and edited by Susan Horton, DVM
Dental disease in rabbits is a very commonly
diagnosed problem and is now recognized as the underlying cause of
numerous other disorders. For this reason an understanding of dental
health and physiology are crucial for veterinarians that treat
rabbits and for rabbit owners alike.
Rabbits are herbivorous, naturally eating a wide variety of
vegetation and roughage. A unique feature of rabbits is that all of
their teeth are open rooted which means that their teeth grow
continually throughout their life. A healthy rabbit eating a proper
diet constantly chewing will wear down the teeth as they grow.
Signs of dental disease
Signs of dental disease are very broad and may be non specific.
Early signs can be subtle and may not be immediately noticeable to
the rabbit owner. The rabbit may change its food preferences, stop
eating certain things that may be difficult to chew, or drop food
from its mouth. The rabbit may have some weight loss or may look
unkempt from a change in grooming habits, especially if the incisors
are overgrown. Advanced signs of dental disease may be excessive
salivation, loss of appetite, malodorous breath, and severe weight
loss. Also, the rabbit may present for another problem such as GI
stasis, an abscess, or an infected tear duct, all secondary to the
primary dental disease.
Pictured above are Incisor malocclusions. These
are the front teeth that are easy to see in rabbits. There are
actually 6 teeth in these pictures. Four incisors and two peg
teeth. Malocclusions can happen for many reasons including
infection, trauma, and congenital defect. Treatment starts with
monthly trimming with a diamond burr and treating any infection
associated with the malocclusion. These teeth should not be
trimmed with anything else besides the diamond burr. Some rabbits
may qualify for incisor removal. Your veterinarian can help you
decide which treatment is appropriate.
This rabbit had a traumatic blow to the nose.
The upper incisor on the right fractured below the gingiva.
The tooth continued to grow until it erupted behind the end of the
fractured incisor that was above the gingiva. We removed the vestigial
piece of tooth and this bunny went back to normal occlusion.
Causes of dental disease
Dental disease in rabbits is most commonly caused by dietary and
genetic factors. Genetic predisposition is very common. With
inbreeding, some rabbits are born with incisor malocclusion in which
the incisor teeth overgrow and curl around because they do not meet
properly. Some rabbits breeds prefer elongated or shortened
skulls (depending on the breed type) which also leads to dental
occlusion problems. Another common cause is diet. Many rabbits are
primarily fed a diet of pellets. Because the pelleted food is dense
in nutrient content and is already pulverized, the rabbit chews
less. Rabbits’ molars curl as they continually grow. The lower
molars develop points that grow into the tongue and the upper molars
develop points that grow out into the cheeks because of decreased
wear from less chewing. These changes occur gradually with time and
can lead to many secondary problems including abrupt loss of
appetite and infections. Acquired dental disease with deterioration
of the tooth quality, malocclusion and elongation of the roots with
abscesses is another form of dental disease in rabbits. Diet,
genetics, and metabolic bone disease are all proposed causes for
Molar disease is a very serious problem among
our pet bunny population. Mildly affected molars may be treated with
a straight file as outpatients. For severely overgrown molars
or molars with points, a low speed dental drill with a straight
dental bur can be used to file down the molars and correctly reshape
the teeth. Infections of the molar roots are common in dental
disease and often lead to the formation of abscesses and infection
in the surrounding bone. If an abscess is present, surgical
treatment is required to remove the entire abscess and the capsule.
Involved bony tissue should be debrided. There are many therapies we
employ depending on the severity of the abscess.
A dental exam should be a part of the annual physical
examination. By lifting the lips to check their length and occlusion,
the incisors are checked. Also during the exam, the veterinarian
will check for the overall body condition, the coat condition, jaw
swellings, moisture from the mouth around the chin and neck, and
moisture around the eyes, which can all be indications of
dental disease. The sides of the cheeks are palpated for any sharp
protrusions. We use a lighted nasal speculum to visually evaluate
the molars. Occasionally, we can not see points or spurs on
the molars well and will recommend a more complete dental exam and
filing of the molars under anesthesia based upon our observations.
The dental examination under anesthesia can be performed safely
after we determine that your rabbit is a safe anesthetic risk.
This may require blood work. The anesthetic agent used is usually
isoflourane gas. It is very safe and the rabbit recovers very
quickly when this gas is used. We may add analgesics (pain medicine)
to decrease the stress of the procedure and improve the rabbit’s
recovery. Specialized instruments are utilized to visualize the oral
cavity including cheek spreaders, an incisor speculum, and a special
light source. Special diamond files, rongeurs, and straight dental
burs on a low speed drill are used to remove points and file the
teeth down. A system for grading the extent of dental disease based
on radiographs has been developed. The extent of dental disease
present is graded I through V with V being most severely
effected. While under anesthesia, we may take radiographs to
evaluate the tooth roots and abscesses.
Pictured above is a tongue ulcer caused by a
draining tooth root abscess at the back of the mouth. This
bunny was drooling excessively and had a foul odor from the
mouth. All the molars are abnormal in this picture.
Treatment is determined by the extent of the
disease. We will present you with the options once a thorough evaluation
has been done. The first step is making an appointment.
A good link is My
Pet's Dentist. For excellent rabbit dental information is
presented on this page.
This bunnies abnormal smile is caused by an ear
infection. the nerve that is close to the base of the ear has
become inflamed causing the cheek to tighten on one side (picture
side left). There is an abscess in the ear canal. This will lead to
abnormalities in chewing/eating which will lead to dental problems
and cheek problems. So the original problem (the ear abscess)
must be treated first to help treat the dental and cheek problems.
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