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exotic pet dental care: from small mammals to reptiles

If you have teeth, and hey, even if you don’t, mouths require maintenance. It’s the same with our pets. Many exotic pets have teeth that require extra attention to prevent dangerous complications.


guinea pig teeth dental care
Photo Credit: Molly Gleeson, DVM, DACZM

Exotic pet dental care is important. If you’re looking for advice on caring for the teeth of your exotic pet, you’ve come to the right place. We have some basic knowledge and tips for you to practice preventative maintenance at home… plus some things to watch out for so you can stop problems before they get out of hand. We know that exotic veterinary care can be hard to come by, so taking preventative measures and keeping an eye on things will help save you from urgent or emergent situations. 



all about small mammal teeth

Dental Care For Rabbits, Guinea Pigs, Chinchillas


Rabbits, guinea pigs, and chinchillas are similar in their dental needs. Their teeth grow throughout their entire lives; these are known as aradicular hypsodont teeth, open-rooted teeth that continuously grow throughout life.


Rabbits have the same but have even more unusual teeth. They have a second row of incisors directly behind the first row this is part of what sets them apart from rodents. 


rabbit dental care
Photo Credit: Molly Gleeson, DVM, DACZM

As you can imagine, the teeth on these animals grow fairly quickly, so regular checks for tooth overgrowth are necessary. Food, hay, and wooden toys are usually enough to grind down the teeth of these critters and keep them at a healthy length. If chewing does not grind down their teeth, it may be because they do not line up correctly. This is known as malocclusion. 


Teeth that get too long cause discomfort and potentially dangerous problems. Animals with hypsodont molars can develop spurs, which can cut the cheeks and tongue. This can lead to bacterial infections, drooling, weight loss, and even eye problems. They can also develop a condition known as tongue entrapment. If the teeth angle in, they can grow in a way that traps the tongue causing pain and making eating difficult.


To prevent overgrowth and mouth trauma, check your pet’s incisors and gums regularly. Provide your pet with plenty of wooden chews and timothy hay to help grind their teeth. Schedule your pet for regular dental check-ups to check the molars since overgrowth here is much more difficult to spot than incisor growth. Watch your pet for any signs of discomfort when eating. Keep an eye out for drooling as well so you can catch dental problems before they get out of hand. 


guinea pig dental care
Photo Credit: Molly Gleeson, DVM, DACZM

Tooth overgrowth is treated by trimming the teeth. You may see advice online about how to trim teeth at home. We recommend you see your veterinarian instead. Improper trimming can cause cracks in the teeth leading to pain, abscesses, and infections. If your pet has teeth that are always overgrowing, your veterinarian might recommend tooth removal as a preventative measure.



Dental Care For Hamsters


Hamster teeth are very similar to those of rabbits and chinchillas. They have a mouth full of hypsodont teeth that can become overgrown and need to be monitored for overgrowth. Their teeth can be maintained the same way with chew toys meant to wear the teeth. 


Hamsters, because of their cheek pouches and their cheek teeth which are very close together, are very prone to cavities. Maintaining a diet of seeds and pellets and keeping fruit and greens as only an occasional treat can help prevent cavities. 



Dental Care For Rats


Rats have two types of teeth. Their incisors are hypsodonts and grow continuously. Their molars, however, are more like human teeth and stay the same size their entire lives. Like rabbits, rats have no canine teeth, just a space called the diastema. 


Rat tooth care is relatively simple. Since incisors are easy to see, you can easily spot if your rat’s teeth are not wearing down properly. Providing wooden chews and toys will help your rat keep their teeth at a healthy length. Keep an eye on your rat’s incisors so you can prevent overgrowth. If you notice their incisors are not wearing down, schedule a trim at the vet instead of attempting it yourself. 



Dental Care For Ferrets


Even though they are often grouped in with rodents, ferrets are actually in a group called mustelids. This is an animal family that includes weasels, badgers, and otters. Ferret teeth are more like the teeth of cats and dogs. They are not constantly growing, and their tooth care is very similar to the type of dental care most people are more familiar with.


Weekly tooth cleaning is recommended for ferrets. Their teeth can build up with plaque and tartar. Failure to clean your ferrets teeth can result in periodontal disease. You can use a cat tooth brush to gently brush a ferret’s teeth. There is no specialty toothpaste for ferrets, but toothpaste formulated for cats or dogs is perfectly safe to use. 


An annual dental cleaning performed by a veterinarian is recommended for ferrets. Even with weekly brushing, they can develop excess tartar. At this appointment, your veterinarian will check for cracked teeth, gingivitis, and any other disease or injury that may need to be treated. 



reptile dental care


Reptile owners aren’t off the hook. Reptiles have teeth as unique as they are and require routine dental care. Reptile teeth come in tons of varieties; some reptiles even have teeth with no roots at all. Get yourself familiar with the typical state of your reptile's mouth so you can report any changes to their veterinarian. 


reptile dental appointment
Photo Credit: Molly Gleeson, DVM, DACZM

There are several oral concerns that commonly occur in reptiles:


  • Periodontal disease, particularly in bearded dragons

  • Ulcerative Stomatitis also known as mouth rot

  • Fungal and bacterial infections of the jaw bone

  • Tooth loss


Your pet’s vet will let you know the best method for keeping their teeth clean. One commonly recommended method of cleaning reptile teeth is to soak a cotton swab in diluted chlorhexidine solution and gently wipe their teeth and gums. This kills bacteria that can lead to infection. Make sure your veterinarian approves before using this method. 



where to go for veterinary dental care for your exotic pet


If your exotic pet needs an oral exam, or you have questions about caring for their teeth, then the Oakland area is the place to be. We have several veterinarians in the area who provide routine and specialized care to exotics. If you don’t already have a veterinarian check out the local exotic pet veterinary centers below:


Ohana Animal Hospital located in Livermore, CA


Pets Referral Center located in Berkeley, CA


Hayward Veterinary Hospital located in Hayward, CA


Or check out our Community page for additional options.

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