When bunny teeth go bad.
There are many problems with other pets that bunny owners never have to deal with. For instance, a bunny will never eat cat poo and then try to lick your face. A bunny will never get stuck in the neighbor’s tree, forcing you into the embarrassing, if humorous, position of calling the fire department to get it down. A bunny will never slither away into the ventilation system of your apartment building, only to be found months later after swallowing an entire rat whole and getting stuck in a gas pipe.
But there are many issues bunny owners face that other pet owners have never heard of and will probably never understand. This is the first in a series of entries about bunny-specific medical and behavioral issues that we come across at SaveABunny. The stories don’t always end happily, but awareness is generally the best prevention, so we’re going to share what we know. Hopefully we’ll help potential bunny owners understand the responsibilities of caring for a rabbit, and help out some troubled, confused, or curious bunny owners at the same time.
We currently have a bunny named Brazil who has a malocclusion. We saved her from the euthanization list at an overcrowded South Bay shelter. Euthanization is the usual fate of bunnies with severe malocclusion - the surgery is expensive, and without it bunnies can suffer for years or even starve to death. We’re not OK with that.
Also, did I mention Brazil is a ridiculously adorable little lop-eared girl?
As you can see, she’s otherwise completely adoptable in all respects. She just has bad teeth. So we had to save her, even though we might not have the funds to pay her vet bills. At least with us, she would have the precious time she needed to find a generous sponsor.
When a bunny gets a malocclusion, it means that for whatever reason, the teeth have become misaligned or malformed, causing discomfort and pain for the bunny. Here’s a quote from Veterinarian Margaret A. Wissman:
“The causes of malocclusion are usually multifactorial, and can include infectious, genetic and traumatic causes. The chewing action of the rabbit is both vertical and horizontal which provides a grinding type of action that keeps the occlusal (the opposing surfaces of the teeth that meet normally) surfaces evenly worn. If the mandible (lower jaw) is too short or too narrow, this will result in the misalignment of the teeth. Once teeth are misaligned, they will no longer grind down correctly.”
(Read the full article here.)
Since a rabbit’s teeth grow faster than your fingernails, it’s pretty important that they get ground down properly. (This is why rabbits are always chewing on everything in sight.) In bad cases of malocclusion, the teeth essentially grow out into tusks and prohibit the rabbit from being able to eat anything at all. They can get infected, disformed, and cause all kinds of other problems for the bunny’s delicate mouth tissue. Usually, a rabbit with misaligned teeth will do OK as long they get them trimmed regularly - but it does cause them a lot of stress. Imagine if you had to go to the dentist every few weeks for the rest of your life!
Often, as in Brazil’s case, the teeth have to be removed completely. Since the roots go far back in the bunny’s jaw, the surgery is a bit more complicated than it would be for animals like dogs, cats, or people.
As far as preventing malocclusion, the best answer I’ve found is keeping plenty of fiber in your bunny’s diet and having lots of good things to chew on. Sometimes it’s hereditary, and there’s not much you can do.
It’s easy to check for malocclusion - just regularly look at your bunny’s teeth and make sure they seem normal. If you’re not sure, ask your veterinarian.
Because malocclusion is often hereditary, baby rabbits who have it are usually euthanized to keep the condition out of the gene pool. (Definitely not our recommendation.) This is another really, really good reason to always spay or neuter your rabbits.
Little Brazil was lucky enough to find a sponsor, by the way - one of our awesome volunteers generously donated $500 for her surgery. She still needs a home - but at least she has the chance to find one now.
If you have any input on malocclusion, whether it’s something I forgot in this blog, or something I got wrong, or a story of your own, please share in the comments section! We love to keep the conversation going and learn new things.
If you think your bunny is suffering from malocclusion, take him or her to a veterinarian.
If you want to see more cute pictures of Brazil and maybe, just maybe, foster or adopt her, check out her page on the SaveABunny site.