Dental Disease in Rabbits Sabrina Story

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 Woburn, MA 01888-1102

Dedicated to educating the public and to fostering and adoption of companion rabbits. 781-431-1211 or

                                                                                                        Winter 2006

                                                                                                  Dental Disease
                                                                                                  in Rabbits . . . . . 2
                                                                                                  Sabrina’s Story. . 4
                                                                                                  Plus: Calvin’s Care
                                                                                                  Corner, HRN News,
                                                                                                  Love is in the Hare
                                                                                                  & Membership
Rabbit Tracks                                         Winter 2006                                                 Page 2

Dental Disease in Rabbits
by Alexandra Kilgore, DVM                 Causes of dental disease                  and infections. Acquired dental
                                          The most common causes of dental          disease with deterioration of the
Today, dental disease in rabbits
                                          disease in rabbits are genetic and        tooth quality, malocclusion and
is a very commonly diagnosed
                                          dietary. Genetic predisposition is        elongation of the roots with peri-
problem and is now recognized
                                          very common. Unfortunately with           apical abscesses is another form
as the underlying cause of numer-
                                          inbreeding, some rabbits are born         of dental disease in rabbits.
ous other disorders. For this reason
                                          with malocclusion. This is com-           Metabolic bone disease, genetics,
an understanding of dental health
                                          monly seen with the incisor teeth         and diet are all proposed causes
and physiology are crucial for vet-
                                          which                                     for this problem.
erinarians that treat rabbits and for
rabbit owners alike.                      overgrow
                                          and curl
Rabbits are herbivorous, naturally
eating a wide variety of vegetation
                                          when they
and roughage. A unique feature of
                                          do not
rabbits is that all of their teeth are
                                          meet prop-
open rooted which means that their
                                          erly. These
teeth grow continually throughout
their life. A healthy rabbit eating a
                                          often need
proper diet constantly chewing will
                                          to have
wear down the teeth as they grow.
                                          their teeth
Signs of dental disease
                                          every 1-2
Signs of dental disease are very          months or
broad and may be non specific.                                        Rabbit with severely over grown incisors.
                                          have the
Early signs can be subtle and may                               (Inset Photo: Rabbit with single over grown incisor.)
not be immediately noticeable to          teeth extracted. Some rabbits are
the rabbit owner. The rabbit may          born with elongated skulls which           Diagnosis
change its food preferences, stop         also leads to dental occlusion             Because dental disease is so
eating certain things that may be         problems. Another common cause             important in rabbits, a dental exam
difficult to chew, or drop food           is diet. Many rabbits are primarily        should be a part of the annual
from its mouth. The rabbit may            fed a diet of pellets. Because the         physical examination. As part of
have some weight loss or may              pelleted food is dense in nutrient         the exam, the veterinarian will
look unkempt from a change in             content and is already pulverized,         check for the overall body condi-
grooming habits, especially if the        the rabbit chews less. Rabbits’            tion, the condition of the coat,
incisors are overgrown. Advanced          molars curl as they continually            drainage from the eyes, swelling
signs of dental disease may be            grow. With decreased wear from             under the jaw bone, and saliva
excessive salivation, loss of appetite,   less chewing, the lower molars             staining of the fur under the chin,
malodorous breath, and severe             develop points that grow into the          which can all be indications of
weight loss. Also, the rabbit may         tongue and the upper molars                dental disease. The incisor teeth
present for another problem such          develop points that grow out into          are checked by lifting the lips to
as GI stasis, an abscess, or an           the cheeks. These changes occur            check their length and occlusion.
infected tear duct, all secondary         gradually with time and can lead           The sides of the cheeks are palpated
to the primary dental disease.            to many secondary problems                 for any sharp protrusions. The vet-
                                          including abrupt loss of appetite          erinarian will insert a speculum
Rabbit Tracks                                          Winter 2006                                               Page 3

