Sari Kanfer, DVM
First Presented at Zooh Corner Adoption/Education Day -
March 16, 2002
are herbivorous animals, which means that they have evolved over
the eons to obtain nutrition from plants. Grasses, leaves and other
plants are very tough, therefore rabbit teeth have to be very hard
to break down the plant fibers. Similar to horses, rabbits in the
wild have to graze many hours a day to obtain sufficient nutrients
from plants. Because of this constant wear, rabbit teeth grow continuously
throughout their entire life. When rabbits are fed a diet deficient
in tough, fibrous plant matter (like hay, grass and vegetables),
their teeth are not worn down properly. The individual teeth wear
down at different rates, so the teeth cannot meet normally, and
the teeth grow in an even more abnormal pattern. Malocclusion is
the term for teeth that do not meet normally.
rabbits are born with bad teeth; either an underbite, an overbite,
or other malformation. These rabbits need frequent dental care,
and depending upon the problem, may never have a normal life. Other
rabbits are born with normal teeth, but the do not develop normally.
Occasionally, malocclusion can be caused by trauma, for example,
being bitten on the head by a dog, or falling and breaking a tooth.
But most frequently, malocclusions are the result of too little
fiber in the diet.
the initiating cause, tooth problems in rabbits usually present
in one of the following manners:
Malocclusion and overgrowth of incisors
Sharp points on the inside edge of the lower cheek teeth, or outer
edge of the upper
cheek teeth. These points can injure the tongue, occasionally bad
enough to cut the
tongue in half! Upper cheek teeth points often cut the inside of
the cheek, eventually
causing an abscess.
Maloccluded teeth don’t get worn down properly and they continue
to grow. Unable to grow into the mouth and be worn down, the tooth
root becomes elongated and grows deeper into the upper and lower
jaw bones, causing a bone abscess.
The tooth roots of the upper teeth can press against the tear ducts
and contribute to eye discharge.
You May See
NO SIGNS AT ALL!!!!
Decreased appetite, weight loss
Saliva or food build-up under chin, near lips, on the inside of
the front legs
Reluctance to eat hard food
Lump on the outer cheek, under the eye
Lump under lower jaws (lumps start small, but can get very large)
Discharge from cheek or chin/lower jaw area
Incisors that are uneven (gently lift upper lip to check incisors).
If uneven incisors are present, there is a very good chance that
the cheek teeth are abnormal as well.
Can Be Done If Your Bunny Has Malocclusion
are frequently needed to assess the extent of dental disease. Because
of how rabbit mouths are formed, it is difficult to completely examine
the entire mouth unless a rabbit is under anesthesia. Also, most
malocclusions cannot be treated in an awake rabbit, therefore anesthesia
is required. Pain control is another important part of treating
anesthesia, the veterinarian will trim and file off sharp points
and abnormal tooth edges. If an infection or abscess is present,
treatment is determined by location and severity. Sometimes oral
antibiotics and wound flushing are sufficient, but frequently surgical
treatment is indicated. Rabbit pus is very thick and the ideal treatment
for rabbit abscesses is complete surgical removal. But some abscesses
are too large and in too small of an area for complete removal,
or involve extensive bone infection. Your veterinarian will discuss
with you the proper treatment based upon how things look upon examination.
problems and abscesses are definitely diseases that should be treated
by a veterinarian who is experienced with rabbits. The key thing
to remember is that your bunny will never be 100% normal, and will
need rechecks and tooth trims for the rest of his/her life. Non-treatment
of malocclusions only allows worsening of the condition, and further
pain for your bunny.
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
information regarding this and other Zooh articles, or for re-print
permission, please contact Zooh Corner Rabbit Rescue, www.mybunny.org,