When Chester Couldn’t Chew

I took my 85th rescued rabbit in for an exam. Dr. Marliss Geissler couldn’t believe that in 85 rescues, I had never seen a malocclusion.”We need to compare our statistics,” she laughed. “I was under the impression that 30-40% of all rabbits had malocclusion.” We concluded, that because more rabbits with malocclusion were brought to the doctor for evaluation than rabbits with normal “bites,” Dr. Geissler had a skewed impression.

After I had learned to deal with malocclusions of the front teeth and their ongoing need for trimming or filing, I had yet to learn about a lesser known tooth problem–molar spurs (jagged points). Frankly, it’s now a great relief to me when spurs are found on the molars of a seemingly sick rabbit, because it is relatively simple to resolve.

When we rescued 6-year-old Chester last year, he appeared to be in perfectly good health, but a little sloppy in his toilet habits. Three months after he had settled in comfortably, I thought his habits were suddenly improved. Then I realized he wasn’t eliminating at all, and he wasn’t eating either. Shared litterboxes and food dishes make these things harder to observe. When I thought about it, I realized he had also been quieter than usual, sitting by his water bowl with a wet chin and dewlap.

Fearing a serious intestinal problem, I immediately made a veterinary appointment. All experienced fosterers know that anorexia in a rabbit is nothing to take lightly. We also have a penchant for blaming ourselves for any oversights. Had I fed him anything bad lately? Did I give him too many pellets? Did I give him enough fiber?

When Dr. Harvey put the otoscope in Chester’s mouth, she saw that his cheek was bloody and then found the spike that was doing the damage and causing his pain. I left him at the hospital for the next few hours so that she could anesthetize him and file his molar. When I took Chester home later that afternoon, he was a brand new hungry bunny, happy to be able to eat again.

Marinell Harriman

House Rabbit Journal Spring 1997: Volume III, Number 9