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FEEDING RABBITS THAT HAVE DENTAL DISEASE
In our YVCipedia article FEEDING RABBITS / PREVENTING DENTAL DISEASE we describe a balanced diet for pet rabbits. Acquired dental disease is a very common problem in rabbits, and there are some very important dietary modifications that should take place to assure maximum nutrition for a rabbit with dental disease.
We describe dietary needs for rabbits at different stages of dental disease. It is important to remember, however, that an individual rabbit in one stage might have different needs from those of most of the other rabbits with the same stage. It is also important to remember that despite effective management dental disease is invariably progressive, so the needs of each rabbit are likely to change over time.
RABBITS WITH MILD DENTAL DISEASE
Rabbits at a mild stage of dental disease have slightly elongated crowns in their mouths. They usually find chewing hay painful so they will not eat it. Finding an alternative source of long fiber is important.
- A constant supply of good quality hay or dried grass - essential, even if the rabbit does not appear to eat much of it. Dried grass is sold as an alternative to hay and is softer.
- Fresh grass - it can be picked and brought in to the rabbit, but if the rabbit can go out and graze in the sunshine, to allow it to synthesize and regulate its own vitamin C, that is ideal.
- A wide variety of leafy green plants - please see the list and notes in our other FEEDING RABBITS article.
- A very limited amount of pellets - or, if the rabbit is overweight and/or is eating hay or grass well, no pellets at all.
- Very limited amounts of fruit and root vegetables.
- No treats.
MODERATE DENTAL DISEASE
Rabbits with non-functional (overgrown, maloccluded) incisors but healthy cheek teeth have difficulty biting sections out of lumps of food but can still transport pieces of food to the cheek teeth where it can be ground up. Rabbits with moderate dental disease need to have their food chopped into managable pieces but can still eat hay and other fibrous foods.
ADVANCED DENTAL DISEASE
Rabbits with missing crowns and / or malocclusion of both the incisors and cheek teeth have difficulty picking up and chewing up food. They usually cannot eat hay, but can usually eat soft leafy green vegetables. Pellets may be necessary to help them maintain weight.
END-STAGE DENTAL DISEASE
Rabbits with end-stage dental disease have no functional crowns at all. They cannot eat hay or other hard food. Pellets become their primary lifeline, and may have to be softened. Fruit may upset their digestion, but limited amounts of soft fruit such as banana and soft apples can be fed. The rabbit might be able to eat bread and cereal but these are not very nutritious for rabbits and are best avoided. Syringe feeding with ground up pellets or prepared recovery diet may become necessary; if so, the rabbit's quality of life should be questioned, and euthanasia should be seriously considered.
Yarmouth Veterinary Center
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