When most people think about rabbit dental issues, they think about overgrown incisors. After reading “What to Do when Your Rabbit Has an Overbite” I could see that I more extensive article on the topic needed to be written. Rabbit owners need to be aware of signs to watch out for so they catch dental problems before it’s too late. People need to know what they can do to prevent dental issues from arising. Rabbit owners also need to realize when things are out of their hands and should best be left to a rabbit savvy vet.
Rabbit Teeth: The Basics
Before you can understand rabbit dental issues, you need to understand the basics of rabbit teeth. Rabbits have 6 incisors (4 upper and 2 lower), 10 premolars (3 upper and 2 lower on each side), and 10 molars (3 upper and 2 lower on each side). That’s a total of 26 teeth! So many people think rabbits only have incisors (and most of those people don’t realize that rabbits have more than 4 incisors). Rabbit teeth grow continuously and must wear down at a rate of 3mm per week. Rabbit teeth wear each other down when they meet properly, but are also worn down by food. It is important to remember all of the rabbit’s teeth when looking for dental problems.
Dental Problems: Many Causes and Many Different Problems
Your pet rabbit can get a lot more problems than just an overbite. Some of these issues may be prevented, while others cannot reasonably be prevented. No matter where you acquired your rabbit, its genetics are pretty much out of your control. Trauma is also generally out of your control. Your rabbit may be playing on the stairs and knock out an incisor that will then grow back in at the wrong angle. You couldn’t have known that your rabbit would do that. Infections can also cause problems. Consider tooth root abscesses and other such problems. These are also basically out of your control. However, diet is one of the most common causes of dental issues in rabbits and you’ve guessed it, this one is under your control! While you can’t control everything, that shouldn’t prevent you from doing what you can.
Signs That Your Rabbit May Be Having Dental Issues
Rabbits are prey animals and unfortunately for you as a rabbit owner, that means that they are trying their hardest not to show any signs of weakness. You’ll have to watch your rabbit closely to notice signs of illness and discomfort. There are the obvious signs, such as seeing a curled tooth out of a rabbit’s mouth. Hopefully you’ll care more about your pet than that and will want to more actively watch their health. Some of the more subtle signs of dental problems include: difficulty picking up food, drooling, weight loss, loss of interest in harder to eat foods that were previously enjoyed, no longer enjoying a good chin rub, and less poops in the litterbox. You may notice other signs as well. Maybe you will see an incisor issue such as an overbite, underbite, or other misalignment. Incisor issues often indicate molar issues, and both the molars and incisors should be seriously looked at. If you ever notice something different about your rabbit, check it out. Even if you don’t notice problems, have your rabbit’s teeth checked out at its annual check up. The key to being able to treat nearly any health issue in rabbits, is catching the problem quickly.
Finding a Rabbit Savvy Vet
Unfortunately, not all vets are able to treat rabbits. Perhaps even more unfortunately, many claim that they do treat rabbits when they don’t really have much experience. It would be in your best interest as a rabbit owner to check out rabbit savvy vets before a medical issue ever arises. If there is a rabbit rescue near you, ask your local rabbit rescue for recommendations. Rabbit rescues deal with vets on a regular basis and should be able to direct you to someone they trust. If you’re already having dental issues with your rabbit, tell the rabbit rescue that and see who they’d recommend for dental procedures and surgeries. Sometimes vets can impress you with their book smarts on rabbit dentistry, yet their surgical success rates will be low. You’ll always want to check out other opinions on the vet if you can. Ask their assistants and other clients about their surgical success rates if possible. Rescues typically see a large number of rabbits and should be able to at least tell you a bit about the vet they use, even if they are not at liberty to discuss certain issues. Finding a rabbit savvy vet is crucial if you’re looking to give your rabbit a happy and healthy life even with their dental issues.
