Dental problems in Guinea Pigs


By Barb, Veterinary Nurse


Lionel the guinea pig had been losing weight and having problems eating what he normally liked to eat. His owners brought him to see Dr Mike Averill to find out what was wrong. Dr Averill looked in Lionel’s mouth with an otoscope to try see his molars but often it can be hard to see as their tongue and food can get in the way. On examination in his mouth it was discovered that Lionel had malocclusion.


Malocclusion is when the incisors and molars (sometimes it’s just the incisors) become overgrown preventing normal chewing. Because the teeth are not lining up with each other they no longer wear evenly. These overgrown teeth can cause sores and injuries to the inside of the mouth. Malocclusion can cause long term issues as the guinea pigs teeth keep growing throughout their lives.


Malocclusion is believed to be genetic (especially in young guinea pigs under 2 years of age) but it can also be caused by trauma or infection causing the teeth to grow in a faulty formation.

 


 


Illness combined with changes in eating (reduced eating or eating mostly soft foods) can allow the teeth to overgrow and lead to malocclusion. Other things that can cause dental issues are jaw fracture, tooth abscess, root elongation and jaw muscle weakness.


So how do you know if your guinea pig might be having dental problems?? Have you noticed

  • Difficulty eating, only picking at food
  • Drooling or wet around the mouth
  • Weight loss
  • Exaggerated chewing
  • Front teeth not even or lining up
  • Much slower eating food
  • Having difficulty with large pieces of food- can’t tear or rip food, can’t bite large piece of carrot into smaller pieces, dropping food that they pick up
  • Interested in food but not eating


Any of these can point to possible dental problems. So a check-up with the vet is a good idea.


To find out exactly how extensive Lionel’s dental work needed to be he needed to have a general anaesthetic. Under anaesthetic the vet is able to fully look at the molars in the top and bottom jaws to see if these were overgrown. Lionel’s lower molars were growing over and trapping his tongue. His incisor teeth weren’t lining up too.


When molars are overgrown they need to be filed down and the incisors are trimmed with a dental cutting drill. This is much safer than “clipping” the teeth as they can split and fracture leading to further damage and risk of infection. Your guinea pig will need to have a general anaesthetic for this procedure to be done. Some guinea pigs need this done regularly (every 4-8 weeks) if the teeth can’t correct themselves, this may be needed for the rest of their lives.


So how can you help prevent dental problems from happening?


Roughage in the form of grass and hay is a very important part of a guinea pigs daily diet. They should always have hay available to eat as well as some to sleep in. if they are housed indoors and not in a hutch outside pick grass for them to eat several times a week. I know of an owner who grows grass in pots just for her guinea pigs to eat. Roughage encourages them to chew and grind wearing their teeth down normally.


Guinea pigs can’t make their own vitamin C so this needs to be provided in their food otherwise they will get scurvy and weak teeth making them susceptible to developing problems. Vitamin C is essential for bone and teeth growth.


You can add vitamin C to your guinea pigs drinking water but if you provide a variety of vegetable and fruit that have vitamin C in them you shouldn’t need to supplement it. Vegetables that contain high vitamin C include Kale, spinach, parsley, bell peppers and broccoli. Some pellets have vitamin C in them but shouldn’t be relied on as a source of Vitamin C as exposure to the air causes the vitamin C to deteriorate so you can’t be sure how much they are eating.


Weekly monitoring of your guinea pigs weight for weight loss can give you an early indication that something isn’t right.


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