Rabbit Health Advice
Dental problems are probably the most common cause of serious disease in rabbits. Dental problems in rabbits are usually caused by a lack of calcium in the diet. This is often made worse by lack of Vitamin D in the diet & lack of exposure to sun shine. Rabbits require adequate levels of calcium & Vitamin D in their diet. Regular exposure to sun light, even in the winter, is beneficial in helping keeping adequate levels of Vitamin D in their blood, as well as being important psychologically. If you do have a run outside for your rabbits, then make sure they are cat proof.
A lack of calcium and/or Vitamin D often causes the teeth to grow abnormally. Sometimes the teeth grow with a greater curve than normal. Rabbits teeth normally grow all through the rabbits life, the same as guinea pigs, sheep, cattle & horses. Normally the teeth are worn down by eating grass or hay, as both contain a lot of fibre which wear the teeth down as fast as the teeth grow. If the teeth do not grow in the right shape & direction, they do not meet the opposing teeth properly and so part of the tooth might not be worn down in the right way and then often teeth form very sharp protrusions which either stick into the tongue or cheeks & make it very painful for the rabbit to ear. Pegs can develop on a tooth which make it impossible for the rabbit to chew its food properly. Sometimes some of the teeth stop growing altogether or even drop out. Often these rabbits are presented to the vet when they stop eating. Usually the vet has to look at the teeth using an endoscope or similar to examine the teeth at the back of the mouth. These sharp protrusions and pegs need removing & usually then need rasping to make the edges of the teeth smooth so they do not cut into the tongue or cheeks. At Airedale Vets we have special dental instruments which allow us to see right inside the mouth and to work on the teeth. We have special shears & rasps to let us work on rabbits teeth.
Prevention is the best measure. Muesli style dry foods are NOT recommended. Rabbits are often selective feeders, these Muesli style diets include the calcium and vitamin supplements in the small hard bits which pet rabbits often leave leading to an unbalanced diet with insufficient calcium. Over-feeding these foods often results in the rabbit eating less hay or grass with a reduction in fibre which can cause teeth problems, digestive problems & excessive weight gain. Diets which contain pellets which all look the same, such as Burgess Superabbit Excel or Supreme Science Selective can be fed but be careful not to give to much of these diets, as mentioned above.
A rabbit is adapted to eat grass and other vegatation. Grass and/or hay should be available at all times. Dandelions, chick weed, bramble leaves, and most garden weeds are palatable and nutritious. Green vegetables, herbs, pea pods, carrot and radish tops are all good foods for rabbits. Starchy roots like carrots and apples are high in calories so dont give too much. Changes in diet shoud be gradual, introducing new foods can trigger digestive upsets. Chocolate and sweet treats should never be fed to rabbits. Being overweight can stop a rabbit from being able to eat its night faeces (caecotrophs) which is essential for their health. Over weighjt rabbits can get dirty bottoms predisposing them to fly strike, back problems and are at much greater risk if unwell due to the high probability of developing hepatic lipidosis (fatal). Water bowls as well as water bottles are a good idea to encourage drinking as some rabbits can develop bladder problems. A safe, cat proof, area outside allows the rabbit to browse for its own food, enjoy some sunshine and have fun! The RSPCA recommends that you keep rabbits in groups of at least two rabbits.