and/or an otoscope to visually            system for grading the extent of
evaluate the molars. Very often the       dental disease based on radiographs
veterinarian is able to see points        has been developed. While under
or spurs on the molars and will           anesthesia, the x-rays may be taken
recommend a more complete                 to evaluate the tooth roots for
dental exam and filing of the             elongation and periapical abscesses.
molars under anesthesia based
upon his/her observations.                Treatment
The dental examination under              Treatment of dental disease will         Instruments used in rabbit dentistry.
anesthesia can be performed safely        depend on the stage of the disease
                                          at the time of diagnosis. In all         Blocked tear ducts are another
after a preanesthetic blood profile
                                          cases, rabbits that are severely         problem seen in rabbits with
and full exam are performed to be
                                          debilitated from anorexia, GI stasis,    overgrown incisor roots. The tip
sure that the rabbit is in good health
                                          or severe infection will need to be      of the root is very close to the tear
and low risk for anesthesia. The
                                          stabilized first. Administration of      duct so inflammation or elongation
anesthetic agents are chosen based
                                          fluids, maintenance of body tem-         of the root can cause a blockage.
upon the age and health status of
                                          perature, pain medications and           The owner will notice tears and
the rabbit, the length of time of
                                          antibiotics may be the first steps       sometimes pus spilling onto the
anesthesia and the expected diffi-
                                          along with restoring adequate            face from the eyes. To diagnose
culty. Pain medications are also
                                          nutrition. Once the rabbit is stable,    this problem an x-ray contrast
utilized to decrease the stress of
                                          it may safely undergo anesthesia         medium can be instilled into the
the procedure and improve the
                                          for the dental exam.                     duct and an x-ray taken to demon-
rabbit’s recovery. Specialized instru-
                                                                                   strate the blockage. Another test is
ments are utilized to visualize the       For severely overgrown incisors, a       to place fluorescein stain solution
oral cavity including cheek spread-       dental drill can be used to trim the     into the eye and check with a UV
ers, an incisor speculum, and a                    incisors. This is a problem     light for the dye passing out of the
                                                   that tends to be chronic        nostril. This is a difficult problem
                                                   and repeat trimmings at         to treat. Sometimes, the tear duct
                                                   regular intervals are           can be flushed while the rabbit is
                                                   needed. For some rabbits        awake or under anesthesia and
                                                   the best option is to extract   the drainage can be restored.
                                                   the incisors. Incisor extrac-   Repeated flushing may be needed.
                                                   tion is a major surgical        Often the veterinarian will prescribe
                                                   procedure and is done           an antibiotic ointment to help pre-
                                                   under anesthesia. The two       vent an infection. The owner should
                                                   long upper and two long         keep the area under the eye clean
                                                   lower incisors and the          and dry to avoid secondary infection.
                                                   two upper peg teeth are
                                                   extracted with special          For severely overgrown molars or
                                                   elevators. The rabbits are      molars with points, a low speed
 View of rabbits mouth during dental procedure.
                                                   sent home on antibiotics,       dental drill with a straight dental
                                                   pain medications and            bur can be used to file down the
special light source. Special dia-        some soft food for a few days.           molars and correctly reshape the
mond files, rongeurs, and straight        Fortunately the rabbits are able to      teeth. Periapical infections of the
dental burs on a low speed drill          prehend food with their lips and         molar roots are common in
are used to remove points and file        do well with this procedure after        acquired dental disease and often
the teeth down. In recent years a         a few days of nursing care.              lead to the formation of abscesses
Rabbit Tracks                                      Winter 2006                                                  Page 4

and infection in the surrounding       Prevention                               call the veterinarian promptly if
bone. If an abscess is present,        Unfortunately most dental diseases       a problem is suspected. Regular
surgical treatment is required to      in rabbits tend to be chronic. Exams     yearly physicals with a dental exam
remove the entire abscess and          and filing need to be done on a          are essential and allow early diag-
the capsule. Involved bony tissue      regular basis and infections treated     nosis of a problem and the best
should be debrided. Antibiotic         promptly. The best way to prevent        prognosis for resolution.
impregnated beads or antibiotic        dental disease is to make sure the
saturated umbilical tape drains        rabbit is on a proper diet with
can be placed into the abscess                                                  Dr. Alexandra Kilgore is a veteri-
                                       good quality hay and leafy greens
cavity. Sometimes intraoral                                                     narian at Littleton Animal Hospital
                                       offered every day. Avoid feeding
extraction of diseased molars is                                                in Littleton, MA.
                                       mainly pellets. Be aware of the
also necessary along with flush-       many signs of dental disease and
ing of the root socket.

