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February 11, 2022

Ask A Small Animal Vet: How Often Should Your Guinea Pig’s Teeth Be Trimmed?

How Often Should a Guinea Pig's Teeth Be Trimmed?

Dr. Micah Kohles, Vice President of Technical Services & Research, Oxbow Animal Health 

Well, the answer I want to give you (i.e., the "right" answer) is “never.” Because, if we are feeding the right diets and the right forages, we shouldn't honestly ever have to trim those teeth at all. We know that the dentition of guinea pigs constantly grows, right? Not only their front teeth, their incisors, but obviously their molars. If they're getting ample amounts of long-strand, high-quality forage, and they're forced to facilitate that natural chewing motion, most guinea pigs don't necessarily need their teeth trimmed.

Now, there are obviously exceptions, such as congenital defects. In a rare instance, guinea pigs are born with an abnormality that leads to a disruption of normal dentition. And, in those instances, sometimes we do have to trim their teeth.

If guinea pigs are not fed an appropriate diet and develop malocclusion, this can be another exception. The lower cheek teeth in guinea pigs actually grow lingually, right? So, they grow over the surface of the tongue. If those teeth get too elongated, we do need to trim them. And sometimes once that dental disease has already begun to develop, even if we correct diet we may have to adjust that (by trimming the teeth). 

Now, how frequently? It really depends on the specific case. I've had numerous examples myself, where guinea pigs have had underlying dental disease (elongated incisors, maybe some spurs on their molar cheek teeth that we've gone in and corrected), we’ve adjusted their diet, and then monitored - never, ever having to go back in and do additional work.

I've also had other cases where the dental disease is maybe more significant. Maybe we have to treat that in different stages over time. Or, certainly, if we do end up having to remove teeth (or they lose teeth) and we lose that direct contact (the upper teeth interacting with the lower teeth) that interaction is what drives that wear and tear. If we remove one component of that and we remove that oppositional force, then absolutely we're going to get that tooth overgrown, and we'll have to trim that more regularly.

In some cases, if we have a damaged incisor or a dead incisor that we have to remove, it may even be something where you need to talk to your veterinarian about going ahead and removing that opposite tooth so that we don't have to continue to trim them over time.

But, I would really strongly suggest you dig into nutrition. Look at those long-strand forages, even look at some other chew items (e.g., appropriate plant-based chew items, untreated woods, other coarse types of plant material.)  A lot of guinea pigs and other small herbivores are really good at wanting to chew those materials/items; it's how they explore the world.

And again, that additional wear and tear on top of those forages may just be enough to get us over the hump and not have to trim them any more than we have to. Certainly, if we need to, we need to.  But, anything we can do to decrease the frequency or to avoid having to do that is certainly going to be advantageous.

What About Other Small Pet Species? Should They Have Their Teeth Trimmed?

Like guinea pigs, our goal (and the standard of care) is that they should rarely if ever, need their teeth trimmed. This, of course, can only occur if they align to the proper diet that is high in free choice grass hays and other forage items. That being said, there are always outliers such as congenital/genetic abnormalities or trauma/accident-induced dental pathologies that, while infrequent, can occur and require lifelong therapy. It is important to remember that with our hindgut fermenting species’ (like guinea pigs, chinchillas, and rabbits) their dental arcade grow throughout their life, and while it is easy to see the front incisors, it is difficult to properly examine the molar or check teeth (which is most commonly where dental disease first appears) without proper equipment and sometimes even sedation or anesthesia. Again, the key is offering a variety of free choice high-quality long-stranded forages like Timothy, Orchard, and oat hays, to really facilitate their natural chewing behavior involving the entire dental arcade.  Small omnivores (like rats, hamsters, and mice) don’t have continuously growing molar/cheek teeth, but their incisors (the front teeth) do constantly grow throughout their life. Providing small omnivores with a high-quality uniform kibble, pellet, or rodent block, along with appropriate chew/forage items, will go a long way in keeping those incisors appropriately worn.

Additionally, all small pets (herbivores and omnivores alike) really benefit from constant access to a variety of chews made from natural, fibrous materials. Not only do these items provide great wear and tear on these animals’ teeth, but it provides an enriching outlet for them to interact with their environment in a natural and meaningful way. 

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