Overgrown teeth are a common problem with pet rabbits. A rabbit's teeth are designed to continue to grow because the teeth are supposed to be worn down when the rabbit chews its food. If the teeth aren't being worn down, they can grow too long. This causes problems when the teeth come into contact with the soft tissue around the mouth. Overgrowth will happen because the rabbit's jaw is not lining up the teeth properly or because the rabbit isn't chewing enough.
It is easy to see overgrowth on the front incisors, but the teeth on the sides of the mouth that aren't easy to see, called the cheek teeth, also can grow too long. Symptoms can include the rabbit not eating hard to chew foods or not eating at all, food dropping from the mouth, excessive salivation or constant teeth grinding. Rabbits normally will grind their teeth on occasion, but if they do it constantly, it could be a sign of overgrown teeth.
The roots of a rabbit's teeth can also grow too long. Symptoms of this can include excessive tears. If the roots of the upper teeth grow too long, they can block the tear duct, which forces the tears to the surface. The same problem can cause nasal discharge if the roots come into contact with the sinuses and irritate them. In extreme cases, the upper roots may come into contact with an eye and cause it to bulge out.
Cutting Or Grinding Teeth
When teeth become overgrown, they will need to be trimmed or ground down. In the past, owners have used nail clippers or wire cutters to cut down the front incisors, but this has caused problems when too much is accidentally broken off, causing pain and infection. The safest way is to grind the teeth down using a dental burr or a small grinder. This can be done by your veterinarian and can usually be done without sedation, unless the rabbit is excessively nervous.
If the cheek teeth are overgrown, they will need to be treated by a vet because the rabbit will need to be placed under general anaesthesia. Bone cutters can be used to trim the teeth, but this may not cure the problem, and the teeth may need to be cut again in four to six weeks. If the vet uses a grinder to shape all the teeth properly, not just the overgrown ones, this will encourage the teeth to align properly and may solve the problem for good if it is caught early enough. At the very least, it will mean a much longer time before the teeth are needed to be ground down again.
If the roots are overgrown, or if overgrown teeth are a chronic problem, removal of the affected teeth may be necessary. This will need to be performed by a vet under general anaesthesia. Rabbits can survive without their front incisors because their lips are able to move the move into their mouth. Rabbits can also survive without some of their cheek teeth.
Diet is often a cause for overgrown teeth as food pellets are not hard enough to wear down teeth. To help prevent overgrown teeth, feed your rabbit foods that require a lot of chewing, such as root vegetables or leafy greens. You can also give your rabbit untreated sticks, branches or pieces of wood to chew on.
Routine exams may not prevent overgrown teeth, but they will keep the problem from getting out of hand. Regularly check the rabbit's front teeth and have a vet give an annual exam to the rabbit, which will include examining the inside of the rabbit's mouth.