Pets can’t brush twice daily, and don’t take themselves off to the dentist every six months for a check-up, so we need to take care of their dental health for them. Animals have very a high pain threshold, and so won’t cry in pain until it is almost unbearable – a state we don’t want them to ever get in. So, this guide to pet dental care should help keep your animal’s teeth healthy. But always go to the vet for a consultation if they have continuing or worsening symptoms.
As with humans, plaque and tartar build up can cause bad breath (halitosis), a sign of infection and/or gum disease. Also, if your pet loses its appetite, or seems uncomfortable when eating, you should probably take them to the vet for a dental check. Further symptoms are pawing at their mouth and of course, bleeding gums. Fractures in the teeth can occur too when hunting or playing, so be aware of changes to your pet’s behaviour.
You can brush your cat or your dog’s teeth. It’s best to start young, because then they are used to it, but with patience (and perhaps only with some cats!), you can start brushing their teeth later in life. Begin with just a finger over the gums daily, progressing to a cotton bud or flannel until they are used to the activity enough to introduce a toothbrush and toothpaste – never use human toothpaste. If they get distressed, stop immediately.
Rabbits teeth are not like ours or cats & dogs, where baby teeth grow and are replaced by adult teeth. Rabbits teeth grow constantly and so their diet must grind down their teeth. A high roughage diet, as close to a wild rabbit’s diet as possible, is the best dental care for your rabbit. The best diet is mostly hay with some dark green leafy vegetables (kale, cabbage, broccoli) and fresh pellet food. Avoid muesli style feed, as rabbits tend to pick out the bits they like and so not get that rounded diet to keep their teeth in check and nutrition balanced. Despite what Bugs Bunny might say, carrots and apples are high in sugar and are not good for your rabbit’s teeth!
If the teeth are not aligned perfectly, no matter their diet, the teeth will overgrow. This is called malocclusion. Teeth can be painlessly ground down by the vet, so if you are in any doubt, or your rabbit has stopped eating or grooming, take them to the vet.
Like rabbits, gerbils’ and hamsters’ teeth grow continuously and will cause health problems and become painful if they grow too long. Both creatures need suitable gnawing material, and wooden chew-blocks are ideal. They particularly like willow, hazel, beech, birch, pine and branches from fruit trees. Don’t use ivy, yew or holly as they are poisonous. As with all pets, keep an eye on their teeth, make sure they don’t lose their appetite and consult a vet if you are at all unsure.
Guinea pigs, like rabbits, hamsters and gerbils, have ever growing teeth and therefore need a high fibre diet consisting of good hay and fresh grass every day. Supplementing this with compressed food pellets and a wooden chew block will give healthy teeth and diet. Your vet might also suggest a mineral block or salt lick. Malocclusion (misaligned teeth) can occur regardless of diet, so just keep an eye on your guinea pig’s teeth, and if they grow too long, or the animal stops eating, go to the vet.
Be careful of broken teeth as well. Small pets are known for chewing on their cages, so just be aware of any change in appetite and behaviour. No animal benefits from human food, and treats are a human creation, that animals do not know until we start them in the habit! A healthy diet, based on set meals a day will help keep your pet happy and healthy.