How do rabbit teeth grow?
Rabbits are lagomorphs and so their teeth are actually more similar to horses than dogs and cats, as they continue to growth throughout the rabbit’s lifetime. This is because the teeth are worn down by their natural high-fibre diet, so they must grow to replace the tooth that is worn away – amazingly they can grow by up to 12cm a year!
However, this means that if a rabbit is fed a diet that does not closely match what they would naturally eat in the wild then they can suffer from dental problems, which can be very severe in some rabbits.
What causes dental disease in rabbits?
Given that their teeth continue to growth throughout their lifetime, rabbits must be fed a sufficient amount of fibre to allow their teeth to be worn down as they would be in the wild. In reality, this means feeding a diet that is approximately 85% grass or good quality hay, 10% leafy vegetables and only 5% pellets/concentrated food. Many pet rabbits are fed too much concentrated food (pellets or muesli-type mix), meaning that they are not hungry enough to eat sufficient fibre. The teeth are therefore not worn down as they should be and become too long, which interferes with their normal chewing action, further exacerbating the dental issues. Spurs or spikes can form on the sides of the cheek teeth, which can dig into the mouth or tongue causing sores. Dental disease can cause rabbits to go off their food, which can lead to a serious issue with their gastrointestinal system called ileus where their gut movements decrease or stop.
Rabbits must have their teeth regularly checked by the vets to ensure that they are not becoming too long, and that no spurs or ulcers are developing.
What are the symptoms of dental disease in rabbits?
Typical signs of dental disease in rabbits include:
- Loss of appetite or reduced appetite (this can lead to a serious gut problem called ileus – please see your vet ASAP if your rabbit has stopped eating)
- Wet/matted fur on face and forelimbs
- Weight loss
- Dropping food
- A bumpy jawline
- Teeth grinding
- Reduced grooming
- Faeces stuck under tail
- Discharge from the eye(s)
- Swelling of the face
Remember that dental disease can be very painful for your rabbit, so if you have any concerns about their dental health then please speak to your vet.
How is dental disease in rabbits diagnosed?
Your vet will examine your rabbit’s mouth and will diagnose dental disease based on the appearance of their teeth and gums. They can discuss with you the severity of the changes present and therefore the best way to treat them and hopefully prevent worsening of the dental disease, making your rabbit more comfortable.
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How is dental disease in rabbits treated?
The treatment will depend on the severity and underlying cause of the dental disease, but normally involves trimming the overgrown teeth with an electric burr under general anaesthetic. The vet will also remove any spurs on the teeth. They may sometimes recommend that a tooth is removed, although this is avoided where possible.
How can I help to prevent dental disease in rabbits?
The best way to prevent dental disease in your rabbit is my feeding them an appropriate diet. This means feeding them sufficient amounts of fibre (grass and hay) to keep their teeth worn down, preventing them from over-growing. As a guide, this means feeding at least their body size in hay (or fresh grass) each day; a handful of fresh greens in the morning and evening and just a tablespoon of pellets once daily (or twice daily if your rabbit is over 3.5kg). It is best to not feed a muesli-style diet but to give pellets instead.
Regular check-ups by your vet are important to pick up on any dental problems early – they can look in your rabbit’s mouth using a special instrument and it can be done conscious in most rabbits.