Dental health for rabbits

How to check your rabbit’s teeth

Regularly checking your rabbit’s teeth is an important part of looking after you rabbit. Without a set of good teeth, a rabbit health will almost certainly deteriorate. You must be careful when checking a rabbit’s teeth because not all of them are friendly enough to let you do so. Make sure the rabbit is calm and move the cheeks back very gently. When you have done this, you should be able to see the teeth and identify whether or not they are in good condition. It will be fairly difficult to obtain a nice view of the back teeth.

The colour of rabbit’s teeth

The healthy colour for rabbit’s teeth is a very clean white. If there is some discoloration or if the teeth are a dirty yellow then this is deemed unhealthy, and veterinary aid should be sought.

Tooth growth in rabbits

Rabbit teeth are open rooted and so this allows for continual growth. This is because they constantly grind and cut their food which means that their teeth are constantly being worn down. The majority of rabbit’s teeth contain no enamel. It is only a small area of the front surfaces of the rabbit’s teeth which are covered in enamel whereas the back surface is made up of dentin. As a result the back surfaces wear down more rapidly. In comparison with our teeth or the teeth of dogs and cats, a rabbit’s teeth do not need to be brushed. This is due to the permanent renewing of the teeth throughout its life.

Rabbit incisors

The main teeth owners will notice when checking their rabbit’s teeth are the upper incisors. These should overlap the lower incisors. Rabbits have six incisors in total. These consist of four large incisors and two smaller upper incisors behind them, the latter of which are called peg teeth. Peg teeth can be found behind the upper incisors. Rabbit incisors are very sharp and can easily cut, or slice, through most vegetation. Constant gnawing keeps these incisors sharp.

Rabbit cheek teeth or molars

The upper jaw of a rabbits contains six cheek teeth, three of which are premolars and the other three are molars. The lower jaw consists of five cheek teeth. These have two premolars and three molars. These teeth are used to chew or grind the food before swallowing. This grinding action wears down the teeth and allows the food to be ground into smaller and softer pieces. Between the incisors and these cheek teeth, there is a gap called the diastema.

What problems can rabbit have with their teeth?

Malocclusion in rabbits

Malocclusion is the most common problem that rabbits have with their teeth. Simple malocclusion is known as butting teeth and occurs when the incisors do not necessarily overlap but do touch. The more problematic form of malocclusion is also known as wolf teeth.

Wolf teeth occur when the rabbit has not been given the opportunity to adequately wear down its teeth and so its teeth do not meet properly. The teeth can grow too long and thus prevent the affected rabbit from eating. This can occur if the rabbit is not given enough fibre in its diet. Improper wear can lead to spurs which is the name given to the resultant sharp areas on the teeth. Rabbits with malocclusion are unlikely to ever have normal teeth again, therefore it is imperative to prevent it from occurring in the first place. This type of tooth problem is especially common in dwarf rabbits where they can actually be born with the affliction.

Broken teeth in rabbits

Broken teeth are a very rare occurrence in rabbits. Fortunately, broken teeth tend to grow back as the tooth root left in the jaw can regenerate. It can take up to eight weeks before tooth eruption occurs. Teeth that have snapped or broken off can be seen either as what appears to be a complete lack of tooth in that area or by seeing a visible bit near the gum. In this case, the nearby tooth needs to be gradually trimmed so as to match the length of newly growing tooth. Occasionally, the tooth may grow back abnormally.

Tooth abscesses in rabbits

Abscesses of the tooth are more commonly seen in the molars or cheek teeth. Bacterial infections can lead to the formation of these abscesses as well as impacted food and imbedded tooth fragments. Impactions of the roots can lead to jaw abscesses and there are very painful. Sharp teeth can cut the tongue and teeth and this can also result in a soft tissue abscess.

Loss of appetite

Due to the pain caused by poor teeth, rabbits may not be willing to eat. This can cause all sorts of problems such as weight loss, lethargy, and weakness. The rabbit’s digestive system is very sensitive and so if the rabbit no longer feeds then this can have many adverse effects.

How can I keep my rabbit’s teeth healthy?

A healthy diet is the best way to maintain healthy teeth in rabbits. A large amount of hay and a small quantity of high fibre pellets can do this. Commercial cereals and muesli are too soft to adequately wear down the teeth and so should not be used. Pesticide and herbicide free wood which is safe for rabbit use can be given to help wear down the front teeth. You can regularly check the teeth to ensure they are in good condition and every six months veterinary check-ups should include an examination of the teeth.

What do I do if my rabbit has tooth problems?

As soon as any problems are spotted with the rabbit’s teeth or even if there are signs of a loss of appetite then the vet should be contacted immediately. Butting teeth do not really need any treatment as they may wear down themselves. However, it is important you keep an eye on them to ensure that they do not progress to cause any further problems. Extra-long teeth may require clipping and filing down. If it is your first time doing this, then you should allow a vet to show you how it is done safely. This is because incorrectly cutting teeth can lead to splitting which in turn can result in root infections. If your rabbit has malocclusion it is advised that you do not breed from it as the offspring may have the same problem. Tooth abscess should be dealt with immediately. This can involve tissue and fluid removal of the affected area in addition to a course of antibiotics that is rabbit friendly. 


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