Q: I just rescued a four-year-old male rabbit and the former fosterer told me that he has cheek teeth malocclusion. I do not see an obvious overgrowth as it is in his mouth. He eats very slowly, but still has a reasonable appetite. Is there anything special I need to do while taking care of him?
A: Dental malocclusion is common in rabbits because their teeth grow continuously. In a week, a rabbit’s teeth can actually grow one to two mm in length. In rabbits with normal dentition structure, simply eating and chewing hay and fibrous vegetables will keep the teeth worn down and aligned. But in some rabbits—like your new rescue—they suffer from poor teeth alignment in their upper and lower jaw, leading to uneven, overgrown dental crowns. This is often due to a structural defect of the rabbit’s jaw length and shape, and is unlikely to be reversible.
Other causes of malocclusion include previous injury to the jaws, inappropriate diet with too many pellets, and old age.
Although he still has a good appetite, it is worrying that he is eating very slowly—it’s a sign that he is experiencing some level of pain and discomfort. Most times, rabbits will also drool a lot (making its chin wet, messy and smelly if left uncleaned). It is important to continue giving him Timothy hay or leafy vegetables with stems. However, such food items are often very “chewy”, so your rabbit may not enjoy eating them as it requires effort. While you may be tempted to give more pellets and soft vegetable leaves, they do nothing to help the maloccluded teeth.
Sadly, there is very little you can do at home except to be diligent with feeding your bun hay and fibrous vegetables. In doing so, it helps to keep the teeth gnawed down to a comfortable level. It is highly recommended that you bring your rabbit to the vet for regular monthly check-ups, even if he appears to be eating well and has a good appetite. His body weight will be monitored, and at the same time, your vet can check the oral cavity for any ulcers, cuts and tongue and/or inner cheek injuries caused by the maloccluded teeth.
If it is found that the inside of the mouth is infected or traumatised, antibiotics and pain relief have to be administered to help with infection and pain. He will also need dental trimming and filing, which can only be done by your vet as your rabbit needs to be put under general anaesthesia. The procedure will include trimming any sharp and uneven edges, filing flat the occlusive surface of the teeth, and checking for any infection or injury of the mouth. In severe cases, dental and skull x-rays are taken to check the integrity of the tooth roots, jaw bones, and nasal cavities.