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Rabbit teeth grow continually throughout their lives. In a normal rabbit mouth, the teeth are perfectly aligned so that they wear against each other as the bunny chews, preventing the teeth from overgrowing. Unfortunately, dental disease is common in pet rabbits and can be caused by either congenital issues, where the teeth do not line up correctly, or by acquired issues, such as eating a low fiber diet that does not provide proper chewing action. It can even be caused by loss of bone density such as could occur with senior rabbits. Whether congenital or acquired, dental disease can vary greatly in severity from minor “points” on molars to tusk-like teeth that overgrow tongues or grow outside of the mouth. Regardless of the reason, dental disease can cause a rabbit to stop eating, become malnourished, lose weight, develop infection or abscesses and result in potential GI slowdowns.
The goal of treatment, which usually involves trimming or filing, is to return the teeth to normal length and shape. Doing so usually allows the bunny to begin eating again almost immediately and also improves and controls secondary inflammation and/or infection.
The decision to proceed with treatment, however, must be made following an accurate diagnosis by the veterinarian and should include a discussion regarding prognosis. For example, if incisor removal is recommended but the bunny’s health status is questionable, your vet may recommend temporary measures prior to removing the teeth. These measures could include incisor burring and syringe feeding of an Herbivore Critical Care formula (Oxbow Pet Products) for a few days before surgery. A preoperative complete blood count, biochemistry panel and urinalysis are also recommended before anesthesia and surgery.
A dental check should be a part of your bunny’s annual checkup. Or, if your bunny’s front teeth are overgrown or you find that he or she is drooling, has runny eyes, runs to his food but then turns away or has gradual or sudden changes in his or her dietary habits (refusing one food but eating another), a trip to the vet is in order
Orlando Diaz-Figueroa, DVM, MS, Dipl. ABVP (Avian Specialty)