more frequently with dental disease. Occasional grinding is to be expected, but if it seems excessive, you may want to bring in your rabbit to be checked out by our vets.
- Bulging of the Eye: Your rabbit may experience pressure behind its eyes if there is an abscess caused by the molars or upper premolars.
“How Does A Vet Diagnose Dental Disease?”
- History: Our vets will ask you about your rabbit’s history, especially eating habits, behavior, and patterns that you’ve noticed. With this information, we will more effectively be able to determine what may be occurring with your animal.
- Physical Examination: Our recommendation is for every rabbit to have a dental examination once or twice a year to make sure we catch early signs of dental disease. This alleviates the need to use anesthesia. In some cases, if the pet is difficult to handle or our vets are not able to properly assess the dental condition of the pet, our vets may feel it’s necessary to apply sedation to perform a proper mouth examination.
- Radiographs (X-Rays): If a rabbit has dental disease, radiographs may be taken of the skull to determine the extent of the dental disease and plan proper treatment for the animal.
- Blood Tests: If our vets feel that your rabbit may have a disease in addition or connected to the dental disease, we may suggest blood tests be performed
“How Do You Treat Dental Disease?”
- Diet: Healthy and intense chewing while eating the proper foods (INSERT LINK OF EATING SECTION) in the rabbit’s diet will stop the damage that may be occurring and help prevent future issues.
- Grinding/Cutting Overgrown Teeth: Dog nail trimmers SHOULD NOT be used to cut incisors. Even though some people have used these tools to maintain their rabbit’s teeth, if an incisor breaks off below the gum line even once, it can be a lifetime of dental health problems. Take the precautions to make sure you keep your pet safe. Overgrown incisors are often taken care of with a dental bur, special tooth trimmers, or a small grinder, without fear of breakage. Our vet doctors are able to perform this technique, often painlessly, while your pet is awake. Sometimes, rabbits can be nervous and difficult to handle, in which case, sedation will be used to maximize the comfort of the pet. Cheek teeth that are overgrown are often difficult to deal with while rabbits are awake. Because the rabbit’s mouth is narrow, anesthesia is most often used to complete this process. When the dental disease is at a moderate or advanced stage, anesthesia is necessary to grind all the teeth evenly, producing proper realignment. This treatment takes a holistic perspective to the mouth. Instead of going after one or two teeth, we make sure the entire health of the pet’s mouth is improved and the long-term effectiveness of the procedure will keep your pet happier and healthier for longer. If the disease is chronic or more severe, your pet may need more treatments, but your vet can advise you on the optimal course of action for your pet.
- Extracting Teeth: Removing abnormal teeth, cheek teeth or incisors, can sometimes be the better option for for a rabbit, as opposed to frequent trimming. Rabbits can use their prehensile lips to bring food into their mouth, so they can live successfully without their incisors. Our vets have helped rabbits to survive and live healthier, happier lives by removing teeth that were causing more harm than good. Discuss with your vet what kind of diet changes will occur if this is a possibility.
- Treating Abscesses: If a rabbit has an abscess on its face, there may be many causes, but abscesses are a common complication of dental disease. Talk to your vet to find out what the proper next steps are to handle the treatment of your rabbit’s condition.
“How Do I Prevent Dental Disease in My Rabbit?”
- Diet: Check out our section on rabbit feeding and choose to feed your pet the proper foods and provide great nutrition. Give your rabbit healthy objects to chew on to promote healthy wear of all teeth.
- Pet Owner Examinations: By checking your pet’s teeth often, you will be able to notice changes in shape, color or texture. Your veterinarian will be able to discuss how to check your rabbit’s teeth at least once a month at home to monitor its dental health.
- Veterinary Examinations: At least one visit to your vet each year is recommended to maintain the maximum health of your pet. Home examinations of the front teeth alone are not sufficient.