At Castle Vets we often see rabbits, guinea pigs and rodents with a variety of dental problems. The teeth of most animals (including humans) stop growing after the initial development period, but rabbits, chinchillas, guinea pigs and rodents have teeth that grow continuously throughout their lives, which means dental problems will develop if these pets are unable to grind their teeth down through feeding and chewing.
Symptoms of a dental problem
- Decreased appetite: Your pet may stop eating completely or only manage very small amounts at a time.
- Pawing at or rubbing their face on things
- Swellings around the jaw area or under the eye
- Weight loss
- Runny eyes (one or both eyes may be involved)
- Discharge from the cheek or jaw area
- Overgrown teeth may be visible
If your pet is showing any of these symptoms, please book an appointment with your vet straight away.
Common causes of tooth problems
Insufficient gnawing materials – these are needed so that the pet can grind and wear their teeth down naturally as they grow.
Poor nutrition during development – this can lead to dental and bone abnormalities.
Poor nutrition after the growth period – this leads to dental abnormalities.
Traumatic injury and/or broken teeth – this can result in the rest of the teeth not aligning properly (malocclusion).
Cavities and periodontal disease – these may be caused by a poor diet (usually too much sugar!) and bacteria passed on from owners.
Genetic abnormalities – these are passed on from the parents (sadly, this is becoming much more common, especially in rabbits, because of poor breeding standards by irresponsible owners).
Common types of dental problems
Overgrown incisors will normally be visible outside the animals mouth, but they can sometimes grow up through the roof of the mouth or out through the cheek (as you can imagine, this is very painful).
Premolar and molar teeth can grow painful spurs that rub against the tongue and cheek of the animal causing ulceration and laceration.
Abscesses (a pocket of infected pus) can form because of infection in the mouth. They are most often seen as swellings around the jawline, cheek or under the eyes.
Dental Caries and tooth decay is usually caused by a diet of high energy and sweet foods (as in humans).
Treatment of dental problems
Fortunately there is treatment available for dental problems in rabbits and rodents
- Maloccluded or Overgrown Incisor teeth – The vet is usually able to clip or file these teeth down without the need for sedation or an anaesthetic if the pet will tolerate it. Some pets need to visit the vet every 1-2 months to have this procedure performed.
- Spurs on Pre-Molars or Molars – The vet may need to give your pet an anaesthetic in order to be able to file these teeth and make him or her more comfortable (sometimes this is possible with sedation).
- Dental abscesses – The treatment of these will depend on the location and severity of the problem. The abscesses of small animals do not drain well and often need to be surgically removed under an anaesthetic.
Care of pets with dental problems
A pet diagnosed with dental problems will often require regular visits to the vet for treatment, but you can help a great deal by providing the correct nutrition; feeding the right foods is vitally important and giving your pet a balanced diet will go a long way to helping with dental problems as it will enable them to grind their teeth down properly.
Preventing Dental Problems
Rabbits, guinea pigs and Chinchillas all require plenty of good quality eating hay and dried grass to help keep their digestive systems and teeth healthy.
All small animals should be able to gnaw on hard foods and veggies that will really work their jaws (check which ones are suitable for your pet first) as well as safe woods to chew on such as elm, ash, maple, birch, apple, orange, pear, peach and willow, which should be available in pet shops (do not give cedar, plum, redwood, cherry, and oleander).
we also recommend that you do not feed too many sweet and acidic treats to your pet to help prevent cavities from forming.
For further information on the correct diet for your pet, you can have a chat to one of our veterinary nurses or check out the links below.
If you suspect that your pet has a dental problem we recommend that he or she sees a vet as soon as possible as these problems can quickly become very serious for small pets.