Rabbits have impressive and fairly unique dentition within the animal kingdom. However, problems with their teeth can result in an array of health issues as well as cause your bunny significant discomfort. A lot of us know how painful toothache can be! Read on to find out how to identify and deal with dental problems in rabbits.
How will I know if my rabbit has a dental problem?
Being prey animals, rabbits are good at hiding signs of illness or disease. This means it can be hard to spot problems before they have escalated to a more advanced stage. If a dental issue is present, you may notice some of the following signs:
- Reduction in appetite or, in severe cases, total loss of appetite
- Reduction in the amount of faecal pellets observed
- Lethargy/reduced energy/being less interactive
- Runny eyes
- Weight loss
These signs can be caused by other diseases, but it is very important to rule out dental disease as a possible cause as it is very common loss of appetite. Reduction in faecal output in rabbits can be a sign that their gut has slowed down. This leads to a serious condition of rabbits called ileus or “gut stasis”. If you notice any of the above signs, it is important that you book an appointment for your rabbit to be checked over by a veterinary surgeon without delay.
How are dental problems in rabbits diagnosed?
Your vet will perform a physical examination, check for any weight loss. They will likely also look into your rabbit’s mouth with an instrument called an otoscope. This is usually used for looking in animals’ ears. However, it can also be used to get a view of the cheek teeth (molars) further back in the rabbit’s mouth. This is important as the cheek teeth can develop very sharp points (also known as spurs) which can cut the inside of your rabbit’s cheeks and tongue. Your vet will also assess the incisors (front teeth), as often they do not meet up well (known as a malocclusion) or have become overgrown.
Sometimes a bump or swelling along the jaw bone can give your vet an indication that a tooth root abscess may have formed. To fully assess your rabbit’s teeth and jaw bone, it may be necessary for your vet to take a radiograph (x-ray). This gives a better view of problems such as a tooth root abscess.
How are dental problems in rabbits treated?
If your rabbit has teeth which are overgrown or there are malocclusions, it will be necessary to trim the affected teeth. This is performed using an electric burr which rotates at high speed, trimming off the overgrown dental tissue.
Your rabbit’s teeth erupt from the gumline continually throughout their lives. This means that the overgrowths will most likely recur again over time. Regular dental work will be required to prevent them causing problems in the future.
If the overgrowths or sharp tooth spurs have resulted in any damage to the soft tissues of your rabbit’s mouth, your vet may prescribe a course of pain relief. You can administer this at home for a short time while these areas heal.
How can I prevent dental problems in my rabbits?
In the wild, rabbits will spend the majority of their time grazing. Often on various types of grass and other fibrous plants. This helps to wear down their teeth as the teeth continually erupt. So in order to prevent dental issues, the type of diet you feed your rabbit is crucial. By mimicking as much as possible the diet they would have in the wild, you will encourage healthy tooth wear. This means that the majority of your rabbit’s diet should consist of good quality “long fibre”. Often in the form of hay. Rabbits should also have access to grass in a sizeable outdoor run, and a varied selection of green vegetables. A small amount of pelleted commercial rabbit food can be given (approximately one eggcup per day). Muesli-type foods should be avoided. Rabbits tend to pick and choose the parts they like and leave the rest, which can contribute to dental issues as well as other problems such as obesity.
If you have any concerns about your rabbit’s teeth or require advice on their diet, your vet will be happy to advise you. As with a lot of problems, prevention of dental issues in rabbits is better than cure!