Rabbit teeth are 'open rooted' which means they grow continuously throughout their lives, much like a humans fingernails.
For this reason they need a high fibre diet with plenty of hay.
The correct diet will avoid many of the concerns associated with rabbit dental care
Problems with a rabbit's teeth will cause pain and discomfort, at the very least, and early identification is essential.
This photograph shows a good example of how nicely aligned teeth should look when checking your rabbit
Their teeth are used for chewing, eating, expressing emotion such as happiness or pain, grooming themselves and other rabbits, marking their territory and changing their environment.
The teeth are kept worn down by the process of chewing and the grinding of the teeth against each other.
Rabbits have a total of 28 teeth. They have four front teeth (incisors), two on the top and two on the bottom. A second set of upper incisors (2 teeth), called peg teeth are hidden behind the set you see when you look in the mouth.
These are the teeth used for grabbing and cutting their food.
The rest of the teeth (molars) are in the back on either side of the mouth and are used for grinding the food.
Molars are kept short by the grinding action. Incisors are kept short by chewing on pieces of wood and other objects.
Safe chewing objects can be cardboard, untreated wood and tree bark.
Overgrown teeth get in the way of the rabbit eating and the tips of the teeth may grow into the lips or the gums.
Classic example of overgrown teeth in a rabbit
It is worth noting that the grinding of teeth while resting can mean the rabbit is relaxed and content but the grinding of teeth without that purring sound may be cause for concern.
When rabbit teeth become misaligned and do not meet properly, they then become overgrown. This is known as malocclusion.
Three causes of malocclusion are;
1. Congenital, in that the rabbit was born that way.
2. Injury to the face, which leads to disruption of the roots.
3. Infection of the tooth roots, which can lead to changes in the direction of the tooth growth.
Malocclusion is more common in the smaller or dwarf breeds and can be detected from a very early stage.
Overgrown molars and sharp spurs on molars are a common cause for a rabbit to stop eating, yet still be active and alert. This may be so until, of course, lack of food takes its toll.
Mis-aligned, overgrown teeth causing nothing but severe pain and discomfort for the rabbit
Rabbits cannot go for long periods without food and carrying out any tooth treatment yourself, is likely to cause problems, if done incorrectly and will cause infections.
Feces and other matter trapped between abnormal teeth can also cause infections.
Signs of infection include loss of appetite, listlessness, sluggish activity.
Infections are treatable with antibiotics.
Signs of secondary tooth pain are drooling or wetness around the mouth, swellings around the mouth area, the rabbit changing its eating pattern from harder to softer food, showing interest in food but only gingerly attempting to eat it or not eating it at all, reclusive behaviour, and weight loss.
The gum tissue should be a healthy pink, not red or purple. The action of chewing (your see the jaw moving from side to side) together with the proper diet keeps the back teeth the correct length.
Obviously, with your own rabbit, if you have a concern about rabbit teeth, then a check with your vet will be the wisest choice.
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