Guinea Pig Chew Toys, No Substitute for Grass Hay

papua in the hayGuinea Pig Today

Grass hay, like Timoth hay or Orchard Grass, is the best option for proper dental care of your guinea pig.

A guinea pig’s teeth grow continuously and it’s important that your pet’s teeth be ground naturally during the course of their lifetime. What is the best way to promote good dental health? It might be surprising to discover chew toys or chew treats are not the best way to maintain the proper grinding your pet needs. While chew toys can assist with this activity, they are no substitute for grass hay which is the only way to create the proper grinding able to reach all of your guinea pig’s teeth.

Guinea pigs have 20 teeth. This includes a pair of upper and lower incisors, a pair of upper and lower premolars, and three pairs of upper and lower molars. You might only ever see their incisors, those long teeth in the front, because guinea pigs have no canines as humans do. Instead, there is a gap behind their front teeth, called the diastema, before the premolars and molars. These are also referred to as the cheek teeth.

You can try to look but it might be difficult for you to see your guinea pig’s cheek teeth on your own. Fatty pads in the cheeks make viewing the molars difficult and this makes it difficult for your veterinarian as well. Often they will use tools to help them see your guinea pig’s teeth.

xrayGuinea Pig Today

In the x-ray, you can see the cheek teeth further back in the mouth.

Grass hay is naturally tough and difficult to chew. Have you ever tried to chew grass? I can remember chewing grass as a kid. Let me tell you, it isn’t easy. It requires you to grind and grind away in the back of your mouth before the grass is broken down into small enough pieces to swallow. More than likely, you’ll spit it out before you decide to swallow it. However, this is exactly what it does for your pet. This is a necessary process and one that your guinea pig, as a natural forager, is designed for.

How does this compare to chew toys? Chew toys often require your pet to bite off a chunk. This grinds the front incisors that you can see. That’s a great challenge. Unfortunately, the materials chew toys are made of can often break apart easily or break off in such small pieces, they miss grinding the hard to reach molars. Unless a chew toy properly exercises all teeth, they’re only doing half the job.

Timothy hay and Orchard Grass are both grass hays that are available in most pet stores. Both of these are excellent sources of food for your guinea pig to promote correct dental health. 70% of your cavy’s diet should be a grass hay.

Do not expect your guinea pig to finish their hay. This isn’t one of those areas where you should expect them to clean their plate. Your guinea pig might have hay in their cage and not show an interest but what they need is fresh hay. On a daily basis you must throw out the old hay and replace it with fresh hay. If your guinea pig has not had hay previously, expect them to not eat it for the first week or more as they grow accustomed to it.

DentalImage courtesy of Arizona Exotic Animal Hospital

Closeup of a guinea pig's cheek teeth before and after veterinary care. Left: Green arrow points to an unevenly ground tooth that is blocking the tongue. The blue arrow points to the back of the tongue. Center: Close up of the dental problem. Right: View inside the mouth after the lower teeth have been filed. There is a much larger gap for the tongue to move normally during chewing.

As your guinea pig ages, the cheek teeth can grow to block their tongue, damage their cheeks or other teeth, or any number of dental problems. As a result of this, your guinea pig might stop eating or show a lack of interest in their food because it hurts them to chew.

If a guinea pig develops a dental issue, it’s important to see a veterinarian immediately. Only an experienced veterinarian can properly diagnose and trim your guinea pig’s teeth so they can eat again. Any procedure that requires anesthesia can be risky or even deadly for your pet so it’s best to do all you can to avoid this situation as much as possible.

Keep a full supply of grass hay on hand for daily feeding and a chew toy on hand for added stimulation and play. Don’t expect a chew toy to take the place of your guinea pig’s need for hay. With this in mind, your cavy can avoid complicated, costly, and life threatening dental issues. Instead, your guinea pig will chew their way to a long, happy life.

If you have a great idea for an article about guinea pigs, please let us know. Guinea Pig Today is a network of guinea pig lovers and we’re always looking for the next great story. View our submissions page for more information on how to submit your idea.

Angela, Editor-in-Chief, GPT

Angela founded Guinea Pig Today and guest writes for CavyMadness. She volunteers with Metropolitan Guinea Pig Rescue and supports the ROUS Foundation. Her guinea pig, Papua, is the star of WHEK-TV/DT.

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January 2012
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