Thursday, June 20, 2013

Dental care of rabbits, by Dr. Laura Theobald

Dental Husbandry of Rabbits 

Dental care of rabbits is something that starts at home with a knowledgeable pet parent by knowing what to feed, how rabbits chew, and what to look for if there are problems.

Rabbit Teeth / Dental Model

Rabbit teeth grow continuously and are known as hypsodont, or open-rooted teeth and their adult teeth are fully erupted by three to five weeks of age. They have four upper and two lower incisors. The two smaller upper incisors are referred to as “peg” teeth. They grow at approximately 2 mm per week. The premolar and molar teeth are referred to as the “cheek” teeth. These are used for grinding of coarse material.

Rabbits need a high-fiber, herbivorous diet not only for appropriate dental care but for proper digestion. This type of diet should consist of 75-80% hay, generally western timothy, with the remaining portion consisting of high quality pellets and fresh fruits and vegetables. Chewing is characterized by up to 120 jaw movements per minute with a side-to-side motion, which helps keep the constantly growing teeth worn down to their proper levels.

A rabbit whose diet is deficient in fiber, such as a pellet only diet, will be unable to properly wear down its teeth and eventually develop malocclusion (improper tooth alignment). When this happens, the teeth become longer and longer and eventually develop sharp edges known as spurs and cause pressure against each other. These problems can lead to cuts in the tongue, soft tissue injuries and even tooth root abscesses/impactions. Once rabbits have these problems, they are more likely to have them throughout their lives and require frequent anesthetic procedures to trim the teeth and relieve abscesses.

A veterinarian that is familiar with rabbits can do a minimal exam while the pet is awake by inspecting the front incisors and by using a lighted cone to look at the cheek teeth. A full thorough oral exam requires anesthesia by someone who has experience with rabbits.

Written by Dr. Laura Theobald
Lap of Love Veterinary Hospice

Dr. Theobald works with Dr. Hawthorne helping families with In Home Hospice and Pet Euthanasia in the Charlotte North Carolina region. For more information, please see their profile page. 

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