Rabbits

Rabbit Teeth Problems and Dental Diseases

Rabbit teeth care
Written by Editorial

My rabbit is grinding his teeth, not eating, is salivating, has runny eyes and nose, is refusing to eat hard foods, has bad breath and swollen cheeks. Could this be due to rabbit teeth problems or diseases?

To effectively avoid rabbit dental diseases, disorders or problems, there are several signs and symptoms which deserve know as they will help you know when this has dental problems and seek for timely intervention by your vet.

Quick facts

Rabbit teeth trimming
Rabbit teeth trimming

We have a detailed piece on rabbit teeth including their anatomy, dental formula, teething and much more. However, we thought of giving you an overview before we begin discussing the various dental disorders, problems, and diseases that may affect this pet.

  • Adult rabbits have a dental formula 2(2/1 0/0  3/2 3/3) with a total of 28 teeth while a baby rabbit has a dental formula of 2 (2/1  0/0 3/2) with a total of 16 teeth. From this, you can deduce the fact that bunnies teeth and they do not have canines.
  • Bunny teeth are described as hypsodont (their teeth are long-crowned) that are every growing (elodont) with open roots (aradicular). They continuously grow at an average rate of 2-2.4mm per week. However, molars and premolars grow at a slower rate.
  • The upper front incisors have shorter peg-teeth which are right behind them.
  • Rabbit incisors are mainly for cutting or clipping food while premolars and molars (cheek teeth) help in mastication or chewing the food.

Healthy rabbit teeth

When they are healthy, they should have a correct upper and lower dental arch relation while at resting position to enable them to continuously wear down while rabbits are eating.  Also, they should be free from fractures, disease, abscesses, spurs, and osteomyelitis.

Finally, they should not be decayed, have impacted food, be mobile, have elongated roots extending into the jaws, an overbite or underbite (malocclusion).

Clinical signs or rabbit teeth problems symptoms

When your rabbit has dental problems, there are some signs and symptoms that may be shown. Early detection is vital to help reverse the condition before it causes permanent damages.

The exact ones you note will depend on the actual cause and severity of the condition, disorder or diseases. However, there are some generalized symptoms which you may note, and they include the following:

  • Few or no signs at the beginning
  • Reduced appetite and unwillingness to eat
  • A food preference change to softer foods. Note that softer foods especially carbs may trigger “bacterial dysbiosis can cause acute diarrhea, enterotoxemia, ileus, and chronic intermittent diarrhea.” [1]
  • A preference for drinking where bunnies will prefer a bowl rather than a drinking bottle. 
  • Drooling (salivating or slobbers) signaled by wet dewlap (for those that have it), chin, areas around the mouth and front paws. Fur matting will be experienced in this area as well as moist dermatitis. Fur loss is also possible if the problem is prolonged.
  • Signs of pain including hunched posture, reluctance to move, hiding or staying in one place for long, teeth grinding and so on. This could also be symptoms of bloating or any other painful condition.
  • Poor coat quality, sticky perianal areas and so on due to inability to groom properly. Fur mites may also be present due to their inability to groom
  • Weight loss
  • Dropping food while eating. This might be indicated by the presence of scattered food in hutches.
  • Cheek swelling
  • Swollen lower jaws, or lumps under (bumpy jawline)
  • Bad breath
  • Watery eyes and a lump on maxilla just beneath eyes (in case of abscesses or intrusion of the root). Their eyes may also bulge and lacrimal sac infection or dacryocystitis occur.
  • Uneven or overgrown incisors (some are longer, not aligned well, etc.)
  • Nasal discharge or a runny nose
  • Tongue and soft tissue injuries. Your vet examination may reveal cheek injuries from buccal spurs while lingual spurs will injure the tongue.
  • Less and small fecal pellets
  • Secondary GI stasis
  • Uneven cheek teeth wear

Having looked at the common symptoms of rabbit teeth problems, it is good to look at the various causes. Common causes include the following:

Dental malocclusion

Malocclusion refers to misaligned or incorrect upper and lower teeth relation when the jaws are at rest. Correct contact is essential in wearing them down as this animal feeds, and when it does not occur, you expect overgrowth and elongation of teeth to occur.

Common causes in young rabbits less than a year is often congenital (skeletal malocclusion) where the maxilla is shorter relative to the mandible (brachygnathism) or vice versa in the case of prognathism. Maxillary brachygnathism is often noted in dwarf breeds such as Netherland dwarf and Dwarf lop.

Other causes malocclusion (overbite, underbite or crowded teeth) include rabbit teeth spurs and elongation of premolars and molars, injuries, teeth malformation, among others.

Symptoms include soft tissue lesions due to injuries, reduced appetite, pain signs, excessive drooling (salivating), inability to groom, eye discharges, among others.

Malocclusion can occur on incisors or cheek teeth but mostly it happens on both.

If you notice any of these symptoms, talk to your vet for a diagnosis, treatment of malocclusion. This is one of the most common houses of rabbit dental problems.

Rabbit tooth abscesses

Tooth abscesses are pus-filled pockets often painful found on rabbit’s teeth, jaw area and oral cavity. They are caused by bacterial infection especially Pasteurella multocida and other bacteria species with risk factors such as lacerations, teeth disease, tooth decay, and weakened immunity.

