If you have teeth, it’s important to look after them. This is as true for rabbit teeth as it is for our own. Because of the way their teeth grow, rabbits have some special dental needs. Rabbit owners need to know what those needs are and how to care for them.
All About Your Rabbit’s Teeth
Bunny teeth are quite different from ours, from the number of teeth to the types to how they grow.
How Many Teeth Do Rabbits Have?
Rabbits have 28 teeth: 16 on the top and 12 on the bottom. Humans, by contrast have an average of 32.
A rabbit’s set of teeth includes four maxilliary incisors (the top front teeth) and two mandibular incisors (the bottom front teeth). These are very long compared to the other teeth. Two of the top incisor teeth are smaller than the other two. These are the peg teeth.
The peg teeth and other incisor teeth cut and slice through food.
Rabbits also have “cheek teeth” in the back. These are the premolars and molars, and they grind the food that the incisors have bitten off.
Unlike humans and some other mammals, rabbits do not have sharp canine teeth. Rabbits don’t have baby teeth, either. Rather, rabbits are born with a single set of teeth that is constantly growing.
How Fast Do They Grow?
A rabbit’s teeth can grow as much as 12 centimeters (4.7 inches) a year. That’s about as long as two adult thumbs. The rate of growth can vary, but maloccluded teeth grow at the maximum rate, and may require regular dental care from your vet.
Do Bunny Teeth Ever Stop Growing?
No, and this can be the cause of numerous bunny dental woes. In the wild, rabbits exclusively eat plant matter. All of that fibre wears down teeth fast, so the teeth have to keep growing.
Pet rabbits, however, often don’t have the same level of fibre in their diets. In addition to causing potential intestinal tract issues, a low fibre diet can cause bunny teeth to become overgrown. This, in turn, can lead to pain, injury, infection and other dental problems.
Specific Rabbit Dental Issues
There are several types of dental problems that your bunny may encounter. Here’s what to look for.
Rabbits’ continually growing teeth need to be kept in check, otherwise both the incisor teeth and the cheek teeth can become overgrown.
Overgrown molars can develop spikes, which can cut your rabbit’s cheeks and tongue. This is painful and can lead to infection. Overgrown bottom teeth can also invade the jawbone, resulting in swelling and abscesses.
When the incisors overgrow, they can push into the tear ducts. This, in turn, causes tears to flow out from the eyes instead of draining through the ducts. This can cause nasty eye infections and even abscesses behind the eyes.
It’s important that you not attempt to treat your rabbit’s teeth yourself. See your vet to treat overgrown teeth properly.
Your vet will assess your rabbit for infection. Some infections can be treated with antibiotics. Infections of the bone can be extremely difficult to treat, however, and some vets may recommend euthanasia instead.
If there is no infection, your vet may recommend burring overgrown teeth. Burring means using a high speed dental drill to trim overgrowth. This is usually painless enough to be done without sedation. You may need to repeat the process every two to four weeks, however.
You might hear about clipping rabbit’s teeth, or even see videos about how to do it yourself. We agree with animal welfare organizations that this is a terrible idea. Not only is it painful for the rabbit, but it carries an unreasonable risk of tooth damage and injury.
Speaking of tooth damage, broken teeth are also a significant dental health issue for rabbits. Rabbits can break teeth while gnawing on food, while fighting, or if they’ve sustained a head injury, to name just a few.
Some tooth injuries can be fixed. For others, your vet may recommend extraction. In any event, if you notice a broken or injured tooth, don’t wait. Take your bunny to the vet immediately.
Malocclusion means that the incisors (or cheek teeth) don’t meet properly. This can be a genetic defect (it’s common in Dwarf Lops, for example) or it can result from changes to the cheek teeth over time.
Malocclusion can cause a number of problems. First, maloccluded teeth will grow at the maximum rate of five to six millimeters per week. This, in turn, can prevent your rabbit from eating (including re-injesting cecotropes) and grooming itself properly, and that can lead to GI Stasis.
In addition, the overgrown teeth can break easily, which is painful and can lead to infection. They can also grow into the soft tissue of your rabbit’s mouth, leading to abscesses and the other problems related to tooth overgrowth.
