Small dental problems often go undetected in the early stages but as rabbit’s teeth grow continuously (2-3 mm per week), small problems can quickly become major problems. It is therefore important to check your rabbit’s teeth frequently – perhaps on a weekly basis.
Head and face
With your rabbit between your knees on the floor and facing away from you, feel along the sides of its face and under the jaw. The sides should feel equal with no bulges or swellings. If you apply slightly firmer pressure and your rabbit flinches, there may be a painful area inside the mouth. Remember that the scent gland is located under the chin so this can make the underside slightly bumpy.
With your rabbit either on its back or sitting facing away from you, gently part the lips back into a smile. The four large teeth (two top and two bottom) are the incisor teeth. Check that they are not loose and that the gums are pink and healthy rather than red or purple. If the teeth don’t meet properly, your rabbit may suffer from malocclusion (where the teeth don’t meet and wear properly). The teeth will overgrow and may stop your rabbit eating. The teeth will need trimming by your vet. Overgrown teeth can grow upwards into the rabbit’s eye socket or nasal passage, causing severe pain and infection. Most cases of malocclusion are hereditary and are seen before six months of age but malocclusions starting later may be due to trauma, infection or tumours. Rabbits who tug on the bars of their cage or who are dropped or fall may pull or knock their front teeth out of alignment. Lops and Netherlands often develop overgrown front teeth. Don’t breed from rabbits with maloccluded teeth.
Behind the incisor teeth are two small peg-like teeth called “peg teeth” or auxillary incisors. These rarely cause problems.
The molars or cheek teeth are too far back in the mouth to be easily checked. Vets usually give a general anaesthetic or heavy sedation to be able to give a rabbit a complete dental check. This should be carried out every year. You can check for signs of tooth-pain such as:
- Drooling or wetness around the mouth
- Swelling, pain or inflammation around jaw and under chin
- Changes in the type of food your rabbit will eat, eg from hard to soft foods
- If you rabbit stops eating and loses weight
- Bad breath
- Grinding teeth
- Generally more bad-tempered or reclusive
Your vet may use an otoscope for a routine health check. If your vet suspects a dental problem, sedation or general anaesthesia will be used to examine the teeth properly. After a thorough examination, your vet will assess whether the problem is malocclusion of incisors, split or broken teeth, points or spurs on check teeth, foreign bodies, abscess, tooth root or bone infection, or warts. Bacterial infection may be difficult to treat as rabbits do not withstand many antibiotics. Your vet can trim the teeth (but this can cause splintering and infection) or file down the teeth with a dental drill (or dental burrs). Another option is to have the teeth extracted. Your vet may take an X-ray of the teeth and skull before deciding on the course of action. Removing the front teeth or incisors is a permanent solution and rabbits can easily manage without them.
Hay or grass should form the bulk of your rabbit’s diet. Always keep hay in your rabbit’s cage for your rabbit to chew on. This will allow your rabbit to wear its teeth down naturally. Paint -free cardboard toilet rolls or towel tubes are good for your rabbit to chew on as are unlacquered wicker baskets, straw mats. Don’t allow your rabbit to chew on electrical wires, rubber bands, paper clips or other small objects that could become stuck in your rabbit’s mouth.
You don’t need to brush your rabbit’s teeth and problems generally arise from either genetic deformities or a bad diet.