Guinea Pigs/Malocclusion


QUESTION: My guinea pig has stopped eating and drinking roughly 12 hours ago.  I've had guinea pigs before and I know that this is not a good sign.  I have been attempting to give him water with a syringe but even that dribbles out of the side of his mouth.  He looks so interested in food and plays with it but can't eat it.  When he tries to eat, he does an exaggerated chewing motion, as if something is stuck in his teeth or throat, and will even put his paw in his mouth as if trying to dislodge something.  I opened his mouth and looked for foreign body obstruction, but his esophagus looked clear.  I've been reading other posts and it seems as if malocclusion is common in pigs, and might be what mine has.  Could you please give me some general symptoms on how malocclusion presents, and what can typically be done for this problem if I were to bring my pig to the vet? I'm trying to gauge if this is an easy problem to fix with a vet visit, or if it is extensive requiring surgery etc.  Thanks in advance!

side view
side view  
Front view cavy teeth
Front view cavy teeth  
ANSWER: What you are describing does sound like it may be a malocclusion. Because cavies' teeth grow continuously they sometimes run astray and become overgrown.

The fronts are easily visible, but the most serious malocclusions seem to happen in the molars. Unfortunately they are very difficult to be able to see without the right tools. There is a space between the front teeth and the molars, so when you open your pig's mouth the cheeks tend to cover the molars altogether.

If the teeth have not been kept normally worn they will as you know, become overgrown and out of proper alignment preventing the pig from being able to grind his food. There are times when it gets further than that and actually punctures through the cheek wall, or the front teeth begin growing backward and penetrating the roof of the mouth.

Here are two pictures that show how the teeth should be aligned. If it is a front tooth problem you can use ordinary toenail clippers to cut them. The teeth of a guinea pig do not have the nerve in the middle as ours do. They are like toenails, so there is no pain for the pig when trimming them. I've had to revise this a couple of times because I had a problem with attaching the pictures.

If you are not able to see what the problem is you may have to take him to a vet so he can sedate the little guy a bit and be able to put an oral speculum in his mouth to see what the problem is.  In the meantime do your best to keep him hydrated. Even if some of the liquid is dribbling out of the mouth, a certain amount will be absorbed. You may want to get some Gatorade, dilute by at least half, and give him that to help keep the electrolytes balanced.

I'm sure you've already examined him for any evidence of an abscess under his chin which could be causing him difficulty swallowing. Just palpate the area with your fingers and if there is a lump you will feel it. If that's the case please send me a picture and I will walk you through the process of draining it.

If you've never trimmed the front teeth, here is the trick I use. I put a pencil in the mouth behind the front incisors to hold the mouth open. Then you can have an easy access for trimming. This doesn't work on the back teeth however.

Please let me know what your vet says in case you need to take him.

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: I just returned home from taking my cavy to the vet.  The vet said that he also thought it was a malocclusion dealing with the molars, and sedated him and filed a few teeth down.  He said that the teeth weren't terribly disfigured though, so he can't say for certain that that was the cause of his anorexia :( He also gave me Critical Care to add to his diet over the next few days.

He seems to be eating with a little more ease, although he is still lethargic and withdrawn.  Do you have any idea what recovery is like for a small procedure like this? I wouldn't expect my cavy to return home and be back to normal, but have never had any experience with this type of treatment.

Anesthesia, even a mild sedative takes time to wear out of the body. The kidneys and liver have to process it through the body.  It may take a day or two. Everyone, even animals, responds differently. His mouth may be a little sore from the instrument used to keep it open. I would expect him to be eating normally in a few days.  

And thank you for letting me know what your vet said.  

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Pat VanAllen


As is sometimes the case, people in urgent need of information have a higher degree of expectation than those of us as experts are able to give. The experts on this site do their best to give the most accurate and responsible answers possible. We ask that you remember that it is not our intention nor place to criticize the professional advice given by your veterinarian, nor is it appropriate for us to comment on the correctness of a diagnosis made by a licensed physician. Our knowledge is experience based. Although many years of breeding and showing cavies gives me a wealth of experience it cannot change the fact that we as experts are not veterinarians and therefore may occasionally have to reject questions that appear to be asking us to criticize advice given by the licensed professional. Having raised and exhibited cavies for many years I have extensive experience in cavy care and husbandry. I currently have an active breeding program for pedigreed show animals but do not encourage backyard breeding for inexperienced owners. Although I don't encourage breeding for fun I'm always happy to answer any questions from an owner who is in sincere need of help. Pet owners wanting to breed should understand that even experienced breeders have litter losses. The mortality rate is high in cavies. The chance for losing both sow and pups is always present, even with experience. Although this is a site for experts to assist owners, there is no expert in any field who has all the answers. The wisest thing a good expert can know is their limitations. Not having an answer does not diminish one's ability or knowledge. It simply shows that we recognize our limitations and operate within them.


Raised and shown cavies for many years, having aquired my first cavies in the early 1970's as pets. My caviary currently handles 65 + animals in two different breeds and several varieties. Having been in the health care industry as a licensed nurse for 35 years I have hands on experience with care and needs in both humans and cavies. Member of American Rabbit Breeders Association and American Cavy Breeders Association.

Awarded Lifetime Membership in of one of the oldest cavy clubs in the United States, on whose Board I served as Sec/Treas for six years and currently serving as President. Also editor/publisher of the club's quarterly newsletter. We are strong supporters of our youth exhibitors, most of whom are 4H members who are working on cavy projects. Through these projects they become good responsible citizens. We deal with all aspects of showing, breeding, caring for and sharing experiences in the fancy. The cavy fancy is not a new one but in some areas is still relatively unknown. Our goal is to inspire interest in high quality, responsible breeding to improve the species, not just the reproduction of guinea pigs. Our job is to educate owners to help them make the right decisions and choices in the care of their cavies.

Graduate in nursing. Certified in emergency medicine.

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