Dental disease is one of the most common health complaints of pet rabbits and guinea pigs. Unlike dogs and cats, rabbits and rodents have teeth that grow continuously throughout their lives. Their teeth are normally worn down by their rough, fibrous diets, but sometimes they can become overgrown. This can lead to the development of sharp spurs that will cut the cheeks or entrap the tongue. As the problem progresses, the tooth roots can elongate within the jaw causing pain and infection.
Signs of dental disease in rabbits can include decreased appetite or difficulty chewing, weight loss, drooling (or “slobbers”), and pawing at the mouth. There may also be a decrease in the amount or size of feces, discharge from the nose or eyes, lumps on the face, or poor grooming habits. Overgrowth of the incisors (front teeth) is often the first abnormality noticed by owners, but it is almost always indicative of underlying disease of the cheek teeth.
Diagnosis requires a physical exam and usually x-rays of the skull. Treatment ranges from trimming of overgrown teeth to tooth extractions and surgical debridement of abscesses or bone infections. Dental disease has a good prognosis if diagnosed early, although lifelong management with periodic tooth trims under anesthesia may be required. Feeding rabbits and guinea pigs a diet rich in timothy hay and fresh vegetables can help to keep their teeth worn down, reducing the risk of dental disease.
What about other exotic pets? Lizards such as bearded dragons are also commonly seen for periodontal disease or “mouth rot.” Like with rabbits, this condition is easiest to manage and has the best prognosis if caught and treated early, making regular wellness exams essential for recognition of milder stages of the disease.