Rabbits have 28 teeth: six incisors in the front and 11 “cheek” teeth on either side of the mouth. When you look at a bunny’s mouth, you will see two of the upper incisors, as well as the lower two incisors, but there are also two “peg” teeth behind the top incisors. Can you see them on the x-ray, above?
Like horses, rabbits have teeth that grow all their lives. In consequence, they need to have safe things to chew on, such as hay, apple tree twigs, cardboard boxes, hay, untreated wood toys, hay, or hay. The teeth wear due to their hitting each other, not because of what the rabbit is chewing, so it doesn’t really matter what you give your bunny to chew, as long as it won’t hurt him to digest it. You might have sensed that we recommend hay, and you’d be right, though this is more for the rabbit’s digestion than for his teeth. It just happens that munching on hay solves both the issues of fiber digestion and chewing needs, so definitely give your rabbit unlimited grass hay at all times. There are lots of other great rabbit and bird toys out there that provide fun chewing for your bunny, and you can get creative with cardboard and other paper products to make him toys, too.
Tooth problems vary from misalignment, abscesses, blocked tear ducts, root elongation, or even root absorbtion. Symptoms of tooth problems are decreased appetite, weight loss, runny eyes, drooling, mouth abscesses, or a bad odor from the mouth.
Malocclusion occurs when the rabbit’s teeth don’t align properly, and in consequence, they don’t wear down as they should. With minor misalignments, sharp points may form on the teeth, poking the bunny’s cheek and tongue, or if it’s a bad misalignment, the maloccluded teeth will grow and grow, even curling back into the mouth and piercing lip, gums, or even his brain. Malocclusion precludes the rabbit’s ability to eat, as well, and he may eventually starve.
If your bunny has maloccluded teeth, you need to take him to a rabbit-savy vet, who can clip, saw, file, or remove the offending teeth. At first glance, clipping might seem the easiest solution, but beware that this procedure can cause tiny tooth fractures that can lead to further mouth problems. Sawing or filing the teeth can work fine, though you will need to have this done every month or two, depending on how fast your rabbit’s teeth grow. It’s a stressful thing for the bunny, but it has to be done, so there’s not a lot of choice.
If your rabbit’s teeth grow really fast or there are other extenuating circumstances, your vet may recommend surgery to remove the bad teeth. The whole root must come out so that it won’t regrow, so sometimes multiple operations are required, and this is will be painful for your bunny and for your wallet. However, once it’s done, it’s done. You will probably need to chop your bunny’s food for him from then on, but at least you won’t have to go to the vet every few weeks. And heck, he won’t be nibbling the buttons off your TV remote any more!