Dental disease is the most common cause of disease in rabbits and guinea pigs kept in captivity. These dental problems are often caused by an incorrect diet, but hereditary tooth and jaw misalignments also occur, especially in very short-headed rabbits.
Rabbit and guinea pig teeth grow throughout life, in rabbits at about 2-3.5 mm per week, with the incisors growing faster than the molars. This makes sense, since in the wild there is often only very hard, nutrient-poor food available, which has to be chopped up well. Unfortunately, teeth will continue to grow if they are not worn down enough, which can quickly lead to problems.
Basically, no food is hard enough to seriously wear down a rabbit tooth. Attrition occurs almost entirely by the opposing tooth as the feed is ground and crushed between these “millstones”. It is therefore of vital importance that the teeth rub well together and that the rabbit spends sufficient time chewing and thus wearing down the teeth. through to nutrient-rich feed, where the animals only have to eat small amounts in order to be full, this is not the case.
An example: If a rabbit eats grain feed, it will be full after a very short time because it has taken in enough calories. The teeth are not rubbed down sufficiently. If it has to eat hard hay, it chews for several hours to get full. It’s good for your teeth. The stomach and intestines of rabbits and guinea pigs are naturally designed for large amounts of nutrient-poor food. Easily digestible carbohydrates and sugar can severely disrupt digestion and lead to flatulence, diarrhea, and obesity. Unfortunately, many guinea pigs and rabbits are given food that is too nutritious, such as grains, pellets, and dry bread, and most of the hay that is offered is then left lying around. Types of feed containing cereals, grains, and nutrient-rich pellets as well as sweet fruit should therefore only be offered in very small quantities, if at all. A healthy rabbit or guinea pig can easily be fed with hay and fresh food such as grass, dandelion, and vegetables, it does not need grain or pellet food. Unfortunately, many animals are very used to such feed and then have to be slowly and carefully re-accustomed to feeding on hay and fresh feed. The transition can take several weeks but is essential for long and healthy life.
So what happens if the teeth are not worn down correctly?
The back teeth are usually affected first. With these, the chewing surface of the teeth is slightly crooked, it falls outwards towards the cheek. This causes badly worn teeth in the lower jaw to develop pointed edges towards the tongue, and those in the upper jaw develop pointed edges towards the cheek. One speaks here of so-called “tooth hooks”. These can become so long that they literally bore into the tongue or cheek and create wounds in the mucous membrane. At this point at the latest, the animal can no longer eat and is in severe pain. Overloading individual teeth is also possible with poor wear. Then grow these teeth, following the strong pressure, into the jaw. They often lead to abscesses and damage to the eyes and nasolacrimal duct. These processes can also shift the entire axis of the jaw so that the incisors no longer meet properly and become much too long. They can then grow out of the mouth in a circle or forward, in any case, the food can no longer be bitten off and taken in normally. If an animal already has teeth, this is often not immediately apparent to the owner, as the problems usually develop insidiously. You should look out for the following signs:
- Weight loss (weighing in on a kitchen scale once a week is excellent health care)
- Selective and/or slow eating (usually hard feed components are sorted out)
- Salivate (check for sticky fur on the chin or sore spots on the neck)
- teeth grinding
- teary eyes
- swelling of the jaw
- Setting the feed intake
- Visibly changed, e.g. crooked incisors often indicate problems with the molars.
The best health care, in addition to species-appropriate husbandry and feeding, is good control of the animals. Just a few minutes a day are enough to watch the animals being fed and to notice illnesses relatively early. A control at the veterinarian, e.g. during the vaccination examination, enables early detection of dental diseases.
In the early stages, dental problems can usually be remedied by grinding and shortening the teeth at the vet. However, anesthesia is often required for this, since grinding down the molars in the awake animal, in particular, would be too stressful and risky. Under no circumstances should teeth that are too long simply be clipped off with pliers, since the tooth can splinter and the process can be very painful front teeth that are too long are usually shortened with special cutting discs. X-rays help identify abscesses and problems at the roots of teeth. In serious cases, teeth often have to be extracted as well.
If there are already serious tooth misalignments, abscesses, and wounds, the treatment can be very difficult and lengthy. In most cases, lifelong corrections of the teeth are then necessary at intervals of a few weeks. Incurable dental problems also occur again and again in the veterinary practice, the animals must then be euthanized. In order to avoid this, a healthy diet and good observation of your animals are the best prerequisites.