At Castle Vets in Reading, we often see rabbits 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 animals are unable to grind their teeth down through feeding and chewing.
Common causes of dental 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 can lead to dental and bone abnormalities.
- Poor nutrition after the growth period leads to dental abnormalities.
- Traumatic injury and/or broken teeth can lead to malocclusion (teeth not aligning properly).
- Cavities and periodontal disease caused by a poor diet and bacteria passed on from owners.
- Genetic abnormalities passed on from the parents (this is becoming much more common in rabbits because of poor breeding standards by irresponsible owners).
Symptoms of a dental problem
- Decreased appetite, your pet may stop eating completely or only manage very small amounts at a time.
- Pawing at the mouth
- 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 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).
- Pre molar 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.
- 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 and prevention of pets with dental problems
A rabbit or rodent 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. Rabbits, guinea pigs and Chinchillas all require plenty of good quality hay/dried grass to help keep their digestive systems and teeth healthy. All pets 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) and 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 treats to your pet, especially rabbits.
For further information on the correct diet for your pet, you can have a chat to a veterinary nurse or check out the links below.