Overgrown Teeth in Rabbits

X-ray of a rabbit's skull and teeth
Rabbit dental x-ray of skull and teeth. Getty Images/Agency-Animal-Pictures

You may find your rabbit's teeth to be problematic at times. For one thing, they're prone to abscesses. For another, they grow continuously throughout your pet's life and may periodically require trims if they're not naturally worn down by chewing. For these reasons, it's important for you to be familiar with your bunny's teeth and mouth so you can spot developing problems quickly and have them checked out and treated by your vet.

Why Do Rabbits Have Overgrown Teeth?

Rabbits have 28 permanent teeth. The incisors (front teeth) are typically the most noticeable, but rabbits also have molars. Herbivores, such as rabbits, guinea pigs, and horses, have long, continuously growing hypsodont teeth. These types of teeth have high crowns and enamel extending past the gum line, and they're very different from the shorter (brachydont) teeth of humans, cats, and dogs.

The natural grinding action that takes place when a rabbit chews fibrous plants normally wears down its teeth, keeping them at an ideal length as they continuously grow. But pet rabbits often need to have their teeth manually cut on a regular basis due to a number of health, environmental, and genetic factors.

While many of your rabbit's teeth can get too long, the incisors are the easiest to identify when they become overgrown. They're capable of growing so long that they can begin to curve and stick out between your rabbit's lips. Then they may get stuck on things (such as cage bars), or worse yet, grow into your rabbit's gums or roof of its mouth.

The molars (the teeth in the back of the mouth) can also reach excessive lengths. These are difficult to see without the use of a speculum (an instrument your veterinarian may use) to look in the back of the mouth. Rabbits and other exotic pets with overgrown molars also tend to hypersalivate (drool excessively) and have difficulty chewing and swallowing. Watch your rabbit carefully for drooling and eating problems, which indicate its molars are overgrown.

Owners of herbivores and other exotic pets with hypsodont teeth must be aware of the possible complications regarding their pets' teeth. Without the proper attention, overgrown teeth can cause serious trauma, anorexia (lack of appetite), and even death from the inability to chew and swallow.

Treatment

Fortunately, you can easily manage your rabbit's teeth by giving it the appropriate materials to chew and having its incisors trimmed regularly. If done correctly, tooth trims aren't painful. There are two common methods that are used.

  1. The first involves using regular dog nail clippers to cut the teeth as you would cut toenails, although this method isn't the preferred way to trim teeth. There's a high risk of cracking or splitting the tooth because of the force needed to use the clippers. This method can cause pain if the tooth splits up to the nerve or is trimmed too short.
  2. The second requires using a handheld rotary tool, like a Dremel or a dental bur, to slice the excess tooth off. This method requires more skill and sometimes requires anesthesia or sedation to keep a pet still, but can be easily performed by a trained person at your veterinarian's office. This method causes no trauma to the tooth or nerve. The only concerns are possible trauma to the gums or lips if the cutting tool accidentally grazes them or if a tooth is trimmed too short. Many exotics pet hospitals perform tooth trims inexpensively, but your rabbit may need to be sedated to have the procedure performed safely and properly.

In extreme cases, surgery may be necessary to correct or even remove the rabbit's overgrown teeth. This procedure may be expensive and may also require your rabbit to remain at the vet's office for a few days. Speak with your vet so you can fully understand the risks and options for surgery.

Rabbit Molar Trims

Trimming rabbit molars is more difficult than trimming their incisors. Molars are not as easily identified as being overgrown, so this issue is often detected during a veterinary exam. After the veterinarian confirms that the molars are too long, your rabbit will have to be sedated to have its teeth cut down. A dental bur or a special tooth file is used to grind them down. Dental radiographs (X-rays) may be recommended to see if the overgrown teeth are diseased and require extraction.

How to Prevent Overgrown Teeth

While there's no way to prevent your rabbit's teeth from growing, you can take simple steps to prevent them from becoming overgrown.

  • Check your pet's teeth weekly for signs of overgrowth.
  • Provide your rabbit with a diet that's rich in fiber to help it wear down its teeth and mimic what it would eat in the wild. Grass, leafy vegetables like kale, and hay are all good for your rabbit.
  • Chewing is essential to your rabbit's dental health, so provide plenty of safe objects for it to chew. Plain blocks of safe woods and other plants, specialized rabbit chew toys, and homemade toys are all good options.
If you suspect your pet is sick, call your vet immediately. For health-related questions, always consult your veterinarian, as they have examined your pet, know the pet's health history, and can make the best recommendations for your pet.