Dental disease is very common in pet rabbits. As rabbits are prey species, they hide signs of discomfort expertly, so often we do not know there is a problem until the disease is very advanced. Disease starts slowly with little or no symptoms but will progress to chronic pain and is sadly a leading cause of euthanasia in pet rabbits.
A poor diet lacking in fibre and over-relying on pellet or museli intake is the leading cause of dental disease. Rabbits’ teeth grow continuously throughout their lifetime and must be ground down daily with large amounts of fibre, like hay or grass. If the teeth are not ground down sufficiently, the roots will be pushed in to the jaw and skull.
Certain breeds are more at risk of disease due to the conformation of the jaw. Short round faced breeds like the Netherland Dwarf and Lionhead are more likely to suffer with dental issues.
Signs of dental disease
If you notice any of the above signs, book your rabbit a check up with their vet.
Dental surgery under a general anaesthetic is often required for rabbit dental disease, especially as it is often discovered at advanced stages. Once dental disease has established, this often needs repeating at regular intervals during the year: unfortunately, there is no quick fix. Pain relief is also important to make sure your bunny keeps eating and does not develop gut stasis.
To avoid discomfort for your pet and the expense of anaesthetized dental treatment, prevention of dental disease is definitely best!
Hay is essential for good dental health in rabbits: the best diet for rabbits is one that mimics as closely as possible the grass-based diet wild rabbits evolved to eat. Make sure your rabbit has constant access to hay at all times. It should compromise 80% of their total diet: this corresponds to them eating a pile of hay the size of themselves ever day! Lawnmower cuttings should not be given as these ferment and cause digestive problems that can be fatal. Leafy green vegetables should make up 15-18% of the diet: feed one handful once a day of washed dandelions, brambles, dock leaves, cabbage, watercress, rocket, salad leaves (but not iceberg lettuce as this can cause diarrhoea and has little nutritional value), broccoli, carrot tops (not the orange part, this is very sugary!), kale or spinach. Rabbits also love herbs that make their food smell more interesting! Try fresh parsley, basil or coriander. The remaining 2-5% should be made of complete commercial rabbit pellet or nugget (this equates to just one eggcup-full per day per rabbit). Do not feed a muesli diet because they increase the risk of dental disease and rabbits will only eat their favourite bits and not get a balanced diet.
Our nurses also offer free rabbit clinics, so please call us to arrange a session for personalised, tailored advice for your bunny.