Spot the signs of small furry pet dental problems

January 7, 2022

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What do hamsters, guinea pigs, and rabbits have in common, besides being cute small furry pets?

The answer is that they all have teeth that grow continuously. Their teeth are worn down through constant chewing on fibrous materials such as grass and hay so need to keep growing throughout their lives.

Clarendon Street Veterinary Surgery are hopping onboard with February’s Pet Dental Health Month and sharing advice to help owners of small furry pets to learn about their pets’ dental needs.

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Common small furry pet dental problems

A common dental problem that rabbits, guinea pigs, and hamsters face is overgrown teeth. If teeth are not kept at a healthy length by chewing food and gnawing, they can become too long and cause a variety of issues such as:

  • Pain and discomfort
  • Difficulty eating (after around 6 hours this becomes an emergency situation for rabbits & guinea pigs who should graze almost constantly)
  • Roots getting pushed back into the jaw & skull
  • Teeth breaking off causing discomfort (typically in hamsters)
  • Overgrown teeth digging into the mouth and gums causing cuts and abscesses
  • Dental disease

How to spot the signs

Spotting dental health problems in rabbits and other small furry pets can be tricky to the untrained eye. As prey animals, their instinct is to hide pain and avoid showing any sign of weakness.

That’s why it is important for you as an owner to keep a lookout for any, or a combination of the symptoms below. Take a note of your pet’s general health, as well as how the inside of their mouth looks.

Common signs of dental problems:

  • Long, deformed, misaligned, or broken teeth
  • Redness of the gums
  • Drooling
  • Grinding teeth
  • Bumpy jawline
  • Weepy eyes
  • Runny nose
  • Swollen face
  • Mouth sensitivity
  • reduced appetite
  • Weight loss
  • A dirty bottom (grooming becomes difficult & painful)
  • Diarrhoea or unusually soft faeces
  • A reduction in activity

How to avoid hamster, guinea pig & rabbit dental problems

Diet is the key to avoiding these types of issues. Hamsters, guinea pigs, and rabbits need the right type of fibrous food they can chew on to keep their teeth at a healthy length. Balanced nutrition also helps them develop strong bones and teeth, just as it does in humans.

  • Rabbits need lots of fresh timothy hay to chew on as part of their daily diet. A commercial diet is fine but the main food for a rabbit is grass and hay. Time spent out in a run in the summer months will allow them to nibble on fresh grass which will help keep them happy and healthy
  • Guinea pigs need to bite, chew, gnaw, and grind food such as hays, grasses, vegetables & herbs. As above, some time out in the garden in warmer weather is beneficial for both diet and behaviour.
  • Hamsters store food rather than graze all day. They need nutritionally balanced ‘complete’ rodent pellets, small amounts of fresh produce, and the occasional seed treat.

Some pets will pick out the ‘best’ bits of a muesli type food so a standard pellet may suit them better, and enrichment is important too. Bored pets tend to gnaw on their cage, which can damage teeth. Try small wooden blocks, paper to shred, and pet-appropriate chew toys and treats. You can hang vegetables or bunches of hay down from the top of the run or hutch to make feeding more varied and challenging.

Regular vet visits are also helpful. The vets can check your pet for signs of dental problems and carry out the necessary procedures – teeth trimming, filing down spurs, treatment for infections, and extractions.

Do call if you have any questions about your pets diet and dental health, or feel free to make a dental appointment for your small pet

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