Dental diseases are among the top reasons for guinea pig veterinary visits.
Although it’s hard to check your guinea pigs’ oral cavity on regular basis, knowing the main symptoms of guinea pig teeth problems is especially important for their health and wellness.
Guinea pigs have unique oral anatomy characterized by teeth that are continuously growing. One more fact is that rabbits also have continuously growing teeth.
But unlike rabbits, guinea pigs are born with permanent dental formula, while baby bunnies have deciduous teeth that fall off about a month after birth.
Guinea pigs have a total of 20 teeth. In front, they have a set of two very long, and curved open-rooted incisors on the maxilla (upper jaw) and mandible (lower jaw).
Their color is white because of the outer layer of the teeth called enamel. This layer is thinner near the tongue which contributes to constant sharpening. The white enamel isn’t found on the teeth of other rodents.
The rest of the teeth count is completed with 4 premolars and 12 molars.
Although different in few segments, they cannot be easily distinguished with a naked eye and are grouped as one functional united – cheek teeth. The surface of the cheek teeth in guinea pigs is flat.
Since guinea pigs are herbivores, they have a big gap between the incisors and the cheek teeth. The gap is called diastema and it’s the space normally occupied with canine teeth in other animal species and humans as well.
Another name for ever-growing teeth is elodont teeth. Guinea pig teeth grow throughout the animal’s life by approximately 0.5 to 1 cm per month.
The maxillary teeth grow at a slower pace than the mandibular ones. Constant growth has to be compensated with constant wear-off and any interference in the process will result in dental disease.
Overgrown Guinea Pig Teeth
Most owners can only catch a glimpse of the incisive teeth which can be pretty long. These pearly whites can grow up to a centimeter and a half. It’s completely normal if the incisive teeth look a bit longer than one may expect.
Bottom line is – if the guinea pig is eating and acting normally and the bottom and top incisors are equal or similar in length then your pet’s teeth are probably not overgrown.
The cheek teeth are harder to visualize, even for a trained eye. They are positioned in the back of your guinea pigs’ mouth which is always filled with food making an amateur examination impossible.
That’s why it’s best if you let a vet take a look at the premolars and the molars and determine whether they are in good condition.
Although all of the teeth can overgrow at the same time, it’s a more common issue only for the front teeth.
Besides the obvious symptoms of dental disease, you can tell the teeth are overgrown if they don’t meet evenly somewhere in the middle.
Overgrown guinea pig teeth are the result of improper diet in the majority of cases. A sufficient content of crude fiber is required for continuous teeth abrasion.
Crude fiber is found in grass and hay. Although grass has a larger content of fiber, hay is often supplemented with herbs, branches, or leaves which makes it a good choice as well.
How Long Should Guinea Pig Teeth Be?
The incisive guinea pig teeth should be around 0.8 to 1.5 cm in length. The size can be variable and as longs as all upper and lower teeth meet in the middle of the mouth it means that everything is in order.
For example, if one incisive tooth breaks, you have to trim the others and reduce them to its size. For the cheek teeth, there is one single rule – if they are visible, they are too long.
Can I File My Guinea Pig’s Teeth?
If you have never attempted to clip or file your guinea pigs’ teeth it’s better if you leave it to the professionals. This is not an easy task and can be demanding even for experienced owners.
If you are confident enough to do it by yourself, make sure that you have correctly identified the dental problem and that the teeth really need to be reduced in size.
For the at-home procedure, you will need two people performing the act, a small towel, feline nail clippers, a nail file, and a steady hand.
The following procedure is only applicable to the incisive teeth and situations when you cannot afford professional assistance on the matter.
One person needs to wrap the guinea pig around in a towel and immobilize it by holding the skin on the neck.
Gripping the scruff of the neck also makes the animal open his mouth so it would be easier to access the oral cavity.
The other person takes the feline nail clippers and cuts at an angle. The teeth should be left approximately at 1.3-1.5 cm in length after cutting.
The place of cutting is usually where the incisive teeth turn opaque.
While you cut, be careful not to injure the guinea pigs’ tongue or cheek. Try not to shatter or split the teeth and cut each tooth separately.
A nail file is used to make the edges of freshly cut teeth smooth, but it can also be used instead of the clippers to slowly reduce the tooth length.
Guinea Pig Teeth Trimming Cost
The cost for professional guinea pig teeth trimming really depends on your area of residence and the type of problem your guinea pig is experiencing.
For example, if your guinea pig needs to have its incisive teeth trimmed, it would probably cost more or less as usual nail trimming services. That’s because this procedure doesn’t require the animal to be put under general anesthesia.
Getting the premolars and the molars fixed up is more complicated and the guinea pig needs to be put under. The oral exam, the anesthesia, and the trimming can be a bit costly altogether.
Just to give you a rough estimate – trimming the incisive teeth can cost around 10-20$ and trimming all of the teeth can cost 400-500$ (the prices can vary between states and countries).
How Do You Tell If Your Guinea Pig Has Teeth Problems?
There are a few obvious symptoms that might indicate a potential dental problem:
- Reluctance to feeding
- Sharp teeth edges
- Teeth discoloration
- Nasal discharge
- Watery eyes
- Weight loss
The most recognizable long-term sign of guinea pig teeth problems is obvious weight-loss along with excess salivation.
The longer the saliva interacts with the skin around the mouth, the neck, and the legs, the bigger the chances are of a resulting secondary dermatitis.
Your guinea pig might be trying to get food but keeps dropping it because the act of chewing becomes more difficult and more painful.
In more severe cases, parts of the mandible and the maxilla can appear to be swollen due to changes of the skeletal formations in reaction to elongation of the tooth root.
As a result, the guinea pig keeps its mouth constantly open, and rarely an eye can protrude if the bony changes are pushing it out.
To avoid serious problems with guinea pig teeth, take your pet to the vet every 2-3 months.
If you are assured your guinea pig eats proper food and has enough toys to keep its teeth to the appropriate size, even two visits per year should be enough.
Assessing guinea pig teeth diseases requires a good oral examination. The examination can be performed with an otoscopic cone and a rodent dental speculum while the guinea pig being lightly sedated.
This technique is pretty helpful but even an experienced vet can miss 25% of the lesions in the oral cavity.
The best diagnostic outcome is achieved with general anesthesia. You don’t need to withdraw food or water before the anesthesia because guinea pigs don’t vomit.
Once the guinea pig is sleeping, the vet can perform dental radiography, endoscopy, the suction of excess material, and magnified visualization of the cheek teeth and the surrounding tissue.
Bloodwork is recommended to get more information about the general health status of the animal at the time of the visit.
Guinea Pig Dental Care
The best way to take care of guinea pig teeth is by providing a lot of quality hay rich in crude fiber.
You can also throw in some vegetables but know your limits on what and how much. There are other things guinea pigs can chew on as well.
Pine and apple tree branches are a really good choice. Plastic toys specifically designed for teething babies will keep your guinea pigs entertained for hours while maintaining their dental health.
You can also use chew toys specifically designed for guinea pigs and other types of non-hazardous and firm toys (ex. rubber balls).
Use only quality toys and clean them every 2-3 weeks. If your guinea pig gets bored with one set of toys get others, preferably with different types of surfaces.
Disclaimer: This blog post doesn’t substitute veterinary attention and does not intend to do so. If your guinea pig shows any signs of illness, call your vet.