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DENTAL DISEASE IN RABBITS

The classic picture of a rabbit for most people is the goofy bucktoothed Bugs Bunny of Disney fame or Dylan from the Magic Roundabout. While these seem healthy cartoon characters, rabbits with teeth which do not meet or which have poor enamel, are in a dangerous state. The rabbit's teeth grow throughout life and so incisor (front) teeth that do not wear each other down will grow until the upper ones bury themselves in the lower jaw gums and the lower ones poke way out of the mouth. A rabbit like this cannot eat or groom. If the molars or cheek teeth do not meet properly they wear unevenly, causing sharp spikes to form. These erode at the gums causing painful ulcers, again stopping the animal from feeding or grooming. The importance of continual food intake in rabbits is central to health, while grooming is essential to prevent problems like fly strike. Thus well-functioning teeth are absolutely essential to a rabbit's continuing well-being.

Why, you might ask, do these teeth grow abnormally?

One of the main reasons is that the bones of the jaw do not form properly due to deficiencies in calcium and other minerals. But, you say, I give my rabbit all the food he could possibly want, and a wide variety of different food.

How can he have a dietary deficiency?

The problem is that, by giving your rabbit a big bowl of different foodstuffs, he can chose to eat only what he finds tasty. It is the less appetizing items which often contain the minerals he needs. So give a small amount of rabbit mix or pellets as well as some greens and plenty of good-quality hay so that he has eaten all the dry food by the time he has his next feed.

You and your veterinarian can assess the quality of your rabbit's teeth by looking at the enamel surface. This should be smooth and shiny and not chipped or with an irregular surface.

Overgrown incisors should be shortened but this needs to be done regularly since the teeth keep growing. Veterinarians used to clip rabbits' teeth with nail clippers but occasionally this damaged the teeth or gums. These days most veterinarians seeing a large number of rabbits use dental burrs to file down the incisors. Treating poorly-aligned molar teeth is more difficult but filing rather than clipping is considered optimal today. One long-term solution is to remove upper and lower incisors, a relatively simple operation. Although this sounds drastic it is without doubt the best long term solution to the problem.

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