Malocclusion is a fancy name for misaligned teeth. In humans we call it an overbite and correct it in severe cases. In rabbit malocclusion the bun’s upper and lower teeth are misaligned so that the normal process of chewing doesn’t wear down your rabbit’s teeth. It is much more serious in a rabbit as it can lead to jaw infections and/or weight loss from the bun not being able to eat properly.
Your bun’s teeth are a very specialized piece of bunny equipment:
- There are 4 upper incisors – two at the front and two hidden teeth (called peg teeth) at the back of these.
- When a rabbit’s mouth is closed, the upper incisors should barely reach over the lower ones, and the lower ones should just meet with the peg teeth at the back. This creates a ‘scissor’ effect when a rabbit chews.
- The back of top teeth and the front of the bottom teeth are both soft so as the rabbit chews it grinds both sets of teeth down.
When they are misaligned the teeth can’t wear away naturally so just keep growing. The top incisors grow inwards towards the mouth and the bottom ones grow outwards like elephant tusks. This is painful and serious as it could stop your bun from eating.
Causes of Malocclusion
Malocclusion in rabbits is either inherited (hereditary) or acquired.
Inherited malocclusion is more likely to happen with dwarf breeds of rabbits. They have been bred with small heads so the rabbit’s teeth may not sit correctly in their small jaw.
Acquired malocclusion happens when teeth aren’t ground down over time, or an accident, or even excessive pulling on the wire of their cage, changes the alignment of the incisors.
Symptoms of Malocclusion
The most obvious symptom is overgrown teeth but where this isn’t obvious or hasn’t been picked up the following symptoms can also point to malocclusion:
- Abbesses in the mouth or jaw
- Drooling – this can also lead to dermatitis on the chin and chest which becomes itchy and can lead to fur pulling (see below)
- Fur pulling – this can also be a symptom of a number of other things as well but the most common cause (assuming your bun isn’t pregnant as does pull fur for their nesting boxes) is malocclusion.
- A swollen jaw
- Pawing at the mouth
- Sudden drop in weight (due to bun not being able to eat)
Treatment of Malocclusion
Rabbit malocclusion is definitely treatable but is not a condition you can just forget about. If left untreated it can be extremely dangerous for your bunny as it can prevent them from eating. Rabbits need a continual supply of roughage through their digestive system to keep everything working smoothly and misaligned teeth stop your bun from chewing ie: eating! Even 1-2 days of not eating is serious.
If you suspect your rabbit’s teeth are misaligned then get to a vet immediately. They will treat the problem immediately and can show you how you can correctly trim the teeth on an ongoing basis.
Rabbit malocclusion is serious and MUST be treated.
Some breeders believe that rabbits with malocclusion should be euthanized. As an hereditary condition we can understand not wanting to breed from a rabbit that has this condition from birth but to euthanize an otherwise healthy pet bunny with a treatable condition we believe is unwarranted.
If you have a bun with this condition you’ll just have to pay very careful attention to her teeth and mouth, provide lots of things to chew in addition to her hay (apple branches, chew sticks etc) plus watch her weight carefully. In severe cases surgery to remove the teeth may be an option but this is an extreme measure.
Owning a bun with rabbit malocclusion is not all bad. Yes, you may need 4-6 weekly visits to the vet for a quick teeth trim and will need to be extra vigilant about her teeth and mouth care but we think that’s a small price to pay for your beloved bun.