Brushing Your Ferret’s Teeth
Although it may seem like a difficult process, with the right tools brushing your ferret’s teeth can be doable. Most Veterinarians recommend that you brush your ferret’s teeth twice a month (at least) to keep your ferret’s teeth healthy.
Why Should You Brush Your Ferret’s Teeth?
Dental disease. More and more it has been determined, that like people, pets need dental care to prevent dental disease and to keep them healthy overall. Brushing a dog’s teeth has been recommended by Vets for a long time. As this has become common practice, Vets have been recommending dental care for other pets as well–including ferrets.
Dental disease in ferrets, as well as in other pets and in people, starts with gingivitis. Gingivitis is an inflammation of the gums. This inflammation is caused by bacteria that live in the mouth and invade the pockets surrounding the teeth. Untreated, gingivitis can progress to periodontitis, a disease involving the teeth and gum pockets. Eventually, these oral bacteria also invade the bloodstream and can cause infections in the kidneys and even the heart valves. The severity of gingivitis is partly determined by the strength of the ferret’s immune system. It occurs in middle-aged to older ferrets. Periodontal disease, luckily, is uncommon in ferrets.
Causes of Gingivitis and Periodontal Disease in Ferrets
Plaque accumulation is one of the main causes of gingivitis and periodontal disease in ferrets. If you haven’t been brushing your ferret’s teeth, plaque and tartar are sure to build up.
Predisposing factors include:
- Old age
- Crowded teeth
- Diet mainly consisting of soft food
- Open-mouth breathing
- Bad chewing habits
- Lack of oral health care
- Autoimmune diseases
The good news in regard to gingivitis is that it’s usually reversible.
Treatment of Gingivitis and Periodontal Disease in Ferrets
When dental disease progresses to the point of severe tartar accumulation, then brushing your ferret’s teeth will not be enough. Your Vet will need to clean your ferret’s teeth. Cleaning your ferret’s teeth is done the same way as a dog’s or cat’s teeth are cleaned. The tartar is removed mechanically from the teeth with a dental scaler and the surfaces of the teeth are then polished to slow down plaque accumulation. Obviously, ferrets must be anesthetized for this process. Most cleanings take about 20 to 30 minutes for ferrets.
A little prevention can save your ferret the stress and potential danger of being anesthetized and you can save yourself the cost of the procedure as well as the stress.
I must confess that, throughout all the years of having ferrets in my family, only recently have I realized the importance of regular dental care. A fellow ferret parent I know almost lost her ferret due to accumulated dental problems. Her ferret was not eating as much as usual and she became concerned. She took him to the Vet and was told that her ferret had several infected teeth that would need to be removed and he would then need to take antibiotics to treat the infection. He was an older ferret and had some other health problems, making putting him under anesthesia even more of a risk. After the procedure, he didn’t start waking up as he should have. It started to look like he may not wake up at all. Thankfully, he eventually did, but it was quite a scare and a wake-up call.
I know brushing your ferret’s teeth is easier said than done. Ferrets have small mouths with small teeth. Plus, ferrets dislike having their mouths handled. However, there are a few tools that can make brushing your ferret’s teeth doable.
There are small pet toothbrushes and small finger brushes that fit on the tip of your fingers made for cats which can also work for ferrets. There are flavored pet toothpastes, such as CET Pet Toothpaste, that comes in malt flavor–a favorite of many ferrets. There are tooth sprays and gels, such as PurBreath No Brush Complete Oral Care Gel. But first, you have to get your ferret used to having her mouth handled! Since ferrets won’t naturally allow you to put your fingers or a toothbrush in their mouths, you will have to ease your ferret into the tooth brushing process.
Brushing Your Ferret’s Teeth Step 1
Preparing Your Ferret
You can’t expect your ferret to open her mouth and allow you to do what you want in it. You need to get her used to you playing around her mouth in a non-stressful way.
You will find it much easier if you scruff your ferret and rest her body down the inside of your forearm. She will be supported by your arm and unable to move around.
Start by rubbing your ferret’s cheeks and mouth for about 10-20 seconds several times a day for a few days. Once your ferret becomes more familiar with this interaction you may begin to rub her teeth and gums to get her used to your fingers in her mouth and to get her ready for the brushing. As she becomes more familiar with this stage, allow her to taste the toothpaste you plan to use. Be sure to only use pet toothpaste–NEVER USE TOOTHPASTE FOR HUMANS! It can make your ferret very sick. Eventually, you should be able to incorporate the toothbrush with the toothpaste and begin to brush your ferret’s teeth.
Brushing Your Ferret’s Teeth Step 2
Examining Your Ferret’s Mouth
In the early phases of gingivitis, plaque and tartar are present and there is a mild redness of the gums. Other common signs of gingivitis and periodontal disease include:
- Bad breath
- A thin red line along the margins of the gum and teeth
- Gums may bleed easily on contact
- Fractured canine teeth
The gums are a good indicator of your ferret’s overall health. Healthy gums are pink, smooth and moist. If they look white, bluish or grayish, contact your Vet as soon as possible, as this can be a sign that your ferret may be suffering from one of several diseases. If the gums are very red, it may be a sign of dental disease. Also, look to see if she has any broken or chipped teeth. Chipped and broken teeth are quite common in ferrets. It is usually the upper fangs that get broken. Many ferrets have a habit of grasping cage bars or doors in their mouths and pulling back forcefully. If your ferret does have a chipped or broken tooth, you should make an appointment with your veterinarian to see if the root of the tooth has been exposed. Sometimes, teeth simply wear down to the roots from aggressive chewing.
Brushing Your Ferret’s Teeth Step 3
Brushing Your Ferret’s Teeth
I recommend using a small cat toothbrush as opposed to a finger toothbrush. The finger brushes are too big for a ferret’s mouth, in my experience. Make sure to be gentle on your ferret’s teeth and gums when brushing. When brushing your ferret’s teeth, gently brush the gums as well–especially at the gum line. Concentrate on the back teeth and the outside of the teeth and then work on the front teeth and the inside of the teeth. Depending on your ferret’s tolerance, you may be unable to get to the inside of the teeth. Keep your brushing sessions short, no more than 10 seconds until she is used to it. No more than 30 seconds after that. It’s better to brush your ferret’s teeth for shorter periods, but more frequently, than trying to brush them thoroughly in one long session–making it more stressful for your ferret.
After you have been brushing your ferret’s teeth regularly and have removed much of the plaque. You may want to supplement the brushing with an oral gel or solution. I would not recommend using one of these products unless your ferret’s teeth are relatively clean and free of tartar. Keep in mind that these products also need to be applied to your ferret’s teeth, similar to brushing.
After getting your ferret used to having her teeth brushed, spending a few minutes twice a month on your ferret’s dental health goes a long way in keeping your ferret healthy.
You can find a great selection of pet dental products, here.
Your comments are welcome.