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Everything You Need to Know About Herbivore Dental Health



Herbivores such as rabbits, chinchillas, guinea pigs, gerbils, and hamsters have different pet dental needs than other types of animals. A key trait of herbivores is that their teeth continue to grow throughout their lives, meaning that ongoing dental care is necessary to keep their teeth in tip-top shape. Exotic pet vets should complete a thorough physical exam every 6-12 months to look for any potential dental issues.


Instead of the defined canine teeth of carnivores, or the combination of molars and sharp front teeth in omnivores, herbivores have cheek teeth and incisors that are built for eating plants. These teeth are designed for making surface contact to grind food up, and to help digest the enormous amount of roughage these animals eat. If there is any misalignment, serious complications can arise.


At LIBEVC, we cover all dental needs for your pet. With the use of our CT scan and endoscopy, we are able to see every tooth in great detail and address the presenting issues accordingly; from rabbit teeth issues to instruction on guinea pig teeth care.



Causes of Herbivore Dental Problems:


Most herbivore dental issues happen in animals over three years old, though they can also occur in younger animals. Older herbivores tend to have issues due to the teeth becoming misaligned with age. Some causes of problems occurring in animals under three include not having enough Timothy hay in the diet, poor genetics, or a deficiency of vitamin C. Rabbits may experience chronic dental issues or the misalignment of their teeth due to selective breeding (i.e. being bred for a shorter jaw).



Potential issues:


  • Without proper alignment, teeth are susceptible to adopting sharp points on the outer edges along the cheeks or tongue, or becoming overgrown.

  • Overgrowth of teeth along the upper jaw can press into the cheek tissue, causing ulcers or wounds.

  • Overgrowth of teeth along the lower jaw can press against the tongue, causing ulcers or wounds. These teeth can also grow over the tongue, which makes eating very difficult.

  • If misaligned or overgrown teeth are left untreated, they can result in a decrease in appetite and bowel movements, jaw or cheek abscesses, and/or death.

  • Dietary problems can also become an issue. These can range from slight weight loss all the way to G.I. stasis. G.I. stasis is when the G.I tract slows down or stops moving completely, which is very dangerous for our herbivore friends.



Symptoms to look for:


You should contact your vet immediately if you notice any of the following:


  • Discharge from the nose or eyes

  • A decrease in size or amount of fecal pellets

  • Teeth grinding

  • Excessive drooling

  • A decrease in appetite



Tips for Preventing Dental Issues in Your Pet


To help prevent dental issues, make sure to feed your pet plenty of roughage, such as Timothy hay or Orchard grass. Eating foods like these helps prevent tooth overgrowth by naturally wearing down the tooth’s surface area. However, this alone may not be enough to help animals that are predisposed to issues or that already exhibit teeth misalignment.



Dental exam options:


An exam can be as simple as conducting jaw palpation to feel for issues with the tooth roots, and using a speculum to look inside the mouth to check the premolars/molars. However, cheek teeth cannot be viewed with a simple visual exam.


Anesthesia is required in order for the doctor to perform a comprehensive dental exam. This allows the doctor to open the pet’s mouth further without the pet moving, something that would be impossible if the pet were not anesthetized. Using anesthesia makes what could be an anxiety provoking experience for your pet significantly less stressful. Once the doctor has completed their physical exam, the following methods may be used:


  • If there is overgrowth, the teeth might be trimmed or filed in order to correct the cheek teeth’s alignment. Dental bits are used to remove the extra enamel.

  • A fractured tooth will either be trimmed or extracted.

  • For abscesses, the infected area will be drained and antibiotics will be prescribed to help prevent the infection from returning. The tooth may also need to be extracted.



Looking for a hamster vet, guinea pig vet, or rabbit vet?


LIBEVC treats them all, and more!


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