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 Caring for Companion Animals

Rabbits - Dental Problems

iStock 000019374411XSmall We see teeth problems in rabbits very frequently.  When a rabbit has a soft jaw bone from a poorly balanced diet, its teeth will move position so that they are inclined, rather than straight up and down.  When they grow, they will tend to wear so that there are sharp spurs going in towards the tongue at the bottom and out to the cheek at the top.  It is often found that the front teeth, the incisors, do not align correctly so will become overgrown.  This is usually a problem that the rabbit is born with.


Sometimes it can be hard to tell if your rabbit has dental problems.  They do show subtle signs though.  Rabbits somehow can manage to eat in spite of teeth that are causing a lot of damage to their tongue, cheek and other soft tissues.  However, they often get even more selective with their food, preferring sometimes fresh food over the dry.  They may stop grooming themselves properly, leading to a dirty bottom as they stop eating the "soft poo" or caecotrophs they produce.  Lack of grooming and general poor condition from eating less than normal, can lead to fur mites which look like very bad dandruff.  Sometimes one of the first signs can be wet front paws by the dewclaws from wiping their mouths where they are salivating excessively from the pain of the sharp teeth.  


Incisors that don't meet can even grow up into the rabbits nose or down into its chin, preventing drinking.  Runny eyes can also be a sign of tooth problems as the roots pass close to the tear ducts.  In the worst case, if your rabbit has stopped eating completely, it may stop passing droppings and this is a very serious sign, as it means the gut has stopped working (gut stasis) and the rabbit would need to be seen as soon as possible.


If you think your rabbit has dental problems, please call the practice for an appointment to see the vet.  Your rabbit will be checked over completely and the vet will probably look at your rabbit's back teeth with an auroscope.  This will give us an idea of how bad the back teeth are.  It can be difficult to get a good view in a conscious rabbit, especially if there is food in the mouth, or if the mouth is very sore.


If your rabbit is found to need a dental, then they will be admitted for the day for the procedure.  Rabbits usually require a general anaesthetic to perform the dental.  Unlike cats and dogs, rabbits do not need starving before an anaesthetic as rabbits cannot vomit.  The procedure itself is quite straightforward; once your rabbit has been anesthetised, the vet will use specialised dental equipment to rasp down the molars to make them as smooth as possible.  We give several medications to help your rabbit through the anaesthetic and procedure, such as antibiotics, pain relief and a drug that helps the motility of the rabbits gut, so to help reduce the risk of gut stasis.


Once your rabbit has had their dental and recovered, a change in diet to ensure you are feeding a high quality diet of lots of hay, leafy greens and pellet food will help re-occurance of dental problems.  

Rabbits - Feeding Your Rabbit

Rabbit in hutchRabbits have very special dentition that keeps growing throughout their life.  Wild rabbits eat grasses!  They will browse on herbs and other plants, but the bulk of their calories come from grass.  Our pet rabbits are often fed the wrong diet, as we want to give them variety and feel that they might get bored with the standard bunny diet - but do not be tempted


Baby rabbits feed solely on milk for 3 weeks.  From 3 to 7 weeks they should have access to alfalfa hay and food pellets and they will wean themselves by about 8 weeks of age.


Between weaning and 6 months, your young rabbit can have unlimited alfalfa hay and you can use a "junior rabbit" pelleted food.  At 3 months, you can start introducing vegetables, but only ever introduce one at a time, as if it causes digestive issues, we will know which the offending vegetable is.  Never feed large amounts of vegetables, as rabbits are not really designed to have foods other than grass!


From 6 months to 1 year, you should feed less alfalfa hay and junior pellets and introduce grass hays and/or oat hay (all day access).  Alfalfa is very rich in caolories and calcium and at this stage we need to add more fibre and reduce the calcium levels, to avoid obesity and kidney problems.  Pellets are also very high in calories but still an important dietary requirement and you should change to an adult rannit formula and measure out the daily allowance, rather than feeding it ad lib. 


Mature rabbits should have unlimited access to hay or grass and the measured amount of pelleted food and some vegetables.


Senior rabbits may need an increase in pellets if they are having problems in maintaining their weight.