Sabrina’s Story
by Liz McGovern                        In February of 2005, I attended          the one that caught my attention
                                       my first House Rabbit Network            was the one sitting in her litterbox
“Ian!” I cry through the phone.
                                       Meeting. I had decided to lend           as I reached in for it. Without a fuss,
“I think someone switched bunnies
                                       my knowledge of bunnies to an            she hopped out, stood up with her
on me!”
                                       organization looking out for the         brown ears stretched to attention.
“Liz,” he whines back. I can tell he   welfare of rabbits. After I lost my
                                                                                “I don’t remember meeting you last
is tired of this conversation, but I   first rabbit, the thought of not par-
                                                                                time I was here! You’re so cute!”
can’t let it go. I really do believe   ticipating in the lives and devel-
someone switched my bunny with         opment of rabbits became intoler-        Her left ear cocked back as her
another. “She’s just a happy bunny!”   able, but I knew I wasn’t ready to       right ear cocked forward. I stroked
                                       adopt. I knew I couldn’t, and I knew     that special place between her ears
I bend down and sneak a peek
                                       I wouldn’t. The pain of Seymour’s        (all bunnies have it!) and simpered
under the bureau at a white ball
                                       unexpected death twisted inside          as I heard some gentle, purring
of fur with accentuating brown
                                       me and the idea of taking in             clicks. I called out to Suzanne
markings. She wriggles her nose,
                                       another rabbit caused tears to well      and Helena on the other side of
stands, stretches, and darts out
                                       in my eyes. Even as I pet some of        the room, “I hear happy noises!”
into the open space. Halfway
across the floor she stops and         the rabbits in the foster home, I felt   Helena looks up and says, “That’s
stares at me before running back       my heart breaking.                       great! I remember when Sabrina
to her place under the bureau and      A month later found me in a base-        first came we couldn’t even pet her!
grabbing a colorful plastic toy in     ment with Suzanne and Helena,            She darted back and forth in her
her mouth. She tosses it, and the      cleaning cages. I was amazed at          cage, ‘Don’t pet me! Don’t pet me!’”
sight is too much for me to bear.      all the nuances and differences          Once the chores had been com-
“Ian!!!”                               in personalities. I awed at the way      pleted, Helena and I spent some
“What?”                                each little one responded to tones       time just being with the bunnies,
“She’s playing!”                       of voice and pets. Some greedily         and compelled by an indefinable
“See! She’s just a happy bunny.”       poked their heads out. Others stood      urge, I spent most of my time next
And I hope she is.                     and surveyed from a distance, but        to Sabrina’s pen. Before I even
Rabbit Tracks                                         Winter 2006                                               Page 5

