The symptoms, causes and treatment of dental disease (malocclusion) in rabbits, commonly known as overgrown teeth...
Dental disease is by far the most common problem seen in domestic rabbits today.
The scientific term for dental disease is malocclusion, referring to the misalignment of teeth. The lines of teeth in a rabbit's top and bottom jaw should match up perfectly when the rabbit grinds its food. As a rabbit's teeth grow continuously throughout their life, when the teeth do not meet correctly they are not ground down at the same rate. This leads to overgrown front teeth (incisors) and/or to spikes forming on the back teeth (molars, or cheek teeth). These spikes cut into the rabbit's cheek or tongue and can cause abcesses.
Whilst research is still going on into dental disease, it is commonly accepted that there are three main causes:-
Rabbits need a diet very high in fibrous material in order to grind their teeth down. 80% of a domestic rabbit's diet should be hay or grass. Many domestic rabbits are fed primarily on dry food nuggets or mix which, while providing all the nutrients the rabbit needs, does not provide any fibrous material and fills the rabbit up quickly, leaving it with no desire to eat hay. Dry food and vegetables should be fed as a small supplement to this diet of hay.
Some domestic rabbits have been bred to look small and cute, with small heads and lop ears. These breeds have a higher risk of dental disease and it can be passed down to their offspring.
If a rabbit suffers a blow to the head it can knock the teeth out of alignment, or if it tugs on the bars of its cage or hutch this may also lead to misalignment of the front teeth.
- refusal of food or approaching food eagerly but unable to eat
- dropping bits of food while eating
- dribbling, wet dewlap
- reduction in size of droppings or excess of soft droppings
- weepy eyes
- runny nose
Prevention / Treatment
Treatment will have to be decided by your vet and is dependent on the severity of the problem. Overgrown front teeth can be clipped without the need for anaesthetic or may even be removed altogether. Overgrown back teeth can be trimmed also but this has to be done under general anaesthetic. In severe cases the only option may be euthanasia.
There are two main ways in which a rabbit owner can prevent or reduce the risk of dental disease:-
- Feed the correct diet of 80% hay. Some rabbits are fussy about eating hay or what kind of hay they like so try them with different kinds or with handfuls of fresh grass. It is sometimes necessary to significantly reduce the amount of dry food and vegetables to almost nothing in order to encourage the rabbit to eat hay, however this should be done with veterinary advice to ensure the rabbit does not lose too much weight or stop eating altogether.
- Adopt a rabbit from a rescue centre that is over a year old. Even if they are of a breed which is prone to dental disease, the problem will almost certainly have manifested itself by this age