Monday, February 8, 2010

Ferret Tooth Care

     I hope you took a moment to answer the poll. If you answered no to the question you might be surprised to find out that the kibble may take away the visible build up of plaque (1) and tarter (2) but does nothing for what might be lurking under the gum line.

     Until recently, I was just as guilty in that belief but an announcement on twitter alerted me to February being National Pet Dental Care Month by the  Veterinarian Oral Health Council (VOHC).

     I checked out the VOHC and found that we should be brushing our pet’s teeth daily for the same reasons we brush ours, to prevent tooth loss or decay, gingivitis(3), and periodontal disease. While the site gave some nice information for cats and dogs, there was no mention of ferrets.

     My search for information about ferret dental care led me to several articles online written by veterinarian dentists but were full of jargon that was hard for a pet owner to understand.

First some facts:

     At the time of this posting, there are only 75 board certified veterinarian dentists in the United States.

     Most pet owners believe that hard food and chew toys are enough to keep a pet’s teeth healthy.

     A ferret’s teeth grow from the tip up.

     A kit will have 30 teeth by 3months and have lost them by 9 months.

     An adult ferret will have 34 teeth.

     My fur kids are now around 7 years old and until this month have never had their teeth brushed. Like many other owners, I was under the impression that their food and toys were enough to keep their teeth healthy.

     I may not have been brushing their teeth but I keep a close eye on their canines also known as eyeteeth. Ferrets love to chew, bite, or drag things that could be detrimental to those long thin teeth.

     Lance has a habit of grabbing a hold of cage bars and rattling them to let me know he is awake and wants out to play…NOW! In a normal mesh cage, this would be difficult for him to do but James and him live in a medium sized dog crate.

     The bars are thicker and spaced about a half an inch apart giving Lance plenty of room to grab one and give it a good yank or three allowing a chance for him to break one of his teeth in the process. Thankfully, all I have to do is sign that it isn’t playtime and he stops.

     Periodontal disease can lead to other conditions besides tooth loss. Some are but not limited to tooth root abscesses, heart disease (Endocarditis (4) or Periocarditis (5)), susceptibility to infections that can cause weight loss, and lethargy.

     Ferrets older than six years periodontal disease is a common condition and can be lessened by twice-yearly cleanings also known as dental prophylaxis (6) to have the build ups scrapped from the teeth and under the gum line.

     Periodontal disease is common in ferrets older than 6 years old and in most cases easily been prevented with daily tooth brushing. How does one brush a ferret’s teeth? The obvious answer is very carefully for both the owner and the ferret. To make this a pleasant experience for the both of you start slowly.

     If you are just starting to brush your ferret’s teeth you should get him use to you messing with his mouth.

     My fur kids are used to me playing bad hair day with them. I do this by encircling their neck with my forefinger and thumb just so that I am just touching their fur and sliding my hand up over their faces fluffing the hair so it is standing up on end. By doing this I am able to feel what the outside of their mouths are like and notice if anything is different.

     Getting a ferret to open his/her mouth voluntarily is another feat but can be done by grabbing the scruff of the neck and lifting them up. This doesn’t hurt them as it is loose skin very much like on a cat. This will make them yawn giving you a very clear view of the inside of their mouth.

     You want to look for anything that would signal a dentist visit for yourself. This includes the need for teeth cleaning because of buildup of plaque and tarter, inflamed or bleeding gum line, loose, missing, or broken teeth. Make sure there is nothing stuck between the teeth such as a piece of food or other foreign objects.

     Brushing requires few items, a soft bristle toothbrush or a fingertip brush, and pet toothpaste (never use human toothpaste) poultry flavor is the one recommended for ferrets but any flavor will work.

     When I first started brushing my fur kid’s teeth, I started with using a water moistened Q-tip® just to get them used to having something run across their teeth and gums. It allowed them a chance to bite down on it and not get hurt.

     After a few days, I changed to using a toothbrush still with no paste on it so they could get use to the feel of it. I, personally, don’t use the fingertip toothbrush because they are made of latex rubber and all of my ferrets have a taste for rubber.

     For me it is easier to avoid the potential of one of them getting a hold of it and ending up with an obstruction from the chewed material and I like my fingers relatively free of holes.

     Finally, I added a small amount of paste to the toothbrush and have been brushing my kid’s teeth daily. James is receptive to having it done. Lance on the other hand is adept at pushing the brush away from his mouth after couple of passes he has had enough.

     With Gweny, because her mouth is so small I still use the Q-tip® with a small amount of paste. I know it isn’t doing a through job but with her in the end stages of Adrenal it isn’t really high on the list as keeping her comfortable while she is still with us.

     After they get their teeth brushed, each fur kid gets a lot of loving and praise for letting me brush their teeth.

     In just the few days that I have been brushing their teeth I have noticed a difference in how the teeth look. They are starting to regain that nice white shine and they aren’t continually licking their fang teeth.


(1) Plaque: A clear film that consists of bacteria and salivary proteins that attaches to the teeth.

(2) Tartar: Plaque with a mineral added usually calcium and/or phosphorus.

(3) Gingivitis: An inflammation of the gums.

(4) Endocarditis: An inflammation of the inner layer of the heart usually involves the heart valves.

(5) Periocarditis: An inflammation of the two layers of the thin sac-like membrane that surrounds the heart.

(6) Dental prophylaxis: Cleaning, scaling, and polishing of teeth done under aesthetics by a veterinarian or veterinary dentist.

No comments: