I am often asked if cavies need routine teeth trimming. Usually a cavy will keep his teeth worn to proper length just by eating pellets, hay, fresh grass and vegetation. Chew toys such as cardboard boxes or tubes are also helpful. Rodent teeth are designed to constantly grow and constantly be worn down. Enamel on the incisors (front teeth) is harder on the front of the tooth than on the back, causing these teeth to be worn to a sharp edge – better for biting. Cavies use their front teeth to bite off or pick up pieces of food. The molars do all of the actual chewing. Cavies have 20 teeth – 4 incisors, 4 premolars and 12 molars.
Sometimes a cavy will be born with deformed teeth or may develop malocclusion due to age, injury, illness or inadequate diet. Malocclusion means one or more tooth is overgrown, crooked or misaligned (the upper and lower teeth are not meeting properly). This condition makes it difficult or impossible for a cavy to eat. If a cavy is drooling, losing weight, acts interested in food but doesn’t eat much, or makes exaggerated chewing motions when he does eat – his teeth must be checked by a cavy knowledgeable veterinarian.
Front teeth are easily checked and trimmed. Care should be taken not to trim too short, causing the teeth to be painful. Molars are much harder to get at because of the large bucal (cheek) pads “hiding” them. There is quite a gap between the incisors and the molars. This is called the diastema. An otoscope makes checking the molars easier. A bucal pad separator (sometimes called a cavy mouth gag) makes it easier to get at them. Sometimes light anesthesia is used to help provide easier, steadier access to the teeth.
Molars can grow long enough and crooked enough to actually bridge over the tongue or roof of the mouth. Often these mutant teeth will wear sores on the cavy’s tongue or cheeks. One or two trimmings may correct the condition, though sometimes routine trimming (every 2-4 weeks) will be necessary to keep teeth in line. Occasionally sharp spikes or spurs on molars need to be taken off with a file or rounger to improve chewing and comfort. Owners can be taught to trim front teeth themselves, molars should be done by an experienced professional. Extremely deformed teeth may not be correctable. Breeding roan to roan or dalmatian to dalmatian can increase the risk of severe teeth and eye deformities (and other health problems) in a cavy litter.
Any cavy having trouble eating should be syringe-fed until he is seen by a vet and the problem can be fixed. Soak guinea pig pellets in hot water until thoroughly broken down. Add Gerber baby cereal and warm water to make a thin gruel. Feed this to the cavy with a small 1 cc or 3 cc syringe, or an eyedropper. Oxbow Hay Company also makes a wonderful product for syringe feeding herbivores such as cavies. It is called Critical Care. For more information on this Critical Care see the Oxbow web site at www.oxbowhay.com or call 800-249-0366.
For more on cavy dental problems and syringe feeding please visit the GuineaLynx.com site:
Note: The bucal pad separator is a nifty little instrument I first heard about from cavy lover/author Peter Gurney of London, England. Sadly, Peter passed away July 1, 2006. Veterinarians can now get this instrument and other rodent dental instrument at:
Dr Shipp’s Laboratories
8361 W Tangerine Road
Marana AZ 85653
Toll Free 800-442-0107
Originally run in Winter/Spring 1998 The Guinea Pig Squealer – Issue No. 13
© Copyright 1998 Vicki Palmer Nielsen – Jack Pine Guinea Pig Rescue