Although it may only look like your guinea pig has two upper and two lower incisors, they actually have twenty teeth. Inside their tiny mouths, along with the incisors, are a pair of upper and lower premolars and three pairs of upper and lower molars.
Interestingly, guinea pigs do not have canines. Instead, they have a gap called the diastema. This is simply the name given for a gap between two teeth, many humans have it and it is completely normal in all mammals.
Your guinea pig’s teeth are open rooted and grow continuously. To combat this, a correct diet is imperative. This will allow your guinea pig to gnaw and chew to keep their teeth at the appropriate length.
Guinea pigs have sharp front teeth, so it is best not to let them nibble anything and everything. The enamel of the teeth is white, like ours. Many people do not realise guinea pigs have molars due to fat pads in their cheeks making them invisible. Many vets use buccal pad separators; these are designed to gently hold open the guinea pig’s mouth to aid examination.
Ensuring your guinea pig has healthy teeth is a must for their overall wellbeing. Therefore, it is essential to get to know all about your guinea pig, and this includes oral care. The guide below will take you through all you need to know to keep your guinea pig’s teeth healthy.
Checking Your Guinea Pig Has Healthy Teeth
Although not obvious to the untrained eye, your guinea pig has very long incisors. The top and bottom incisors can grow up to 1.5 centimetres long. Do not be alarmed if you catch a glimpse of these pearly whites in all their glory, it is completely normal. If your guinea pig is eating normally and is showing no signs of distress, this shows that your guinea pig’s teeth are naturally being worn down with their food, which is exactly what should be happening. Both top and bottom incisors should match up in length and show no signs of deterioration.
Guinea Pig Molars
Your guinea pigs back teeth are also known as cheek teeth. Understandably they are a lot harder to examine. They sit far back in your guinea pigs mouth, which is often full of food, making checking difficult. When it comes to your guinea pig’s molars, it is best to let the vet handle any examination unless something is glaringly obvious. Vets have special tools and will be able to rinse out your guinea pigs mouth to get a better picture of their oral health.
Sometimes your guinea pig may chew too hard on their cage and manage to break a tooth. Therefore, it is best to check your guinea pig’s teeth regularly, just in case they have had a mishap. If you find they are broken or damaged in any way, your guinea will need to have their teeth trimmed or filed so that they are even again. Any sharp or serrated edges can puncture and damage the inside of your guinea pigs mouth.
My Guinea Pig Isn’t Eating
If your guinea pig’s appetite changes, it is most likely due to dental problems. Guinea pigs can get a condition known as ‘anorexia’. Unlike humans, this refers to a loss of appetite. Sometimes, guinea pigs can stop eating altogether due to dental issues. This can often spiral into other health problems and your guinea pig can get very ill.
If you notice that your guinea pig isn’t eating their food, or have stopped eating altogether, you must make an appointment with you vet immediately.
How to Wear Down a Guinea Pig’s Teeth
More often than not, diet is the main reason as to why your guinea pig’s teeth aren’t as healthy as they should be. Guinea pigs need a low calorie, high fibre diet and should be fed high quality hay and lots of fresh grass every day. The right food can help keep dental problems at bay.
Compressed pellet foods specifically designed for guinea pigs are a great accompaniment to hay and grass, and will help keep teeth worn down. Having something to gnaw on besides food will also be useful. Tree branches that haven’t been touched with pesticides or chemicals are a great natural choice for guinea pigs. Hardwoods such as apple, hickory, maple or oak are ideal and will have your guinea pig nibbling for hours.
Your guinea pig may also benefit from a salt lick or mineral block. Not only do they contain essential vitamins and minerals, guinea pigs will also gnaw on this block which will help grind down their teeth. However, it is best to seek advice from your vet when selecting a mineral block for guinea pig use.
