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, teeth 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 an emergency.
If you think your rabbit has dental problems, please call the practice for an appointment to see the veterinary surgeon. Your rabbit will be checked over thoroughly including your rabbit’s back teeth. 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 anaesthetised, 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 reoccurrence of dental problems.