Regular burring of the incisors can prevent problems related to malocclusion. In severe cases, your vet may recommend removing all six incisors.
Tooth Root Abscess
The roots of a rabbit’s teeth may overgrow, become infected, and cause an abscess. An abscess is a hard lump that’s filled with pus. Abscesses proceed from untreated infections. They are extraordinarily painful and can be life threatening.
Root overgrowth often results from inadequate fibre in the diet.
Abscesses can be very difficult to treat in rabbits. Treatment may require draining the abscess and deep cleaning down to the bone. Tooth extraction is often necessary. Healing from this surgery can take three to six weeks, and will require syringe feeding and a strong antibiotic.
Resistant infections sometimes occur, as well as secondary problems like GI Stasis.
Rabbit dental disease, like many other dental problems, results primarily from a diet too low in fibre. But there are other causes, as well, including:
- Genetic defects
- Traumatic injury
- Changes in the jaw
- Metabolic bone disease
- Malocclusion of the cheek teeth
Regardless of the cause, the symptoms of rabbit dental disease are similar to the symptoms for rabbit dental problems in general. If you notice any of the following symptoms, contact your vet as soon as possible.
Symptoms of Rabbit Dental Problems
Despite the variety of rabbit dental health issues, the symptoms of rabbit dental disease and other problems are similar. Look for:
- Loss of appetite or suddenly picky eating
- Weight loss (because eating is painful)
- Signs of pain (hunching, tooth grinding)
- A dirty bottom (because grooming themselves is painful)
- Reduction in grooming
- Poor coat condition or fur loss
- Drooling or wetness around mouth and chin
- Dropping food
- Watery eyes or eye discharge
- Foul smell coming from the rabbit’s mouth
- Lumps or bumps around the mouth and jaw
- Swelling of the head
We don’t need to say it again, but we will. Any sign of pain, illness, and injury in your rabbit should be taken seriously. Contact your vet immediately.
Proactive Steps for Better Dental Health
So, how can you reduce the chances of your bunny developing tooth and mouth problems? Here are a few suggestions.
First, check your rabbit’s mouth regularly. Make it a part of your regular grooming routine. Take note of any changes, especially malocclusion or signs of damage or injury.
Make sure your rabbit has a high fibre diet, with all of the hay it can eat, and a good selection of rabbit safe leafy greens, too. A high fibre diet can go a long way toward preventing dental problems through normal tooth wear. Your rabbit’s diet should consist of a minimum of 70 to 80 percent high quality feeding hay.
It’s possible that your rabbit may turn up its nose at all that hay, especially if it’s used to eating a lot of pellets. Don’t worry. With a little patience and a few tricks, you can help your rabbit to adopt a more tooth friendly diet.
Rabbits love to chew, and giving them something positive to chew on, like wooden chewing toys, can help. Plenty of toys can stop destructive chewing, promote dental health, and help to stave off boredom, too.
Finally, if your vet recommends regular dental care, take that recommendation. Some rabbits need regular burring to keep their constantly growing teeth from becoming a problem. Regular dental care may be inconvenient, and it probably won’t be cheap, but it can save a bunny’s life.
You might wonder if you should attempt to brush your rabbit’s teeth. The answer is no. Not only will your rabbit find the process frightening and unpleasant, but because a rabbit’s teeth grow continuously, brushing is unnecessary.
You Can Prevent Dental Disease in Rabbits
Sometimes rabbit dental problems like malocclusion are hereditary. Often, however, they result from a poor diet. Injury can also cause dental problems.
In any case, prevention can mean the difference between thriving and a painful death from infection or even GI Stasis.
Start with a high fibre diet with plenty of hay. Add rabbit safe leafy greens for variety. Provide as much hay as your rabbit will eat, and only a small amount of high quality pellets. Introduce new foods, like leafy greens, slowly and one at a time, so that your rabbit can get used to them.
Provide plenty of positive things for your bunny to chew. This can include commercial toys, but rabbits also enjoy chewing on sticks and branches.
And if your vet recommends regular dental treatments, take them up on it.
How do you look after your rabbit’s dental health? We’d love to hear about it!