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February is National Pet Dental Health Month, and just like dogs and cats, did you know that exotic pets need dental care, too?
In general, most pet owners don’t brush their animals’ teeth, so tartar can build up, and their pet’s breath can become malodorous. Over months to years, excessive tartar accumulates leading to gingivitis, periodontal disease, and tooth root infection. Bacteria can accumulate in their mouths, eventually traveling through the bloodstream to settle in critical organs such as the heart and kidneys, leading to life-threatening problems. This is just as true for many exotic pet species as it is for dogs and cats.
How do we help prevent such serious conditions from occurring? With preventive dental care, of course! Most exotic pets – from ferrets to rabbits, rodents to reptiles — should have a thorough oral examination annually as part of their regular health checkup. Some species, like ferrets and bearded dragon lizards, actually should have annual dental cleanings — just like dogs, cats and people — to thoroughly remove built-up plaque and tartar and to examine teeth closely for signs of infection, abnormal wear, fractures or looseness.
Ferrets often crack their teeth from chewing on inappropriate objects such as rocks and cage bars. They commonly break off their canine teeth — often called their "fangs" — exposing the inside of the tooth (called the pulp cavity) and predisposing them to tooth root infection. They also accumulate large amounts of tartar along their gumlines resulting in gum inflammation or gingivitis. Fractured teeth need to be capped, and tartar needs to be scaled off, just like with people. This can be accomplished only with ferrets under full general anesthesia, so that the animal is not in pain and that the back of the mouth can be accessed by the veterinarian without the risk of being bitten. All ferrets, but especially those older than 3 years of age, should have preanesthetic blood testing to help ensure that they are stable for general anesthesia. When performed properly by a veterinarian familiar with ferrets, dental cleanings can be a safe and effective way to help prevent serious, life-threatening dental infections.
Believe it or not, bearded dragon lizards need preventive dental care, too. Like ferrets and other pets, they accumulate bacteria on their teeth over time, leading to plaque and tartar buildup and gum inflammation (also called gingivitis). As opposed to mammal teeth that are rooted into tooth sockets by ligaments, bearded dragon teeth are directly rooted into their jawbones, predisposing them to bone inflammation and infection. To help prevent these serious conditions, bearded dragons should have an annual dental scaling, or cleaning, performed while under anesthesia, just like ferrets. This is a procedure most bearded dragon owners — and many veterinarians unfamiliar with reptiles — aren’t aware these pets should have. As with other exotic pets undergoing anesthesia, bearded dragons should have preanesthetic bloodwork to ensure they are healthy enough to be anesthetized.
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