Rabbits teeth are amazing!
Rabbit teeth are amazing. The front teeth are only a small part of the story. It’s the molars, hidden away at the back of the mouth, that do most of the work - and cause most of the problems.
If you look in the mouth of an old horse, you’ll find the teeth are all worn down. That’s because grass is very abrasive. Rabbits eat grass too, but their teeth grow continuously and rapidly enough to ensure there is always a fresh new tooth surface to grind food efficiently. Watch a rabbit chewing hay: you’ll see the jaw moving from side to side. It’s this crucial chewing action which, together with the right diet, keeps the back teeth the correct length.
So, what goes wrong?
If the teeth aren’t worn down properly by chewing abrasive plants (grass) the teeth crowns grow too long. As a result the correct chewing motion is lost. Next, the top and bottom teeth start pressing together when the mouth is closed and the teeth can no longer erupt upwards. Instead, they grow backwards into the jaw. It’s these overgrown tooth roots projecting into the jaws and skull that cause so many problems for our rabbits.
At the very least, unlimited hay is absolutely essential. Sunlight is not needed so long as the rabbit is eating a healthy diet, but owners of rabbits who do not have access to sunlight (house rabbits, show rabbits) must pay particular attention to their rabbit's diet to ensure bunny is receiving sufficient calcium and vitamin D.
Rabbits do not routinely require a calcium of vitamin supplement (too much calcium can be as harmful as too little) but fussy eaters or those with existing dental problems may benefit. If your rabbit falls into these categories, talk to your rabbit-experienced vet.
How do vets check rabbit teeth?
A full dental examination requires a general anaesthetic or heavy sedation, and could include X rays of the skull. There is simply no other way the vet can be certain s/he has seen and examined every bit of the tongue, lips, cheeks and gums, let alone the teeth.
Examination using an otoscope enables the vet to examine your bunny, which is sufficient only for routine health checks (e.g. at the time of vaccination). If your rabbit is insured, annual dental checks like this are required for tooth problems to be covered by the policy.
If you or our vet has the slightest suspicion that your rabbit has developed a dental problem then inspection with an otoscope is insufficient and your bunny will need to be properly examined under sedation or general anaesthesia.