Rabbits and guinea pigs, along with other mammals such as prairie dogs, pikas, mice, chinchillas, beavers and rats, have what is known as open-rooted teeth. These teeth grow throughout the life of the animal, and are kept worn down to the proper length through the normal biting off and chewing of tough plant matter- stems, leaves, branches and roots. This is one reason why hay is such an important part of the diet of domesticated rabbits, guinea pigs, and chinchillas.
A maloccluded rabbit. Eating becomes impossible for these animals, and they starve to death if their incisors are not trimmed or removed. This bunny had his incisors surgically removed by an experienced vet, and became a well-loved companion rabbit.
Malocclusion can occur for many reasons, and is a life-threatening issue if not attended to. Incisors can be trimmed every 3 – 4 weeks by a person properly trained in the procedure, or the incisors can be removed by a rabbit-savvy vet. Bunnies who have had their incisors removed do very well. They need large leaves torn up for them, and hard vegetables and fruits such as carrots and apples chopped or grated, but can usually manage pellets, hay, and most greens just fine.
Sometimes tooth roots can become infected and abscess. Surgery and rabbit-and-guinea pig-safe antibiotics can save animals and give them back a normal life in many cases.
Here are two medical cases that we currently dealing with: Nellie and Marcus. Their symptoms are typical of patients with abscessed tooth roots.
Nellie had her eye removed due to it being pushed out by a fast-growing abscess underneath. She is on antibiotics and we flush her eye socket daily to keep it clean. Nellie is cheerful and has a good appetite, and we hope to have the infection cleared soon. She has had dental and TMJ issues for the past couple of years which we have been able to manage with supplemental feeding, pain meds, antibiotics, and regular oral exams.
Nellie lives happily with her four friends doing all the things guinea pigs love to do- eating, sleeping, and standing by the baby-gate jumping and wheeking in anticipation of more food.
Update 5/24/11: Nellie is doing very well! Her weight is back up to where it should be for the first time in two years. We hope to have her off of antibiotics soon.
Marcus’ first symptoms were a weepy eye and intermittent drooling. The vet prescribed antibiotics, but then a huge abscess appeared on his neck. The vet opened two incisions to reach the interlacing pockets of the abscess, which she cleaned and we flush daily.
We are hoping to clear the infection medically, but if this is not possible, the vet may have to do more extensive surgery, which would likely result in his having his two lower incisors removed. If this is the case, we will have his upper incisors removed at the same time to eliminate the necessity for monthly tooth trims. Without lower incisors for his uppers to wear down against, he would have to have his upper incisors trimmed every month for the rest of his life.
Update 5/24/11: Marcus is also doing very well! His abscesses have been difficult to eliminate, with tentacles reaching up into his jaw as well as through his neck, but our persistence is paying off. The antibiotics, flushing, and weekly cleanings by the vet have cleared up most of the infection now and it looks like Marcus will be able to keep his teeth! He has also slowly been regaining his weight, and is a handsome looking boy once again.
Here are links to further reading about malocclusion in rabbits and guinea pigs:
Donations to support our work are gratefully accepted! They can be made to the Friendly Farms Medical Fund at the Avian and Exotic Clinic of the Monterey Peninsula.