Your rabbit likely has a severe bacterial infection/abcess in her mouth and gums. This may be related to the teeth not being trimmed regularly, or to a sharp piece of hay or wood that penetrated her gums. This is a very serious problem, and you should see a veterinarian ASAP, because if she is untreated the infection can spread and cause her death. She will likely need antibiotics and possibly surgery to remove the infected area.
Kimberly Coyner, DVM
thanks for the info. What about the tooth is that going to grow back or would we have to wait and see after we see the vet. Also how often do a Rabbits teeth need to be trimmed, well how often would you recommend?
Your veterinarian will be able to tell on exam if the tooth is fractured or completely gone; it will likely not grow back. There is some very good information about rabbit dental issues from Dr. Cathy Chan, http://www.hrss.net/aar/health/health_dentaldisease.html.
Common presenting signs:
- Visibly fractured or crooked incisors
- Fur wrapped around incisor teeth.
- Presence of pus or discharge around teeth.
- Abscess formation (lumps palpated along lower jaw and along upper cheek area)
- Excessive salivation (wet chin, wet/saliva stained front paws, slobbers)
- Inappetance, reluctance to eat fibrous foods (hay etc.)
- Loss of body condition or body weight.
- Bad breath (from oral ulcers)
- Discharge from the nose
- Lack of grooming and a poor coat
- Excessive tearing and eye discharge
- Oral pain
The Importance of Diet –
Rabbits are selective feeders. If given choices, they often choose to eat what they are accustomed to eating, or the foods which taste better. Foods high in fibre often have poorer palatability. If given a choice of rabbit mixes, rabbits will often pick out foods high in carbohydrates, high in simple sugars and high in fat, these foods are often extremely low in fibre. Thus they will select foods like grain, nuts, and cereal over more fibrous foods like hay. Indigestible fibre and size of the food play a big role in aiding digestion and the abrasive nature aids in the maintenance of the continuously growing cheek teeth. Rabbit mixes and pellets should not be the main component of a rabbit’s daily diet. It is constantly being reinforced that a rabbit’s health and dentition is directly dependent on their diet. Unlimited hay should be provided and the house rabbit should be allowed to graze freely on the hay. A house rabbit’s main diet needs to be fresh leafy vegetables; one cup of fresh vegetables per kilogram twice daily. Pellets and mixes should be fed as treats and should only make up at most 5% of the rabbit’s diet. Diet is also related to the next mechanism of dental disease.
Diagnosis of Dental Disease
When clinical signs are first noted, rabbits should be brought to a veterinarian immediately. Early treatment of dental disease is required in order to reduce pain and further deterioration. It is inhumane to leave dental disease untreated. Dental disease in the rabbit must be treated aggressively as it can lead to an extremely debilitated animal, not to mention a very painful pet.
Full assessment of the teeth requires a complete oral examination, not just of the front incisors but also of the back cheek teeth. This can be achieved in an animal with a light source and an otoscope. This method only allows visualisation of the crowns of the teeth.
Radiography (x-rays) of the skull under sedation is essential for a full dental assessment. This enables visualisation of all the tooth roots and the structures surrounding the teeth. It can aid in identification of diseased teeth which are involved in abscesses. It can also aid in determining the tooth root involved in eye infections and excessive tearing. Bone infections can also be identified.
Treatment of Dental Disease
There are several ways to treating dental disease in rabbits. Your veterinarian will provide appropriate treatment and advice for each animal. The following are guidelines and should not be applied to all cases. All cases have to be treated on an individual basis.
Diseased incisor teeth are often crooked and turned outwards. Trimming of incisors are often required to maintain the cutting surface. The roots of the incisors extend backwards, due to the location of the upper incisors, many rabbits with incisor disease will present first with excess tearing and eye infections. Frequent incisor trimming is needed but can cause more problems in the long term.
Trimming with dog and cat nail clippers or cutters with the rabbit awake can lead to many problems. The use of pet nail clippers for the trimming of teeth is not recommended. Even in the experienced dentist, small hairline fractures can occur during trimming which can worsen teeth, especially if the rabbit moves during trimming. If the pulp cavity is exposed and bleeding occurs, this pulp exposure can lead to infection within the tooth and subsequent abscess formation. Small fractures can extend deeper into the root which can destroy the area of tooth formation.
Ideally trimming should be performed in a lightly sedated or anaesthetized animal where the pre-molar and molar teeth can be examined at the same time. Spurs (sharp knife like edges) of the check teeth can also be filed at this time. The best tool for trimming of teeth is an electric dental burr. Severely diseased incisors should be extracted. Rabbits do not need incisors to grind or chew. Furthermore, if the incisors are diseased, they are no longer functioning. The presence of diseased incisors act as areas of infection and the sharp edges cause soft tissue damage and oral ulcers. Extractions of these incisors often result in the best quality of life for these rabbits.
Abscesses of the cheek teeth, present as lumps on the lower or upper jaw are more complicated diseases to treat. Surgical removal of the abscess as a whole is required. The abscess capsule needs to be removed as well. Once the abscess has been removed, the inciting tooth needs to be extracted, even if it is still firmly attached. Ideally the wound should be left open and filled with antibiotics. Common treatments of the open wound include antibiotic beads, antibiotic swabs/sponges, gels, ointments and manuka honey. Management of open wounds are difficult and time consuming, however it is likely the most appropriate treatment. Rabbits also require systemic antibiotics and pain relief is essential in all dental disease patients. It is crucial to keep all dental patients eating well through their disease course. These patients are at high risk of developing gut stasis due to the pain experienced from surgery or from dental disease.
Other clinical signs need to be treated appropriately by your veterinarian, however it is crucial to address the underlying issue of dental disease promptly as many rabbits may not present with obvious dental disease.
Given that dental disease is extremely common, it is likely that many rabbit owners will have to go through this with their beloved pets.
Preventative measures that can be undertaken:
- Providing a diet high in fibre.
- Unlimited access to grazing grass hay.
- Avoiding rabbit mixes, grain or cereal as a main diet
- Providing sunlight, unrestricted exercise and outdoor access for at least 4 hours a day
- Limiting rabbit pellets which are low in calcium
- Offering a wide variety of fresh vegetables
- Permitting grazing of abrasive weeds or natural grasses if available.
Remember that all advice should be undertaken after consultation with your veterinarian caring for your pet.
This article is not intended as a strict guideline or protocol as all cases are different.
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