Rabbit teeth: functions and main dental problems

For a rabbit, healthy teeth are vital. By instinct, wild animals adopt behaviors that contribute to the maintenance of their teeth. But in captivity, dental damage can occur more quickly and it is the owner’s responsibility to make sure everything is in order. Dental ailments are also the first cause of consultation of the pet rabbit at the veterinarian. Here are the essentials you need to know to take care of your rabbit’s teeth.

Presentation of rabbit teeth

The rabbit has long been considered a rodent yet it is not: it is a lagomorph. And dentition is precisely one of the two anatomical elements which distinguish lagomorphs from rodents, the second being the absence of baculum, a bone present in the penis of rodents, intended to facilitate intercourse.

This specific toothing is first of all a toothing diphyodont, that is to say that, as with us, there are lacteal (or decidual) teeth which fall out and are replaced by adult (or permanent) teeth.

Obviously, a rabbit does not have canines, which are the type of teeth that are only useful in carnivores.

It has 6 incisors, present from birth: 4 at the top and two at the bottom. Their role is to cut the plants. The only visible ones are those of the upper pair in the center. They are framed by a vestigial pair, that is to say, the functionality of which has been lost during the evolution of the species and whose appearance is today atrophied. They are located behind the upper incisors.

Molars and premolars appear around 3 to 4 weeks of age. They are similar enough that many authors use the term “cheek teeth” to refer to them both. In total, there are 12 at the top and 10 at the bottom. They are separated from the incisors by a large diastema -term used in ontology to designate the spacing between teeth- due to the absence of canines. This is also the case in horses and which allows the use of the bit. These are teeth that are difficult to see because they are located at the back of the rabbit’s mouth. They have a triangular shape and are used for crushing and chewing.

The rabbit therefore has a total of 28 teeth which all grow, but at a different speed depending on whether they are placed up or down, stretching 2 to 2.4 mm per week, that is, 10 to 12 cm per year.

Main sources of dental problems in rabbits

Rabbits can have dental problems for several reasons:

  • An accident that results in an injury. A shock or a fall can cause a broken tooth or jaw, the rabbit may have tried to bite the bars of its cage or too hard food,
  • A genetic inheritance that leads to incorrect positioning of the teeth, a lower jaw that is too long, an upper jaw that is too long. This is more frequently observed in dwarf rabbits and rams,
  • A lack of food which leads to the deficiency or excess of certain mineral salts and consequently the fragility of a tooth or abnormal growth, or which does not allow sufficient dental wear,
  • A lack of exposure to UVB rays, hence the advice to expose vaccinated rabbits outside during sunny days or the use of a UVB lamp,

The phenomenon of “dental malocclusion”Is the most common problem in rabbits. It consists of a bad alignment of the teeth. While this most often affects the incisors, the other teeth are not spared. The teeth, badly positioned or misaligned, do not wear properly and grow disproportionately.

Rabbits can present with this problem from an early age, only a few weeks or months after birth, the cause being genetic. This problem can also be created by a poor diet. The problems then arise later.

Detect a dental problem

Different signs indicate a dental disorder. They are far from being limited to only the teeth, some can even make think of a simple cold. It is therefore strongly recommended to consult a veterinarian as soon as one of the symptoms below appears, because he is the only one capable of making a diagnosis.

Here is the list of these signs:

  • Decreased appetite or even cessation of any diet,
  • On the other hand, weight gain: this can indeed happen if the rabbit eats only its pellets, abandoning everything else. He eats more to fill his stomach while these foods are more caloric than greenery,
  • Changes in feeding behavior: the rabbit abandons hay and is satisfied with vegetables, it eats only certain softer parts, it cuts the pellets into pieces without eating everything, etc.
  • Chewing empty mouth,
  • Bruxism (teeth grinding),
  • Excessive salivation,
  • Bad breath,
  • Soft droppings, decrease in the number and size of droppings, diarrhea, leftover cecotrophs,
  • Respiratory problems, sneezing,
  • Eye disorders: bulging eye, excessive tearing, conjunctivitis, inflammation of a lacrimal sac.

Caring for your rabbit’s teeth

One of the major points of attention in preventing dental problems in rabbits is to feed them the closest way they would in the wild. Indeed, he needs to have something to chew permanently because it is the chewing of food that allows the correct dental wear of the teeth. The rabbit proceeds by complex movements in the shape of 8 over a long period of time, the grinding of the vegetable fibers being difficult.

Always make available quality hayThat is, green and fragrant, not dusty and sun-dried for good vitamin D content is essential. He eats the equivalent of his own volume each day. It is necessary to renew the intake 2 to 3 times a day so that it remains attractive for the rabbit. Hay contributes to both good dental wear and good transit.

The supply of green vegetables and grass is also important. On the other hand, beware of the granules because the movements of the jaw are not the same as for hay. For granules, the movement of the jaws is more vertical since it is not a question of destroying the fibers but simply of crushing the material. In addition, the granules are quickly softened by salivation, which decreases the chewing time.

Exposure to natural sunlight is also essential to ensure that the rabbit is not deficient in vitamin D which helps fix the calcium constituting the teeth and bones.

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