Chew on This: How to Care for Your Small Pet's Teeth

Your dental routine is straightforward: brush your teeth twice a day, floss, and see your dentist twice a year for a professional cleaning and occasional X-rays. But is dental care for your small animal pet similar to a human's? Let's learn about your small pet's teeth and what you can do to keep them healthy.

Teeth That Keep Growing

Unlike human teeth, some small pets have open-rooted teeth that continue to grow and increase in length even after they've fully developed. It's a slow but persistent rate of growth, similar to fingernails. A rabbit's teeth, for example, can grow two millimeters a week, which quickly adds up.

This happens to some small animals and not people or dogs because of their radically different natural diet. In the wild, herbivores like rabbits, guinea pigs, and chinchillas consume a great deal of tough, uncooked plant material. This includes thick timothy grass stems, orchard grass, or even woody materials like fruit tree bark or blackberry brambles. Animals with this kind of diet have teeth that never stop growing, which makes up for the constant wearing down caused by these very abrasive materials.

As a domesticated pet, your small animal likely has less exposure to the types of plants that wear down their teeth. Pelleted feed, while excellent in nutrition, is very soft, so it doesn't affect teeth the same way. If a small animal's teeth are allowed to grow too long, it can cause a whole host of health issues, including difficulty chewing or dealing with saliva, dental disease, and abscesses.

Teeth That Need to Chew

To help their small furry companions, pet parents simply need to provide something harder to chew on. These "chews" help simulate the wearing down these animals would normally get in the wild.

There's an old saying about certain herding dog breeds: "If you don't give them a job, they'll make one up." The unstated warning here is that the job the dog invents may not be helpful to you and could be really annoying (like barking when the phone rings or a similar behavior) or even destructive. A similar truth can be found regarding your small pet's teeth: "If you don't give them something to chew, they'll find something!" They're simply fulfilling an instinct. But sometimes, this chewing is destructive (more on that in a minute).

To help keep tooth growth under control and direct it onto the proper object, small pet owners can provide a small animal-specific chew toy, something like a fun Kaytee Medium Nut Knot Nibbler or a rustic Kaytee Apple Orchard Stick (many small pets love applewood).

You can find pelleted feeds with unique ridges and shapes to help with proper tooth wear and are formulated for specific small pets, like Kaytee Field+Forest, or feeds with large crunchy pieces like Kaytee Forti-Diet Pro Health. And don't forget about timothy hay, a coarse foraging grass, that's crucial to help keep your small pet's teeth trimmed. It's like a natural tooth file!

Teeth That Want Toys!

You've probably seen your small pet "rearrange the furniture" in his habitat. (How'd the little bowl get way over there?!) Maybe you've even seen a little destruction where they've tried to chew on a bowl or tunnel. In light of this, why not go ahead and supply your rabbit, chinchilla, or guinea pig with an edible — and highly chewable — hideout, bowl, or toy? They're fun for your pet and help support their dental health, a definite win-win!

Teeth That Need Additional Care

Small animals need to have their teeth cleaned on the surfaces and in between the teeth. Unlike using a pet-specific toothbrush on a dog or cat, small pets' teeth can be cared for with additional chewing or gnawing products. The Kaytee Chew Toy Carrot Patch has chew products with three different textures for various tasks. In addition to a wood toy for growth control, sisal supports general cleaning, and loofa acts as a flossing agent.

Teeth That Need a Professional

Under normal circumstances, your small pet shouldn't need professional dental care other than a yearly check by a veterinarian. But sometimes, small animals develop a slightly misaligned jaw, known as a malocclusion. In these cases, normal chewing won't be enough to stop abnormal tooth growth, as the upper and lower teeth are not meeting properly and wearing together. When this happens, a small animal veterinarian may recommend a dental filing or trimming procedure or oral surgery to correct the problem.

Teeth That Are Something to Smile About

Even though his dental routine differs from yours, your small pet's dental care is still important to his overall health. Luckily, it's easy to provide the fun and tasty toys your pet needs to gnaw happily ever after. And that's definitely something for you (and your small pet) to smile about!