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Posted By: Greg - Vet

When the Degu needs to visit the dentist

It’s not just dogs, cats and rabbits at the vets – there are a large number of rodents owned in the UK, and this covers a large array of species. Rats, mice and guinea pigs are common rodents seen in vet practices, but there are an emerging number of other species, from hamsters and gerbils to chinchillas, to the inquisitive degu. Degus originally hail from Chile, and are sized between a gerbil and a small rat. Pickle is one such degu that visited the practice with a need to see the dentist, as he was showing signs of tooth related problems.

Degus are highly social animals, and Pickle is kept with a few of his friends – Loki and Teddy Junior, with lots of tunnels to burrow in and items to gnaw away at. Unlike some other rodents, degus are diurnal which means that they spend a lot of the daytime up and about, meaning they can be interacted and observed with easily. In the past, Pickle has had problems with his teeth growing too long, so when he was seen to start pawing at his face, his owner knew that a visit to the vets was needed.

Degus are herbivorous, with their diet consisting of dried forage and seeds, and they are often non-stop chewing, due to their continually growing incisors (front teeth) and molars (cheek teeth). This can not only cause problems with a tendency to destroy their environment in some cases, but also means they may need their teeth trimmed, or burred, if they grow too long. For this reason, the right diet and an array of items to chew on are essential if owning a degu. Even despite gnawing away at the right type of fibrous foods, teeth can overgrow in some individuals, sometimes due to their genetics, possibly affecting their skeleton or eating habits.

The average life expectancy of a degu is between six and eight years old, which means if tooth  issues are noted early on, the rodent would probably require several dental treatments in their life. Pickle is 6 years old, and has had his cheek teeth burred a few times, so now he is classed as an older degu this may become a more frequent issue with old age wear and tear. Currently Pickle is having 6 monthly dental check-ups, and his symptoms were recurring just as he would be due another burr.

Pickle’s owner weighed all the degus regularly – this is important as they are so small that a slight loss can be very significant, and Pickle had lost a small amount of weight too. Degus are very intelligent rodents and can form a strong bond with an owner who interacts regularly with them, so Pickle was a good patient to be examined at the vets. However, as their mouths are very small, it was almost impossible to check his teeth out suitably in the consultation room – he would need a general anaesthetic for this.

Pickle returned for a short anaesthetic – a gas was administered via a mask which made him sleepy enough. His incisors were not too long, but were slightly levelled off and his cheek teeth could finally be visualised. A very small gag was needed to hold his mouth open, positioned between top and bottom front teeth, and tiny cheek retractors were needed to hold back the cheek tissue so that Pickle’s molars could be accessed. His teeth actually weren’t too bad in terms of overgrowth, and there were no signs of ulceration on his tongue or cheek. There were slightly small spurs forming on the edges of these teeth, which needed to be blurred slightly so that they wouldn’t start digging into his tongue in future. Pickle was quite sensitive in his mouth so this little change could make all the difference. Finally, dental X-rays were taken that showed that his roots were sitting right in his jaw.

All in all this was a good visit to the dentist for Pickle, and he recovered from the anaesthetic well. At home, his weight had increased slightly and he was not seen to paw at his mouth any further, so it looked like the check-up had been successful, and he wouldn’t need that dreaded dentist trip for at least 6 months!

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