Rabbit Dentistry - what rabbit owners need to know
Rabbits' teeth continue to grow throughout their lives, which allows them to grind down course feed substances such as grass and plants usually found in the wild. Most pet rabbits are fed a mixture of hay and commercially available diets. Whilst effective for nutrition, they can leave a lot to be desired for rabbit dental care; commercially available diets are nutritionally good with low fibre and high protein, fat and energy levels. However, unlike in the wild when they would need to graze all day and forage to meet the same energy intake from food. This can not only lead to obesity and boredom, but it can also lead to dental disease due to lack of wear of the teeth. Less time grinding and a lower intake of indigestible fibre can lead to the formation of molar spurs, which if severe, and allowed to progress, can cause tongue and cheek lacerations.
This can also cause secondary issues as indigestible fibre and chewing also promotes gastrointestinal motility, so diets low in fibre and higher in carbohydrates (such as muesli or pelleted diets) can cause the gut motility to slow.
Rabbits are hindgut fermenters, meaning that they rely on bacteria within their hindgut to break down and absorb food. Changing the pH and microflora can therefore lead to diarrhoea, gut stasis and, unfortunately, in some cases, death. This is why diet is such a vital factor to rabbit dental care, and in keeping your rabbit healthy and happy in general.
Signs that my rabbit may have dental disease?
- reduced appetite, or not eating at all
- reduced number of faecal pellets produced
- reduced or inability to ingest caecotrophs – leading to a 'messy bum'
- runny eyes
- hypersalivation and drooling
- facial swelling due to secondary dental abscess
If you notice any of the above signs, please contact the Alder Vets team to make an appointment for a rabbit dental care examination as soon as possible.
The vet has detected dental disease. What does this mean?
If the front teeth (incisors) are too long, these can be shortened, this is usually performed on a conscious rabbit, but this depends on temperament.
If there is malalignment of the incisors (meaning that they don't contact each other when closed), then shortening the teeth may provide a temporary fix, but the extraction of all incisors may be more appropriate to prevent the need for regular burring – this is something your vet would advise you on.
If your vet suspects there is spurring (sharp edges) of the back-cheek teeth (molars), a general anaesthetic will be required to facilitate a thorough examination and treatment.
What can I do to help prevent dental disease?
Feed a well-balanced diet high in fibre; a rabbit's diet should be mainly made up of hay (80-85%). As a guide, this means that a rabbit should eat their body size in hay a day. This increases grinding, dental wear and promotes gut movement.
Pellet foods are advised over a mixed muesli as rabbits will pick their favourite parts of the food, often leaving the most nutritional parts. Feed a maximum of one tablespoon per day for dwarf and standard rabbits and two tablespoons for giant breeds.