1. Why do rabbits commonly have dental disease?
Dental disease is one of the most common conditions affecting pet rabbits. Rabbits’ teeth continuously grow throughout their whole life. Rabbits need a high fibre diet (including grass and oat hay) to grind down and shape their teeth. Rabbits fed mainly on pellets or rabbit mix often have dental problems. Some rabbits are also genetically predisposed to developing dental disease despite the quality of their diet.
2. What problems are associated with dental disease?
When the rabbit’s teeth are not being ground down properly, sharp spurs may form on the sides of the teeth. These push into the tongue and cheeks causing pain. Abscesses can also form in the tooth roots. The front teeth (incisors) and back teeth (cheek teeth) can both become misshapen with the cheek teeth most commonly affected. Without special equipment, these teeth are difficult to view and so problems may go undiagnosed until advanced disease is present.
3. What symptoms are seen?
Dental disease is often painful, and the first sign seen is often when the rabbit stops eating certain types of food or any food at all. They may start producing fewer or smaller droppings. Some will produce excess saliva and develop “slobbers” (saliva from the mouth leads to hair loss or matting under the jaw). If abscesses form they may be seen as swellings on the face or under the jaw. Upper tooth problems can also affect the eye or tear ducts. Sometimes rabbits will stop grooming themselves and may develop matted hair on the body.
4. How do we diagnose dental disease?
During your rabbit’s health check the vet will use special equipment to examine the back teeth. If dental disease is suspected, x-rays may be taken to confirm the diagnosis and help plan treatment based on which teeth are damaged. Rabbits may need to be sedated to ensure good quality radiographs are taken and all the teeth thoroughly checked.
5. What treatment is involved?
Surgery may be required to grind down sharp teeth, correct abscesses or remove teeth that are damaged beyond repair. Teeth must not just be clipped while the rabbit is awake as this is very painful and stressful for the rabbit. Many rabbits will also need ongoing pain relief and antibiotics. Dental disease is serious and once it occurs it is often only possible to manage the disease, not completely cure it.
6. How do I prevent dental disease in my rabbit?
Annual checkups at your rabbit’s vaccination are crucial, and in problem rabbits more frequent checkups are necessary. Feeding a diet that includes at least 70% grass and good quality hay (oat, timothy or orchard hay), 20-30% vegetables and no more than 5-10% pellets or mix is the best way to prevent dental problems.
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