Dental problems in rabbits: How to recognize the symptomsRabbits hide that they are not well. Keepers therefore often notice late when something is wrong. Dental problems are then often already far advanced and the treatment expensive. DeineTierwelt explains what you have to watch out for.
Photo: Markus Scholz/dpa-tmn
When rabbits are sick, they often suffer in secret for a long time: "As prey animals, they are masters at hiding diseases," says veterinarian Cecilia Siedl. In wild rabbits a weak animal means danger for the whole group – and sick animals are excluded to protect the clan.
Domestic rabbits behave in a similar way: they hide symptoms of disease as well as possible. "When you see obvious symptoms in a rabbit, the disease is often already far advanced, so you have to act quickly."
Eating behavior gives clues to dental problems in rabbits
For many owners, dental problems as a cause are a surprising finding when one of their animals suddenly stops eating well or has digestive problems. If you know the signs, you can detect dental problems as early as possible: "It may be that an animal has an increased flow of saliva, so that the fur around the mouth is sticky or even matted," says Siedl. In case of severe problems, even the whole chest can be stuck together with saliva.
Photo: Patrick Pleul/dpa-centralpicture/dpa-tmn
Feeding behavior can also indicate dental problems: It is noticeable, for example, if an animal prefers to eat soft leaf lettuce rather than hay rich in crude fiber, which has to be chewed a lot. "Some dental patients also come running joyfully to the feeding, but when they then start to eat, they chew on a leaf for what feels like an eternity or it even falls out of their mouth again unchewed," says the veterinarian. Weight loss can also indicate dental problems.
This is why you should not feed pellets
If you want to prevent dental problems, you should pay particular attention to feeding your dog the right food. Rabbit teeth grow for a lifetime. That's why it's important to wear them down regularly. "Tooth substance is very hard," says Siedl. The only thing teeth can wear down on, therefore, is tooth-to-tooth contact.
"There is a persistent myth that teeth will wear down on hard bread or breadsticks," she adds. But this is not true – instead, they would even have a negative impact on teeth and digestion.
According to the veterinarian, an optimal diet consists of fresh and species-rich green fodder. Hay should always be available to the animals. Meadow herbs, such as dandelion, ribwort, clover and yarrow are suitable.
Photo: Jan-Peter Schmidt/Kaninchenhilfe Deutschland e.V./dpa-tmn
In addition, rabbits should regularly receive fresh branches from trees such as willows or fruit trees. Even in winter, animals kept outdoors should be fed fresh food composed of cabbage, bitter lettuce, herbs, greens and other leafy vegetables such as spinach.
Pelleted food is unfavorable in several ways: the chewing movements involved in crushing pellets are different from the lateral movements involved in grass, leafy greens or vegetables. Therefore, they hardly wear down the teeth and can also exert prere on the teeth and thus promote inflammation. In addition, pellets slow down digestion, swell up in the stomach and thus saturate more, so that rabbits eat less fresh food as a result.
Many dental problems are related to incorrect feeding
The majority of dental problems over the course of a rabbit's life are related to feeding errors, says veterinarian Diana Ruf. In addition, there are breeds that are more prone to dental problems. Ruf: "This includes especially rabbits with particularly short heads. Breeds such as rams, which are prone to ear infections, are also more likely to have dental problems."Due to ear pain, many animals chew differently, which can affect their dentition.
Diagnosing dental problems at the vet requires some practice: it is basically important to choose a vet who knows rabbits well. A trained veterinarian can see the incisors from the front when looking at them. From the side as well as looking at the molars hidden far back in the mouth to get a first impression. "Usually, however, these are problems with the roots of the teeth, so an exact diagnosis with the naked eye is not possible," says Ruf.
Photo: Oliver Berg/dpa/dpa-tmn
The majority of the tooth and especially the tooth root are hidden in the jaws. "That's why dental diagnosis in rabbits requires imaging procedures such as special radiographs or high-resolution CT scans."
Because dental problems are not noticed until late in many animals, treatment is often costly: "If several tooth roots are affected and the jawbone is altered, these animals can no longer be cured, but they can often be managed well for years with targeted treatment," says Ruf. Sometimes teeth are extracted, sometimes the dentition is ground back in, often several times. These treatments are similar to good X-rays only possible under anesthesia.
Check incisors and jaws once a week
Keepers should ideally check the incisors of their rabbits once a week from the front and from the side. Teeth should be smooth and shiny and have no transverse grooves – longitudinal grooves, on the other hand, are normal. And: "The lower incisor must be behind the upper incisor."
Behind the upper incisors rabbits have a second row of teeth with two pivot teeth. These should be straight. "In addition, it is useful for a rabbit to be weighed weekly for early detection of dental disease," Ruf advises. You should also scan the jaw once a week.