By L. Vanessa Gruden, Published in 2010
When’s the last time you looked in your ferret’s mouth? Last month? Year? Ever? Do yourself and your pet a favor and do it now.
In a young, healthy ferret, all you should see is white teeth and pink gums. If your ferret is a couple years old, you’ll see some normal yellowing of the canine (two long front) teeth. Look further back toward the jaw. Do you see dark material on what would be our molars? That’s the beginning of tartar buildup. Do you see red along the gums? That’s periodontal disease starting, and it can lead to infections, internal disease, and death. What if you have a ferret over age 4? You could see a blackened tooth or teeth missing along the front jaw. The gums could be inflamed or even bleeding.
Other symptoms of dental disease? Take a sniff! If their mouth smells foul, that’s a major sign there’s a serious problem. Has your ferret lost weight or been eating less? When it hurts to eat, chewing kibble is hard and they don’t have the option to order milkshakes at the drivethru.
Prevention is the Best Remedy
How nasty would YOUR teeth be if never brushed? No one expects you to clean your pet’s teeth after each meal, but if you want to keep them healthy longer, regular tooth care is key.
NEVER use human toothpaste, which isn’t meant to be ingested, on a pet. There is no toothpaste specifically for ferrets but you can use cat or dog versions. Pet pastes can be found in any pet outlet and come in flavors like poultry or vanilla mint. Ferrets may also like this peanut-flavored version sold under the Sentry brand and available on the web or at major pet stores. You can also use human infant formula toothpaste like Baby Orajel, which comes in yummy applebanana, berry, and mixed fruit flavors. Just read the label and make sure it’s safe to swallow.
Some sites recommend you use a rubber finger brush, but anyone who knows how much ferrets like to bite rubbery items will realize that’s not a good idea! I dip a cotton swab, which will fit inside tiny mouths better, in the paste, rub back & forth, especially along the back teeth, and just throw it out when done.
Incorporate tooth cleaning into your regular grooming routine and not only will you help delay expensive veterinary scalings, but catch any problems before they become a crisis.
You’ve seen some dirty chompers and don’t know what to do? Well, determining the progression of the problem is first.
If there’s no gingivitis (inflammation of the gum), you may be able to get away with scraping off the tartar yourself with a dental tool…or, for Connecticut residents, wait until FACT has their annual Frolic, where Tamara Von Ouhl usually performs lowcost scalings. If the situation is more serious, then a vet visit is in order.
Your Ferret’s Dentist – The Veterinarian
The modern veterinarian is generally skilled in dentistry as well as general medical care. He or she can clean, scale (scrape off tartar) and polish your pet’s teeth, and, if necessary, prescribe medication to control infection.
The veterinarian needs to sedate your pet for a full cleaning, so make sure he or she is healthy enough for anesthesia. Costs will vary widely depending on the scope of the dentistry and the clinic fees, but the good news is February is National Pet Dental Health Month, so most hospitals offer special discounts for dental work. For some, it’s so popular that they may extend the discount period from late January into early March.
The images at the top are “before & afters” of Tidy cat I recently brought to the East Hartford (CT) Animal Clinic for a cleaning.
It’s important to note that I would not have normally noticed the infections brewing in these critters’ mouths. (Special thanks to a FACT volunteer who alerted me to their rapidly deteriorating condition!) While TidyCat had been losing some weight, her friend Shia was still fat and playful. Looking back, yes, they weren’t as active, but I just thought it was because both were now over 4 years old. MY BAD!
While quiet the night of the surgery, they ate normally and by the next evening were bouncing all around. Both seem to be feeling better and are more active and playful now that their dental issues have been solved.
Paying for a full veterinary dental cleaning doesn’t solve the problem forever. Unless YOU keep up the care with inhome brushing, those sparkly whites will just revert back to grubby. Other good preventative measures include always feeding dry kibble, not soft or moist food and limiting treats (especially those with sugar!). Some ferrets like tartar-reducing pet treats, like Greenies®. (Use the small ones made for cats.)
However, until your ferret is able and willing to brush their own teeth, you’ll have to keep an eye on them to make sure your furry buddy enters old age eating great and feeling great.