How to Prevent Overgrown Rabbit Teeth


How to prevent overgrown rabbit teeth

Rabbits are known for their big buck teeth. Their teeth are necessary to eat an ideal diet and keep their digestion healthy. Since rabbits evolved to eat some very rough foods in the wild, their teeth developed open rooted, meaning they will continue to grow throughout the rabbit’s lifetime. 

Overgrown rabbit teeth are among the most common health problems in pet rabbits. This condition is often caused by an improper diet or an environment that does not provide suitable chewing materials. However, genetics often play a significant role in which rabbits develop overgrown teeth as well. 

If the problem is genetic, you can do little to prevent overgrown teeth, and the rabbit will likely start to develop malocclusions (the technical term for overgrown teeth) before they are one year old. However, you can usually prevent adult rabbits from developing overgrown teeth by giving them a proper diet and avoiding injury. Learn about the symptoms and causes, so you can be prepared if the occasion comes, but remember that prevention is the most practical step of all.


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Overgrown Teeth in rabbits

Overgrown teeth, also called malocclusions, are a common health concern for pet rabbits. Both the front incisor teeth and the back molar teeth can become overgrown if the rabbit doesn’t eat enough to grind them down or if the teeth become misaligned. In severe cases, rabbit teeth can grow so long that they protrude out of the rabbit’s mouth and prevent them from eating.

While some minor spurs in the growth of the teeth can correct themselves if a rabbit eats a healthy diet, most dental overgrowth will require special medical attention. In many cases, rabbits will need regular vet visits to trim their teeth if they’ve become permanently misaligned. 

As rabbit teeth grow too long, they can also press into the roots of the teeth. They can cause abscesses and infections in the skull. As a result, you may notice bumps around the rabbit’s cheeks, eyes, and chin when they develop malocclusions. 

The sooner you can catch the problem and correct your rabbit’s teeth, the more likely that they will be able to go back to normal without the need for trimming in the future. You can watch for the common symptoms and learn how to give your rabbit at-home tooth checks to try to catch signs of malocclusions as early as possible.

rabbit teeth diagram
A rabbit skull has 28 teeth, 6 incisors and 22 cheek teeth.

Incisors vs. molars

There are two types of rabbit teeth: the incisors in the front (what people generally think of as rabbit buck teeth) and the molars in the back. The incisors will slice food as your rabbit eats it, while the molars efficiently grind it to a pulp.

Both types of teeth can become overgrown, but it is much more challenging to keep track of the molar teeth and keep them trim after your rabbit develops chronic tooth problems. If the incisors become too much of a problem, they can actually be removed without causing any drastic changes in the rabbit’s lifestyle. 

changing eating habits in rabbits
If a rabbit’s eating habits change, such as dropping pellets from their mouth as they are trying to eat, that is a sign of illness or overgrown teeth.

Symptoms of overgrown teeth

To know if your rabbit has malocclusions, you want to look out for the most common symptoms. Some rabbits will behave normally and show sudden signs of change (such as suddenly refusing to eat), while others will slowly change their eating habits as their teeth get longer and chewing becomes more painful.

  • Weight loss or reduced appetite
  • Picking up food and dropping it
  • Refusing to eat hay
  • Lumps or abscesses on the cheeks or chin
  • Drooling
  • Unexplained watery eyes
  • Visibly long teeth

Causes of overgrown teeth

While often caused by an improper diet, that is not the only reason rabbits will develop overgrown teeth. For some rabbits, the problem is genetic. For others, it’s caused by minor tooth injuries that don’t heal properly.

Not enough hay

The most common reason that rabbits develop overgrown teeth is not eating enough hay in their daily diet. Hay is essential because it is high in fiber and rough (covered in microscopic silica) that help the teeth grind down while your rabbit is chewing. 

This is also why rabbits will often stop eating hay once their teeth start to overgrow. It’s more painful to chew the rough foliage, and the rabbit will prefer the softer food that they’ll find in their daily pellets.

Chew toys, such as wooden sticks and balls, can also play a role in preventing malocclusions. These give the rabbit a way to grind down their teeth when they’re bored or playful. However, hay is much more essential to a rabbit’s dental health.

Misaligned due to injury or infection

Rabbit teeth can also become misaligned if the rabbit is injured or gets an infection in their teeth. A blunt trauma injury can knock the teeth out of alignment, making it so the teeth not longer grind against each other properly when the rabbit chews and grinds their teeth. This can happen if a rabbit pulls too hard on enclosure bars or bites into something too hard to chew.

An infection, especially in the root of a tooth, can also cause the teeth to move out of alignment. An infection can soften the root, and the tooth may not be able to remain in position as the rabbit is eating. They won’t be able to chew their food in a way that keeps their teeth grinding down.

Genetics

Not all causes of malocclusions in rabbits are preventable. Sometimes it just comes down to bad genetics. The rabbit’s top and bottom jaw might not line up correctly, causing the teeth to not grind each other down. It could also be that some teeth grow at a faster rate than the other teeth, causing problems. 

