We all know how important it is that we take care of our teeth with daily brushings, flossing and regular dentist visits, but how many people stop to consider how important their ferrets’ dental health is? The truth of the matter is that ferrets need their teeth brushed and cleaned too, and that impaired dental health can lead to a lot more problems for them than it can for us!
What’s In Your Ferret’s Mouth?
Before we get into the specifics of good ferret dental care, it’s important to know a little about a ferret’s teeth. Ferrets have milk teeth until they’re about 7 to 9 weeks old. They have 30 baby teeth and 34 adult teeth. There are four main types of teeth in a ferret’s mouth.
- Six small upper and lower incisors in the front for gathering the food
- Four canines for puncturing the food
- Three upper and lower premolars on each side to cut the food
- One upper and two lower molars on each side to grind food
Ferrets on a kibble diet use their molars the most (for grinding food, as opposed to tearing meat and bolting it like they would do in the wild), and it is the molars that suffer the most accumulation of plaque and tartar.
Now, what can you use to brush your ferret’s teeth and how should you do it? First and foremost, there are special pet toothpastes (referred to as “animal dentifrice”) and toothbrushes or wipes that you should use. NEVER use a human toothpaste and toothbrush. Human toothpastes are meant to be spit out, not swallowed, and your ferret will become very ill after consuming the toothpaste. Human toothbrushes, even the softest ones, are too rough, and can damage your ferret’s mouth, not to mention cause it a lot of discomfort.
Toothpaste options include:
- Dental Gels for cats, kittens & ferrets
- Toothpaste for cats, kittens & ferrets (malt and chicken flavors are a favorite!)
Toothbrush options include:
- Small cat/kitten finger toothbrushes (with bristles, or made of latex)
- Totally Ferret Oral Swabs – cotton swabs filled with a dental solution
- Dental wipes for pets
My favored toothbrush is the latex finger brushes that fit like thimbles over your fingertip. (Note – These are not a good idea with biters or ferrets who love to chew on rubber!)
How To Brush Your Ferret’s Teeth
This process will definitely take a little getting used to for both you and your ferret! Be gentle with your fuzzy, and understand that the first few times are probably going to be a little alarming for it. You might want to ease into the brushing procedure by scruffing your ferret and just getting it used to having you touching its teeth.
- Wet the bristles of the brush and apply a very small amount (slightly larger around than the tip of a pencil eraser) of whatever dentifrice you’ve decided to use. If your ferret hates the flavor, you can add a small amount of ferretvite or ferretone to it to improve it.
- Scruff your ferret, or, if this is your first time or you find it too difficult to do alone, have someone else scruff the ferret.
- Gently – with minimal pressure – massage the sides and bottoms of the back teeth, working your way up to the canines and incisors. Pay special attention to the molars, as their tongues can’t reach back here to clean off the teeth, and plaque and tartar buildup will be significant. Don’t try to brush the inside surface of the teeth.
- When you’re done, give the ferret some ferretone, apologize, and watch it give you a dirty look and run away!
The buildup from soft treats and foods should come off easily if you are brushing regularly enough. The frequency of the brushings will depend on the ferret and its diet. Ferrets that receive lots of soft treats and foods (baby food, soft diets, duck soup) should have their teeth brushed weekly. The rest of our fuzzy friends will need their teeth brushed every other week, or twice a month at the very least. Don’t assume that kibble is enough to keep their teeth clean! The kibble forms a kind of paste that tends to stick along the gum line and in between teeth, and brushing regularly helps to remove that.
No matter how faithfully you care for your ferret’s teeth, you will eventually start to see serious tartar buildup, which is when it’s time to head to the vet. So what does tartar look like? You will see what appear to be grayish, greenish spots on your ferret’s teeth. Vet visits for a full cleaning (dental prophylaxis) should be done every one to three years, depending on how quickly your ferret’s teeth get dirty. The ferret should be anesthetized during this procedure, which should take no more than 20 to 30 minutes, even with cases of severe tartar accumulation.
So Now You Know The “How”, But What About The “Why”?
Why is it so important to take care of your ferret’s teeth, and what happens if you don’t? Ferrets who don’t have their teeth brushed regularly develop gingivitis, just like we do. Gingivitis is an infection or inflammation of the gums, and will be evident in the early stages as a thin red line along the gum line and possible bleeding. If left untreated, gingivitis will eventually develop into full blown periodontal disease. This is an infection of the outer tooth and the surrounding dental structures, including the gums, tooth surfaces, and even the ligaments that hold the teeth in place. As the plaque hardens into tartar, it will become more painful for the ferret to eat, and you will probably see a significant change in eating habits and a subsequent weight loss. Your ferret’s mouth will become very sensitive, and you’ll probably see it tilt its head to the side while eating and drinking.
Periodontal disease is scary sounding enough, but what’s even worse is what it can cause. When a ferret develops periodontal disease, bacteria enter the ferret’s system. This can cause tooth rot abscesses, increased susceptibility to infections, lethargy resulting from low-grade infections, kidney and liver problems, and even heart diseases such as endocarditis or periodcarditis. So, as you can see, the ramifications of not maintaining proper dental health are not limited to plaque buildup and problems eating!
So Now What?
If you’re reading this and thinking that you’re a horrible ferret parent, don’t! These are things that many ferret owners don’t know. In fact, periodontal disease is one of the most common conditions in ferrets that are 6 years old and older, so you and your ferret aren’t alone! But now that you know, some things you can do are:
- Take a look in your ferret’s mouth. Do you see buildup or smell some truly awful breath? If you do, clean the teeth yourself and make a vet appointment to get a full cleaning done.
- Figure out your new ferret dental regiment, and stick to it!
- Look for ferret treats that help maintain good dental health such as N-Bones, Cheweasels, Foamy Fries, and Marshall Super Chews.
- Share this information with other ferret owners – if you didn’t know, they probably don’t either!
So remember, brush no less than twice a month, keep an eye out for irritated gums and tartar buildup, and make an appointment every one to three years for a full professional cleaning!