Rabbits are lagomorphs with four upper incisors - two peg teeth are located behind the first set of primary upper incisors. Lagomorph teeth are open rooted (elodont) and grow continuously throughout their lifetime.
How fast do rabbit teeth grow?
The rate of growth is variable between individuals and influenced by age, pregnancy, and diet. Rabbits require a constant supply of calcium and other minerals and nutrients to support the formation of enamel and dentine. Rabbit teeth grow at approximately 2 mm per week and require a constant supply of calcium. One study recorded the growth of upper incisors at 2mm per week and lower incisors at 2.4mm per week.
In healthy rabbits, their teeth are kept in shape by continual growth and the occlusal wear of tooth against tooth (attrition). Dental wear is affected by contact with food and the abrasive nature of their diet. Silicate phytoliths in the skeleton of grasses, cellulose, and lignin are all abrasive materials that can help with dental abrasion in rabbits.
The exact cause of dental disease in rabbits is unclear, although it is likely to be multifactorial and involve the following:
- Inadequate teeth wear due to insufficient coarse fiber in the diet.
- Nutritional deficiency, including calcium, vitamin D, vitamin A, magnesium and protein.
- Genetic disposition—Netherland Dwarfs and lop-eared rabbits with flat faces seem to be especially susceptible.
How can I help prevent dental disease in my rabbits?
Some tips include the following:
- Ensure growing rabbits have sufficient calcium and vitamin D. Growing rabbits are most susceptible to metabolic bone disease. Calcium should be 0.5—1.0% of the diet to provide sufficient calcium for the mineralization of growing teeth and surrounding bone.
- Provide unlimited fibrous foods such as grass and hay. Hay should be of a good quality. Calcium in poor-quality hay can be as low as 0.25% which is lower than the 0.44% dietary requirement for bone mineralization.
- Feed at least 3 types of fruits or vegetables a day, including one type of fibrous vegetable such as broccoli, cabbage, spring greens, spinach or cauliflower leaves. Root vegetables and fruit, such as carrots and apples, are poor sources of calcium and should only be used as treats.
- Do not allow rabbits to select low calcium cereals legumes from muesli pellet mixtures. Palatable extruded or pelleted diets are preferable as they prevent selective feeding. High calcium supplements should be avoided due to the risk of urine sludging.
Sometimes rabbits may get food or objects stuck in their mouth or teeth, and it can cause alarming behavior with excessive lip-licking and head throwing as the rabbit tries to loosen and remove the stuck object. Rabbits should be taken to a rabbit-savvy veterinarian for a professional assessment if this behavior is persistent or re-occurring as it may be a sign of more serious dental issues.
The following are a few examples of this type of behavior:
- u/WickandFable. (2021). Behavior: (Medical) Dental Irritation - Excessive Lip-Licking
- u/DKMR. (2021). He throws his head back when eating some fruits like apples, the vet keeps telling me he's ok during checkups... Any experience with this behaviour?
The medical term for drooling is ptyalism.
See the links below for more information about drooling in rabbits.
- MediRabbit, Differential Diagnosis for Ptyalism
- MediRabbit, Esther van Praag, Ph.D., Excessive secretion of saliva and coughing
Malocclusion and molar spurs
Malocclusion occurs when a rabbit's teeth do not meet each other properly. Typical treatment for this condition are regular teeth trims or removal of problematic teeth. See the main article for more details.
While encouraging teeth wear with chewing hay and other fibrous materials may help slow down the rate of overgrown incisors and molar spurs from developing, some rabbits are born with (or develop from physical trauma) severely misaligned teeth such that the issue will continuously reoccur throughout their lifetime and require ongoing medical procedures to keep the rabbit comfortably eating on their own.
Rabbits with dental problems often struggle to eat foods that require chewing such as hay and pellets. Because it is imperative that rabbits constantly have food moving throughout their gut, mashes of rabbit-safe foods are a good way to help rabbits voluntarily eat rather than force-feeding food such as Critical Care.
