Rabbits are known for their big ears and teeth. They will nibble and chew constantly, but why do their teeth always seem to grow? Rabbits’ teeth constantly grow because they need to keep their teeth sharp enough to deal with the high-fiber diet they eat. They have teeth that are open-rooted, meaning that instead of falling out and regrowing in like humans do (albeit only once), they regenerate and grow anew from the root.
Rabbits’ teeth are designed never to stop growing and must be constantly ground down. The incisors have a unique layout; they grind against each other when the rabbit consumes grass, hay, and other vegetation.
Rabbit Tooth Anatomy
Rabbits have three tooth types; two work together to clip and cut food, and one grinds and chews the food.
The upper incisors have “peg teeth” behind them, which are two tiny incisors that act almost as a locking mechanism for the bottom incisors. The bottom incisors slide up between the upper incisors and peg teeth, meaning the bottom and top incisors constantly grind against each other, keeping both sets sharp and at an appropriate length.
Rabbits also have molars that they use to chew food. For example, if a rabbit eats hay, the incisors will cut it, and the molars chew it. Molars also grow constantly and are kept short and in shape by the grinding motion that rabbits use to chew their food.
How Much Do Rabbit’s Teeth Grow a Day?
A rabbit’s teeth will generally grow around 1 centimeter (cm) per month if they meet properly and are worn away. By comparison, a misaligned set of teeth will grow as much as 1 millimeter (mm) a day.
Problems With Rabbits Teeth: Malocclusion
Because rabbits’ teeth never stop growing, they can have serious (and even fatal) dental problems when the teeth don’t meet together as they should. Malocclusion is the term used to describe teeth that don’t meet together, either partially or fully. Malocclusion can affect the incisors, molars, or both and can present different problems depending on which teeth are affected.
If a rabbit’s incisors are misaligned, they’ll continue to grow. Because they’re not being ground down by each other, the incisors will grow up and sometimes curve out, making it almost impossible for a rabbit to eat effectively. If left to grow, the teeth can pierce the tissue in the mouth and cause severe pain or become so overgrown that the rabbit cannot eat at all, which is fatal.
The molars are the larger teeth located at the back of the mouth used for grinding and chewing food passed to them from the incisors. These teeth can also become misaligned, but instead of growing up into the mouth, they develop sharp spikes and growths called “spurs.”
These spurs cut into the mouth’s soft tissue each time the rabbit chews, as rabbits chew from side to side and up and down. This can be incredibly painful, leading to the rabbit refusing to eat. They can also grow down and cause bone problems in the jaw, sometimes leading to abscesses and infection.
What Causes Malocclusion?
There are a few reasons why a rabbit’s teeth may become misaligned, the most significant of which is a poor diet. Rabbits are designed to eat a lot of roughage that naturally wears their teeth down. Rabbits in the wild will chew all day on grass or similar fiber. Hay is usually given to pet rabbits to chew on, but they’re also fed rabbit pellets or mixes. Eating soft foods too often can lead to overgrowth and malocclusion.
Genetics may also have a part to play. For example, some breeds of rabbits, like Dwarf or Lop-Eared rabbits, have smaller heads and jaws than their natural ancestors, leading to overcrowding of the teeth in the mouth because there isn’t enough room for them. This leads to malocclusion and overgrowth of the teeth.
What Are the Signs of Malocclusion in Rabbits?
Because of the dangerous nature of malocclusion, you need to know the signs. Malocclusion can lead to rabbits not being able to eat. If a rabbit doesn’t eat, its digestive system will stop moving, which is a condition known as gut stasis. Gut stasis is fatal in rabbits; if a rabbit’s guts don’t constantly move, it will die.
Signs of malocclusion in rabbits include:
How To Stop Rabbits’ Teeth from Growing
Because rabbits’ teeth grow all the time, there are some things you can do to help them manage this. Providing a high-fiber diet full of roughage, such as hay and straw, can help naturally wear their teeth down if they are properly aligned.
If your rabbit’s teeth aren’t properly aligned, they will need veterinary treatment for the rest of their life. When the teeth have become too overgrown, they are trimmed under anesthesia by a veterinarian. This procedure is usually done every three weeks to a month or so, and it’s usually done using a dental burr. If the problem is severe, the vet might recommend removing the affected teeth to prevent additional procedures because of the risks of anesthesia to rabbits.
Rabbits have teeth that never stop growing. Their teeth have open roots, and the same roots produce new tooth material that lengthens the existing teeth. Because rabbits’ teeth are self-maintaining, a proper diet is crucial to keep them at the correct length. The upper and lower teeth will grind each other down if positioned correctly, keeping them at a suitable size. If their diets don’t contain enough fiber and roughage, or the teeth don’t meet together properly, they can overgrow and become very problematic. Overgrown teeth that hinder eating can be fatal for rabbits.
Featured Image Credit: Victoria Paladiy, Shutterstock