Sari Kanfer, DVM and Alexandra Logsdon
people know that rabbits have four large incisors (front teeth),
but not everyone realizes that they also have other teeth besides
those large incisors. They have two tiny incisors located right
behind the upper incisors. These are called peg teeth. In the back
of their mouth they have six upper and five lower cheek teeth on
each side. The incisors have a sharp edge and scissor-like action,
and are mainly used to slice through vegetation; and the cheek teeth
are used for grinding food into smaller pieces (chewing) for swallowing.
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.
whose diet is insufficient in fiber, such as a pellets-only diet,
will be unable to properly wear down its teeth. When this happens,
the crown (the visible section of the tooth) grows higher and meets
the opposing tooth abnormally, leading to abnormal wear and the
eventual development of sharp edges or points (also called spurs).
Sharp tooth edges are painful and can get long enough to cut the
tongue, or can cut the inside of the cheeks, causing soft tissue
abscesses. When teeth don't occlude (meet) properly, it is called
malocclusion. Maloccluded teeth create abnormal pressure against
one another, which can 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 "jaw
a rabbit has a malocclusion, it is likely that he will never have
normal teeth, and may require frequent vet visits, regular tooth
trims under anesthesia, and possibly even abscess surgery. With
tooth trims and increased dietary fiber we can keep rabbits comfortable
and provide them with a good quality of life. But tooth problems
cannot be ignored - they will not get better on their own. Your
best bet is early diagnosis and careful monitoring.
Commonly Asked Questions
Do I Keep My Rabbit’s Teeth Healthy?
Yearly or twice yearly dental check-ups by your rabbit savvy vet,
plus a healthy, high fiber diet are two important factors in keeping
the teeth in good shape.
is the most important part of your rabbit’s diet, not only
because of the necessary fiber content that keeps the gut functioning
properly, but also because it requires a great deal of chewing.
We also believe, from hours of observing both domestic and wild
rabbits, that it is important to offer your rabbit a daily variety
of hays. Why? Because different hays have different textures, and
different hay textures require different chewing mechanics, and
thus help to keep those ever-growing teeth worn down naturally.
Limiting the pellets that you feed your rabbit is important, because
it will help encourage your rabbit to eat more hay, rather than
filling up on the less fibrous food.
is also helpful to offer your rabbit tough, fibrous tree branches,
leaves and twigs. It is important to make sure you gather these
from rabbit-safe trees and bushes that have NOT been chemically
treated with fertilizers, pesticides or herbicides. While wooden
chew blocks are fun to play with and great for the front
teeth (if your rabbit chews on them), they are not particularly
useful for the back teeth.
Some rabbit-safe chewables you may find in your yard:
• Orange or lemon trees – branches may be fed fresh
• Apple trees – branches may be feed fresh or dried
• Willow - branches may be fed fresh or dried
• Maple, Ash and Pine trees – branches should be dried
• Rose Canes – remove thorns, branches and leaves may
be fed fresh or dried
You may want to rinse the branches in water, or place in the
freezer overnight to kill any bugs.
Sum Up: Both the rabbits front and back must be
considered for good dental health. To help keep the teeth properly
worn down, a rabbit must use them almost constantly; munching on
hay throughout the day, as well as offering frequent branches, twigs
and dried leaves helps to accomplish this.
do I know if my rabbit has bad teeth?
Yearly (or more) visits to a rabbit-experienced veterinarian are
essential. The veterinarian can do a fairly decent dental exam on
an awake rabbit using a special mouth cone and good palpation, but
a complete and thorough oral exam requires anesthesia. When your
rabbit is under anesthesia to be spayed or neutered, this is an
excellent time for the doctor to do a thorough oral exam. And of
course, when a problem is suspected a complete oral exam, including
skull x-rays, is indicated.
can I do at home, on a regular basis, to monitor my rabbit's teeth?
sure your rabbit eats his daily pellet and veggie portions eagerly,
and that he munches on his hay frequently throughout the day.
any changes in your rabbits eating habits: no longer eating produce,
ignoring pellets or having a hard time chewing them, eating less
hay than usual, abnormal feces.
the left and right sides of your rabbit’s head - in front
of the eyes, below the eyes on the cheekbone, and under the lower
jaw. If you feel a lump on one side that is not on the other,
go to your rabbit vet as soon as you can.
lift up upper lips to look at the incisors - do they meet evenly?
If not, give your vet a call.
for any drooling or excessive wetness under chin (but don't worry
if your rabbit has a moist chin for a short time after drinking
or after eating vegetables).
your rabbit gives bunny kisses, you can smell his breath. A rotten
odor is reason for a vet check. Beware - parsley-breath is
nice, but cecotroph-breath can be pungent!
and/or nasal discharge can also be a sign that something is wrong
with your rabbit's teeth.
rabbit is eating and not showing any signs of pain, doesn't that
mean his teeth are healthy?
NO! Rabbits are prey animals. This means that in the wild everything
eats them, and if they show signs that they are ill, they are more
likely to be targeted for dinner. Our domestic rabbits hide their
pain in much the same way: This is why rabbits are so (frighteningly)
good at hiding illnesses and why we as owners must be so diligent
in observing them for small changes, as well as making sure that
they get frequent vet check-ups and good vet care as-needed. Many
rabbits have huge abscesses, or tongues nearly cut in half, before
they start to show signs like drooling or decreased appetite. This
is why its so important to have your rabbit's mouth checked regularly
by a rabbit experienced vet.
have the potential for many tooth problems, which can affect their
lifelong health. This is why it is so important to be observant,
proactive and diligent about preventative care.
Sari Kanfer practices at Animal Medical & Dental Group in Manhattan
Beach and can be reached for appointments or consultations at (310)546-5731.
She joined the board of Zooh Corner as Medical Director in January
Logsdon has run Zooh Corner Rabbit Rescue since 1993 and has many
years of practical experience. She may be reached via e-mail email@example.com,
or via the website www.mybunny.org
Zooh Corner Rabbit Rescue