Periodontal Disease in Rabbits and Ferrets

Summary Information
Diseases / List of Miscellaneous / Metabolic / Multifactorial Diseases / Disease summary
Alternative Names --
Disease Agents
In Rabbits
  • Accumulation of plaque associated with inappropriate diet. (B602.34.w34a)
    • Unsuitable diets with high levels of refined carbohydrates encourage growth and accumulation of bacteria. (J213.6.w2)
  • Packing of food fragments/other debris into the periodontal space. (B602.34.w34a)
  • Periodontal disease occurs in rabbits when sharp pieces of material become packed into the periodontal tissues; this is more likely to occur when altered tooth eruption and tooth shape provide abnormal spaces betwen the teeth into which debris can become packed. Once foreign material is present, bacteria can be introduced, and the material provides additional surface area for plaque to accumulate. (J213.6.w2)
  • When inflamed, the thin collagen fibres of the periodontal ligament are rapidly resorbed, allowing the development of periodontal pockets. (J213.6.w2)
In Ferrets
  • Ferrets may develop periodontal disease due to a build up of calculus (B631.23.w23) and may develop gingivitis; similar to that in other carnivores. (J29.17.w3, J60.11.w1, P120.2008.w2)
    • Plaque build-up is seen in ferrets fed processed foods. (P120.2008.w2)
    • Ferrets fed moist or semi-moist foods are likely to develop periodontal disease. (J60.11.w1, J213.2.w6)
    • Accumulation of plaque and calculus on the surface of teeth leads to gingivitis, with progression to periodontal disease involving destruction of tissues such as the periodontal ligaments and even bone; the tooth root may become inflamed and infected, and abscessation can occur. (J60.11.w1, J213.2.w6, P120.2008.w2)
  • Periodontal disease is common in pet ferrets, due to the lack of the cleaning processes associated with processing the natural prey diet. (J29.17.w3, P120.2007.w5)
Infectious Agent(s) --
Non-infectious Agent(s) --
Physical Agent(s) --
General Description
Clinical signs
In Ferrets

All of these are possible clinical signs:

  • Visible plaque. (P120.2007.w5)
  • Red and inflamed gums. (P120.2007.w5)
  • Gingival recession. (B631.23.w23)
  • Halitosis. (J213.2.w6, P120.2007.w5)
  • Anorexia. (J213.2.w6, P120.2008.w2)
    • Eating is painful for ferrets with severe dental disease. (J213.2.w6, , P120.2008.w2)
  • Salivation. (J213.2.w6)
  • Root exposure due to a build up of tartar. (B631.23.w23)
  • Facial bone fractures. (B631.23.w23)
  • Periapical infection. (B631.23.w23)
  • Bone resorption. (B631.23.w23)
  • Loose or missing teeth. (P120.2007.w5)
  • Bloody or purulent nasal discharge. (P120.2007.w5)
  • Oral/facial swelling. (P120.2007.w5)
In Rabbits
  • Usually periodontal pockets are diagnosed only when extensive. (J213.6.w2)
  • Careful examination using a periodontal probe is needed for early diagnosis; this should be carried out as part of the oral examination of rabbits under anaesthesia. (B601.18.w18, J213.6.w2)
In Ferrets
  • Radiographs should be taken, including lateral, lateral open mouth, ventrodorsal, right and left oblique, left and right oblique open mouths. (B631.23.w23)
    • X-rays should help examine the root of the tooth and non visible structures. (P120.2008.w2)
    • Check for other pathological lesions e.g. jaw fracture. (B602.34.w34a)
  • Periodontal probing can be used to detect subgingival alveolar bone recession or if there is tooth root absorption. (J213.2.w6)
  • Check for other possible causes of dental pain including a foreign body or soft tissue injury. (B602.34.w34a)
The following grading system has been suggested for periodontal disease: (P120.2008.w2)
  • Gingivitis:
    • Plaque, which may be mineralised. (P120.2008.w2)
    • Erythematous gingiva, sometimes slightly swollen where the gingival meets the teeth, but not bleeding on probing. (P120.2008.w2)
  • Early periodontitis:
    • Infected gums and periodontal tissue, sometimes infected bone. (P120.2008.w2)
    • Teeth are still firmly attached. (P120.2008.w2)
    • Roots are still visible on x-ray. (P120.2008.w2)
    • Gingival recession may be present; periodontal pockets may have formed. (P120.2008.w2)
    • As much as 25% of the gingival attachments may be broken down. (P120.2008.w2)
    • Note: application of an oral 2% lidocaine gel is recommended for examination of a conscious ferret with this degree of disease. (P120.2008.w2)
  • Moderate periodontitis:
    • Usually bleeding from the gums when probed. (P120.2008.w2)
    • 50% of the gingival attachments may be broken down. (P120.2008.w2)
    • Abscesses may be present around the roots. (P120.2008.w2)
    • Food can be found in the periodontal pockets. (P120.2008.w2)
    • Some teeth may be slightly loose. (P120.2008.w2)
    • Root exposure may be present. (P120.2008.w2)
    • Note: by this stage, light sedation and parenteral analgesia are required in addition to local analgesia (lidocaine gel) to permit examination. (P120.2008.w2)
  • Advanced periodontitis:
    • More than 50% of the gingival attachments may be broken down. (P120.2008.w2)
    • Tooth root exposure. (P120.2008.w2)
    • Tooth root destruction on x-ray. (P120.2008.w2)
    • Blood and pus around the teeth. (P120.2008.w2)
    • Loose teeth. (P120.2008.w2)
    • Note: heavy sedation and analgesia, or anaesthesia, is required for examination of a ferret with this degree of disease. (P120.2008.w2)
Further Information
In Rabbits


