Rabbits need dental care too

Late one Thursday night a much loved rabbit called Edward presented to our hospital as his owner was concerned he was not his bright happy self. Normally very active and inquisitive, Edward had seemed quite off colour the past few days and was not displaying typical bunny behaviour. Edward is a lovely, five year old white lop rabbit that usually spends much of his day hopping around, munching on his pellets, hay and fresh vegetables. His owner was particularly worried this day as Edward did not want to eat or drink and had not passed any faecal pellets for about four days. What made this situation worse was that Edward, who lives on the York Peninsula, had already had problems earlier in the year with his gut and required surgery to remove an obstruction called a trichobezoar.

In rabbits a trichobezoar is basically a hair ball or an accumulation of hair within the digestive tract. It is thought that this hair is ingested when the bunny grooms. The accumulated hair bunches up into a ball that cannot pass through the intestinal tract, usually leading to an obstruction. In Edward’s case the wonderful vets on the York Peninsula had no choice but to remove this obstruction surgically. Edward recovered well from his surgery and up until this episode had been happily eating, drinking and passing faecal pellets like a normal rabbit should.

When Edward arrived to us his owner explained she was very worried as he was showing the same signs he had previously when he was obstructed. For this reason we admitted Edward to the hospital, started him on intravenous fluids in order to correct his dehydration and gave him some pain relief to make him more comfortable. The interesting thing about this time was that when Edward was assessed by the vets they could not in fact feel an obstruction in his abdomen at all. This gave us a clue that there may be something else going on causing Edward to not want to eat.

An x-ray was taken and an ultrasound was performed on Edward’s abdomen before he was given the all clear regarding an obstruction. His digestive tract all looked normal it just wasn’t moving or ‘motile’ and digesting food like it should be. This is called ‘gut stasis’ in rabbits. When rabbits develop this condition, there is always an underlying reason. In Edward’s case we had confirmed he did not have an obstruction and so we knew we had to look somewhere else.

A thorough dental examination was performed on Edward’s mouth. It was found that one of his teeth, called an incisor, on the lower right side was fractured. He also had very overgrown back molar teeth, with sharp edges called spurs, causing cuts to his tongue and the inside of his mouth. Once Edward was stable, the following day, a full dental under an anaesthetic was performed in order to shave off the sharp spurs on his molars and clean up his mouth. Edward recovered well from his dental. He remained in hospital on a drip and was given medication to help stimulate his gut’s motility.

A number of hours after Edward had recovered from his anaesthetic he began eating again. Firstly he was syringe fed a rabbit critical care diet, then he started to nibble at his greens and pellets on his own. This was a huge relief to the vets who were treating him as well as his owners. That night Edward also passed lots and lots of faecal pellets which is a great sign for rabbits when recovering from gut stasis. Edward spent a total of three nights in hospital before he was discharged home to the York Peninsula.

Rabbit teeth are similar to horse teeth. They have evolved over time to break down tough, fibrous vegetation. To compensate for this constant wear, rabbit teeth are open-rooted, which means they grow continuously throughout their lives. A rabbit whose diet is insufficient in fibre, such as a pellets-only diet, will be unable to properly wear down its teeth and will be at risk of developing molars spurs and secondary soft tissue abscesses. For this reason rabbits need plenty of fibre in their diet such as hay as well as regular dental check ups. The most important thing for bunnies like Edward, who have suffered from dental disease and its associated problems, is that they receive ongoing veterinary dental care for the rest of their lives. 

From Edward's owner, Carol Carter:

"Edward came to live with us as a kitten in 2007 when a relative found him hopping around her garden. We had a spare hutch so Edward moved in and has been a much loved member of our family ever since. 

He has a very affectionate nature and is always eager to spend time with us in the house at the end of the day. Edward never strays out of the dining room and sets himself up on a towel under an old box happily chewing his carrot tops, celery leaves or kale.

He ventures out to play a chasey game and always hops up to us for a cuddle or pat. During Easter, Edward would always play the part of Easter Bunny, dutifully guarding the eggs in his hutch and never once did he nibble at the chocolate!

Lately, Edward has had his share of sickness and has been loving cared for by the Minlaton/ Kadina/ Adelaide vets and staff. Even when sick Edward would still put his feet on us and ask for a hug.

We are not sure how long Edward will be with us. We hope forever but that cannot be. Since hopping into our lives Edward has taught us more than how to care for a rabbit. He has taught us about the special bond and devotion that can exist between animals and their owners. Our special white rabbit has certainly etched a place in our hearts and lives, and we thank everyone who has been involved in his care."

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