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Dental Disease in Rabbits

“Baldrick”’s story and Dental Disease in Rabbits

“Baldrick” was a beautiful cream and white Dwarf, Lion-Head Rabbit, with plenty of attitude, and an amazing “hair-do”! He had a wonderful plume of cream hair right on top of his head, giving him his comical, characterful looks. “Baldrick” had always enjoyed his food; however, his owner had brought him into the surgery as he had been unusually picky about eating. He was flinging his usual food around his cage, as though he was upset with what he had been given. Also, his owner had thought that he had lost some weight. 

On his examination, I noted that from his last records that he had indeed lost weight. His front incisor teeth looked normal in good alignment. So, with gentle restraint and with assistance from the Vet Nurse, I managed to use an auroscope to carefully examine inside his mouth. I could see that his back-molar teeth were overgrown with some nasty, sharp, long spurs on them. These spurs were causing some trauma to his tongue and surrounding cheek tissue and would certainly have been causing him some pain. 

I advised that “Baldrick” would have to have some Dental work done under a safely monitored anaesthetic to examine and safely burr down these overgrown molar teeth. 

Rabbits have open-rooted teeth which continuously grow throughout their life. They have large, long front teeth, called incisors, and a good set of upper and lower molar teeth in the back of their mouths, used for grinding down and chewing their food. Rabbits also have two small, tube-shaped incisors (peg teeth) behind the large upper incisors. Dental problems are sadly common in Rabbits. Malocclusion: i.e. imperfect positioning or meeting of the teeth; improper growth or wear patterns; and overgrowth of the incisors and/or molars can occur. Overgrown points, sharp spikes, or “spurs” can then cut and damage the rabbit's tongue, cheeks, or gums. In the case of severely overgrown lower molars, these may also form a bridge over and entrap and damage the rabbit's own tongue. Overgrown molar teeth can also in turn change the way that the front incisors meet and therefore affect their normal wear too. Malocclusion of the front incisors will sometimes cause these front teeth to protrude out of the rabbit's mouth and they can then grow at an angle to each other. All these dental problems can lead to infections in the mouth, difficulty eating, discomfort, drooling, pawing at the mouth, problems grooming, loss of weight and general debilitation. Rabbits teeth normally grow at a rate of 1 centimetre each month and in the case of an unopposed incisor, growth can be as much as 1 millimetre per day!!  

The cause of Rabbit Dental problems is multifactorial. A significant contributing factor though is their diet. Rabbits need to be fed a diet high in fibrous material and roughage to grind their teeth down naturally. 80% of a domestic rabbit’s diet should be Hay or Grass (but not lawn clippings as these can lead to digestive upsets!).  Dental problems may also though have a hereditary or congenital component, especially Dwarf or Lop-eared rabbits. It is very important that your rabbit is on an advised proper diet, so that it chews its food well and wears down its teeth in the process. Overgrown teeth can be removed, or correctly shortened, trimmed and “burred” down under careful general anaesthesia. Following anaesthesia for tooth burring or extractions, it is particularly important to get the Rabbit eating again quickly, to promote on going appropriate wearing of the remaining teeth and to keep the rabbit’s gastrointestinal tract moving and functioning properly. 

Thankfully lovely little,” Baldrick” was soon back to his characterful, happy self after his Dental procedure and his owner adjusted his diet and arranged for regular check -ups thereafter to keep a careful eye on his teeth. 

If you are concerned that you rabbits teeth may be overgrown, or your rabbit is losing weight and shows some of the signs of mouth discomfort, then do contact your Vet practice to arrange a consultation for a thorough check-up and for good professional advice, as Dental disease may well be the problem. 

 

Alison Laurie-Chalmers, 

Senior Consultant, 

Crown Vets

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