Dental Problems in Guinea Pigs
I know come what I and many owners of guinea pigs consider to be the worst aspect of veterinary care provided by the profession for these animals, their dental care. Problems with guinea pig teeth means problems in eating in most cases.
The ignorance of the subject is a disgrace, and the techniques that are used to deal with dental problems are the cause of many, many unnecessary deaths of guinea pigs.
The biggest problem of all is the use of anaesthetic upon guinea pigs to enable veterinary surgeons to do this work. Though they are well aware that there are no nerves in the teeth, they insist that the animal has to be inert to do the job properly. At the same time they are well aware of the dangers of anaesthetising reasonably healthy guinea pigs. To do it to one that is debilitated and half starved as the result of dental problems as a recipe for disaster.
The same old tired arguments of the animals being too stressed out to be put on their backs and worked on without an anaesthetic are trotted out, when our methods are suggested. Nonsense, total nonsense.
After I have described the various dental problems that occur in a guinea pig I shall go on to describe the tools and the techniques used to carry out this work without endangering the animal’s life. I can only hope that pressure from the guinea pig owning public will eventually get the profession to adopt our techniques after they have been laid out in black and white, so to speak.
THERE IS NOW NO JUSTIFIABLE REASON TO USE ANAESTHETICS UPON GUINEA PIGS TO TRIM THE PREMOLAR AND MOLAR TEETH. TO DO SO IS TO ENDANGER THE OF LIVES OF THESE ANIMALS UNNECESSARILY!.
I get less dental problems in my stock than most owners because I practice what I preach and make my animals work for their food, so consequently they keep their teeth well trimmed by their grazing activities. However, I cannot stop them getting abscesses, one of the major causes of dental problems or falling foul of the many diseases that guinea pig flesh is heir to which make them go off their food for sometime and consequently the teeth overgrow. These are the kinds of cases I have had to deal with in my own stock.
At the first sign of any weight lost think firstly ‘what are the teeth doing,’ and secondly, are they up to date on their worming.’
Towel wrap the guinea pig and examine the incisor teeth. If the bottom ones are over long and the top ones beginning to curve inwards then it is a sure sign that something is wrong inside.
JUST CUTTING INCISOR TEETH BACK IS A TOTAL WASTE OF TIME.
There is an instrument that I use to hold the mouth open (see above)and I urge all owners to invest in one. It is called a bucal pad dilator, or separator. It is a simple matter to insert them as illustrated and once in place the whole of the inside of the mouth and the dentition can be viewed.
What can be seen is, more often than not, are the pre molar teeth arching over, or beginning to arch over the tongue. In more extreme cases the molars may be arching as well.
Less common are the pre molars growing upwards, and sometimes the molars can be following suit.
The other main scenario is when you look at the incisors and see that they are impinging at an angle. See illustration. What you are likely to see in these cases inside the mouth is that the pre molars are growing across the tongue, or beginning to on one side only. You may also see some soreness or ulceration on that side which is usually indicative of a fungal or bacterial infestation.
What has been happening is that the animal has been favouring the opposite side when chewing it’s food leaving those on the side where the damaged tissue is, to overgrow.
If, on the other hand, the inside of the mouth looks healthy, then think, Abscess!. Again it is more likely to be on the side where the teeth have overgrown, though on one occasion I came across one on the opposite side, so check both.
With the guinea pig facing away from you, run your fingers down under both jaws from ears to tip of snout and palpate very firmly. Many times there will be nothing to feel, but more often than not the guinea pig will flinch as you hit a tender spot on the side where the teeth have overgrown. It will simply be a waiting game until the abscess ripens, see Abscess, but the dental work can be carried out.
It is essential that these teeth be trimmed back down to an acceptable level and the tool to do this work with are the surgical instruments shown, bone roungers. As can be clearly seen they look like a pair of pliers but have scooped cavities in the jaws with cutting edges. This means that the piece of tooth which is cut off remains in the head of the roungers.
This is not a job for the inexpert, and though we have trained many people to do this work, they are not permitted to use these skills in saving the lives of animals other than their own. Because of the restrictive veterinary laws of this country and the stubborn refusal of the profession to learn from those with skills outside it’s ranks, and it’s continued use of anaesthetics, and outdated techniques, owners animals will continue to die!.
There is one, relatively rare condition which crops up now and again in the teeth of guinea pig and it is when the molar teeth tend to lean inwards at a more acute angle than normal. What happens is that they wear unevenly and the bottom ones develop a very sharp edge. Always think of this if all the other symptoms suggest teeth problems but when you come to examine the inside teeth they look perfectly normal. The way to check is to lift up each side of the tongue from where it lies against the teeth and push it toward the middle of the mouth so that you can see the under side. Invariably there is a lesion on each side of the tongue which is inflamed and obviously causing much pain.
What this problem is caused by, I am not at all sure. It could be some slight deformity of the jaw, but I have my doubts. This is because many times after the corrective dental work is done the problem does not reoccur. I can’t see the dental work curing a deformity!.
The sharpened edge of the teeth can be initially trimmed back with the small bone roungers and then filed smooth with the dental rasp.
If the jaws are undershot, then the prognosis is not at all good. Most animals born with this problem do not survive long. Those that develop it can sometimes be helped by constant filing of the back of the top incisor teeth so that the teeth impinge a little more normally.
Notice that most of what I have described has dealt exclusively with the bottom teeth inside the mouth. This is because the top ones seldom give any trouble. They sometimes get badly worn down one side when there has been the lopsided growth in the bottom teeth but they quickly grow back again once after the corrective dentistry one the bottom teeth.
Occasionally, they will grow out, and begin to curve upwards and must be trimmed back down.
One of the most common injuries to a guinea pig is incisor tooth damage. This is usually the result of them being dropped by their owners or leaping out of their hands as they are lowered back into their quarters or onto the ground, see handling.
If the teeth are very loose as a result of the injury they are best pulled out. They are going to fall out anyway, within a short time, but as long as they are left in it is going to be very difficult for the guinea pig to eat. Once they are out, the animal quickly learns how to scoop it’s food in if it’s the bottom teeth, or manipulate it’s tongue to draw in the food if it’s the top ones. Where the cavy has lost one set of teeth as above, it is advised to trim the opposite set well back, so that the two sets can regrow in balance.
If both are knocked out, help with some syringe feeding, but it is amazing how quickly the teeth come through again and they get back to normal feeding.
If only one of the top or bottom incisors is lost and the other remains firm, then the guinea pig simply carries on as usual. However, check after a week or so, when the new tooth has really started to grow and trim the good tooth back down to it’s level.