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Rabbits Need Dental Care Too!

by admin on July 12th, 2012

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What you need to know about your rabbit’s mouth

 

 

 

 

Rabbit teeth are amazing! The front teeth are only a small part of the story. It’s the molars, hidden away at the back of the mouth that do most of the hard work, and cause the most problems.

Rabbit teeth are similar to horse teeth. They have evolved over time to break down tough, fibrous vegetation, such as grasses, weeds, twigs and leaves; the natural forage of wild rabbits. To compensate for this constant wear, rabbit teeth are open rooted, which means they grow continuously throughout their lives to ensure there is always a fresh new tooth surface to grind food efficiently.

Watch a rabbit chewing hay-you’ll see the jaw moving from side to side. It’s this crucial chewing action, which together with the correct diet that keeps the back teeth the correct length.

So, what goes wrong?

A rabbit whose diet is insufficient in fibre, such as a pellet only diet, or lacking in sufficient quantities of hay, will be unable to properly wear down it’s teeth by chewing abrasive plants etc, and the teeth crowns grow higher and meet the opposing teeth abnormally, leading to abnormal wear and the eventual development of sharp edges or points called spurs. These sharp edges are painful and can get long enough to cut the tongue, or can cut the cheeks, causing soft tissue abscesses.

When teeth don’t occlude (meet) properly, it’s called malocclusion. Maloccluded teeth create abnormal pressure against one another, which cause the tooth roots to become impacted, elongated and inflamed. Tooth root impaction is extremely painful and will eventually lead to an infection in the bone, or the jaw and will lead to jaw and skull abnormalities.

Once a rabbit has malocclusion, it is likely he will never have normal teeth and will require frequent visits to the vets, regular trims and possible abscess surgery.

With tooth trims and increased dietary fibre we can keep rabbits comfortable and provide them with a good quality of life. But tooth problems cannot and must not be ignored; they will not get better on their own. Your best bet is early diagnosis and careful monitoring.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What can be done?

Hay is the most important part of your rabbit’s diet, not only because of the fibre content that keeps the gut functioning properly, but also because it requires a great deal of chewing. Limiting the amount of pellets you feed your rabbit is important, because it will encourage your rabbit to eat more hay, rather than filling up on the less fibrous food.

It is also helpful to offer your rabbit tough, fibrous apple and pear tree branches, leaves and twigs.

On a regular basis:

* Make sure your rabbit eats his daily pellet and veggie portions eagerly, and that he munches on his hay frequently throughout the day.

* Note any changes in your rabbits eating habits: no longer eating veggies, ignoring or producing pellets or appearing to have trouble eating them, eating less hay than usual or having abnormal faeces.

* Feel the left and right-hand side of your rabbit’s head, in front of the eyes, below the eyes, the cheekbones and the jawbone. If you feel a lump on one side and not the other, call the vet and request a thorough examination.

* Check the incisor teeth by gently clamping your bunny between your knees on the floor, facing forward, lean over him and gently pull his lips back into a smile. You’ll see the incisors- do they meet evenly? Ensure you check these weekly.

* Back teeth are virtually impossible to check at home. Your job is to look out for signs that might indicate a back tooth problem – lumps on the jaw, drooling or changes in food preferences.

* Eye and/or nasal discharge and excessive drooling or wetness under the chin can also be a sign that something is wrong with your rabbit’s teeth, and a vet check is needed.

We recommend six monthly or at the very least yearly dental checks with the veterinary surgeon, and feeding a healthy, high fibre diet.  These two recommendations alone are the two most important factors in keeping your rabbits teeth in good shape.

How do vets check rabbit’s teeth?

A full dental examination requires a general anaesthetic or heavy sedation, and could include x-rays of the skull. There is simply no other way the vet can ensure every bit of the tongue, lips, cheeks, and gums are examined thoroughly-let alone the teeth.

Examination using an otoscope enables the vet to examine your bunny, which is sufficient only for routine checks and will be carried out at the time of vaccination.

If you or the vet has the slightest suspicion that your rabbit has developed a dental problem, then inspection with an otoscope is insufficient and your bunny will need to be properly examined under sedation or general anaesthesia.

My Rabbit is eating and not showing any signs of discomfort, doesn’t that mean his teeth are healthy?

NO! Rabbits are prey animals. This means that in the wild they are hunted, and if they show signs of injury or illness they are more likely to be targeted for dinner. Our domestic rabbits hide their injuries and illnesses in much the same way: this is why rabbits are so incredibly good at hiding illnesses and why we as owners must be so diligent in observing them for small changes, as well as making sure they get frequent check ups and vet care as needed. Many rabbits have huge abbesses, or tongues nearly cut in half, before they start to show any signs of discomfort like drooling or decreased appetite.

This is why it is so very important to have your rabbits mouth checked regularly by the vet.

Rabbits have the potential for many tooth problems, which can affect their life long health. This is why it’s so important to be observant, proactive and diligent about preventative care. 

If you are worried about your rabbit’s well-being or have any questions, please contact us to arrange a check up with the vet.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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