Like other rodents and rabbits, your guinea pig has teeth that grow throughout his life. That's why he requires plenty of fiber and safe items to chew on. These allow him to wear his teeth down naturally. If his teeth don't wear properly, they'll go out of alignment, a condition called malocclusion.
Although some cases of malocclusion might be genetic, in the majority of situations a guinea pig's teeth go out of alignment because of uneven wear. They can develop sharp points that make eating painful and can cause mouth or tongue ulceration. Your guinea pig might not be able to digest his food properly, because his misaligned teeth don't allow him to chew to the right consistency. In a worst-case scenario, the tooth root can grow back into the guinea pig's jaw, even going through his nasal cavity.
Malocclusion is also called slobbers, for good reason. It's an obvious symptom of the problem. You'll notice that your guinea pig's fur around the neck, chin and jaw is always wet. That slobbering is caused by malocclusion. Other symptoms include pawing at his mouth, weight and appetite loss, blood in his mouth, and abscesses from infected teeth. If your guinea pig is eating only soft foods and leaving harder ones behind, take a good look in his mouth. You'll usually be able to tell that certain teeth are far too long. Take him to a vet specializing in small animals. Many dog and cat vets don't treat guinea pigs.
Your vet can tell by examining your guinea pig's mouth that he's suffering from malocclusion. She might have to sedate the pet in order to thoroughly go over his mouth and treat him. Treatment consists of filing down the overgrown teeth with a file or clipper. If any sign of infection exists, she might prescribe antibiotics. Since your guinea pig's teeth may continue to grow abnormally, your vet might teach you how to file down the incisors. If his molars are involved, you'll need to bring him to the vet for filing. In severe cases, your vet might recommend extracting particular teeth.
In the wild, guinea pigs keep their teeth in shape by eating woody plants and fibrous grasses to down the choppers. Commercial guinea pig pellets might provide adequate nutrition, but they aren't doing anything for his teeth. Your guinea pig should have timothy hay available 24/7. Not only does it keep his teeth healthy, it aids in gut motility. Vitamin C deficiency can also cause malocclusion, but most commercial feeds contain sufficient amounts. You can give him fruits or vegetables rich in vitamin C as treats, or put a vitamin and mineral block in his cage. You should also give him safe, wooden toys to nibble on.
- The Merck Veterinary Manual: Gastrointestinal Diseases
- Small Animal Channel: Guinea Pig Dental Problems
- The Canadian Veterinary Journal: Malocclusions in Guinea Pigs, Chinchillas and Rabbits
- NetVet.co.uk: Dental Problems in Guinea Pigs
- Veterinary Partner: Guinea Pig
- PetPlace.com: Overgrown Teeth in Small Mammals
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Jane Meggitt has been a writer for more than 20 years. In addition to reporting for a major newspaper chain, she has been published in "Horse News," "Suburban Classic," "Hoof Beats," "Equine Journal" and other publications. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English from New York University and an Associate of Arts from the American Academy of Dramatics Arts, New York City.