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Rabbit Dental Disease

Genetics, nutrition and care may all contribute to rabbit dental disease when things go wrong with rabbit teeth.

Leticia Materi, PhD, DVM
Posted: January 20, 2015, 4:50 p.m. EST

I recently wrote about normal rabbit teeth anatomy and function as well as factors that contribute to dental disease. Now, I will look at the consequences of rabbit dental disease and outline recommendations for preventing it.

Rabbits with teeth problems can display a variety of clinical signs depending on which teeth are affected. These signs include:

   • Reduced appetite or difficulty eating certain foods, such as hay
   • Poor grooming behavior
   • Drooling
   • Uneaten cecotropes
   • Runny and/or bulging eyes
   • Bad breath (halitosis)

Because the incisors are often easily seen by rabbit owners, it can be relatively easy to determine if there is a problem with these teeth. The incisors may protrude from the mouth or curl back into the mouth and damage soft tissues, causing pain. This can reduce the rabbit's ability to pick up cecotropes or groom the area under the tail. Should the roots of the upper incisors elongate, the nasolacrimal duct can be blocked. This is the duct that normally drains tears/moisture from the eye. When occluded, the tears can no longer drain down the duct and therefore spill onto the face, thus making the fur under the eye chronically wet.

The cheek teeth are much more difficult for rabbit owners to see. Veterinarians rely on special tools to examine these back teeth. Abnormal cheek teeth can develop large spikes that easily dig into the soft tissues of the mouth (i.e., tongue, inner cheek surface). This is very painful for the rabbit.

jaw abscess on rabbit
© Courtesy Leticia Materi, PhD, DVM 
The left image shows a rabbit with an abscess on his jaw (the fur has been shaved) and the right image shows a jaw abscess as it appears in an X-ray (arrow is pointing to the abscess).

A very serious consequence of advanced rabbit dental disease is the development of abscesses at the tooth root. With time, the quality of the affected tooth and surrounding bone is reduced and the roots begin to elongate within the socket. This can lead to expansion of the space around the root. Food debris and bacteria can quickly accumulate in this area, leading to massive infections and abscesses. These abscesses are filled with pus that is as thick as toothpaste and are surrounded by a fibrous outer capsule. These two factors make is practically impossible for antibiotics alone to penetrate the abscesses. Rabbit owners may note swellings of the jaw or face as well as halitosis in their pet.

In order to examine the full extent of these abscesses, veterinarians rely on radiographs (X-rays) and/or CT scans. The treatment of choice is a combination of both surgical removal of infected teeth and bone as well as administration of proper antibiotics and pain relief.

The prognosis for dental abscesses varies. Sometimes the infection is very advanced by the time the diagnosis is made and complete surgical removal of the infected tissue can be difficult depending on the location and size of the abscess. Multiple surgeries or prolonged wound care may be necessary.

While it may be difficult to completely prevent this disorder, there are steps that rabbit owners can take to reduce the chance of rabbit dental problems:

   • Choose rabbits from healthy breeding stock. Genetics may play a role in the development of some forms of dental disease.
   • Ensure that rabbits have access to good-quality hays and grasses to allow for proper grinding of teeth.
   • If possible, allow your rabbit some time outside. Exposure to natural sunlight helps maintain healthy vitamin D levels, which promotes normal calcium metabolism.
   • Regular veterinary examinations can help identify early dental changes. Regular dental reshaping or even extraction of teeth can prevent further worsening of the condition.

Note: This article is meant for educational purposes only and in no way represents any particular individual or case. It is not for diagnostic purposes. If your pet is sick, please take him or her to a veterinarian.

See all of Dr. Materi's blogs

Like this article? Please share it, and check out:
Signs Of A Sick Rabbit
Rabbit Teeth: Good, Bad And Ugly
Tips For Finding The Right Veterinarian For Your Small Animal Pet

Posted: January 20, 2015, 4:50 p.m. EST


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