Prevention is Better than Cure
The saying that prevention is better than cure may be a tired old saying, but it’s true. While you can’t prevent all dental issues in rabbits as many are tied in with genetics and some may result from freak accidents, you can do some essential prevention. First of all, diet is everything. Understanding a rabbit’s diet and how they thrive will really help you prevent a lot of health issues. The most important part of a rabbit’s diet is hay. Oat hay, timothy hay, orchard grass and others are excellent choices. Just don’t choose a legume hay such as alfalfa as the sole hay offered (offering alfalfa as a second choice for younger rabbits is fine). Hay helps to wear down a rabbit’s continuously growing molars. The incisors also need to be worn down. These can be worn down by a variety of objects to chew on, from wood chews to wicker baskets. Foods also help to wear down the incisors. In addition to preventing dental issues from ever occurring, you also want to prevent dental problems from getting worse should your rabbit encounter any. Since one of the first signs you’ll notice with dental issues is weight loss, it is also advisable to purchase a gram scale to monitor your rabbit’s weight. Doing a brief health check on your rabbit weekly will help alert you to any potential problems before it’s too late. Of course, an annual checkup is also in order so that your vet may check your rabbit’s incisors and molars to see if anything is wrong.
Myths About What You Can Do on Your Own
Several myths surround rabbit dentistry. Many people believe that rabbits that are given wood chews will not have dental problems. Others, like the author of the above mentioned article, believe that wood chews are some kind of miracle cure that will not only prevent dental issues, but they will also somehow fix dental issues that have already arisen. Then there are those who believe the perhaps more dangerous idea that anyone can trim rabbit teeth and trimming the incisors is all that’s needed. Wood chews can help wear down those constantly growing incisors, but they are not going to solve the whole problem. If you ever watch rabbits chew on wooden toys or baskets, you’ll notice that they often leave pieces laying around. Your rabbit didn’t spit out the pieces, it just never chewed them with its molars. However, the good news is that hay can help to wear down the molars. Hay is essential to the rabbit’s digestive tract anyway, so you should already be feeding hay. If your rabbit is already having problems, neither wood chews nor hay will do any good. If the rabbit cannot pick up wood chews or even eat hay, it cannot benefit from these additions at this point. By the time your rabbit already has a problem, you need to see a vet. Rabbits just aren’t meant to go without food. So they aren’t going to just get more tired and more hungry. They are going to have digestive issues from not having food running through their GI tract and can easily succumb to GI stasis. Having the rabbit’s teeth trimmed may help your rabbit be able to pick up food again, but this really needs to be done by a vet. Teeth can easily fracture and aside from that, if you’re trimming the incisors yourself, you probably aren’t also checking the molars and planing those as well. Incisor issues once again, can also indicate molar issues. So have your rabbit checked by a vet to ensure that all bases are covered.
Realities About What You Can Do on Your Own
You can do some things on your own to help your rabbit out. First of all, you can take preventative measures starting when you get the rabbit (either as a baby from a pet store or breeder, or from a shelter or rescue). You can know the signs to watch out for so you’ll notice a problem quickly. Once you notice a problem, you can find a good veterinarian and you can make an appointment and drive your rabbit there. After that, it’s time to follow the instructions you are given and make sure to actively participate in your rabbit’s care so that you know what’s going on. You can advocate for your rabbit to receive newer and better treatments and you can decide what budget you’re working with. Unless you’re a vet, there isn’t really much more than that that you could do on your own.
Remember that there is often a lot you can do nowadays about dental issues in rabbits. Veterinary dentistry has come a long way and there have been a lot of advances. Don’t lose hope and think that your rabbit will never have a normal life again. Many rabbits are out there living happy lives despite teeth problems. The keys to helping your rabbit are prevention and early detection. Do what you can to prevent dental problems from arising. Try your hardest to detect any problem early so that treatment may start right away. Know your limits and know when to see a vet. Do further research on your rabbit’s exact dental problem. With proper care, your rabbit still has a good chance at a long healthy and happy life.