Guinea pigs have very different teeth to us humans. We just eat at mealtimes (well, mostly), while our piggie friends need to spend all day munching on tough plant fibre. Guinea pig teeth are great at all this chewing, but they are prone to problems if the diet isn’t right. Read on to find out all about guinea pig teeth and learn how best to look after them.
What’s special about guinea pig teeth?
The really special thing about guinea pig teeth is that they never stop growing. While our human teeth stay the same size and shape throughout our adult lives, guinea pig teeth grow continually at a rate of 1–2 mm per week. The reason why the teeth must keep growing is that they get worn down by all the tough fibre in the diet. The teeth have to grow to make up, so they don’t disappear!
Teeth like this are called ‘open-rooted’, and other herbivores have them too, such as rabbits, chinchillas and degus. Guinea pigs don’t have so many teeth as their rabbit friends though! While rabbits have 28 teeth in total, guinea pigs have only 20.
Herbivore teeth are great at chewing away on tough fibre all day, but they do need to be worn down constantly and evenly. If there isn’t enough plant matter in the diet to wear the teeth down properly, they can grow too long or in the wrong direction. Unfortunately, overgrown teeth are not uncommon and they can cause no end of problems for our little pals.
Overgrown teeth in guinea pigs
Sometimes it’s obvious when guinea pig teeth are overgrown – if the incisors grow too long then you can often tell by looking at your piggie’s face. But what we can’t see is the cheek teeth, the molars and premolars that are hidden away inside the mouth.
If the cheek teeth grow too long, they can develop sharp ‘spurs’ that rub on the cheeks and tongue and cause painful ulcers. When dental disease is really bad, the lower cheek teeth can actually grow so long that they make a bridge all the way across the tongue, making it hard to swallow.
All this means that guinea pigs with overgrown teeth often go off their food. Unfortunately, this can make the piggie even more poorly – their complicated digestive system is very delicate, and it won’t work properly if they don’t munch away all day. What’s more, when guinea pigs aren’t eating then their dental problems will get even worse, as the teeth don’t get worn down at all.
For piggies caught in this downward spiral, it’s important to take them to the vet as they’ll need lots of care and support to help them back to health. But what can we do to stop teeth problems in guinea pigs cropping up in the first place?
Preventing tooth problems in guinea pigs
A major cause of dental disease in guinea pigs is a lack of fibre in the diet. Guinea pig teeth are meant to chew away on vegetation all day, so it’s important that our pet piggies get enough of this to eat. The key is to feed a lot of hay – in fact, we advise that at least 80% of the diet should be hay or grass.
When you’re choosing your piggie’s hay, bear in mind that not all types are equal in terms of quality and nutritional content. As a general guide, the best types for guinea pigs are Meadow hay, such as Russel Rabbit Tasty Hay, or Timothy hay, such as Science Selective Timothy Hay. Both of these options are firm favourites with our piggie friends!
The food that you give your pet alongside their hay should also be high in fibre to keep their teeth as healthy as possible. Our Science Selective Guinea Pig diet has a very high fibre content and also has no added sugar, making it one of the best choices for dental health.
Another cause of teeth problems in guinea pigs is a lack of vitamin C. If piggies don’t have enough of this vitamin in their diet, their teeth can become loose, and this disrupts the normal wear. So it’s important that your pet’s diet contains enough vitamin C, which is found in leafy green veggies as well as specially designed guinea pig food. In some foods the amount of vitamin C declines quite significantly with storage time, but in all our guinea pig diets we use stabilised vitamin C to make sure your pet will get the best value from their food.
What are the signs of tooth problems in guinea pigs?
Choosing the right diet is a great way to reduce the chances of your piggie developing dental problems, but it’s also important to know the signs to look out for so you can catch any problems quickly and nip them in the bud. Since guinea pigs are prey species, they’re very good at hiding it when they feel poorly, but these are the tell-tale signs to look out for:
- Drooling – you may see that your piggie has a wet chin or they may lose some fur in this area
- Difficulty eating – your pet may struggle with their food and keep dropping it. They may look distressed while they’re trying to eat, and might even have second thoughts after they’ve gone to the food bowl
- Change in food preferences – as dental spurs develop, guinea pigs may find it uncomfortable to eat certain foods. Often they’ll show a preference for softer rather than harder foods
- Reduced appetite – this can be very dangerous for your pet, because it means their delicate digestive system may stop working properly
- Weight loss
- Lack of grooming and unkempt coat
- Masses around the jaw area – when dental disease gets really bad, abscesses can sometimes develop
If your piggie shows any of these signs, it’s best to get them checked out by your vet. They’ll be able to advise you on what’s best to do in order to help your pet return to their happy healthy self.
That’s our guide to guinea pig teeth! The most important thing to remember is that these little herbivores need to keep munching on lots of hay to keep their teeth healthy. If you’d like to learn more about hay for guinea pigs, check out our blog.