Rabbits with teeth that do not meet correctly (malocclusion) are potentially in a dangerous state. A rabbit’s teeth grow throughout its life and so incisors that do not align can become so long that they become embedded in the nose, lips, gums or tongue causing great discomfort and starvation. If the molars become overgrown they can wear unevenly and develop sharp spurs that can lacerate the tongue and cheeks.
Malocclusion can occur for two reasons.
Potentially it may be inherited – in this case the teeth may be maloccluded from birth or it may occurat any point while the rabbit is growing (up to twelve to eighteen months). In this case it is important to inform the breeder of the rabbit so that they can avoid breeding any
Alternatively, acquired malocclusion may develop later in life (typically at around two to three years old) due to an inappropriate diet. If a rabbit does not receive enough fibre the molars will not wear down sufficiently and gradually they become longer. With time this lengthening of the rear teeth changes the alignment of the jaw, meaning that the incisors no longer meet correctly. These then stop wearing down and can become twisted and further misaligned as they grow longer.
Feeding plenty of hay and grass is the best way to avoid a rabbit acquiring malocclusion.
Treating Malocclusion in Rabbits
Overgrown incisors need to be trimmed frequently, and this is best done by a veterinary surgeon as if done incorrectly the teeth can split or shatter causing great discomfort to the rabbit.
One solution is to remove the incisors under general anaesthetic, which may sound drastic but is often a more suitable long term solution.
Treating poorly aligned molars is more difficult as an anaesthetic is required to allow the teeth to be filed, this would need to be done several times a year. Certainly, prevention is better than cure.