Rabbit teeth can be downright problematic at times. Their teeth grow continuously throughout their lives and may periodically require tooth trims if they are not naturally worn down. Rabbit teeth are also prone to other problems such as abscesses, so it is important to be familiar with your bunny's mouth.
Why Do Rabbits Have Overgrown Teeth?
Rabbits have 28 permanent teeth. The incisors (front teeth) are typically the most noticeable teeth, but they also have molars. Herbivores such as rabbits, guinea pigs, and horses have long, continuously growing teeth, called hypsodont. They have high crowns and then enamel extending past the gum line. These are very different from the shorter (brachydont) teeth of humans, cats, and dogs. The natural grinding action of chewing fibrous plants normally wears down rabbit teeth, keeping them at an ideal length as they continuously grow. But pet rabbits may 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 will usually grow so long that they begin to curve and stick out between your rabbit's lips. Here they can become stuck on things (such as cage bars), or worse yet, grow into the gums or roof of the rabbit's mouth. The molars (the teeth in the back of the mouth) can also reach excessive lengths. These are difficult to observe without the use of a speculum (an instrument your veterinarian may use) to look in the back of the mouth. Rabbits and exotic pets with overgrown molars will commonly hypersalivate (drool excessively) and have difficulty chewing and swallowing. You can watch for drooling and eating problems in your rabbit to help make sure its molars are not overgrown.
Owners of herbivores and other exotic pets with hypsodontal teeth must be aware of the possible complications regarding their pet's 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.
Thankfully, overgrown teeth are easily managed with regular tooth trims and chewing on appropriate woods, hay, and toys. If done correctly, tooth trims are not painful. There are two common methods used.
- The first is by using regular dog nail clippers to cut the tooth like you would a toenail. This method is not the preferred way to trim teeth. There is 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 is split up to the nerve or is trimmed too short.
- The second method used to trim rabbit incisors is by using a handheld rotary tool, like the Dremel, or a dental bur to slice the excess tooth off. This method does require a bit more skill and sometimes requires anesthesia or sedation to hold 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 when cut. The only concerns are for trauma to the gums or lips if the cutting tool accidentally grazes them, or if the tooth is trimmed too short. Many exotic pet hospitals will perform these tooth trims inexpensively but your rabbit may need to be sedated to have it performed safely and properly.
In extreme cases, surgery may be necessary to correct or even remove the rabbit's overgrown teeth. This procedure can be expensive and can require your rabbit to remain at the vet's office for a few days. Speak with your vet so you fully understand the risks and options for surgery.
Rabbit Molar Tooth Trims
Trimming rabbit molars can be more difficult than trimming their incisors. Molars are not as easily identified as being overgrown, so it often is detected during a veterinary exam. After the veterinarian confirms that the molars are too long, your rabbit will need to be sedated in order 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 require extraction in case they are diseased.
How to Prevent Overgrown Teeth
While there is no way to prevent the rabbit's teeth from growing, simple steps can prevent them from becoming overgrown. Check their teeth weekly for signs of overgrowth. A diet rich in fiber will help your rabbit wear down their teeth and can help mimic what they would eat in the wild. Grass, leafy vegetables like kale, and hay are all good for rabbits. Chewing is essential to the rabbit's dental health, so provide plenty of safe objects for them to chew. Plain blocks of wood or specialized rabbit chew toys can be popular options.