Dental care is as important for our small pets as it is for us. Many small animals have different dental care needs than a dog or cat. With your pet rabbit, guinea pig, chinchilla, or other rodent, dental care is not about brushing teeth. These pets have very special teeth that grow constantly their whole lives. These teeth are intended to be worn down by chewing. If they don’t have access to the right things to chew, they may chew on things you’d rather they didn’t. Or, worse yet, their teeth can grow so long they have trouble eating. There are many small pet supplies to make sure your furry friend has enough to chew. Let’s look at dental options for small pets.
Rabbits, even though they aren’t rodents (they are lagomorphs), have similar teeth to hamsters. They have two pairs of large incisors that grow constantly. Sometimes these teeth can be a little crooked, and may not meet perfectly. If that is the case, they will tend to not wear down properly. The first thing to do with your bunny is to look in his mouth and make sure his front teeth meet evenly. Bunnies with crooked, or very overgrown teeth, should make a trip to the vet for a trimming before we start home dental care. The teeth are long enough to need trimming if the bunny drools a lot, cannot easily open and close his mouth, or has teeth sticking out beyond his lips.
Now that we know our bunny’s teeth are in good shape, we need to keep them that way. Fortunately, if we provide the right materials, the bunny does all the work. It is important to have no less than three different materials to chew on. Try providing wood, calcium, and synthetic chew toys. The most popular wood toys are fruit-flavored wood chews and fruit twigs. Do buy these at the store, as wood from your yard can be toxic, or may harbor mites and fleas. Calcium chews are hard enough to wear down teeth, and provide a mineral supplement, too. You can give your bunny plain or fruit-flavored calcium chews packaged for either small animals or birds. Synthetic chews are newest on the market. They are compressed hay mixed with other ingredients and are 100% edible, while still being very hard and great for teeth.
Guinea pigs have the same basic tooth care needs as bunnies and can be given the same products to chew. Again, if the teeth are too long to start with, make a trip to your vet first for a trimming.
Popular rodent pets include hamsters, mice, rats, gerbils, and chinchillas. The basic differences in their dental needs are, for the most part, they are smaller and need smaller-sized chews. Those small teeth are mighty chewers, though. A mouse can chew through an average encyclopedia volume in less than two days. Rodents are also much more likely to use those teeth to chew a hole to freedom if they are bored. It is very important to keep at least four types of chews in their homes to reduce both overgrown teeth and escapes. They do very well with smaller versions of the wood chew sticks , calcium, and synthetic chews mentioned earlier. However, we like to add some interactive chew toys to keep them busy. Two of the best of the interactive types are sisal toys and hanging toys meant for birds. Sisal is a natural twine used for small animal toys and cat toys. Either is safe for your small rodent pet to play with. Many small rodents, especially rats and chinchillas, enjoy hanging bird toys. These come in many colors, and often have a bell to ring. Some smaller rodents even enjoy chewing on hard bones meant for dogs. All of these are safe and fun additions to their environment.
All chew toys should be checked regularly and replaced when worn down. The easiest way is to keep several extras on hand, and remove used ones as part of your weekly cage-cleaning routine. Most wood chews last about two weeks. Calcium chews should be replaced in about one month, or earlier if they become wet or soiled. Synthetics last longer than two to three months on average.
Most of all have fun choosing toys for your pet. Many small animals enjoy chewing on and playing with other items from around the house. Paper towel tubes make great hamster toys, and any nontoxic material that cannot be easily swallowed is fun for a bunny or guinea pig to chew and roll around.
No matter which pet you choose, dental care is a very important part of keeping a small animal. Regular vet visits, combined with keeping several chewing items in your pet’s home at all times, and rotating them often to prevent boredom, will keep your friend’s teeth short and healthy—no toothbrush needed. And, they can help keep your friend in his home where he belongs!