Q: I have a six-year-old dwarf rabbit that has lately been having some dental problems. We have been feeding her lots of vegetables instead of the hard food that she has trouble with. “Daisy” is getting better now, but she lost a lot of weight. Can you recommend a type of food or vegetable that would help her regain that weight?
A: Dental problems are, sadly, quite common in pet rabbits. This is partly because of the type of diet they are fed – often just hard pellets advertised as providing complete nutrition. The trouble with these pellets is that they crumble easily in a rabbit’s chew-friendly jaws, providing little challenge and no variety. Meantime, the rabbit’s teeth grow continuously throughout its lifetime. Normally, the constant growth replaces bone ground away by constant gnawing on a variety of tough vegetation. In the absence of good gnawing material, the teeth keep growing and many different dental issues appear.
Pet rabbits should see a veterinarian at least once a year, and the vet should check their teeth every time. Owners must also observe their rabbit for signs of possible problems, such as improper tooth alignment (when at rest, the rabbit’s incisors can touch the teeth below, but the cheek teeth should not), lumps appearing on the bottom edge of the jawbone, or protruding eyes. Discharge from the nose, excessive tearing, dropping food out of the mouth, and reluctance to eat are also warning signals.
For Daisy, consult her veterinarian about the best diet to encourage healthy weight gain. During her recovery and when she is healthy again, make sure that she has lots of fresh vegetables to chew on every feeding time in addition to her pellets: carrots (with tops), fresh leafy greens, and all the grass hay she wants. A fresh tree branch (make sure it has not been sprayed with chemicals) will give her something to grind down her teeth between meals. Also, visit the following website for information on fresh diets for pet rabbits: www.rabbit.org.
Originally published February 19, 2007.
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