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Rabbits grinding their teeth can be a good thing or a bad thing. Unfortunately, learning which griniding is good and which is bad takes experience.
For one thing, not all rabbits are the same. Some are loud grinders, some are soft grinders, and some never seem to grind at all.
I say this a lot, but it’s worth remembering when it comes to rabbit care: don’t panic if you hear your rabbit grinding their teeth and you don’t know why, but also don’t hesitate to call the vet if you’re worried.
Rabbits grind their teeth when they’re in pain
Especially if the pain is dental related.
Rabbit’s teeth grow continuously, which is why it’s so important that the majority of their diet is made up of hay.
As well as providing much-needed fibre, hay helps to wear down their teeth and prevent them from becoming overgrown.
Even if your rabbit eats a lot of hay, some are predisposed to have dental issues.
All rabbit caregivers need to keep an eye on their rabbit’s teeth, but those of us with dwarf and lop breeds need to be especially vigilant. These breeds have shorter faces which can cause dental issues.
Sometimes rabbits grow painful spurs on their teeth which require filing. The vet can file them down, but you need to ensure your rabbit is eating enough hay and has toys to gnaw on, since prevention is better than cure.
If your rabbit has runny eyes, discharge in their ears, or has problems eating, they could be suffering from overgrown teeth.
It’s worth remembering that as rabbits age, their teeth become looser and lose some density (because that’s what happens when you’re old!).
This can lead to infections, so keep an ear out for grinding. Since rabbits have such a small head, and all those, ear, mouth, and eye tubes are connected, infections can spread quickly.
Rabbits grind their teeth when they’re stressed
See, they’re just like us!
Rabbits are easily stressed, so if you notice your rabbit grinding their teeth, make sure they’re not being put under unnecessary stress.
Events that don’t seem stressful to us are massively stressful to rabbits. And to be fair, some rabbits are super chill and don’t stress easily, but others will hide away if you so much as pet someone’s dog when you’re out.
It’s hard to tell if your rabbit is under stress, especially if they’re naturally skittish. Literally all you can do is minimise any potential stress within reason.
(I say within reason because if I didn’t do the things that stressed out bunny I wouldn’t be able to:
- Clean her litter tray
- Put on the extractor fan for the oven
- Run up the stairs
- Put on the washing machine
- water my plants
- There are probably a hundred other things)
You need to be especially empathetic when it comes to stressful events for your rabbits.
I would never, ever even consider introducing Holly to a dog.
Not because I think rabbits and dogs can’t get on – I’ve seen plenty of evidence to the contrary.
But Holly is naturally nervy – I often joke she’s like Mrs. Bennet in rabbit form (a little Pride & Prejudice reference for any fans out there!) and I would hate to frighten her (though I persist with the vacuum).
Holly doesn’t actually grind her teeth from the stress that I know of – if she’s frightened she goes and hides out in her box) – but many rabbits do.
Rabbits grind their teeth when they’re content
Yeah, I know.
How are you meant to know if the grinding is a sign of stress if contented bunnies do it??
In my experience, rabbits are quieter when they grind their teeth in a contented way. It’s more like a gentle clicking of their teeth.
Daisy (our little head tilt bun) grinds her teeth when we stroke her in a specific way (index finger on her forehead, thumb on her cheek) and I assume that means she’s content.
She certainly doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to telling us off for stroking her wrong.
Rabbits grind their teeth in their sleep
Again, this is a quieter, more gentle clicking noise than the louder grind of a bun in distress.
It’s usually something they do when they’re in the acclaimed ‘loaf’ position (outstretched paws optional), and sometimes it gets so intense their whole body rocks side to side with the effort of teeth grinding.
I don’t know if this is just my experience, but I’ve never heard a rabbit do this when they’ve flopped, only when they’re upright.
(In other news, Holly doe THE BEST flops. Right over on her back with a crash that sounds like I’ve dropped a lead weight).
I’ve also noticed that their lips move a lot more when they’re grinding in their sleep, and they chomp their lips a bit. It’s freaking adorable. Sometimes their eyelids move in tandem.
When should I worry about my rabbit grinding their teeth?
Since overgrown teeth is such a common problem in rabbits, I’d consider a vet visit if I noticed any ‘extra’ teeth grinding.
I wouldn’t personally recommend checking your rabbit’s teeth yourself unless you know what you’re looking for.
Rabbits have very small mouths (though weirdly long tongues, like pink spaghetti) and they rarely thank you for looking in them. Make a vet do it instead.
Some animals use tooth grinding and clicking as a means of communication, but I don’t think rabbits do that (I’m happy to be corrected though!). I used to have degus that did though.
Rabbits prefer to communicate by nudging each other or demanding kisses by shoving their heads under the other one’s. It seems quite a demanding language, but it works for them.