Gum and Tooth Disease in Ferrets
Gingivitis is a reversible inflammation of the gums and is considered the earliest stage of periodontal disease, whereby inflammation occurs in some or all of the teeth's support structures. Caused by bacteria located in the gingival crevice, pellicles (thin spot or scum) form on the enamel surface of a clean tooth, eventually leading to plaque. As the plaque thickens, it becomes mineralized and hardens, which is rough and irritating to the gums.
The severity of gingivitis is likely determined by the strength of the animal’s immune system and local oral factors. It occurs in middle-aged to older ferrets. Periodontal disease and bone loss, conversely, is rarely seen in ferrets.
Symptoms and Types
In the early phases of gingivitis, some plaque and calculus is present and there is a mild redness of the gums, but the gingival surfaces are smooth. This can typically be detected during routine wellness examinations. Other common signs of gingivitis and periodontal disease include:
- Bad breath (halitosis)
- Gums may bleed easily on contact
- Fractured canine teeth
Plaque accumulation is one of the main causes leading to gingivitis and periodontal disease in ferrets. Predisposing factors include:
- Old age
- Crowded teeth
- Diet mainly consisting of soft food
- Open-mouth breathing
- Bad chewing habits
- Lack of oral health care
- Uremia and diabetes mellitus
- Automimmune diseases
Your veterinarian will perform a thorough physical exam on the ferret, taking into account the background history of symptoms and possible conditions that might have led to this condition. You will need to give a thorough history of your ferret's health and onset of symptoms, such as when the bad breath began, what your ferret typically eats, whether your ferret has had trouble eating/chewing, and whether your ferret has had any previous health conditions. The routine you have been using to keep your ferret's teeth clean, if you have been using one, should also be shared with your veterinarian as well, including the products you use.
If he or she finds that there is cause for concern, your veterinarian will begin with a urinalysis and possibly a blood test to look for risk factors. X-rays will only be ordered if an abscess is discovered or if periodontal disease is suspected.
Use of a periodontal probe may help distinguish between simple gum disease and a more pervasive disease of the teeth and gums, though an anesthetized oral examination allows a more thorough visual examination of all dental surfaces. If he or she suspects that there might be cancer, a biopsy and cell culture may be recommended.
Special dental tools will be used to remove all plaque and calculus, to polish the teeth, and to rinse them. A gentle technique is necessary when cleaning, as ferret teeth are more fragile than canine or feline teeth. He or she will then teach you how to clean your ferret’s teeth, and appointments for follow-up examinations should be scheduled. Antibiotics are generally not necessary in patients with mild gingivitis, but may be prescribed for severe disease.
Living and Management
Regular oral reexaminations as well as oral home care are effective in treating and preventing future cases of gingivitis and periodontal disease. Your veterinarian may also recommend dietary changes, including a move to more hard types of foods, which tend to leave less substrate on the teeth than soft food.