knew what I was doing, I lifted the      The past seven months has yielded       relationship would work is if I
little princess out of her confines      a great many changes. Sabrina and       inflicted attention on her — a little
and held her in the crook of my          I have learned how to communi-          at a time. I made it a point of pet-
elbow. Her red eyes stared up at         cate. I have learned that if she        ting her once a day, and only once.
me with a look I had seen before         jumps at my hand with her paws,         When she would leap at my arm
in the children I kept company           I should lower my hands down            in anger or defense, I would gaze
when volunteering in Maine               and ask her what has her so upset.      incredulously at her and say, “I’m
Medical Center’s children’s ward:        She pauses, looks at my hand, and       not afraid of you, Missy!” I cleaned
“I want to go home. I trust you          resorts to a grunt when I remove        her pen when she was out explor-
to get me there.”                        her water dish. I have learned that     ing, and I purposefully put her toys
                                         she would prefer it if I take off any   back in different places so she
But I couldn’t take a bunny home
                                                             bracelets when      would have to rearrange her house
. . . I don’t have a job . . . I don’t
                                                                                 to her likings again.
have the space . . . I’m barely
keeping myself together. It would                                                For awhile, Sabrina’s aggressive
be nothing short of irresponsible                                                behavior escalated. She knew
for me to adopt an animal right                                                  what belonged to her, and she
now — especially one who needs                                                    was bound and determined to
as much attention as this one.                                                     protect it at all costs. I didn’t go
                                                                                    a day without hearing the livid
“Hello? May I speak with
                                                                                    guttural noises rumbling from
                                                                                     her belly and into her nose.
                                                                                     I couldn’t escape a day without
“I’ve been thinking about
                                                                                 a new scratch on my hand. When
Sabrina all day………I’ll take
                                                                                 I would give her treats, she would
                                                                                 attack my hand until the treat lay
“Oh, that’s awesome!”
                                                                                 on the ground. But she wouldn’t
Close to three weeks later (April                                                touch it until I turned away. After
27th, in fact) found Sabrina in the                                              several weeks I made a resolution:
kitchen of my small apartment in         petting her and that if she appears
                                                                                 I would not give up on her. I refused
Somerville. My roommate Tope             in any way to be aggressive, it is
                                                                                 to give her treats if she couldn’t
and her fiancé David sat in the          because she is afraid something
                                                                                 take them nicely. She could paw at
living room while my boyfriend           belonging to her will not come
                                                                                 my fingers all she wanted, but she
Ian and friend Jeff cut wood,            back. But learning these very
                                                                                 would not get the treat until she
hammered nails, and drilled in           minute nuances of character and
                                                                                 could learn to take it nicely with
screws to loft my bed. I attended        action came over time. The first
                                                                                 her mouth. Around two weeks
an event at Tufts with Suzanne,          three months, Sabrina wanted
                                                                                 after I started this method of treat-
and when I arrived home several          nothing to do with me. She would
                                                                                 giving, Sabrina’s grunts decreased
hours later, I had one angry rabbit      come out of her pen and tentatively
                                                                                 in animosity until they almost dis-
on my hands. I can’t say I blame         explore the hallway. If I caught her
                                                                                 appeared. When I sensed that she
her because a long trip that ended       cleaning her face, playing with a
                                                                                 had given in to my way of handling
in such a chaotic environment            toy, eating, drinking, or behaving
                                                                                 her, I began to offer her pets as she
would have had me at my wits’            in any other bunny manner, she
                                                                                 nibbled on her dried cranberries.
end as well. At the end of the day,      would immediately stop what she
                                                                                 The first day or two led to a shocked
Sabrina was in her new pen and           was doing, and sit quietly, one ear
                                                                                 expression in her bright red eyes,
took her rightful place as the           cocked forward, one ear cocked
                                                                                 and she made a point of running
monster under my bed.                    back. I decided the only way this
                                                                                 away as soon as she had swallowed
Rabbit Tracks                                      Winter 2006                                              Page 6

her dessert. A few days more and        her, but I do know a quiet persist-    have only because she enjoys
I could pet her before giving her       ence was the way to gain her trust.    destroying it. She has taken to
the treat.                                                                     letting me know when she disap-
                                        This last month especially has
                                                                               proves of my reading material by
I don’t know what happened to           seen great improvements. Even
                                                                               sauntering over and pawing at
Sabrina that made her so aggres-        my roommate, who has two
                                                                               the book. Just three weeks ago
sive and angry, but I have some         mini-lops of her own, has noticed
                                                                               while reading Lemony Snicket’s
theories. Some of it is just her, and   how Sabrina has become more
                                                                               The Penultimate Peril, she took
that’s okay. But a good portion of      brave, less aggressive and more
                                                                               the corner of the book in her
it had to have come from else-          responsive to people. Ian, when
                                                                               mouth and tossed it aside. She’ll
where. While Sabrina has learned        he visits, remarks how she grunts
                                                                               poke her face into mine, but when
to enjoy a little attention, she will   even less now than she did the
                                                                               I reach to stroke behind her ears,
never be a rabbit who enjoys lots       last time. It’s true she still wants
                                                                               she’ll turn tail. But she doesn’t
of attention. I wonder if her earlier   nothing to do with sitters and will
                                                                               mind so much when she’s under
life involved people acquiescing        resort to misbehaving when I’m
                                                                               the bureau.
too much to her request to be left      not around (just ask Helena and
alone, resulting in a lack of atten-    Shannon!), but would she be a          We’re still learning about each
tion in the end, or if just the oppo-   bunny at all if she didn’t? She        other, and we still have a ways to
site — she received too much            throws her toys out in the open.       go, but mostly, we’re content just
unwanted attention that she started     She runs into the living room          to have the other nearby. A lost
to repel it. I do not expect to ever    without a second thought to            cause, after all, is still a cause.
fully know which way it was for         destroy an old chair that I still

