Rabbit teeth – they grow and grow

1st February 2018

Did you know that all teeth in a rabbit are constantly growing? The usual rate of growth is about 2mm per week, but this can also increase as a result of dental disease.

To prevent overgrowth there needs to be a constant wearing down of the teeth by chewing and grinding food. It’s also important that the teeth are perfectly aligned so that the wear is even, thereby preventing sharp spikes and spurs from forming.

Even if your rabbit’s teeth start off straight and evenly apposed, problems can occur later in life. A diet deficient in fibre can result in the jaw bones becoming soft and the teeth developing movement and misalignment. This ultimately results in the wear becoming uneven and spurs soon appear.

What dental problems do they get?

Malocclusion - if the incisors (front teeth) become overgrown, the upper and opposite lower teeth don’t meet properly, a condition known as ‘malocclusion’. They can develop malocclusion of the incisors, the molars, or a combination of both. The back teeth, or molars, can become misshapen, sharp and pointed, and then rub against and cut the tongue. Malocclusion is one of the most common problems we see at Bollington Veterinary Centre.

Abscesses – if the roots of the teeth become loose, weak or infected, dental abscesses can quickly form. These can lead to very serious problems associated with secondary bone infections, and despite radical treatment, can often become fatal.

Unlike dogs and cats, rabbits generally don’t have problems with their gums.


Preventing rabbit dental disease

The best way to ensure your rabbits’ teeth stay healthy is to feed the right diet. Rabbits are designed to eat a diet predominately made up of grass in the following proportions - 80% hay or grass, 15% leafy green veg and 5% extruded pellets or nuggets (about an egg-cup full).

Feeding a diet made up of predominately grass isn’t always practical if you have a house rabbit, or your rabbit doesn’t have constant access to the outdoors; in this case a good quality timothy hay (not bedding hay) provides the fibre required to help wear down your rabbit’s teeth. At Bollington Veterinary Centre we recommend a diet high in fibre with fresh good quality adlib hay fed twice a day with some occasional leafy vegetables. Only feed a minimum amount of dry pellet food, and never feed muesli style diets.

A good guide for feeding an adequate amount of hay is to offer twice the body size of your rabbit in hay twice a day. Remember to remove any old of soiled hay and not to offer straw as a replacement for hay. You can never feed too much hay; but please make sure that fresh drinking water is available at all times.

If you need some help choosing the right diet, speak to one of our vets or nurses and we’ll be pleased to help. We try to keep some rabbit food in stock and we can always order something special for you.


What are the signs of rabbit dental disease?

In dogs and cats, dental problems can often be detected through their smelly breath, but the signs in your rabbits will be more subtle and you’ll need to look carefully.

  1. Weight loss – you may not notice this immediately, but if you are used to picking them up and grooming them, you will become aware of feeling their ribs and backbone more prominently. It’s wise to weigh you pet regularly and keep a record. This will allow you to spot weight loss early.
  2. Poor coat – rabbits with overgrown teeth won't be able to groom themselves easily. If you notice the coat becoming thick and scruffy, it’s time to check those teeth.
  3. Fly strike – rabbits with poor dental health won't manage to eat their ‘caecotroph’ droppings properly. As a result, they’ll become susceptible to soft faecal pellets accumulating under the tail. In the summer this can attract flies and result in fly-strike where flies lay their eggs on or around the rabbit's rear. These flies then hatch within hours into maggots that eat the rabbit's flesh as well as releasing dangerous toxins. During the summer months fly strike in domestic rabbits is a serious problem and should be considered an emergency.
  4. Dribbling saliva – if you notice your rabbit drooling from the mouth or if you find their paws are wet, this may be as a result of overgrown teeth.
  5. Not eating properly – failure to eat their hay or other foods properly will happen if their teeth become long or the roots become infected.
  6. Eye infections – infected  roots in the upper jaw can cause narrowing of tear ducts. Infection in the tear duct and glands can then cause problems associated with tears overflowing onto the face.

How often should you check the teeth?

You should check your rabbits’ front teeth every week. They should be creamy white, smooth except for a vertical line down the centre of the top ones, and end in a neat chisel-shaped bite. Contact us immediately if you have any concerns.

When we examine a rabbit, we can also check their back teeth for any signs of sharp edges or cuts on the tongue or cheeks. If we suspect any problems we might suggest taking some X-rays and, depending on the outcome, carry out a surgical procedure to file down the sharp teeth and in some cases, carry out tooth extractions.