Why Do Rabbits Grind Their Teeth?

Few features loom larger in a rabbit’s life than their teeth. Rabbits spend much of their life grazing and noshing, which makes it essential that they make sure their teeth are in good shape. That, in turn, is part of the reason you can often find them chewing various things, to keep their teeth strong and healthy while also ensuring they don’t grow out of control.

But what if your rabbit isn’t merely chewing on things but grinding their teeth? It isn’t good for your dental health to grind your teeth against each other, and the same holds true for rabbits.

But why do rabbits do this, what different forms does tooth grinding in rabbits take, and what can you do about it?

Why Rabbits Grind Their Teeth

Part of what makes this issue difficult to ascertain is the fact that not all tooth grinding is the same. Most of the time, rabbits grind their teeth as a sign of stress, pain, or as part of an illness. However, there are instances in which rabbits will do this to relax and shorten their teeth.

Knowing which is which typically comes down to the volume. The louder they are grinding their teeth, the more likely the tooth grinding is due to pain or stress, while softer grinding is more commonly associated with relaxation and keeping their teeth in check.

Other key signs that your rabbit may be suffering from tooth pain include a refusal to engage with you or other humans, difficulty or reluctance exercising, a refusal to eat, drink, or groom themselves, biting you when you attempt to handle them, and alterations in their sleep patterns.

Tooth Grinding Versus Purring

If your rabbit grinds its teeth while you pet it, chances are it’s not actually grinding them but chattering them to produce a purring sound to indicate pleasure. While these sounds sound the same, a rabbit that is actually in pain typically won’t let you pet it, so if your rabbit is, it’s almost certainly purring rather than actually grinding its teeth. Some rabbits can also purr while sleeping which, again, to the untrained ear can sound like tooth grinding.

Key differences between tooth grinding and purring include:

  • The volume, with louder grinding almost always being due to grinding rather than purring
  • The rhythm, with purring being more melodious and soothing, with grinding sounding angrier
  • The frequency, with grinding being slower in tempo and purring being fast and continuous
  • Their eyes, as rabbits’ eyes bulge when they’re in pain
  • Their movements, as rabbits that move in rapid shakes are typically in pain and need help

What You Can Do About it?

If your rabbit is grinding its teeth, you need to help it. You don’t want your rabbit to remain in pain and distress, and you definitely don’t want it to bite itself or grind its teeth down so far as to damage them permanently. That said, you must never offer your rabbit a painkiller medication such as ibuprofen, as this will poison your rabbit.

Your rabbit may not let you touch it. This is normal, and you shouldn’t press the point. If you do need to move your rabbit, that is, to take them to the vet, it’s advisable to wear gloves to protect yourself against its biting and handle it as gently as possible. Treats can come in handy here. If your rabbit refuses to eat, dental or digestive problems should be a prime suspect. To check the latter, check your rabbit’s waste. Indications of blood can often (but does not necessarily) indicate a digestive issue. Rabbit droppings that are excessively wet, malformed, or diarrhetic can also be indicators of digestive distress.

In the case of an infection, your rabbit will need to see a vet. A vet should be able to offer rabbit-friendly antibiotics and painkillers.

A combination of factors may be to blame. For example, maybe your rabbit is trying to keep its teeth in check, but it’s already too late and they are too long, resulting in discomfort. If this is the case, it will need to have its teeth shortened by a vet who specializes in rabbit oral procedures. Schedule a meeting with your vet as soon as possible, and try and give your pet plenty of hay on which to chew.

Then there are the stress triggers. Rabbits are often anxious animals, and with good reason. In the wild, they are always one false step away from potentially being some predator’s dinner. Even when they live with you in the comfort of your home, any number of stress triggers can start your rabbit’s teeth grinding in anxiety.

A partial list of potential stress triggers include:

  • Sudden loud noises (remember that your rabbit has a much more acute sense of hearing than us, so what sounds like a “normal” noise to you may be loud to them, and loud noises will in turn sound even louder to them)
  • A sense of loneliness, isolation, ennui, and so on
  • Cars zooming by outside
  • Unclean living places
  • Too much light
  • Anxiety at being held too much by humans, especially strangers or new people
  • Bullying from other rabbits or pets in your home
  • Grief after the passing of a rabbit with whom they’ve lived for a long time
  • Feeling too hot or too cold
  • Being stuck in an area with bad ventilation
  • A change to their routine

Doing whatever you can to minimize or eliminate these stress factors can help you calm your rabbit and keep it from grinding its teeth.

There are several reasons why your rabbit may be grinding its teeth, and most of them aren’t good. At the same time, most of these reasons are also treatable. Calming your rabbit’s stress and addressing any medical or emotional needs it may have can help take care of this problem in a quick and timely manner. On the other hand, your rabbit may also just be chattering and purring with pleasure.

Whatever the case, paying close attention to your rabbit’s needs can help ensure that you nip any tooth grinding habits in the bud.