Molar and Premolar Malocclusion and Elongation in Rabbits
In rabbits, the molars and premolar teeth are aligned as a single functional unit and referred to as the cheek teeth. Cheek teeth elongation occurs when normal wear does not properly occur, or when the teeth do not align properly (malocclusion). The latter is one of the most common complaints in pet rabbits, and can happen either at birth from trauma or because of other reasons.
Cheek teeth elongation generally occurs in middle-aged or older rabbits, while younger rabbits may suffer from congenital malocclusion. Also, Dwarf and Lop breeds are believed to be at a higher risk for congenital misalignment.
Symptoms and Types
- Inability to chew food
- Anorexia and subsequent weight loss
- Preference for water bowl over sipper bottle
- Excessive drooling
- Nasal discharge
- Tooth grinding
- Excessive tear production
Elongation is often a normal part of aging for pet rabbits who live significantly longer than wild rabbits, and therefore experience longer periods of tooth growth than would normally occur in a natural lifespan. However, acquired cheek teeth elongation -- which generally appears in older rabbits -- often occurs due to a lack of fibrous tough foods. These tough foods allow the rabbit to properly grind its teeth.
Conversely, congenital skeletal malocclusion is most likely to occur in younger rabbits as well as Dwarf or Lop-eared breeds. This is a birth defect that cannot be prevented.
A veterinarian will generally conduct an oral examination to diagnose malocclusion or elongation. An analysis of bacterial cultures and fluid taken from oral abscesses is also recommended. Other diagnostic tests may include urine analysis, CT scans, and skull X-rays.
Treatment depends on the severity of the condition. A surgical procedure known as coronal reduction, in which the cheek teeth are trimmed down, is one option. In some cases, extraction may be necessary.
In addition, a variety of medications including antibiotics and painkillers may be prescribed.
Living and Management
The rabbit should be re-evaluated and have its teeth trimmed every four to eight weeks, as needed. These oral evaluations should include the entire oral cavity, as well as the skull. In some cases, skull X-rays may be recommended three to six months after initial treatment in order to check for progress.
To help prevent acquired dental disease -- malocclusion and elongation of cheek teeth -- limit the intake of pellets, soft fruits or vegetables from the rabbit's diet. Instead, provide adequate tough fibrous foods such as hay and grasses to encourage normal wear of teeth.
Unfortunately, prevention is not possible for rabbits that have already shown symptoms of acquired dental disease. However, progression may be slowed down with periodic coronal reduction and appropriate diet.
It is also important to not breed rabbits with congenital malocclusion.