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Why Ferret Dental Disease Is A Concern

Plaque and tartar on a ferret’s teeth can lead to dental disease and major health problems.

Leticia Materi, PhD, DVM
Posted: March 17, 2014, 4 a.m. EDT

ferret teeth with tartar
© Courtesy Leticia Materi, PhD, DVM
Regular brushing by the owner and veterinary checkups can prevent dental disease in ferrets.

One of the most entertaining animals that I see in my clinic has to be the ferret. They are incredibly inquisitive and ready to play. And watching them do their ‘war dance’ in a state of happy excitement is such a joy! Even their scientific name, Mustela putorius furo, brings a smile (loosely translated, it means "mouse-eating smelly thief”).

It is believed that ferrets were domesticated centuries ago, likely for the purpose of pest control. However, today’s domesticated ferret is more likely to be found curled up on the couch watching TV with their human family than out hunting prey.

With the increasing popularity of ferrets as pets, owners have become more proactive when it comes to maintaining the health of their furry family members. One area that has gained more attention in the ferret world is the prevention of dental disease.

Like people, ferrets have temporary teeth while young that are gradually lost and replaced by adult teeth. This usually happens by 6 to 8 weeks of age. As adults, ferrets have 34 teeth in total.

Ferrets can damage their teeth by chewing on inappropriate objects, such as their cage bars, or if they fall. If a tooth breaks and the pulp is exposed, then infection can occur. If this happens, then a root canal or extraction is recommended.

Most ferrets that visit my office have some degree of plaque and tartar on their teeth. Plaque is a buildup of bacteria in a sticky filmlike material that adheres to the teeth, both above and below the gumline. The bacteria produce substances that irritate the gums and can cause cavities in the teeth. With time, the plaque combines with minerals in the saliva to form hard deposits known as tartar. As these deposits expand, they lead to inflammation and retraction of the gums. In severe cases, root abscesses and bone infections occur. Severe dental disease has also been linked to infections of the heart, kidneys and liver, as bacteria from the mouth can enter blood vessels and be transported to other organs. Thus dental disease in ferrets should not be regarded as a minor issue but should be dealt with quickly to prevent long-term health problems.

In order to treat severe cases of dental disease, veterinary professionals often have to perform cleaning of the teeth using special tools. This includes removing plaque and tartar below the gumline. Severely diseased teeth may also need to be removed.

So how can owners try to prevent this from happening to their beloved pet? We encourage owners to use pet-safe, fluoride-free enzymatic toothpaste on their ferret’s teeth. Depending on the ferret’s temperament, a soft toothbrush can also be used. Pet owners should consult with their veterinarian about how often this should be done. Ferrets should also be protected from falls and housed in cages that prevent them from chewing on bars. Constant monitoring by owners and proper veterinary care can go a long way to help prevent dental disease in ferrets.

Note: This article is meant for educational purposes only and in no way represents any particular individual or case. It is not for diagnostic purposes. If your pet is sick, please take him or her to a veterinarian.

See all of Dr. Materi's blogs, click here>>

Posted: March 17, 2014, 4 a.m. EDT


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