A Guide to Dental Care for Exotic Pets

With Rodents, Get to the Root of the Matter

Rabbits and rodents, such as guinea pigs and chinchillas, also need dental care. Unlike many other mammals, these animals have "open-rooted" teeth, which means they grow continuously throughout the animal’s lifetime. This can lead to a host of dental problems that do not occur in animals whose teeth are "closed rooted" and stop growing. In the wild, rabbits and rodents chew on rough, fibrous grasses and shrubbery that help keep their teeth worn down. In captivity, however, pet rabbits and rodents typically don’t consume these same foods but instead eat processed pelleted diets and soft vegetables, leading to inadequate tooth wear. Decreased tooth wear predisposes these animals to forming sharp spurs on their teeth, as well as to tooth root impaction from overgrown teeth hitting each other inside their mouths and having nowhere to grow. Sharp spurs can cut into the gums and tongue, leading to pain, inflammation and sometimes serious infections and abscesses that must be treated surgically.

While rabbits and rodents don’t typically require dental cleaning as do ferrets, these mammals should have a complete oral examination every year during their annual checkup. It’s essential that the mouths of these pets be checked thoroughly by your veterinarian whenever they aren’t eating normally, so that any dental issues can be addressed. If sharp spurs or edges are present, they must be filed down, often under anesthesia, and any loose or infected teeth must be extracted. As with other exotic pets, rabbits and rodents undergoing anesthesia for dental procedures should have preoperative blood testing to ensure they are healthy.

Dental care is a regular part of our daily lives, and it should be a regular part of our pets’ lives, too. At minimum, we should be addressing our pets’ dental needs at least once a year at the vet’s office. So take advantage of this month’s focus on dental awareness and have your veterinarian thoroughly examine your exotic pet’s mouth to make recommendations for better dental health.

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