Lisa Hodgson created the following mash recipes:
Carrot Crush (can be syringe fed)
- 1 large peeled tomato
- 1 10cm piece of carrot
- 1 4cm piece of broccoli
- 1 4cm piece of cauliflower
- 2 springs of parsley
- 5 mL of water
Green Dream (can be syringe fed)
- 1 small leaf kale
- 2 small leaves of pak choi (bok choy)
- 2 sprigs of coriander
- 2 sprigs of mint
- 1 4cm piece of broccoli
- 1 3cm piece of cucumber
- 15 mL of water
- 1 8cm piece of banana
- 10 Tbsp of oat bran
- 15 mL of water
- 1 8cm piece of carrot
- 3 sprigs of coriander
- 10 Tbsp of oat bran
Blend ingredients for 10 to 20 seconds or until consistency is smooth. If texture looks dry add a little more water.
Note: New foods should always be introduced gradually. These recipes are a supplement and should only be given as part of a healthy diet. Oat bran is not suitable for overweight rabbits as it may cause weight gain.
Kathy Smith noted the following experience and recipe:
My intuition told me to offer her (via syringe) some of the smoothie I was making for myself every day. I now add 2-3 teaspoons of this to about 1/2 cup softened Kaytee Rainbow Exact and give to her every day:
- 1 cup of apple juice (no sugar added)
- 2-3 handfuls of fresh blueberries
- 12 large or 15 medium strawberries
- 2 small-to-medium bananas
- 12-15 ice cubes
Blend on "smoothie" setting until... smooth.
Pat Vanecek suggested this homemade Critical Care recipe:
- 1/4 of a banana
- 1/8 cup regular rabbit food pellets
- 1/4 cup unflavored Pedialyte
- 1/8 cup canned pumpkin
- options: rabbit vitamins, hay (can clog syringe) , calf manna, uncooked oatmeal (not quick), molasses
Blend in blender until smooth and thin enough to syringe feed. Additional Pedialyte added will thin to a baby food paste consistency. Place syringe behind front teeth and squeeze a pea-sized portion into rabbit’s mouth. Allow to chew and swallow between bites. Feed 1 cc, 2 to 3 times per day until rabbit begins to eat normally. Keep ingredients on hand at all times. From Bunnybees.com
- Susan Horton, DVM. Dental Disease (Graphic)
- Animal Dentistry and Oral Surgery Specialists, LLC. Rabbits & Rodent Dental Care (Graphic)
- Rabbit Welfare Association & Fund. (2013). Dental Problems in Rabbits
- Dana Krempels, Ph.D. Dental Disease in Rabbits: A Simple Overview
- MediRabbit. Common dental disorders of rabbits
- Susan Brown, DVM. (2001). Rabbit Dental Disease
- Long Beach Animal Hospital. Rabbit Teeth Problems (Graphic)
- Net Vet. Dental Health in Rabbits
- Bunny Wonderland. (2015). Dental Woes
Online support communities
The following are communities that specialize in helping owners with rabbits that need regular dental care.
- Facebook, Rabbit dental support group (Private group)
- Jennifer Hamlin. (2013). Causes, examination and treatment of dental disease in rabbits
- Bishops Stortford Veterinary Hospital. How to check your rabbit’s teeth
- Robin Rysavy, DMA in consultation with Brock Exline, DVM. (2016). Rabbit Teeth: How They Work
- Dale Kressin, DVM, FAVD, Dipl. AVDC. Anatomy of rabbit teeth
- MediRabbit. Healthy rabbit dentition
- A. Meredith. Rabbit Dentistry [PDF]
- Frank J. M. Verstraete, DrMedVet & Anna Osofsky, DVM. (2005). Dentistry in Pet Rabbits [PDF]
- Animal Dentistry & Oral Surgery Specialists LLC. Rabbits & Rodent Dental Care
- Charky and Ash. Pictures of Rabbit Teeth
- Veterian Key. (n.d.). Dental Disease. Retrieved from 02 Feb 2022 from https://veteriankey.com/dental-disease/
- Varga, M. (2013). Textbook of rabbit medicine. (2nd ed.).
- Keeble, E & Meredith, A. (2006). Rabbit medicine & surgery: Self-assessment color review.
- Moore, L. (2013). Rabbit nutrition and nutritional healing. (2nd ed.).
- Pat Vanecek. (2015). Caring for Rabbit Kits. Retrieved 13 August 2015 from http://www.bunnyrabbit.com/Newsletter/bunnyrabbitcom_articles/caringBabyKits.htm