                      Water             only drink from one. If you get        sider purchasing a sturdy ceramic
                      Bottles           your rabbit home and don’t see         bowl that was made for humans.
                       Versus           them drinking within a day, you        If you see a crack or a chip, throw
                       Crocks           need to purchase the other type!       the crock out! Some humans don’t
                       Welcome                                                 like the crocks because it is easy
                                        Many people like having a crock
                       back read-                                              to get the water dirty and because
                                        for their rabbits. It is generally
                         ers! Calvin                                           of that they might need to be
                                        believed that most rabbits will
                          here, and                                            changed more often. Then there
                                        drink more from a crock. If you
                          I’ve been     choose to use one, you should get
                          asked to      one that is sturdy. Lightweight
                         respond        bowls will easily tip over and
                        to that age     spill, which not only makes a
                     old question,      mess, but then your rabbit may
should rabbits have a crock or          not have water to drink. If you
a water bottle to drink from?           choose a ceramic crock, keep in
There are good and bad features         mind that lead paint laws that apply
to both, so I thought I should          to human products do not cover
explain the difference. Most rabbits    merchandise you purchase for your
will drink from either a crock or a     pet and some countries still use
bottle, but there are a few that will   lead paints. You may want to con-
Rabbit Tracks                                         Winter 2006                                                      Page 7

are the rabbits that enjoy throwing       purchase one that has a round ball           Bottom line — both have good
their toys into their water dish!         in the tube. Some have a metal stick/        and bad features. It is really a
The good side is that they are easy       prong in the tube that rabbits need          matter of personal preference
to clean and refill.                      to push in with their tongues, and           for both your rabbit and for you.
                                          rabbits really don’t like that. Some         Just make sure you clean and
Bottles are another option. They are
                                          bottles will leak and they can lose          refill them every day!
easy to hang outside the cage and
                                          their seal with time, so they need to
the water stays pretty clean. You can                                                  Do you have a question for me?
                                          be replaced more often. They are
fill a large bottle which will easily                                                  Email:!
                                          also more difficult to clean and fill.
last an entire day. Make sure you

HRN News                                                                               rabbit massage day to benefit
                                                                                       HRN. Even though this was the
                                                                                       first time most of the attending
Easter Awareness!                                                                      rabbits had ever received a massage,
This year the House Rabbit                                                             all relaxed under Lynne’s gentle
Network is once again part-                                                            touch, and their enjoyment was
nering with the Columbus,                                                              evident. The event was even cov-
OH Chapter of HRS in the                                                               ered by the Milford Daily News,
“Make Mine Chocolate”                                                                  giving valuable publicity to the
campaign. We are also using                                                            idea of rabbits as "real" pets.
our own resources such as the
Easter flyer on our website.                                                           Lynne’s first experience with rabbits
Since unwanted former Easter                                                           was at an HRN education day held
                                          they will be seen by parents                 at the same location almost a year
bunnies are a problem for virtually
                                          (libraries, schools, day care), write        before. She asked if she could try
all rabbit rescues and animal
                                          letters to the editors of local news-        massaging the HRN rabbit in
shelters, the goal of this campaign
                                          papers and national magazines, ask           attendance, and has been working
is to address the problem at its
                                          local clergy to address the issue            with rabbits ever since. The owner
source, by reducing the number of
                                          and tradition of “Easter bunnies”,           of "Paws That Matter Pet Massage,"
uneducated, impulse purchases of
                                          and sign up for education days at            Lynne will travel to clients’ homes to
live rabbits as Easter gifts. This is a
                                          pet stores and community events!             massage rabbits and other pets too.
very difficult task, as the public is
bombarded with this familiar sym-         Help spread the word — rabbits               She can be reached through her
bol of Easter in television com-          are NOT disposable pets!                     website
mercials, candy packaging, and                                                         or by calling (508) 229-8302.
toy stores.                                                                        Lynne Flanagan massaging “Daisy”.
                                          Bunny Massage
We will once again be offering the
                                          For seven lucky rabbits,
“Make Mine Chocolate” pins on
                                          November 6 was a day
our website and at select locations.
                                          of relaxation and tooth-
Sweatshirts, tee-shirts, and magnets
                                          purrs. At Especially For
will be available directly from
                                          Pets in Medway, certified
                                          pet massage therapist
We need your help in making this          Lynne Flanagan gener-
campaign a success. Hang flyers           ously donated her time
(one is available on page 9) where        and talent by holding a
Rabbit Tracks                                       Winter 2006                                                 Page 8

