What is a malocclusion you might ask? In simple terms, it refers to misaligned teeth. For rabbits, this is a serious condition. Here’s why.
Rabbits are born with only one set of teeth – front teeth and back molars, but no teeth in the middle. A rabbit with perfectly aligned teeth can eat hay and other food easily by grinding the top and bottom teeth together. In addition, a rabbit’s teeth are constantly growing. The back of the top teeth and the front of the bottom teeth are also rather soft, so as the rabbit chews its food, it grinds both sets of teeth down, keeping them in a comfortable eating condition.
In rabbit malocclusion, your pet’s upper and lower teeth are misaligned so that the normal process of chewing doesn’t wear down your rabbit’s teeth. This is when the problems set in. The top incisors grow inwards towards the mouth, and the bottom ones grow outwards.
This can be a very serious situation because it can put the rabbit at risk for jaw infections causing pain and discomfort. Your bunny will be suffering in silence, and if left undetected, your pet will eventually stop eating as a result and begin to lose weight. Keep in mind, rabbits need a continual supply of roughage moving through their digestive system to keep everything working smoothly. Even one or two days without food can cause serious digestive disorders and further health complications.
Pet owners can see the condition of their pet’s front teeth, but the back molars are difficult to view. That’s why dental visits with your veterinarian are important because we use a special instrument to view the condition of the back molars and can detect and treat dental problems that the pet owner cannot see.
Rabbit malocclusions can be either hereditary or acquired. Dwarf breeds with small heads are more prone to hereditary malocclusions. An acquired malocclusion occurs when teeth aren’t ground down properly over time and are often due to poor feeding practices. It can also be due to an accident or even excessive pulling on the wire of their cage which eventually changes the alignment of the incisors.
Regular dental exams for your rabbit are recommended for ultimate health. In between vet visits, pay attention to your pet’s eating habits and weight. The most obvious symptom of malocclusion is overgrown teeth you can see, but when this isn’t obvious, look for symptoms such as a swollen jaw indicating abbesses in the mouth or jaw, drooling, fur pulling, pawing at the mouth, or a sudden drop in weight. Any of these symptoms are reason to contact your veterinarian immediately.
In severe cases, surgery to remove the affected teeth may be an option. Any tooth with deep pockets, mobility and purulent debris is subject to extraction, especially if an abscess is present.
Please follow your veterinarian’s advice with regard to diet. It’s recommended that hay comprise the majority of your rabbit’s diet, with a limit to pellets and soft fruits. Also, chew toys can be introduced to encourage oral exercise.
Kim Somjen, DVM, Belle Mead Animal Hospital