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Dental Disease in Rabbits

Clinician's Brief (Capsule)

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Practitioners need a complete understanding of the etiology and pathophysiology of dental disease to formulate therapy or potentially prevent this common disorder in pet rabbits. This article is a literature review and thorough summary of calcium homeostasis in the rabbit, attempting to unite current theories on the causes of the disease.

As opposed to most mammals, rabbits efficiently absorb calcium passively through the intestinal wall rather than via an active transport system, independent of vitamin D3. Phosphorus is absorbed primarily through vitamin D3-dependent active transport. The dietary calcium:phosphorus ratio should be at least 1.5–2:1 but is often reversed in commercial mix diets or through selective feeding.

Five common theories (ie, genetic/inheritance factors, trauma, iatrogenic malocclusion, insufficient dental wear secondary to lack of abrasive food, underlying metabolic disease caused by calcium and vitamin D deficiency) outlining the cause of dental disease in rabbits are discussed. While many factors may be involved, metabolic bone disease appeared to play more of a primary role than previously thought. This, combined with abnormal dental wear, could be responsible for most dental problems in pet rabbits. Care must be taken to feed a properly balanced diet to avoid selective feeding, offering hay, meadow grass, and vegetables, with only small amounts (25 g/kg/day) of pellets with an appropriate calcium:phosphorus ratio.


Practitioners treating dental disease in rabbits should have current knowledge of the interrelation of causes, diagnosis, and treatment. Calcium metabolism has long been considered the cornerstone to understanding dental disease, and this review is possibly one of the best summaries to date. This article reviewed seldom discussed but critical topics while presenting plausible new theories.—Adolf K. Maas, DVM, DABVP (Reptile & Amphibian)


Rabbit dental disease and calcium metabolism—The science behind divided opinions. Jekl V, Redrobe S. J SMALL ANIM PRACT 54:481-490, 2013.

For global readers, a calculator to convert laboratory values, dosages, and other measurements to SI units can be found here.

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