February is dental health month, and normally, the focus is on the dental health of larger pets, like cats and dogs. However, dental health is also important for smaller pets, like rabbits. Because of their size, it is not possible to brush your rabbit’s teeth, but there are ways to make sure that your rabbit is eating the correct foods to promote healthy teeth and gums.
Unlike cats or dogs, rabbits have different oral health needs because of their diet and anatomy. Rabbits are herbivores (they eat only plants or plant material) and have teeth that grow continuously throughout their lives. Normal, healthy wear of their teeth is directly correlated to proper nutrition. Rabbits who consume a consistent source of timothy hay and grasses, leafy greens, and other vegetables experience normal wearing of the teeth because these foods are abrasive. In order to properly break down their food, rabbits chew with a side-to-side movement of the jaw; this movement keeps the teeth at the correct level. Any misalignment of the teeth can cause the teeth not to wear down properly because it prevents the normal chewing movement, and the rabbit’s owner will notice a decrease in eating. To avoid improper wear, make sure that pelleted foods are not the main source of your rabbit’s diet. If you do rely on pelleted foods to provide your rabbit with the necessary nutrition, you can provide hay and other items, like untreated wood sticks and cardboard tubes, to promote tooth wearing.
If you are unsure if your rabbit is experiencing dental issues, here are a few signs to look for: your pet does not want to eat, weight loss, facial swelling, excessive salivation, and not wanting to groom themselves. If you notice any of these signs, it will be necessary for a veterinarian to do a complete physical exam. During the physical examination, your veterinarian will look at the face to see if there is any noticeable facial swelling and move the jaw to evaluate the side- to- side movement. Also, the veterinarian may use a scope to examine the cheek teeth for length or any sharp points. It may be necessary to take dental x-rays to more accurately find the affected tooth or teeth. Once the issue is located, your veterinarian may file down the affected tooth or teeth; in more severe cases, the affected teeth are extracted.
Remember, most rabbit dental issues can be prevented with feeding your pet a natural, high fiber diet.