Rabbits teeth grow continuously throughout their life; this applies to both their incisors (front teeth) and molars (back teeth). In fact, their incisors can grow at a rate of approximately 2mm a week! The normal length is maintained by the wearing action of the upper and lower teeth working against each other. Sometimes, these teeth can overgrow; the front teeth become very long and curl or stick out at angles, and the sharp spikes form on the molar teeth.
What causes the teeth to become overgrown?
Inherited: some rabbits are born with a congenital malocclusion (present from birth) – rabbits with this condition should not be bred from.
Diet: lack of a good quality, high fibre diet prevents the teeth from wearing down appropriately.
Trauma: young rabbits can damage their incisor teeth pulling or gnawing on the wire on their cage.
What problems can overgrown teeth cause?
Pain: dental disease can cause immense pain as the incisor teeth can grow up or down into the opposing lips, molar teeth rub on the inside of the mouth causing ulcers on the cheeks or tongue.
Runny eyes: this is a common sign of dental problems, as the overgrowth of the upper molar roots can impinge on the rabbit’s tear duct, causing an overflow of tears on to the rabbit’s face, which makes the area around their eye very sore and matted.
Abscesses: the roots and grow up into the eye or down into the lower jaw
Common symptoms include; weight loss, salivation, going off certain foods, runny eyes, lumps under the chin, grinding teeth, or loss of interest in their surroundings.
How is this condition treated?
Overgrown incisors can be temporarily corrected by burring down the overgrown incisors with a dental burr. This can be done while the rabbit is conscious, but it may need to be repeated every 3-4 weeks. The incisor teeth can be removed to solve the problem.
To treat malocclusion of the molar teeth, regular dentals under anaesthetic are required to allow better visualisation and examination of the molars and rasp down the rough spiky edges.
It is important to realise that long term management is essential and corrective dental work may need to be repeated.
Can I prevent my rabbit’s teeth from becoming overgrown?
Yes – prevention is better than cure!
- Buy your rabbit from a reputable breeder, who can assure you that only rabbits with no dental disease have been used in the breeding line.
- Fed an appropriate diet – one that mimics what wild rabbits eat. They should have unlimited access to good quality hay and grass, which is high in fibre and abrasive and will help to wear the teeth down. Avoid ‘muesli-type’ diets as they are low in fibre and rabbits selectively feed, so instead feed small quantities of a pellet mix.
- Check your rabbit’s teeth on a regular basis.
Written by Laura Sullivan MRCVS