Dental disease is probably one of the most common health problems in our domestic rabbits.
Good to know
The fact that a rabbit literally starves to death in front of a full food bowl is not a rarity. Often the long ears make the appearance, as if they would eat, thereby only feeds are selected, which can be eaten by the rabbit at all still to some extent painlessly.
The reason for dental problems in rabbits is usually an interaction of various factors: a combination of incorrect feeding and the special anatomical conditions of rabbits.
Special features of rabbit teeth
Rabbit teeth, unlike those of many other creatures, grow throughout a rabbit’s life – and not in short supply. Every week, the teeth of our long-eared co-inhabitants become 3 millimeters longer.
If you take a look at the rabbit’s natural diet, it quickly becomes clear that nature has made wonderful provisions for this. Rabbits feed mainly on grasses. These contain a high level of silicate, which acts like fine sandpaper on the teeth.
If the rabbit’s teeth did not grow back, the existing chewing apparatus would quickly wear out and the rabbit would starve to death.
However, if the rabbit is not given a permanent abrasion of the teeth due to incorrect nutrition, it will also starve to death in the worst case.
Causes of dental problems in rabbits
Due to the special growth of the rabbit’s teeth, it is only logical that incorrect feeding is one of the main causes of dental problems in rabbits.
It is often said that dry bread, dry food or nibbling on twigs would sufficiently abrade the teeth. However, this is only logical at first glance. Although the incisors are usually sufficiently shortened, it is often forgotten that the molars are also subject to permanent growth. They also grow 3 millimeters per week and must be worn down by appropriate food.
Nevertheless, it happens that even rabbits, which are fed species-appropriate, suffer from dental problems. Here, misalignments are the main reason for toothache in rabbits, and these in turn can be of various origins.
To a large extent, tooth misalignments are a homemade problem. In many cases, a lack of vital substances – for example, too little vitamin D, especially in indoor rabbits, too little calcium, especially in young rabbits – leads to tooth anomalies.
However, dental malocclusion can also be favored by previous trauma (permanent gnawing, impacts against the incisors), age-related dental malocclusion or by genetic factors.
Jaw anomalies are particularly common in dwarf rabbits. Due to their already very stocky skull bones, they are predestined for dental problems. A responsible breeding selection considering the genetic disposition of the individual breeding animals should be a matter of course here.
Recognizing dental problems in rabbits
It is not always possible to detect dental problems in rabbits at first glance.
An obvious incisor overlength can be quickly recognized when the teeth of the upper or lower jaw visibly protrude beyond normal levels or are subject to obvious malocclusion.
A wet chin, due to a constant flow of saliva, and a slightly open mouth may also indicate dental problems. However, in the case of obvious incisor problems, the molars are always affected by misalignment as well!
It is much more difficult to detect too long molars in rabbits. The long ears appear quite normal, sitting in front of their food bowl and “working” on it. In doing so, they often merely push the food back and forth in the bowl, giving the rabbit owner the impression of gorging. Puzzled that his rabbit is getting thinner, he goes in search of other causes. Often the weight loss or digestive problems that come and go are the first and only signs of dental problems in the rabbit.
Increased drinking, teeth grinding, severe chewing, and prolonged eating may also have a dental problem as a cause.
However, dental problems in rabbits can also show up as watery eyes or purulent nasal discharge. Tooth roots that have grown through the jawbone and are obstructing the nasolacrimal duct or nasal cavity may be to blame for these “runny nose” symptoms. Abscesses with suppuration can also give the impression of a cold if the pus drains through the nose or eyes.
Diagnosis of dental problems in rabbits
An accurate diagnosis of dental problems in rabbits can only be made by a veterinarian, on the one hand, and by thorough diagnostics, on the other. For an accurate diagnosis, it is essential to sedate the affected rabbit in order to inspect the oral cavity in detail. An examination without sedation is an enormous stress factor for rabbits and can lead to shock death in the worst case.
If anesthesia is not possible due to other health limitations in a long-eared patient, stabilization of the health status for anesthesia should be sought. If this is also not possible, dental treatment must be as gentle and stress-free as possible. In addition to a thorough visual examination of the masticatory apparatus with the aid of a mouth spreader, a radiological clarification is also given under anesthesia in order to be able to initiate treatment tailored to the particular problem.
General treatment of dental problems in rabbits
The correction of tooth misalignments, teeth that are too long or tooth hooks should only be carried out with rotating special tools (cutters) or remedied by grinding.
The shortening of rabbit teeth with the help of pliers or similar should be refrained from in any case! Tooth clipping in rabbits causes fine hairline cracks in the tooth, which can lead to inflammation in the jaw bone and not infrequently end up as severe jaw abscesses. Nipping teeth with pliers also causes loose or chipped teeth.
Treatment of common dental problems in rabbits
Too long or crooked incisors hinder food intake and often cause injuries to the mucous membrane of the mouth. Under anesthesia, rabbit teeth can be appropriately shortened to normal length. However, this does not stop the abnormal tooth growth, so shortening at regular intervals is necessary.
If only the incisors are affected, it is gentler for the rabbit in such cases to remove the incisors completely. However, the food must then be adapted accordingly and chopped up.
If the molars are too long or if tooth hooks form, normal comminution of the food by the chewing movements is no longer possible. In addition to digestive problems, massive injuries to the mucous membrane of the mouth are sometimes the result. Under anesthesia, the molars are shortened in order to restore the chewing surface. The cause of tooth hooks or too long molars is usually to be found in incorrect feeding. A change of feed to high-fiber feed must be made in any case. A high-fiber diet can also extend treatment intervals in cases of anatomically caused deficient wear of the molars.
If malocclusions remain undetected and thus untreated, the pressure on the tooth roots increases more and more when chewing the food. These seek the path of least resistance and grow deeper and deeper into the jaw until they pierce “on the other side”. The “other side” in this case is a cavity – either the nasal cavity or the nasolacrimal duct. The consequences are chronic discharges from the eyes and/or nose. Inflammations accompanied by suppuration are then also not uncommon. Here, too, after exact diagnostics, the shortening of the teeth, in severe cases the extraction of the affected teeth, is the remedy of choice. Subsequently, the diet must be closely scrutinized and changed accordingly.
Tooth and jaw abscesses can also be the result of teeth being shortened by pliers (or nail clippers). Often, the affected tooth(s) must be removed to open the abscess and scrape out the encapsulation. The wound is then irrigated and systemic treatment with an appropriate antibiotic is initiated. Penicillin is prescribed by many veterinarians as the drug of choice, but this must necessarily be injected because rabbits do not tolerate oral administration of penicillin.
Preventing dental problems in rabbits
If it is not a congenital malocclusion of the rabbit’s teeth or jaw, the best prevention of dental problems is a species-appropriate and optimized diet. This must take into account the anatomical characteristics of permanent tooth growth and be as close as possible to the natural diet (fiber-rich diet).
Congenital malocclusions can also be optimized by feeding and often significantly extend the treatment intervals. Regular checks of the chewing apparatus should be commonplace for rabbit owners, especially of small breeds, to counteract problems with early treatment. Dental problems in rabbits are not a trifle!
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