Dental disease

Dental disease is a common problem in pet rabbits, although fortunately not as common as it was a few years ago due to better diets.

Types of tooth

Two longhaired black rabbits yawningRabbits have 2 main types of tooth, all of which grow continuously.


These are the ones at the front.  They are used for nibbling at grass, for grooming and sometimes for fighting.  Rabbits differ from rodents in that they have 2 sets of top incisors with the small peg teeth sitting behind the more obvious larger front teeth.  The incisors grow at a rate of 1-2mm per week.

The incisors can be checked by gently lifting the lip at the front of the face.  They should have a nice chisel shape to them with the bottom teeth fitting between the front top teeth and the peg teeth.

Cheek teeth

The cheek teeth are made up of molars and premolars.  They are used for grinding down long fibre such as grass and hay.  They move in a side to side, front to back and up and down motion.  The cheek teeth at a rate of 1-2mm per month.  Is order to keep the teeth in balance, they need to wear down at this rate.  The cheek teeth can only fully be examined by your vet under anaesthetic as rabbits are not able to open their mouths very wide.  Your vet may be see some problems using an otoscope cone inserted into the mouth.

Problems with the teeth

Spike on cheek tooth of rabbit
Dental spur on cheek tooth

Most of the problems that rabbits have with their teeth are when they are not worn down properly and become too long.  That can lead to problems such as:

  • difficulty eating
  • painful tooth spurs
  • tooth root abscesses
  • tear duct blockages

Signs of dental problems

  • Reduced appetite/stopping eating – this is an emergency in a rabbit.  If this happens, contact your vet immediately
  • Being quieter than normal
  • Grinding teeth – this can also be a sign of pleasure.  If your rabbit only grinds their teeth when they are having a fuss and isn’t showing any other signs of problems, don’t worry.  If your rabbit sits down on their own grinding their teeth, that is a sign of pain.
  • Salivating – this may be apparent as a wet front.
  • Discharge from one or both eyes
  • Lump or swelling on lower jaw
  • Visibly long front teeth

If you notice any of these problems, take your rabbit to a rabbit-savvy vet as soon as possible.  If caught early, sometimes the problem can be cured but it will often be an ongoing problem which needs careful and regular management.

How can I prevent tooth problems?

White rabbit with hay and grassA good diet is the best way to prevent dental issues.  Lots of grass and hay provides the tough fibre that helps to wear the teeth down naturally.

Regular (at least annual, preferably 6 monthly) check ups with your vet will help to pick up any issues as quickly as possible, before your rabbit starts showing signs of discomfort.

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