Spurs – Dental disease in rabbits

Rabbit’s teeth continuously grow; because of this they require a diet high in naturally abrasive and high fibre foods. Grass, hay and other natural plants contain these essential elements. These natural materials are made up of in part silicate phytoliths, lignin and cellulose; the abrasive nature of these components help to wear down the teeth. Rabbits who do not receive the correct diet have an increased risk of developing dental malocclusion.
One such example of this manifests in the growth of tooth spurs on the molars. Tooth spurs are sharp points that grow into the cheek or tongue causing severe pain. Rabbits have a narrower Mandible compared to their Maxilla; they chew laterally resulting in a motion that keeps their teeth worn down. Those rabbits fed a less abrasive diet are less effective at doing this resulting in the formation of spurs.

Symptoms

  • Stop eating because the pain is so severe.
  • Cuts in the mouth.
  • Ulcers in the mouth.
  • Dribbling around the mouth.
  • Dropping food.
  • Reduction in grooming.
  • Messy bottom.
  • Uneaten caecotrophs.

Causes

  • Poor diet lacking in grass and hay.
  • May favour one side of the mouth when chewing more than the other.
  • Trauma to the jaw resulting in an ineffective grinding motion, possibly due to misalignment.
  • Hereditary defects usually linked to rabbits that have been bred to have shortened jaws such as Dwarf Lops and Netherlands Dwarfs.
  • Diets low in calcium and vitamin D.

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Diagnosis

Tooth spurs are not readily visible due to the location in the mouth; a veterinary practitioner will have to diagnose this using a specialised speculum. Diagnosis is very straight forward as spurs are easily identifiable.

Treatment

  • Pain management may be required.
  • Burring under anaesthetic.
  • Syringe feeding and hydration therapy may be required if GI stasis has developed.

Prevention

  • This best prevention is without doubt feeding your rabbit a diet full of naturally abrasive materials such as hay and grass. For more information on what you should be feeding your rabbit follow this link.
  • Access to natural sunlight for vitamin D.

For more information on dental health follow this link.

Resources used: Second Edition Textbook of Rabbit Medicine/ Rabbit Medicine and Surgery for Veterinary Nurses.

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