Posted: June 1, 2011, 5 a.m. EDT
© Courtesy Jerry Murray, DVM
This rabbit's incisor teeth grew too long and interfered with its ability to eat.
Those are some big teeth.
Rabbits, rodents, and ferrets are all prone to dental problems. Rabbits and rodents are prone to overgrowth of the incisors and “spurs” on the cheek teeth, but ferrets are prone to tartar buildup, gingivitis and tooth loss as they grow older. These are two very different problems that require two different approaches for treatment. This column focuses mainly on the tooth problems of rabbits.
Rabbits and rodents have teeth that continually grow. Normal teeth of rabbits and rodents are aligned (top with the bottom). When they chew on food, the animal’s top teeth and the bottom teeth grind on each and keep the teeth the proper length. Rabbits require a lot of chewing to keep their teeth from growing too long. This is one of the many reasons that it is important to feed grass hay (like timothy hay) to a rabbit every day. If rabbits do not chew on hay, their incisors (the big teeth in the front of the mouth can grow very long and look more like tusks than teeth. If the incisors grow too long, the bunny may be unable to eat food. They will usually also salivate a lot.
In addition to problems with the big incisors at the front of the mouth, they can also develop problems with their molars (the cheek teeth). The top molars can develop “spurs” or points on their outer surface. These can be quite sharp and do damage to the inner surface of the cheeks. The lower molars can develop spurs on the inner surface. These can be sharp and do damage to the tongue. It is even possible for the spur to become long enough to trap the tongue below it. This will make it very difficult for the rabbit to eat its food.
Treatment is needed when the teeth grow too long. The incisors can be trimmed back to normal length by a veterinarian with a dental cutting tool. The tips can then be filed back to their normal chisel shape. This can be done on a regular basis (monthly) for rabbits with incisors that do not line up with each other. In worst-case scenarios, the incisors can be surgically removed.
The spurs on the molars can be “floated” like a horse’s teeth (grinded off). Longer spurs may need to be cut off first. This can be hard to do because the rabbit’s mouth is so small, and it is hard to work inside of it. Thus it is important to feed a grass hay to your bunny to try to prevent these common dental problems. However if you notice your rabbit drooling, not eating as much as normal or long teeth sticking out of the front of the mouth, take your bunny to the veterinarian for a checkup and dental exam.
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