Vegetables which are usually fine to feed rabbits include:  Alfalfa, Basil, Beet greens, Broccoli stems, Brussels, Carrots with tops attached, Celery, Dandelion, Peppers, Kale, Mint, Parsley, Radish Tops, Spinach, Watercress and Wheat Grass.  Fruit is not a good idea as it is high in sugars and can cause tooth problems.


Chewing toys can provide entertainment for rabbits!  You can give plain cardboard or untreated wood (prunings from the garden from apple trees are useful, but avoid cherry tree wood!) or specially designed toys for rabbits.





Gut Stasis in Rabbits

Rabbits are very sensitive to changes in their digestive function, far more so than other species, cats and dogs. They rely on bacteria within the gut to break down the fibre in their food, which they can then absorb. This function can be altered dramatically by many factors, which lead to a reduction in gut movement and which has the potential to cause irreparable harm to the rabbit’s health. These causes can range from the wrong sort of diet (low fibre, high in carbohydrates), chronic dehydration (the water bottle that has a leak and empties itself to quickly) and stress – which may be as diverse as loss of a companion, surgical treatment, change of housing, transport, the presence of predators (the local fox, neighbourhood cats, the dog) and extremes of weather.

What to watch for? For most cases, when there is no actual obstruction within the gut then the signs may develop slowly over several weeks with a gradual reduction in the output and size of faecal pellets. The rabbit may be munching but as the condition becomes established, it will become dull & quiet. If there is a physical blockage and this may be an matting of fibre or hair, the rabbit becomes very ill very quickly and may die within 1-2 days.

The main method of diagnosis is by radiography (x-ray). If there is a physical blockage then the rabbit may need surgery, but all cases need vigorous treatment to support the rabbit and restore normal gut movement. They frequently need to be hospitalised, in a quiet ward, away from the cats and dogs.

Treatment is very intensive and can be very effective; but do be prepared, it is quite expensive in terms of nursing care, fluid therapy and the cost of medicines and is not successful in all cases. Your vet should discuss this all with you prior to starting the investigation.

Rabbits -Are your vaccinations up to date?

There are two diseases which we strongly recommend you vaccinate against.  These are Myxomatosis and rabbit haemorrhagic disease (RHD - also known as VHD and RCD).  Both of these are very serious and invariably fatal should a rabbit contract either one.  You can protect your rabbit against these by keeping up to date with his/her vaccinations.  Since May 2012, this has become much simpler as there is now a vaccine which is only required once a year and covers for both diseases.  If your rabbit is not vaccinated, then we suggest he/she is inoculated as soon as possible, because as the warmer weather approaches your rabbit becomes increasingly more at risk, owing to an increase in mosquitoes and fleas which both carry the disease between rabbits.  Myxomatosis does not require direct contact with a wild rabbit and fencing alone cannot protect rabbits from infection.

Fly Strike Prevention for Rabbits

The rabbit  and  the  sheep  share  the  unfortunate tendency  for  developing  ‘fly  strike’  This  condition  occurs  when  the  rear  end  of  the  animal  becomes  soiled  with  faeces, attracting  the  attention  of  bluebottle-type  fly. The  eggs  are  laid  on  the  skin  of  the  rabbit and  hatch  out  into  maggots  which  start  to  feed. Huge  ulcerated  areas  can  develop  very  quickly  and  the  pet  will  become  very  ill, very  rapidly, and  sadly, many  affected  animals  have  to  be  euthanised  due  to  the  severity  of  the  damage. Even  if  the  animal  can  be  saved, the  cost  can  be  great.

A  good  method  of  prevention  is  frequent  and  thorough  cleaning  of  the  cage  and  regular  inspection  of  the  rabbit’s  posterior. In  addition, a  fly  repellent  such  as  Rearguard  can  be  applied  and  this  will  help  to  keep  the  flies  away  for  several  weeks.

Don’t  lose  your  pet  due  to  the  lack  of  attention  and  the  use  of  a  reliable  anti-fly  product. Don’t  forget  to  make  sure  that  when  you  are  away  on  holiday, that  your  pet  continues  to  get  the same  care  and  regular  inspections.

Winslow  (Registered Office)

 33 High Street



MK18 3HE


Tel:   (01296) 715660

Fax:  (01296) 712160




14 High Street



MK18 1NT


Tel:  (01280) 822001

Fax: (01280) 816744