Most of the time, if the problem is a rabbit’s genetics, the malocclusions will begin to appear when they are still less than one year old. As the rabbit’s jaw and teeth develop, you will start to notice the symptoms of overgrown teeth.

rabbit hay toy
You can get fun toys for your rabbit where you can hide treats in a pile of hay. This will encourage your rabbit to munch on hay until they can get to the yummy treat.

How to prevent overgrown teeth in rabbits

The best thing you can do to help your rabbit is to take preventative measures before there is ever a problem to begin with. These steps will often keep your rabbit from ever developing malocclusions, and they will help you detect problems early if they do start to get overgrown teeth.

While malocclusions can’t be prevented in every single scenario (especially if it’s caused by genetics), these steps will allow most rabbits to enjoy good dental health.

A healthy diet

Providing your rabbit with a healthy diet is the best way to prevent overgrown teeth. Ensure your rabbit has unlimited hay available to them. This way, rabbits can munch on hay all day long to help their teeth maintain a healthy length.

Rabbits only need to be given dry food pellets in small amounts. If you give your rabbit too many pellets, they will eat these instead of the hay. This can lead to weight gain as well as dental problems.

Learn more about the ideal diet for rabbits so that you can keep your bunny in the best health possible.

Chew toys

Chew toys are also great for keeping rabbit teeth healthy. They give some resistance to help your rabbit grind their teeth down. They can also keep your rabbit active, enhancing their mental and physical health.

The problem is that many rabbits don’t like to play with the toys we give them. They can be pretty picky and will only play with their favorite toys. The best way to approach finding toys for your rabbit is to provide them with a wide variety to choose from. I like to get a sample pack of toys from my favorite online store, Small Pet Select. They send you a variety of safe, natural rabbit toys. You can offer them to your rabbit to see which ones they like best, then continue to get your rabbit’s favorite toys in the future. (and you can use the code ‘BUNNYLADY’ at checkout to get 15% off your first order)

rabbit cheek teeth check
Massage around your rabbit’s cheeks to feel for any bumps or abscesses.

A weekly tooth check

In addition to providing your rabbit with hay and objects to chew to keep their teeth trim, you can also actively monitor your rabbit’s teeth to make sure they are healthy. Perform a basic tooth check about once a week to check for any obvious signs of overgrown rabbit teeth. You won’t be able to give the kind of thorough check you can get at a veterinarian, but you can catch basic symptoms of malocclusions and get your rabbit to the vet for any medical attention.

  1. Rub your rabbit’s cheeks. When petting your rabbit, give them a cheek massage. While you do this, you’re going to feel around your rabbit’s jaw and cheeks for any bumps or abscesses.
  2. Check the front teeth. While petting your rabbit, gently pull back their front lips. Check the incisor teeth to ensure they are aligned and not crooked or overgrown.
  3. Look for symptoms of tooth problems. Observe your rabbit to look for any common signs of overgrown teeth. Make sure they are not drooling or inexplicably dropping their food from their mouth.

Regular vet appointments

Going for an annual health exam for your pet rabbit will help you catch any signs of problems that you might miss at home. Veterinarians have tools for looking into a rabbit’s mouth and making sure all the teeth are growing at a healthy and balanced rate, even the cheek teeth.

Ensure you bring your rabbit to a small animal or exotic veterinarian since rabbits require specialized care. If you need to find a rabbit vet near you, try looking for one on the House Rabbit Society vet listing page. If you still cannot find an appropriate veterinarian, try calling regular clinics near you and ask which vet they recommend for pet rabbits. 

What to do if your rabbit has overgrown teeth

Correcting your rabbit’s diet or giving a rabbit more chew toys will not fix a malocclusion once it’s already developed.  Those are only preventative measures. Going forward, you will have to get your rabbit’s teeth trimmed or, in some cases, removed altogether.

If you believe your rabbit has overgrown teeth, you should:

  1. Take your rabbit to the vet. Your vet will be able to give you specialized care and advice based on your rabbit condition.
  2. Get their teeth trimmed or removed. Your vet can recommend trimming the teeth or even removing the incisors completely. Never try to cut your rabbit’s teeth at home. Trying to clip them with nail clippers will often lead to serious fractures and infections in the teeth.
  3. Syringe feed your rabbit. In some cases, you will not be able to get your rabbit’s teeth trimmed right away. If your rabbit cannot eat because of their teeth, you will need to syringe feed them critical care formula every day using a syringe. Learn more about critical care and how to syringe feed your rabbit.

Sources:

  1. Laurie Hess, DVM; Rick Axelson, DVM. “Dental Disease in Rabbits.” VCA. https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/dental-disease-in-rabbits.
  2. Petty, Diana. “When Teeth Turn to Tusks.” House Rabbit Society. https://rabbit.org/journal/2-6/tusks.html
  3. “Rabbits, chinchillas, guinea pigs and other rodents benefit from dental care.” Animal Dentistry and Oral Surgery Specialists. https://www.mypetsdentist.com/rabbit-rodent-dental-care.pml.

Amy Pratt

Amy Pratt is a lifelong rabbit owner who has been specializing with rabbits at the Humane Rescue Alliance. She helps to socialize the rabbits and educate volunteers on the care and behavior of these small mammals.

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