Rabbits have open-rooted continuously growing teeth. In the healthy rabbit at rest, the lower incisors locate between the upper front incisors and the peg teeth, and there is a slight gap between upper and lower molars. The rabbit grasps its food between the upper and lower incisors.
The action of extending its lower jaw in relation to the upper, and then retracting it slices the food. As the food is passed back towards the molar teeth, and the lower jaw is already aligned to allow the occlusal surfaces of upper and lower molars to meet and grind the food (a side to side chewing motion of ~200 cycles / min). Both the incisors and molars are kept in trim, by the surfaces meeting in an appropriate eating action.
Rabbits can suffer from a variety of dental disorders e.g. dental caries, but the most frequently presenting tooth disorder appears to be dental overgrowth, which is often accompanied by a whole catalogue of other problems. There are several factors that contribute to dental overgrowth:
- Genetic – predisposition in smaller dwarf and lop-eared breed
- Traumatic – any breakage or dislodging of any tooth, will result in overgrowth of opposing teeth, if they are unable to come into contact, and wear is reduced.
- Dietary habit – rabbits are herbivores, and should have a low energy, high fibre diet. Fibrous material encourages appropriate jaw action, and the fibre and plant silicates aid abrasion and dental wear, which helps to prevent dental overgrowth.
- Physical – continuously growing, open-rooted, rate of growth.
It is easy to understand how rapidly dental problems develop, when tooth growth rates are in the order of 2 to 3mm per week.
Other factors affecting dental health
- Diet:Correct levels and balance of vitamins and minerals – tooth integrity, colour, ridging Sugars and Starch – dental caries leading to cavities on the surface
- Dysphagia – difficulty in eating or inappropriate eating action
- Disease – Infection / hormonal imbalance
- Toxic Compounds
Early indicators of Disorder / Disease
- Loss of condition – weight loss, unkempt, matted or dirty coat
- Behavioural changes – depression, isolation, tooth grinding (pain), reluctance to be touched especially around the face
- Appetite – reduced or anorectic
- Faeces – change in size, quantity, absence of or caecotrophs adhering to fur around anus
- Head – asymmetry, deformity, swelling, wounds, facial abscesses
- Eyes and Nose – bulging eyes, watery lacrimation, discharge, nose bleeds, rhinitis
- Mouth – excess salivation, halitosis, stomatitis, gingivitis, ulceration of lip, cheek, tongue, palate
- Teeth – visibly long, broken or displaced, discoloured
Although dental techniques have advanced significantly in the last few years, cures are still not common so it is essential to think in terms of prevention:
1. Feed a complete and balanced diet:
Low energy, high fibre diet
Correct level and balance of Vitamins A and D, Calcium, Phosphorus and Magnesium
Coarse fibres e.g. alfalfa, hay, dried grass
Avoid sugary foods and treats
Access to grass and the occasional fresh vegetable
2. Provide safe dental exercise e.g. twigs of non-toxic trees
3. Record weight weekly
4. Get owners to examine the front incisors weekly
5. Regular and thorough dental checks
6. Neuter rabbits with suspected genetic problems
Author : Supreme Pet Foods