Just like many other rodents, both species of chinchilla have teeth that grow continuously. In the wild, this is a great thing, since the animals wear down their teeth chewing on tough things. When we keep chinchillas as pets, it is important that we provide them with suitable things to chew on, otherwise the teeth will grow to long and cause problems. If they have already grown to long, taking the chinchilla to an exotic veterinarian to have the teeth trimmed down can be necessary.
The chinchillas have high-crowned teeth, and the enamel covers the entire length of the tooth, extending past the gum line. This is called hypsodont dention and is common in animals that feed on gritty, fibrous material.
Overgrown chinchilla teeth
Overgrown teeth can cause serious problems for a chinchilla, including pain, infection (when skin or gums have been damaged), inability to chew, and inability to swallow. The animal may become unable or unwilling to eat. Overgrown teeth that have been left without treatment have caused deaths in chinchillas.
The incisor teeth
Since the incisor teeth are so prominent, they are also the easiest to identify as overgrown. If a chinchilla is not provided with sufficient chewing material, the incisors can grow so long that they start to curve and stick out between the lips. They can even grow into the gums or roof of the animal’s mouth.
The molars can also become too long, and this can be more difficult for the chinchilla owner to spot since the molars are in the back of the mouth. The veterinarian can use a speculum to check the length of your chinchilla’s molars. A common sign of overgrown molars in chinchillas is hypersalivation, problems with swallowing and problems chewing.
Trimming chinchilla teeth
Chinchilla keepers can learn how to trim the incisors of their pet, but it is advisable to let a veterinarian or skilled chinchilla breeder show you exactly how to do it, since improper trimming can be both painful and damaging. When it comes to trimming the molars, the safest route is to let a skilled exotic veterinarian do it, since it is much more difficult.
Trimming the incisor teeth
Incisor teeth can be trimmed using a dog nail trimmer. You cut the tip of tooth just like you would cut the tip of a dog’s nail. This is a high-risk method, since there is a serious risk of accidentally cracking or splitting the tooth.
A more popular method is to use a handheld rotary tool, like the Dremel, where a cut-off wheel is used to slice off the tip of the tooth. Care must be taken to not graze the gums or lips. Exotic veterinarians often offer this treatment with anesthesia, to make it less stressful for the animal.
Trimming the molars
Diagnosing the molars as overgrown and trimming them down is best left to an experienced veterinarian. Anesthesia is used and the animal is temporarily incapacitated. A dental bur and handheld dental files are than used to gently filed down the molars.
Preventing overgrown teeth
All types of artificial teeth trimming (and anesthesia) comes with certain risks and is stressful for the chinchilla, so preventing overgrown teeth from occurring in the first place is much better. Also, checking the teeth of your pet regularly so that you can spot early warning signs is strongly recommended.
Some chinchillas become reluctant to chew if they have soft food available that they can eat without putting in much effort. You might have to switch to a chewier food. Also keep in mind that the natural grinding action of chewing on hay is a great way for a chinchilla to slowly but steadily wear down its teeth a bit.
Adding branches from various types of trees is another tip for making your chinchilla chew more. Some chinchillas have favorite species that they prefer, e.g. apple branches, poplar, willow, or aspen. Some tree types can cause health problems in chinchillas and should be avoided, and this list includes citrus trees, cedar and many evergreen trees.
Wooden chew toys made from untreated wood are available in well assorted pet stores. Look at the rodent section. Chew toys intended for parrots can also work, and so can manzanita branches intended for pet birds to perch on.
Some chinchillas are really hardcore and will happily chew on pumice stones and mineral blocks. This will of course wear down the teeth quite rapidly.
In some chinchillas, an individual tooth is causing problems even though all other teeth are worn down as they should. In such cases, it can become necessary to let a veterinarian extract the troublesome tooth.