Like cats and dogs, bearded dragons, iguanas, rabbits, chinchillas, and all sorts of other exotic pets require dental care. Most exotic pets should have a thorough oral exam as part of their annual health checkup, but some need their dental health evaluated more frequently, especially if they are prone to problems.
Reptile dental care
Pet owners often don’t realize that dental disease affects reptiles as well as cats and dogs. Lizards, snakes, turtles, and tortoises can suffer from dental issues, which differ based on the species. Dental disease signs include loss of appetite, difficulty in grabbing food, pain when chewing, jaw swelling, and bleeding from the mouth.
- Some lizards, such as water dragons, bearded dragons, and chameleons, differ from other reptiles in that their teeth are not seated deeply into tooth sockets with ligaments, but fused directly to the jawbone. These reptiles with loosely attached teeth have an increased risk of periodontal disease due to their acrodont dentition, meaning the teeth are superficially attached, easily lost, and not replaced. Once acrodont teeth wear down, the biting surface becomes the jawbone itself.
- Snakes and most lizards, such as iguanas, anoles, and monitor lizards, have a pleurodont dentition, meaning the teeth have a larger surface of attachment to the jawbone, and each tooth is regularly replaced throughout the animal’s life as part of a regular wavelike pattern, rather than due to injury or wear.
- Chelonians, such as turtles and tortoises, have developed a keratinized horny beak instead of teeth. Chelonians require a well-balanced diet and access to abrasive chewing materials to keep their beaks at the proper length. A diet deficient in calcium and vitamin D can lead to an overgrown beak that will require trimming by your veterinarian.
The most common form of dental disease in snakes and lizards is stomatitis, also known as mouth rot. Turtles and tortoises are less commonly affected, although this problem is seen as a stomatitis-rhinitis complex in tortoises. Stomatitis presents with the following signs:
- Red, inflamed gums
- Blood, mucus, or pus coming from inside the mouth
- Pinpricks of hemorrhage on the gum tissue
- Oral abscesses
- Tooth loss
- Facial swelling
- Inability to align the mouth when closed
Stomatitis can be caused by a variety of factors, including stress from crowding or improper temperature or humidity, poor diet, trauma from cage striking, vitamin A deficiency, or bacterial infections. Since reptiles aren’t apt to allow routine oral exams, identifying stomatitis at home can be challenging. Topical therapy is usually successful if the disease is caught in the early stages, but, if not, systemic antibiotics and supportive nursing care are required.
Avian dental care
Like chelonians, birds have no teeth, instead relying on a beak to eat, play, climb, and preen. As with other exotic pets, lack of appropriate diet and chewing items leads to overgrowth, so provide pet birds with cuttle bones, wooden toys, nuts, and crunchy vegetables to help with beak wear.
Rodent and rabbit dental care
Small herbivores, such as rabbits, chinchillas, and guinea pigs, should be assumed to have dental disease until proven otherwise, since dental abnormalities are common. Rodents and rabbits usually have dental problems due to insufficient normal wear, leading to elongated teeth that never stop growing, because their diets do not provide the normal grinding required. Rodents and rabbits in the wild choose tough, fibrous grasses and plants to combat tooth growth and avoid painful, sharp tooth spur formation, but pet rodent and rabbit diets often are inappropriate because they consist of pellets and soft vegetables, leading to inadequate tooth wear. Signs of dental disease in rabbits and rodents include:
- Lack of appetite
- Weight loss
- Jaw swelling
- Excessive salivation
- Inability to fully close the mouth
- Chattering jaw
- Tooth grinding
If the tooth roots invade the eye orbit, your pet may exhibit excessive tear production, slightly bulging eyes, or complete ocular proptosis, where the eye is forced outside the socket.
Ensure proper pet diets
To combat dental issues in small herbivores, ensure you’re providing the correct diet for their constantly growing teeth. Encourage interest in a variety of hays—the ideal high-fiber food to properly wear down teeth—by limiting pellet and treat consumption. If your rabbit or chinchilla becomes picky and will eat only treats, her dental health is at risk. In addition to plenty of hay, offer your pet various chews for her dental health. Chews made with woven hay, untreated wood, apple sticks, and other natural materials provide excellent dental wear options and environmental enrichment.
Does your scaly, feathery, or furry friend require dental or beak care? Assessing an exotic pet’s mouth for issues is difficult for owners at home, so give us a call to schedule an oral health care appointment for your pet.