Domestic rabbits belong to a small group of animals that have continuously growing or open-rooted teeth. This means that all teeth in the mouth – including the incisors in the front of the mouth and the premolars and molars (called cheek teeth) – will continue to grow throughout the rabbit's lifetime. The reason for this is that rabbits in the wild eat a large amount of coarse, fibrous material such as dried plants and poor-quality greens. The teeth are constantly worn against each other and against the coarse diet; they would soon wear out if not constantly replaced. If a rabbit's teeth and diet are normal, then the teeth will wear down at a constant rate that is equal to the growth rate of the tooth. If, however, a rabbit's teeth do not meet correctly or the rabbit does not enough roughage, then dental problems can occur.
Malocclusion is the term for teeth that don't meet correctly. Because a rabbit's teeth are constantly growing, malocclusion can cause small points to grow on the teeth from uneven wear. These points can irritate the tongue or cheek and cause eating to be a painful experience. Overgrown incisors can actually grow into the opposing jaw or lip. Malocclusion of the incisors is easy to see if you take the time to look carefully at your pet's front teeth. If you see that one incisor (left or right) is longer than the other, you should contact your veterinarian. It is normal for the upper incisors to be about twice as long as the lower incisors. Without specialized equipment it is impossible to view the cheek teeth of a rabbit, so your veterinarian will have to do that for you. It should be part of your rabbit's physical exam.
Signs (depend on the teeth involved and the severity of the overgrowth):
- Decreased appetite
- Dropping food from mouth after chewing it
- Approaching food, seemingly interested in eating, but not actually eating or swallowing food
- If you have any question please do not hesitate to contact your regular veterinarian.
Compiled by Orlando Diaz-Figueroa, DVM, MS
Lake Howell Animal Clinic
Copyright © All Rights Reserved