Malocclusion is a disorder or defect found in a rabbit's teeth. While having misaligned teeth in humans may not be seen as a health problem, this defect can affect a rabbit's ability to eat correctly. Also referred to as "buck" or "wolf" teeth, malocclusion can lead to starvation of a rabbit due to difficulties eating, jaw complications and sores caused by improper chewing.
The teeth consist of the front incisors and back molars. Behind the visible top incisors are two more incisors that are known as peg teeth. The bottom two incisors when properly aligned should set behind the top incisors and will just touch the peg teeth. When these teeth do not meet correctly, the teeth cannot be worn down causing an overgrowth in the teeth.
Causes of Malocclusion
Malocclusion is a hereditary disease that is passed on to the young from adult rabbits that also have the disorder. Rabbits with malocclusion should not be bred and spaying or neutering is highly recommended for any rabbit that has been diagnosed with malocclusion. Trauma to the mouth can also cause the teeth to become misaligned which will result in the teeth not grinding down correctly.
Signs of Malocclusion
For rabbits that don't appear to have a major disfigurement of the teeth, this disorder may be hard to spot. However, owners should notice that the teeth are overgrown. The jaw may appear to be swollen and a rabbit may drop in weight due to not eating properly.
Treatments for Malocclusion
The treatment for malocclusion is having the teeth trimmed every four to six weeks. Trimming of the teeth is typically done with rescoe-type nail trimmers or even wire cutters. A veterinarian can perform the procedure and can also show rabbit owners how to trim the teeth properly themselves.
Because rabbits do not appreciate having their teeth trimmed, assistance in holding the rabbit will probably be required. The teeth are trimmed at the same time so that the teeth are cut at the same length and also to cause as little stress on the rabbit as possible. If a tooth becomes fractured below the gum line during trimming, antibiotics may need to be administered to prevent infections.
The molars should be evaluated as they can also overgrow. Rabbits that have overgrown molars will normally drool excessively. This is caused from the sharp edges of the molars cutting into the cheeks which can cause infections inside the mouth. The molars can also be trimmed or filed down but is normally done under anesthesia.
The teeth of rabbits can grow an astonishing 3 1/2 to 4 1/2 inches per year. A rabbit's teeth are designed to wear down naturally as they chew. When the teeth are not lined up correctly, the teeth can form sharp edges causing lacerations and jaw deformities. It is important that domesticated rabbits be given objects to chew on even if they don't have misaligned teeth. This chewing process keeps the teeth filed down to an appropriate size.
THE RABBIT HANDBOOK by Dr. Karen Gendron, copyright 2000.