Signs of Dental Disease in Rabbits 


This article is written by Pet Circle veterinarians, Dr Nicole Wynne BSc BVMS MANZCVS (Unusual Pets) and Dr Emilee Lay BVSc BSc (Vet) Hons

Does Your Rabbit Have Dental Disease?

It can be scary to hear that your rabbit has dental disease, especially because a rabbit can’t be “cured” of dental disease once they are diagnosed. Rabbits’ teeth grow continuously throughout their lives, and so their dental anatomy will constantly change. This is also true even after treatment to restore their teeth back to as normal a conformation as possible. Dental disease can also irreversibly damage tooth roots and jawbones, causing permanent effects. 

It is important to catch dental disease as early as possible, and it can be difficult as early signs can be as subtle as a change in chewing pattern.

Read on to find out what signs to look out for! 

Weight Loss 

Weight loss can be subtle and difficult to pick up, especially if it happens slowly over a period of time. Many rabbit owners only realise when they feel that their rabbit is bonier to the touch than usual. Weighing your rabbit weekly to fortnightly and keeping a log of weights can help pick up weight loss before it becomes deathly apparent. 

Body Condition Scoring is also useful for picking up signs of illness in your rabbit. Underweight or skinny rabbits will have easily palpable hip bones, ribs and spine, which may be sharp to the touch. A lack of muscle and fat cover with a flat rump area can be another sign of an underweight rabbit. Check out this handy Rabbit Size-O-Meter from PFMA UK on how to body condition score your bunny!

Changes in Chewing 

Depending on what is going on with the teeth, the rabbit may start to chew differently, or only use one side of their mouth to chew. They may also open their mouths wider than normal, or drop food. Rabbit's have a distinctive way of chewing, usually chewing in circular, side to side motions to help keep their teeth at a comfortable length. Rabbit's with dental disease may develop painful spurs or sharp points to the edges of their cheek teeth due to uneven wear which will alter their chewing. 


Any oral pain or discomfort can cause drooling, and this normally shows up as wet patches around the face, mouth, and chin. This may also cause the fur around the mouth to smell and fall out. Fur may also be discoloured yellow or green. 

Watery Eyes

Watery eyes or "dacrocystitis" in rabbits is the chronic inflammation of the tear ducts. Rabbit tear ducts are very narrow and long, and lie over the roots of the cheek teeth. When these ducts become blocked or inflammed, tears are unable to drain into the nose. It can affect one or both eyes, and is often caused by dental disease or by non dental related illnesses. 

Asymmetry of the Face 

If your rabbit’s face appears lopsided, or you feel bumps or hard spots that are not present on the other side, this may be due to abnormal dental changes, facial abscesses, or excessive tooth growth. Common places for these lumps and bumps to appear include around or under the eyes, along the jaw and near the chin. 

Teeth Poking Out From the Lips 

When the front teeth aka the incisors do not align it takes away the natural ability of these teeth to wear down normally, causing unrestricted growth, which may cause rabbits to grow “walrus” -like teeth. Malocclusion of the incisors can be congenital in nature, secondary to cheek teeth problems or from trauma. 

Reduced Appetite 

Eating more slowly or choosing different foods than before may be due to dental disease. Rabbits may also initially appear enthusiastic about food, then fail to eat, or eat slowly and drop food as they go. This may also be an early sign of gut stasis. Check out our article on Gut Stasis for more information. 

Bad Breath

There’s nothing better than bunny licks, except when that bunny has a stinky breath. Rabbits do not normally have bad breath, and it is a sign that there may be infection or ulceration in the mouth. Excessive drooling can also cause bad breath. 

Changes in Behaviour

Discomfort may cause a normally laid back rabbit to become grumpy and aggressive, or a rabbit that used to be clean may start to get unkempt and dirty. Rabbits with dental disease may also hide away and become more quiet and lethargic. Signs of pain in prey animals like rabbits are very subtle and can include: teeth grinding, rapid and shallow breathing, a hunched posture, a lack of movement and/or narrowed or squinting eyes. 


Diagnosing and Managing Dental Disease

Unlike dogs and cats it is difficult to examine the cheek teeth of a rabbit whilst conscious. Rabbits have a total of 28 teeth, 6 at the front and 22 at the back and their oral cavity is quite small. Special equipment is needed to assess these teeth during a routine physical exam and even then the view of these teeth is limited. Diagnosis of dental disease includes diagnostic imaging such as radiographs or CT scans as well as examination of the teeth under an anaesthetic. 

Once a thorough assessment of the teeth has been made, management of dental disease may include burring the teeth to return their length and occlusion to as close as normal, removing any diseased teeth where warranted and treating any infections or abscesses. 

If you are concerned that your rabbit may have dental disease, book an appointment with your vet ASAP. Regular health checks with an experienced exotics veterinarian is essential for maintaining your pet's health. 

Further Reading

Want to read more? Check out our other articles:

Top Tips to Get Your Pet to Eat More Hay

Rabbit Care Guide

Complete Feeding Guide for Pocket Pets

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