Don’t Forget Their Teeth
Jan 29, 2017 10:12PM
● By Louisa Asseo
This month was designated to bring awareness to the oral health care needs of our dogs and cats. Daily home care through teeth brushing, safe oral chews, oral rinses, as well as regular prophylactic dental cleaning by your veterinarian, are suggested to help keep your dog and cat’s teeth healthy. The American Animal Hospital Association has guidelines to help pet owners understand the importance of regular dental care and offers tips on how to find a plan that will work for you and your dog or cat. See www.aaha.org/pet_owner for more information.
In honor of national pet health month, I would like to focus on our small mammal companions that need dental care, too. Ferrets and hedgehogs have teeth that are similar to cats. These adorable and mischievous critters have a full set of teeth that are susceptible to plaque and tartar build-up that can lead to gingivitis, tooth root abscesses, and oral pain. Many ferrets will allow owners to brush their teeth as a dog or cat would allow. In addition, annual wellness exams with a veterinarian trained in these exotic animals are crucial for making sure their little mouths are healthy.
Rabbits, or lagomorphs, have very specialized teeth designed for eating grasses and hay. Bugs Bunny taught us all that rabbits have big front teeth, or incisors. But did you know that they have smaller incisors called peg teeth right behind these incisors? Rabbits also have a full set of molars farther back in their mouths, designed to help them grind fibrous grasses and hay.
Guinea pigs and chinchillas are rodents that also have very specialized teeth to help them grind hay and fibrous greens. The incisors of rodents, except guinea pigs, have a thick layer of enamel over the surface, giving them a normal yellow to orange coloration.
What do rabbits, chinchillas, and guinea pigs have in common? They all have elodont dentition. This means they have a complete set of teeth that grow continuously throughout their lives. In order for these teeth to stay healthy, they need a proper diet designed to help wear these teeth down on a daily basis. If these teeth are allowed to overgrow, it can lead to oral pain, dental abscesses, runny eyes and nose, drooling, and not eating, to name a few. Providing dental care – and even seeing – these teeth that sit behind a diastema (the gap between the incisors and the molars) requires specialized equipment and training.
Other rodents, such as rats, mice and hamsters, have incisors that grow continuously, but their molars do not. This reflects how different their diet is from the other rodents mentioned above. These tiny critters do not rely on hay for healthy digestion, therefore, they do not need these teeth to grow throughout their lives.
Each of these species has unique dentition and dietary requirements. These teeth all have unique angles and lengths at which their teeth grind the best. Finding a veterinarian trained in these species is crucial in helping your small furry friends live longer and healthier.