If there is suspicion of infection, cultures will be necessary to identify the type of bacteria present, and to choose the best antibiotic to fight that infection.
Treatment of malocclusion consists of the veterinarian trimming (sometimes called filing) the abnormal teeth. The incisor teeth can be trimmed without sedation in most rabbits. Sedation is required for proper trimming of the cheek teeth, and may even be necessary to completely evaluate the molar teeth. Although the procedure itself is painless in rabbits (the nerves do not extend to the ends of the tooth), it is impossible to open their mouths wide enough to trim the cheek teeth. The gums are often inflamed, and may bleed or may be nicked when trimming the teeth; however, these small areas usually heal very quickly once the inciting tooth is removed.
Treatment for malocclusion involves trimming (“filing” or “clipping”) of the teeth. Although this will not eliminate the problem, it will return the teeth to a normal length so that the rabbit can eat properly, and will remove all the points which may be cutting into the gums.
The incisors can usually be trimmed without the use of anesthesia in most rabbits, but sedation may be used for your rabbit if it is particularly nervous or sensitive.
Anesthesia is almost always necessary for trimming of the molar teeth. The mouth of a rabbit is very small and narrow and can only open a small distance, even under anesthesia. This is a bit like working in a deep hole, and in order to get the instruments into the mouth, rabbits need to be sedated.
The sedation that usually works best is injectable sedation (shots given in the vein or muscle), which lets the veterinarian work in the mouth without the presence of a facemask (which would be required with gas anesthesia). The disadvantage is that rabbits wake up more slowly from the injectable anesthesias.
Any wounds inside the mouth should be cleaned by your veterinarian when the teeth are trimmed. You may be instructed to flush or clean a particular area inside the mouth at home if there is a severe wound, but most heal very quickly without treatment.
Antibiotics may be prescribed if infection is suspected, but are not routinely necessary if there is no suspicion of infection. Your veterinarian will probably start an antibiotic based on what is effective against common bacteria of the mouth, but may change that if the bacterial cultures show that a different antibiotic may be better.
In severe cases, the incisor teeth can be surgically removed. This is a permanent procedure that must be discussed with your veterinarian on an individual basis. Many veterinarians will refer patients for this procedure.
Most rabbits, once diagnosed, will require periodic trimming of the teeth for life, since the malocclusions can’t really be corrected. The frequency of trimming varies with the individual rabbit and the severity of the abnormalities. Some may only be once or twice a year; others may be every two to three months.
Optimal treatment for your pet requires a combination of home and professional veterinary care. Follow-up can be critical, especially if your pet does not rapidly improve.
- Administer all prescribed medication(s) as directed. Alert your veterinarian if you are experiencing problems treating your pet.
- If your rabbit continues to drool or demonstrate difficulty eating in two to three days after the teeth are trimmed, your veterinarian will want to re-examine the mouth to be sure there are no remaining points and to check to see that any cuts are healing.
- Force-feeding might be necessary for those first few days, since the mouth may be sore and the gums may be swollen. Follow your veterinarian’s recommendation for force-feeding. Vegetable baby food can be used, fresh vegetables can be blended into a gruel, or a slurry can be made from ground up pellets and water. A commercial product is available for this (Oxbow), which can be ordered through a veterinarian.
- Continue to provide fresh hay and leafy greens to promote proper chewing and grinding by the molar teeth.
- Your veterinarian should examine your rabbit’s teeth on a regular basis.
- Keep a close watch on your rabbit’s eating habits to detect changes while they are minor and more easily addressed.
- It is a good idea for you to get in the habit of feeling your rabbit’s mouth. Daily examinations are too frequent because subtle changes will not be noticed. About every week or two, gently feel around his mouth and the bones of his jaw and face for any bumps or swelling. Compare to the opposite side; if you feel a bump on both sides it is most likely normal.
- Feel your rabbit’s face, mouth and jaw today so that you are familiar with the normal structure.