Upcoming                                 Parlee's Farm Easter Egg Hunt            out all of our available rabbits
                                         135 Pine Hill Rd., Chelmsford            on our website.
Education Events                         April 8 & 9, 10:30 a.m. – 2:30 p.m.
Peabody Petco                            (weather permitting)                     HRN Merchandise!
Saturday, February 18
                                         Education Events are announced           Want to show your HRN pride?
11:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m.
                                         all the time. Please do check            HRN has set up a Cafepress site
Animal Spirit                            our website regularly to see when        with HRN logo merchandise for
Mass Avenue, Cambridge                   we’ll be at a pet store near you!        sale. There are mugs, tote bags,
Saturday, March 25                                                                a license plate frame, pillows,
10:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m.                   2005 Adoptions!                          a teddy bear, tiles, stickers,
Topsfield Petco                          In 2005, HRN adopted out                 magnets, caps, a large variety
Saturday, April 8                        110 rabbits to their new, forever        of clothing, and more! All pro-
11:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m.                   homes! Let’s see if we can add           ceeds benefit HRN. Go to
                                         to that number in 2006. Check  

Love is in the                           and play time. The benefit is that
                                         you get to enjoy watching them
                                                                                  mate for your current bun. You can
                                                                                  have twice the joy!
                                                          snuggle and
Hare                                                      love each other.
                                                                                  You can purchase Love is
                                                                                  in the Hare merchandise at
                                                          Your buns will
In this sea-                                                            
                                                          be happier!
son of love,
have you                                                   If you have a
considered                                                 single rabbit,
a pair of                                                  have you con-
rabbits?                                                   sidered getting
Rabbits are                                                a mate for your
social ani-                                                friend? Most
mals that                                                  rabbits are
love the                                                   happier if
companionship of another bunny.          they have a friend to keep them
Watching them snuggle and play           company while you sleep and
together is a joy. They are clearly      work. You can check out our
devoted to their mates.                  handsome bachelors and pretty
                                         bachelorettes on our website.              “Love is in the Hare” sweatshirt
The House Rabbit Network has                                                       and teddy bear. Just a few of the
many pairs of rabbits available for      In this season of love, consider            items available on CafePress.
adoption. Adopting a pair of rabbits     adopting a pair of rabbits or a
really isn't much more
work than adopting a
single bunny. Since the
rabbits live together,
you need only one cage,
water bottle, food dish,
etc. The buns share cage
space, food, litter box             “Couples” from House Rabbit Network that have found their “forever homes”!
                             This is a                                                                                             This is a
                               TOY                                                                                               COMMITMENT

                                                                                                Did you know:
         Rabbits are not suitable pets for young children.                                                               G
                                                                                                                              It is important to spay or neuter a rabbit,
         Most rabbits don’t like being held and are easily                                                                    and provide veterinary care.
         injured if dropped.                                                                                             G
                                                                                                                              Rabbits should be housed indoors and provided
         The average lifespan of a rabbit is 7–10 years.                                                                      with a safe exercise space.

  BEFORE                                                                                                  RABBIT,                                                                                    FACTS.

                                                YOU GET A                                                                                               GET THE
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                                    and introductory guide to rabbit care and behavior.
                        Visit our website at or call our Hotline at 781-431-1211.







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Rabbit Tracks                                             Winter 2006                                          Page 10

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                                                  PDF format via email             2nd Edition
   Mini Lop . . . . . . . . . $      25.00
                                                  (significant savings for HRN)    at $20.00 each            $_________
   New Zealand . . . . . $           50.00
                                                  Hard copy via U.S. Mail          Membership:              $_________
   Flemish Giant . . . . . $ 100.00
                                                                                   Other Contribution:      $_________
   Mix (other) . . . . . . . $_________
                                                                                   Total:                   $_________
Street                                                             Apt.
City                                           State               Zip
Phone                                          Email

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