As many as one in three rabbits may be suffering from tooth problems (Jekl et al., 2008). Rabbits have teeth that continue to grow all their life. An incorrect diet will cause teeth problems. Rabbits chew from side to side and up and down, and need long fibre from Timothy hay or grass (never grass cuttings) to keep their back teeth from growing too long (Moyes 2013).
If they don’t have enough fibre to chew and wear down their teeth, the teeth grow into their flesh causing them immense pain and suffering. They will stop eating, their tongue may be lacerated, and their gut will slow down which in itself is a veterinary emergency (Steinmetz, 2010). Some dwarf breeds seem have a hereditary disposition to malocclusion, when the upper and lower teeth don’t fit together properly
Lookout for these symptoms –weeping eyes, damp or frothy mouth, damp paws, lack of appetite (Harcourt Brown 2002), hunched posture, lethargic demeanour, teeth grinding, matted fur from lack of grooming, dead hair in coat, poor condition. You may see your rabbit run towards its food because it is hungry, then hesitate to eat because of the pain. Fewer dropping are also a sign that your rabbit is eating less possibly because of tooth pain.
Any of these symptoms are a veterinary emergency and need instant vet’s attention. A rabbit that hasn’t eaten for a day is seriously ill. It is not easy for ordinary rabbit owners to spot tooth difficulties inside the mouth. Teeth should ALWAYS be checked by the vet during ANY rabbit consultation including vaccination time. If your vet doesn’t do this, change your vet.
Feeding the correct diet with lots and lots of good hay is the single most important thing you can do to save your rabbit from tooth problems. Also you should provide rabbit toys that can be chewed – read What makes a good rabbit toy. Rabbits that suffer from malocclusion may need regular tooth trimming at a vet’s surgery every 4-8 weeks (Steinmetz 2010). Rabbits that have to have teeth removed may need help with grooming.
Harcourt-Brown, F. (2002), ‘The Anorexic Rabbit. Part 1,’ WSAVA 2002 Congress. Available at www.rabbitsonline.net Accessed January 21 2013.
Jekl, V.,Hauptman, K. & Knotek, Z., (2008), ‘Quantitative and qualitative assessments of intraoral lesions in 180 small herbivorous mammals,’ Veterinary Record, 162, 442-449.
Moyes, S., (2013), ‘Fibre. The key to rabbit health and wellbeing,’ Rabbiting On, Autumn, 14-15.
Steinmetz, H. W., (2010) ‘Dental diseases in rabbits and guinea pigs,’ 35th World Small Animal Veterinary Congress 2010. Available at www.ivis.org Downloaded February 10 2013.