Common symptoms include loose teeth, loss of appetite, loss of weight, pain signs, lumps on the lower jaw, strong odor from the mouth and facial area, rhinitis, among others. These abscesses can be diagnosed and treated by various methods.

Dental overgrowth

Since these pet’s teeth are ever-growing, various factors including malocclusion (whose possible cause includes deficiency of some vital nutrients such as calcium and vitamin D), low fiber diets, among other factors may lead to dental overgrowth.

Symptoms of overgrown teeth include visible long teeth, especially the incisors, drooling, loss of appetite, inability to groom, teary eyes, nasal discharge, food dropping from the mouth while your bunny is eating, oral ulceration among others.

See your vet for diagnosis and treatment of overgrown teeth. Treatment may include rabbit teeth trimming, extraction, and apicoectomy. Some preventive measures including high fiber diets such as hay as well as chew toys to help wear them down.

Periodontal disease

This refers to the inflammation of the periodontium which is induced by a plague. It is not common in these animals. However, it can occur. With proper diets that have a lot of abrasive foods such as hay,  the exposed dental crowns will be short limiting the amount of plaque accumulation.

With reduced teeth wearing especially with low fiber diets, the risks of your bunny having periodontal disease go high.

Also, weak periodontal ligament structure, sharp food materials, an apicoectomy may predispose your rabbit to injuries and food impaction especially on cheek teeth disrupting the occlusal surface that is packed tightly creating gaps where food may accumulate.

Finally, colonization by anaerobic bacterial species including Fusobacterium spp., Streptococcus spp, or Staphylococcus ssp., may spread to the apex resulting in endodontic lesions because the infection will affect the pulp. Afterward, the infection may cause a tooth abscess which will lead to several other including osteomyelitis if not detected and treated early. 

Dental caries and resorption

Dental caries and resorption are not common in rabbits that have natural diets. However, it is common in rabbits whose diets are high in carbohydrates, have arrested eruptions (apicoectomy) or little attrition.

This “demineralization which can totally destroy the exposed crown and progress subgingival stimulating resorption” [2]

Also, resorptive lesions can be associated with abscesses as well as periodontal disease and in severe cases, resorption may result in the absence of all cheek teeth.

Trauma injuries

Trauma that results in splitting or fracturing of teeth including during trimming may affect the pulp. If undamaged, it will heal on its own or with vital pulp therapy. If untreated, necrosis may occur and abscesses may be formed.

Other conditions

  • Temporomandibular problems including jaw trauma which can cause jaw fractures. Fractures can lead to the mandibular symphysis separation
  • Neoplasia or abnormal tissue growth

Dental diseases in old rabbits

Aging in bunnies results in a lower bone density making their teeth to be slightly loose and this may give way for bacteria to go via gums, through tooth socket into the base of teeth causing an infection. In case of such infections, antibiotics will help resolve them.

Also, root intrusion(apical elongation) is possible which may constrict the tear duct leading to teary or weepy eyes.

Finally, it is possible for an elongated molar to puncture the sinuses, giving way for bacteria from the oral cavity to go into this area that should not have them. In case this happens, abscesses may also be formed.

Diagnosis

Diagnosis will include looking at the various clinical signs, a dental examination by a vet especially for the premolars and molars that are not easy to see if there is any problem. Molar and premolar examination may be done under anesthesia. Also, an otoscope may be used to examine cheek teeth and see if there are any cheek abrasion or tongue injuries.

Secondly, radiographs such as x-rays may be used to show any problems with the teeth especially on their roots, or the presence of abscesses.

Finally, urinalysis, blood tests, CT scans (more sensitive than X-ray for early detection) as well as palpating the maxilla and mandible may be used during diagnosis.

Treatment

There are many dental diseases and conditions. Therefore, treatment will depend on the problem or disease that your pet has. We have covered some of the conditions including tooth abscesses, malocclusion, and overgrown teeth separately including their treatment options.

After diagnosis, your vet will recommend various ways of treating the different causes of teeth disorders which will include the following:

  • Pain control medications
  • IV fluid therapy in case your bun does not eat or drink and is dehydrated.
  • Forced feeding using foods such as Critical Care for Herbivores to reduce chances of gastrointestinal problems including ileus.
  • Oral and systematic antibiotic in case of any bacterial infections or abscesses.
  • Rabbit teeth removal or extraction or dental surgery.
  • Trimming in case of malocclusion or overgrown teeth (including incisors, premolars, and molars).

Preventing rabbit dental problems

To prevent dental problems, give your rabbits an unlimited amount of grassy hays such as Kaytee Timothy Hay which is abrasive. Also, reduce soft foods including pellets especially the muesli-type foods.

In their diets, include fresh leafy green plants including dandelions, grass, brambles, fruit tea leaves, cow parsnip, ground elder, plantain, sprout peelings, broccoli, spring greens, celery, herbs, cabbage, kales, among other leafy greens that rabbits eat.

Furthermore, reduce on fruits and non-leafy vegetables such as carrots, bananas, pears, and so on since they have low indigestible fibers.

Fourthly, if you have a secure backyard, let your rabbits go graze there and have a chance to bask in the sun since it is a source of vitamin D.

Finally, provide your bunnies with chew toys. You can go for commercial ones or homemade bunny chew toys ones including cardboard boxes, apple branches, untreated hardwood pieces, and so on.

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