Guinea pigs are cute for several reasons, including their slightly-large front teeth and the accompanying padded cheeks. These teeth are an important part of their life, and understanding what healthy guinea pig teeth look like is important for every responsible owner.
Keep reading to learn more about guinea pig teeth, issues to look out for, and how to keep them as healthy as possible.
How Many Teeth Do Guinea Pigs Have?
Guinea pigs have 20 teeth: 4 incisors, 4 premolars, and 12 molars. These teeth grow continuously throughout their life, including growing back if one falls out, no guinea pig should be missing a single tooth.
Guinea pigs have what is called “elodont dentition”. This means that like other rodents, they have open root canals that never seal, allowing their teeth to grow indefinitely. Teeth will grow about 5 to 7.5 cm throughout the year, and a tooth that falls out is replaced in 2 to 3 weeks.
You won’t notice exceptionally long teeth if your cavies if they eat a proper diet. The entire reason that they have open-rooted teeth is so they can replace the excessive wear that comes from eating a fiber-based diet, about 1 to 2 mm per week.
Guinea pigs do not have baby teeth; they come out with a full set of teeth that allow them to hit the ground running. This includes:
- Incisors: 2 pairs of long, thin teeth at the front of the mouth; sharp for effective nibbling and grooming
- Premolars: 2 pairs; sharp, narrow cheek teeth on either side of the incisors
- Molars: 6 pairs; flatter for grinding and chewing tough foods
You may notice that guinea pigs do not have canine teeth. Instead, they have a diastema (gap) between their incisors and premolars, although their cheek pads pretty much fill the gap.
Guinea pigs also have white enamel like humans, not yellow like you expect from most rodents. Their incisors have a thick layer on the front but none on the back, allowing them to sharpen into proper snacking and grooming tools.
Common Tooth Issues that Guinea Pigs Have
The most common issues seen in guinea pig teeth include:
- Overgrown teeth/elongated roots
- Tooth infections/abscesses
Most of these issues occur when guinea pigs aren’t provided a proper diet, although they can show up at any time. Even with the most foolproof care plan, you should understand these common dental problems and how to address them.
Overgrowth usually happens when your guinea pigs don’t have enough to chew on throughout the day. They need a steady supply of hay, but should also have suitable wood to gnaw on and keep their teeth short.
Overgrown teeth can be hard to pick up on at first. You usually won’t notice an issue until they grow long enough to cause misalignment or damage to the cheeks or gums. In most cases, overgrowth is only noticed after it punctures soft tissue or inhibits eating by growing over the tongue.
Elongated roots are teeth that have grown too much in the opposite direction. Your guinea pig may show signs of pain if you touch their jaw, but you can notice it through bumps along the jaw.
Overgrown roots on the upper jaw may put pressure on the eye, causing excessive tearing, bulging, or even infection. While overgrown teeth may be trimmed down, elongated roots require surgery to remove.
Any bite issues fall into this category, although most develop over time as your young cavy’s teeth grow in crooked or grow while dealing with trauma. If teeth are broken or not worn down at the same rate, it can cause them to grow “lop-sided” and cause misalignment problems.
Other contributing factors include:
- Poor diet (primarily Vitamin C deficiency)
- Lack of gnawing opportunities/no access to hay
- Old age
- Tooth infection
- Trauma or injury to the mouth/teeth
It’s more common to see this issue on guinea pig incisors, but malocclusion can happen anywhere in the mouth. Before you notice the actual teeth, you may notice that your guinea pig is drooling more than usual.
A veterinarian needs to balance out their mouth to alleviate the issue and prevent further damage.
Breaks in teeth usually occur if your guinea pigs falls, fights, or bites something they’re not supposed to. They’re more common in guinea pigs who don’t have access to a rich and diverse diet.
Trimming guinea pig teeth on your own is also likely to leave them with fractured teeth; they shouldn’t need regular trimming if they’re provided with plenty of chewable objects.
While the break may not seem bad, it leaves their teeth with sharp edges and weakened dentition. Even if the fracture doesn’t get worse, it can cut the gums or cheeks and lead to infection.
