Dental disease in rabbits can be congenital or acquired, and can involve incisors, cheek teeth, or both. Primary disease of incisors often produces secondary disease of cheek teeth, or vice versa.
Exact data on the incidence of dental disease in rabbits are unavailable; however, exotic animal practitioners report it as a common presentation in practice. There appears to be no sex predilection.
Congenital dental disease is secondary to jaw malformation. For acquired dental disease, there are 2 leading theories regarding the cause: 1) inadequate wearing of teeth due to inappropriate diet (ie, a diet low in high-fiber hay), and 2) metabolic bone disease leading to thinning of the jawbone and alveolus. Dental disease is also produced by traumatic injury to the jaw or teeth.
Rabbits that are receiving inappropriate diets (low-fiber pellet mixtures, grains, seeds, and nuts) appear at higher risk and comprise the majority of patients in clinical practice. However, many rabbits receiving poor diets do not develop severe dental disease, suggesting that other unknown factors may play a role.
All rabbit teeth continually grow throughout the life of the animal. In the normal rabbit, incisors and cheek teeth are maintained at proper length and shape by the action of teeth upon teeth during normal chewing and jaw movements. Any condition that disrupts normal wear can lead to elongation and dental disease.
History. Some owners may notice substantially abnormal or overgrown incisors, or facial swellings produced by dental abscesses. However, patients can present with a variety of clinical signs, many seemingly un-related to disease of the oral cavity.
Physical Examination. Any of the signs noted in Table 1 can be detected at physical examination. Careful examination of the incisors can reveal subtle deviations in length and shape. Examination of the oral cavity of the conscious rabbit with an otoscope or other similar device can reveal abnormalities of cheek teeth. However, dental lesions are commonly missed with this technique; it must never be used to rule out dental disease in patients with clinical signs or histories suggesting otherwise.
Complete evaluation of dental disease in rabbits requires at minimum full oral examination performed under anesthesia and skull radiographs. Anesthetic protocols for rabbits are described elsewhere. Oral examination is greatly facilitated by endoscopy. Proper instrumentation is required for thorough evaluation (Table 1, Figure 1).