One of the most common problems we see in guinea pigs is the development of dental disease.
What is dental disease?
Guinea pigs have two long slender incisors at the front of their mouth on both their upper and lower jaws as well as four ‘cheek’ teeth on each occlusal surface at their back of their mouth. Guinea pig teeth grow constantly through out their life and if they are not being worn down by chewing on lots of hay or grass they start to elongate. The most common form of dental disease in guinea pigs involves the elongation of their cheek teeth. The mandibular cheek teeth are often the worst affected and they can get so bad that they can grow over and totally ‘entrap’ the tongue. This prevents the tongue from moving normally which means the guinea pig cannot eat properly.
Other forms of dental disease in guinea pigs include dental abscess formation, irregular wear, elongation of the tooth roots, incisor problems and the presence of sharp spurs that can ulcerate the tongue or cheek.
What symptoms should I watch out for?
Symptoms vary for each individual animal and can be very subtle with some guinea pigs presenting with weight loss as their only symptom. More commonly excessive salivation and changes in eating preferences are seen.
Other symptoms can include weakness, facial swellings, vocalisation, not passing any faeces, not moving much, secondary respiratory infections and even death.
How do you diagnose dental disease?
Dental disease can often be diagnosed by an intra-oral examination by an experienced guinea pig vet. Your vet will generally use a specialised speculum to look inside your guinea pigs mouth.
In some cases dental disease is not always obvious on exam and in these cases radiographs, CT or an examination under general anaesthesia may be recommended.
What treatment options are available?
For mild cases the treatment may be as simple as increasing the amount of hay or grass in your guinea pig’s diet.
For more serious cases a dental procedure under general anaesthesia may be needed. This involves using a dental burr to correct your guinea pig’s teeth back to the length and angle that they should be. In some advanced cases tooth extraction is needed.
Dental disease can be a very painful condition for your guinea pig so pain relief as well as supportive feeding is often needed.
Can it be cured?
Unfortunately unless the disease is caught early it is very difficult to permanently cure. This is often because the angle that the teeth grow on has changed so even with correction the teeth will still grow back abnormally. Many guinea pigs with dental disease need regular dental procedures for their whole life.
How do I prevent dental disease from occurring?
The good news is that while dental disease is often difficult to treat it is generally easy to prevent. The best method of prevention is to ensure that your guinea pig is fed a well balanced diet with lots of hay or grass. This promotes good dental wear, normal gastrointestinal function and appropriate water intake. Low vitamin C levels are also a factor for the development of dental disease so it is important to ensure that your guinea pig is getting enough vitamin C in their diet.
Regular check ups by a guinea pig vet are recommended as they allow dental disease to be detected early before it is too late!