Dental disease is one of the major reasons rabbits are presented to their veterinary surgeon- it either affects the front teeth- known as incisors, or the cheek teeth known as molars, or sometimes both. Reasons for problems can be due to the breed, i.e. the teeth simply do not meet correctly, or due to a lack of wear. Lack of wear is normally the result of inappropriate diet. When fed a concentrate diet with insufficient fibre levels, the teeth overgrow. Concentrate diets are crushed by the teeth in an ‘up and down’ motion whereas fibre is chewed in a ‘side to side’ motion. Overgrown incisors can lead to inappropriate wear of the molars and vice versa. Trauma to the incisors, often from chewing on cage bars, can also cause loosening of the roots and as a result inappropriate wear.
- Incisors grow into lips causing trauma and making picking up food difficult. Overgrown incisors can be easily spotted through regular examination of the teeth at home.
- Molars grow to cut into the tongue or the gums. Overgrown tooth roots also cause abscesses along the jaw, or blockage of the tear duct, leading to infection and inflammation of the tear duct known as dacrocytitis. As an owner it is impossible to examine your rabbit’s molars- therefore it is essential that you are aware of the warning signs that your rabbit’s teeth are in trouble.
Early Indicators of Dental Disease:
- Loss of condition- weight loss, unkempt, matted or dirty coat
- Behavioural changes- depression, isolation, tooth grinding, reluctance to be touched or aggression
- Appetite – reduced/anorexia or selective feeding
- Faeces- change in size, quantity or absence
- Caecotrophs stuck to fur around back end
- Swellings on the head especially around the lower jaw
- Watery or creamy discharge from eyes
- Salivation from the mouth, look for saliva staining on the front legs
- Over long, broken or displaced incisors
Always seek veterinary advice if you think your rabbit has dental disease.
If your rabbit has stopped eating you need to contact your vets immediately…Whatever the cause, 24 hours without food is an emergency in a rabbit!