Rabbits have two pairs of incisors on the upper jaw (set one in front of the other) and one pair on the lower jaw. They meet with a chisel action and are essential for nibbling and cutting grass, hay and other long fibre. Set further back in the mouth are several sets of pre molar and molar teeth on each jaw surface. The teeth in rabbits grow throughout their lives (incisors grow at 2.4mm per week), and correct occlusion is essential to enable the rabbit to eat and grind its food before swallowing. When malocclusion occurs (failure of the teeth to meet and for the mouth to close, properly) the animal has problems eating. Symptoms of weight loss, failure to groom, increased salivation/dribbling, difficulty in swallowing and the refusal of certain food types will lead to starvation and death if not rectified. Malocclusion can be of either the premolars/molars or the incisors or both and occurs due to two factors:
In our experience, the dwarf breeds appear to be particularly affected although we have seen it in many other breeds as well. These animals should not be bred from. It usually manifests itself between six and twelve months of age.
Nutritional: Two factors are essential for good teeth formation and development. Firstly, a correct and balanced nutritional supply of calcium, vitamin D and phosphorus. Secondly, access for at least six hours per day to grazing of grass and ad lib hay at all times. Again the problem manifests after six months of age in most cases.
Incisors should be burred back to their normal level. This may have to be repeated every 3 to 6 weeks. This can be done at home with a good pair of tooth cutters but a bur drill to cut them off, at your vet, is the preferred method. This can be done without any sedation.
The ‘cheek teeth’ have to be examined, and any sharp edges should be filed back carefully. Overlong molars/pre molars produce ulcers in the cheek and on the side of the tongue which is painful. Infection and abscesses commonly occur. If there is any doubt about the severity of the problem, x-ray of the tooth teeth and roots is essential. Distortion of the roots is easily seen, and changes in the bone of the jaw may enable dietary changes and antibiotics to improve the situation. We would always do this under a general anaesthetic, as the main blood vessel under the tongue is easily caught, and if so, haemorrhage and rapid death occur. Prognosis is poor in the long term as a distortion of the teeth tends to worsen with age.