Thursday, November 12, 2009

Health Special: Malocclusion in Rabbits

Malocclusion, referring to the misalignment of teeth, is a common ailment of the house rabbit. As with dogs bred to have “cute” smushed-in faces, certain breeds of rabbit, like the dwarf varieties, are especially prone to congenital deformities of the mouth. What makes malocclusion so serious for bunnies, however, is that rabbit teeth grow continuously. Normally, their teeth match up perfectly, so they’re kept ground down by the action of chewing. (Just one more reason giving your rabbit unlimited hay is so important!) Since maloccluded incisors don't match up, the teeth don’t file down and instead continue growing endlessly. As the incisors become overgrown, eating and drinking become harder and harder for the rabbit, all the while causing significant discomfort inside and outside the mouth as the teeth grow into the roof of the mouth and dig into the surrounding skin of the face. Untreated, this malformation can cause a slow and painful death.

Some medical professionals recommend trimming or grinding down the teeth every two months or so, but this can be uncomfortable, stressful, even dangerous if, during a trimming, the teeth accidentally shatter. Periodic trimmings and grindings can be extremely expensive too, especially when performed under anesthesia. All these factors considered, rabbits with maloccluded teeth are sadly euthanized all too often; the constant upkeep is overwhelming and too much for some to handle.

Recently, a rabbit with malocclusion and severely overgrown incisors arrived at the local shelter. The shelter vet suggested euthanasia and the shelter manager agreed after noting the considerable extra effort that comes with finding homes for special needs animals at an overcrowded, financially stressed shelter.

I, on the other hand, wasn’t ready to give up that easily. After consulting with some fellow rabbit experts at House Rabbit Network, I learned that there was another option: extraction. It seemed simple enough—the defective six front teeth would be removed, and after the mouth healed, he would learn to use his lips to pick up food and use the rest of his 22 teeth for chewing purposes. I spoke with a fantastic veterinarian at the VCA Wakefield Animal Hospital who explained that the surgery was relatively straightforward and inexpensive (she quoted $30 for the extraction procedure, though this price didn't include the cost of anesthesia or other drugs), the recovery was minimal, and, she said, the rabbit would be as good as new when it was over. In fact, he would even have a slight advantage over rabbits looking for homes—with no front teeth, rabbit-proofing would be a breeze!

I immediately brought the rabbit, who I had named Charley, home. He was severely underweight and malnourished from weeks of eating difficulties, so I spent a couple days feeding him a high-calorie, high-fiber, easy-to-chew diet, which included Critical Care, oatmeal, canned pumpkin, vegetable medley baby food, chopped strawberries, collard greens and cilantro, and even timothy hay broken into small, bite-sized bits. He chowed down for two days straight, and proved his will to live by bouncing all over my house and spending hours sleeping in my lap. Fortunately, House Rabbit Network had offered to foot the bill for the surgery, so after he had regained some strength, we were ready. On an early Wednesday morning, we drove up to Wakefield and Charley had his six front teeth pulled (he was also neutered at the same time). I picked him up that evening, and he was, though drugged, already acting a little feisty. By the next morning, he was eating Critical Care and pumpkin mush and three days later was eating entire bowls of pellets, chopped up greens, and even his hay.

He’s now a happy, rambunctious little guy, and might I add, perfectly adoptable. I hope this story inspires other owners and shelters with rabbits with dental problems to consider this alternative. As Charley sprints around my living room like a maniac, I can say with full confidence, that incisor extraction is a fantastically helpful surgery, a procedure we would both recommend to anyone.


Charley Before


Charley After

17 comments:

Anonymous said...

This is a very important topic/post for rabbit owners and shelters.

I heart Charley!

Anonymous said...

Charley is soooo cute!

funderbug said...

Great post! I have a mini lop that just recently had to have six teeth pulled because of this. It's a great option and she is doing really well.

The Rabbit Advocate said...

Glad to hear she's doing well! I hope this practice becomes more mainstream-- it really seems to be the best option for all.

Anonymous said...

What a lovely inspirational tale. This week I too had to have teeth pulled from my buck rabbit and his molars rasped which had also grown long without my knowing and although he was really poorly at first(neutered too at the same time) and not eating or excreting he seems to be eating so much better now and seems full of beans and interested in life again. It is a great option and euthanasia is definitely not necessary I feel. Thanks for the post!

Anonymous said...

Hello,
For those of you who have had the teeth pulled... did you have GI issues within 3-5 days after the surgery... did you have to hand feed?

Anonymous said...

Hello,
For those of you who have had the teeth pulled... did you have GI issues within 3-5 days after the surgery... did you have to hand feed?

The Rabbit Advocate said...

Yes! I've heard that about ~50% of rabbits do need to be syringe fed after this surgery, as some refuse to eat following the procedure due to pain and discomfort. If the rabbit hasn't eaten for a day, syringe feed him some Critical Care and pumpkin mush.
Also, many rabbits will benefit greatly from sub-Q fluids, since many of them refuse to drink as well. Charley needed two courses, which helped considerably with his recovery. Good question!

Anonymous said...

I just found out my bunny has Malocclusion, very sad because I had no idea. She was hungry and thirsty and me & my family are wondering what the best option is. I don't want to let her down, she is about a year old.

Kelinci said...

I Have rabbit. Four rabbit desease malocclusion, but each one week I cut her teeth by nail cutting. Until now my rabbit still life.

Lisa said...

I just found this blog, and I'm glad I did! My rabbit had terrible malocclusion when I found her (sadly, someone dumped their "Easter bunny", but luckily she ended up in my yard!), so we get her front teeth removed and we all couldn't be happier! It's a fantastic option - no front teeth doesn't slow her down a bit, and she can't eat my baseboards like her boyfriend (both altered, of course!). The only downside is that I have to chop certain veggies into smaller pieces for her to be able to eat, but it's a small price to pay for such a happy healthy friend!

Anonymous said...

To Everyone who has had this surgery done, I just got home from the vet and he suggested removing my bunny's fron teeth. I was wondering how much this might cost and if you could let me know the range of what it might cost, or how much it cost you that would help so much.

Anonymous said...

I recently adopted a bunny from a to with malocculsion who had his front teeth removed (this is why he came to the shelter, the owners could no longer afford the monthly visits to the vets to have his teeth shaved down.)

He is such a sweet bunny and the only extra maintenance he requires is to have his food cut up in tiny pieces. It's a bit of a blessing for me as the owner as I never have to worry about him chewing on furniture or cables or biting. If you have a bunny with this issue, it is so worth getting the surgery as they are perfectly good pets even if they don't have teeth :)

Anonymous said...

That sounds like a bargain- I was quoted $1000 to extract my bunny's teeth!!!!

Valerie Fredericks said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

My bunny is at the vet right now for the second dental surgery. Trouble is a lion head who's front teeth grew back after extraction! Then he developed an abscess in his back molars so he is having that extracted today. Prayers for Trouble.

Anonymous said...

I have the most adorable male lion head rabbit ever born, he is 20 months old and called 'Flopsy' with one ear up and the other that flops down. Any way we have had his front teeth removed and every 8 weeks we have to have his rear teeth ground down at £90 a time. We have done this since he was about 6 months old. I can't do any thing else.