You may need x-rays to detect broken teeth in your guinea pig’s mouth, especially if the break is under the gumline. Those above the gumline can usually be shaved down, but those under the gum require extraction.
The minor cuts from other teeth issues can easily lead to infection and even abscesses in your guinea pig’s mouth, although other causes include:
- Impacted teeth
- Lesions and ulcers
- Bacterial or fungal infection
If caught early on, the infection can usually be treated with an oral antibiotic. If you leave it alone or don’t notice it, it’s likely the affected tooth and the one on the opposite jaw will need to be removed.
In the worst-case scenarios, tooth infections can infiltrate the jaw bone and lead to an even more complicated surgery.
How to Monitor Guinea Pig Teeth
Monitoring guinea pig teeth involves:
- Weekly visual inspections
- Weekly weigh-ins
- Consistent behavioral analysis
While it may seem like an extra chore, doing these things takes only a few minutes every week and allows you to catch on to any issues as they start. If you wait until your guinea pig is obviously sick, it may be too late to resolve the issue or it may require a more complicated (and expensive) treatment.
Weekly Teeth Checks and Weigh-Ins
Every week you should do an in-depth visual inspection to make sure there aren’t any developing issues hiding during your daily interactions.
Weighing your guinea pig every week ensures you’re proactive in addressing a variety of health issues, not just tooth problems.
Healthy weight varies depending on your guinea pig’s gender and age. Regardless of how much they weigh, you want to keep track of what they gain or lose. Weight loss greater than 2 ounces in a week usually signifies an issue.
During your weekly health checks you should also inspect your guinea pig’s teeth as well as you can. This gets easier as they grow accustomed to the fuss, but expect protests at first.
Wash your hands before and after handling your guinea pig. Find a place with good overhead lighting, and then lay them on their back on your lap. You may want an extra set of hands to make things go smoother.
Use your thumb and index finger to hold their jaw, allowing you to inspect their upper and lower incisors. Feel along their gum line, going past the diastema to the back of the mouth. The lower molars and lower premolars are usually easier to check, but they’re also where most problems start.
During this inspection look for:
- Cracks, snags, spikes
- Scabs, lesions, sores
Make sure you give your guinea pig a tasty treat when you’re done.
Behaviors to Watch For
Guinea pigs are pretty good at hiding signs of pain, but you may be able to catch slight changes in behavior that signal an early issue. It’s unlikely your guinea pig will have a loss of appetite, but they may have difficulty eating or abandon their usual favorites early on.
Behaviors to look for include:
- Difficulty cutting up larger pieces of food
- Dropping food
- Slow chewing
- Waggling or touching ears when chewing (indicates harder chewing)
- Lack of grooming
It’s easy to miss many of these signs, but your weekly weigh-ins will tell you what you need to know.
When You Need to Take Your Guinea Pig to the Vet for Their Teeth
Take your guinea pig to the vet if you notice excessive weight loss, broken teeth, or major shifts in behavior.
While some may suggest you simply trim overgrown or unbalanced teeth on your own, we suggest you consult your veterinarian first. They may have better tools for the job, be able to act with greater precision, and can help you figure out how to prevent reoccurance.
More serious dental issues with your piggy, such as tooth fracture, usually require surgical extraction. Your veterinarian should also remove the opposite tooth (otherwise it will overgrow) and set you up with a suitable recovery plan.
When going to the vet, make sure you provide as many details as possible. Behavioral changes, weight history, and your findings from your weekly dental checks make it easier to diagnose and treat your furry friend.
Guinea pigs are born with a full set of 20 teeth, and they keep them until they say their last goodbyes. As long as you provide a continuous supply of timothy hay, a nutritious diet, and plenty of chewing toys, their mouth should stay as healthy as possible.
While most dental issues work themselves out, it’s important you take your guinea pig to the vet as soon as possible to prevent major issues. Because of their biological nature, a dental issue that inhibits their normal eating habits can be disastrous.
Want to know more about guinea pig teeth or care? Let us know in the comments!