Just recently, a client presented a rescued adult female guinea pig for lethargy, weight loss and poor appetite. This little pig had delivered three healthy babies just four to five weeks prior to her visit. Given her history, my first thoughts ran to problems with her reproductive tract, such as an infection in the uterus. However, I discovered the cause of her poor appetite and weight loss in her mouth! Did you know guinea pigs and similar species such as rabbits and chinchillas have continually erupting incisors and molars that are worn down as the animal chews hay, grass, and other fibrous plants? If this normal process is interrupted, the teeth will over-grow and will be worn unevenly. Unfortunately, a diagnosis of dental disease, or malocclusion, is very common in these species. Small mammals with malocclusion often drool, have smaller than normal fecal pellets, often avoid pellets and other harder foods, and can grind their teeth in addition to having a reduced appetite and weight loss. Our little patient had long upper incisors that were curved and deviated to the inside of her lower incisors. Her molars had sharp points along the edges, which were causing pain, and were also very long and irregular in height, resulting in the inability to completely close the mouth. These sharp points are quite common and can entrap to tongue or traumatize the cheeks.
Our patient’s dental disease was quite advanced. Since she was a recent rescue, her previous history was unknown. However, a thorough examination and radiographs of her jaw told the story. Her malocclusion was chronic. Her teeth had “over-grown” to the point of running out of room inside the mouth and were over-growing into the jaw. This leads to a condition known as elongated tooth roots. This is unfortunately a disease process that we cannot ever fully correct or even stop. We can hope to reduce potential problems such as tooth root abscesses with frequent, aggressive dental procedures to trim and reshape the teeth. Unfortunately, our pretty guinea pig already had an abscess forming along her lower jaw. Under anesthesia, we were able to trim her teeth and deride the abscess. Momma Pig went home on oral antibiotics and pain medicine and a syringable diet. Our goal is to keep her comfortable and hopefully get her eating again.
There are two important lessons to take home from this case. First, your exotic pets, such as rabbits, guinea pigs, chinchillas, and other small exotic mammals, need regular physical examinations by a knowledgeable veterinarian. The teeth, especially the molars, should be checked at each visit. If your pet is diagnosed with malocclusion, more regular examinations are needed to prevent worsening of the malocclusion and to prevent tooth root elongation. Second, provide your bunny, pig, or chinchilla with all the grass hay he or she can eat! Restricting pellet and treat intake and ensuring adequate daily vitamin C intake are also important to maintaining dental health.
- Beth R. Rodney, DVM