Rabbit dental disease

Image: Overgrown bottom incisors. Source: www.culverden.co.uk

Clinical signs you may notice at home:

(Any single one alone or all of these signs may be present)

  • Overgrown, deformed or broken incisors (front teeth)
  • Food staining or drool around the mouth or on the tops of the front paws.
  • Firm swellings around the face anywhere from the cheeks, under the chin, along the jaw, around the eyes and even below the ears.
  • Sticky eyes or a rash around the eyes. A protruding eye. Cloudy or sore eyes.
  • Discharge from the nose or a snuffling noise or snoring.
  • Weight loss.
  • Poor self grooming.
  • Sticky soft droppings left behind or stuck around rump.
  • Behavioural change such as grumpiness, stopped being friendly or rejects cuddles, becomes intolerant of friends, hides or seeks more attention and becomes clingy.

What causes the clinical signs?

Dental disease, often referred to as acquired dental dystrophy, becomes rapidly irreversible in rabbits because they have constantly growing teeth. The means the consequences are severe for a broken or infected tooth, or a poor diet lacking the balanced intake of building blocks for growing teeth. Deformed or damaged teeth anywhere in the mouth will cause a change in the way your pet chews and then in the way all the teeth wear. Tooth roots and crowns elongate into the mouth and down into the bone. They rotate and curve due to changed pressures. The seal between the tooth, gum and jaw becomes weakened opening the way for infections deep into the bone, Rabbit tooth roots are long and lie close to the back of the eye, the tear duct, the nasal passages and lie deep within the lower jaw. Deformities and infections of roots can affect all the surrounding structures. This causes physical pain and swelling. It stops rabbits grooming themselves, changes what they can comfortably eat and stops them consuming their caecotrophs (the soft droppings produced mostly at night).

How do we treat it?

The most successful treatment relies on a plan developed from a full investigation which includes dietary review, conscious examination and assessment of general health, oral examination under sedation, advanced imaging (digital X-rays/CTscan), and collection of samples for biopsy or bacterial culture. This allows us to advise on the range of treatment options available, the likely costs involved and the home care that will be needed. It may be that the condition can be resolved completely, managed successfully as a long term chronic disease, be given palliative treatment or in severe cases, euthanasia may be elected.

We understand that not everyone will want their pet to undergo extensive investigation and treatment but we will always advise on the best treatment options. All decisions are then taken in discussion with you, considering your needs, expectations and capabilities with your pet and family situation.

Dental treatment procedures:

  • Burring elongated incisors
  • Burring elongated cheek teeth
  • Extracting fractured or abscessed teeth
  • Extracting severely maloccluded incisors
  • Surgical debridement of abscesses

Determining the treatment type and frequency needed

See our information sheet on rabbit dental disease development and assessment.

Burring teeth

Incisors can be burred conscious in most healthy adult rabbits.

Molar reshaping requires a full anaesthetic. (See our anaesthetic information sheet). We are fully equipped with the specialised equipment and are experienced in the techniques used to safely reshape your rabbit’s dental crowns to provide relief from the deep wounds and ulcerations of the cheeks, gums and tongue, caused by sharp spurs and overgrown crowns.

This procedure is palliative. It does not treat the underlying cause but provides relief from current clinical distress. It is best used in combination with a full dental investigation to determine the necessity for any concurrent surgical or medical interventions and the ongoing treatment plan.

Extracting teeth:


Rabbits can have their incisor teeth extracted and recover fully. They are very successful at learning to eat again without their front teeth. Their lips and tongue are used to get the food into their mouth. The procedure is a lengthy one and the initial recovery will require your close and careful nursing at home. Excellent pain relief and instructions for care will be provided for you and it is essential that you follow the medical instructions and attend the revisit appointments as advised by our vets.

Cheek teeth

These are the premolars and molars. Extraction may be via the inside of the mouth or sometimes from under the jaw or the side of the cheekbone depending on tooth deformity and disease level.

Surgical debridement of abscesses

Infections due to tooth root abscesses can cause extensive disease throughout the face. Much of it is invisible from the surface. Surgical removal of infected material can require multiple procedures, implanting of specialised gels and ongoing injectable antibiotic therapy. Advanced imaging to track the infection and use of microbiological cultures to determine the most effective antibiotic provide the best possible outcome.

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