Common Guinea Pig Dental Problems
No matter how much you try to keep your guinea pig’s teeth healthy, sometimes Mother Nature has her own plans and your guinea pig can fall foul of one of the three nasties below. Always keep an eye on your guinea pig’s teeth and, if worried, pay a visit to the vets
Like rabbits, guinea pig’s teeth are open rooted and continuously growing. Sometimes, the roots of your guinea pig’s teeth can get pushed up or start growing into the jaw. This results in elongated roots and an oral examination will not indicate that this is happening. However, in the bottom teeth, sometimes bumps can be felt along the lower jawline.
If you notice your guinea pig’s eyes tearing or bulging, this can be an indication that the roots of the top teeth are growing incorrectly.
Any guinea pig with dental issues will be given an x-ray. This can give an extremely clear picture of your guinea pig’s teeth and if they are suffering from elongated roots. For guinea pigs who are in the early staged of the condition a chin sling may be used. A chin sling is a piece of material that will be attached around your guinea pigs jaw with small Velcro straps.
Maloccluded teeth are teeth that have not worn properly and are overgrown. It may only appear that the front teeth are being affected but, more often than not, it occurs in the both the front and back teeth at the same time.
As the issue worsens, the ability to chew will deteriorate and the front teeth will not receive their normal level of wear which keeps them healthy. In most guinea pigs the bottom molars grow towards the tongue, whereas the top molars grow outwards towards the cheeks. Maloccluded teeth can cause sores, injuries, and infections in your guinea pigs mouth. Furthermore, the overgrown teeth will prevent chewing and eating of food, often resulting in guinea pig weight loss.
Malocclusion in your guinea pig can often be identified by the following symptoms:
- Your guinea pig picking at food or not eating at all (anorexia)
- The mouth of your guinea pig constantly hanging slightly open
- Weight loss
- Wet hair under the chin and around the mouth
- Discharge from your guinea pig’s eyes or nose
- Chewing on one side of the mouth
- Small pieces of food dropping out your guinea pig’s mouth
- Picking up food and dropping it
You vet will take an x-ray of your guinea pig’s mouth, although maloccluded teeth will be obvious. Maloccluded molars will be ground and filed, usually under anaesthetic. The front teeth will be filed. Often, if malocclusion is advanced, your guinea pig may need veterinary dental work every few weeks until the problem is eradicated.
Broken Teeth and Tooth Loss
Guinea pigs can be vulnerable to broken teeth, particularly if their diet is inadequate and lacking Vitamin C. Vitamin C is essential for bone and tooth growth. Broken teeth, or the loss of teeth entirely, can also be due to injuries or accidents.
With healthy guinea pigs, any damaged or lost tooth will grow back absolutely fine. However, monitor your guinea pig to check that the remaining teeth do not get too long and start causing damage to the gums or lining of the mouth.
If a tooth has been broken close to the root or there is a bloody hole where a tooth used to be, flush out any food with a small syringe. A teaspoon of salt in a pint of warm water will do the trick. It is important to keep the hole clean to prevent infection.
If your guinea pigs broken tooth is sharp or ragged, it is best to see your vet. Furthermore, if the opposing teeth begin growing inwards and contacting the mouth, book an appointment as soon as possible to save your guinea pig any further damage.
Guinea Pig Teeth Summary
Your guinea pig has open rooted teeth and, as mentioned above, they will continuously grow. If a tooth is broken or lost, your guinea pigs teeth will fall out of line. This can cause issues as the remaining teeth will not be wearing down properly. Overcrowding and overgrown teeth can become very painful problems for your guinea pig and can cause sores and infections. This can lead to weight loss as they struggle to ingest food.
If your guinea pig has healthy teeth, this is an indication that their diet is appropriate and they are getting all the nutrients they need from their food. Checking your guinea pig’s teeth on a weekly basis is ideal. The more you do it, the more used to it your guinea pig will get. Having a strong bond and a guinea pig who is not averse to being handled will help you catch any dental problems in the future.