In Ferrets
  • Note: Tooth abscesses may occur as a progression of periodontal disease. (P120.2008.w2)
In Rabbits
  • Cleaning of periodontal pockets.
    • Remove all impacted material. (J213.6.w2)
    • Pack cleaned pockets with perioceutic gel containing doxycycline; this assists in preventing further impaction with food particles as well as eliminating residual infection. (B602.34.w34a, J213.6.w2)
      • The gel provides physical protection during tissue healing, and a slow release of doxycycline, providing topical antibiotic at the required site. (J213.6.w2)
  • Scaling of the teeth, both supragingival and subgingival, to remove all plaque. (B602.34.w34a, J213.6.w2)
  • Extraction of loose teeth. (B602.34.w34a, J213.6.w2)
In Ferrets
  • Dentistry in ferrets has the same basic principles as cat and dog dentistry. (B631.23.w23)
  • Periodontal disease is painful, so pain relief should be given (P120.2008.w2) and an anaesthetic or heavy sedation when investigating. (J29.17.w3) See:
  • A small mouth gag and elevators are required for ferret dentistry. (B631.23.w23)
  • Dental scaling should be carried out under anaesthetic, with an ultrasonic scalar. (J213.2.w6, P120.2008.w2)
  • Subgingival scaling also should be done, followed by polishing. (J213.2.w6)
  • Exposed dentine can be filled (under anaesthesia) using fluoride or dental bonding agent. (B602.34.w34a)
  • Often teeth have to be removed, especially if there is bone loss. (P120.2008.w2)
    • Retained roots need to be removed, to prevent deep root abscesses. (P120.2008.w2)
  • Treatment of the advanced stages of periodontal disease is similar to that used in cats and dogs. (P120.2008.w2)
    • In these cases, teeth are likely to be removed. (B602.34.w34a, J29.17.w3)
      • Removal of teeth is required if more than a third of the periodontal support of the tooth has been lost, or if the tooth is affected at the level of division of the roots (in multirooted teeth). (B602.34.w34a)
    • Lidocaine 2% at 0.05-1.0 mL (this dose varies depending on the size of the area to be blocked and the weight of the ferret), can be used for local analgesia (in addition to general anaesthetic). (P120.2008.w2)
    • Resection of the gum is required, then incision of periodontal tissues; sometimes alveolar bone removal is required. . (P120.2008.w2)
    • A fine-tipped elevator is used (an 18- gauge needle can be used as an elevator for small teeth) to elevate the tooth and it is gripped with haemostats for removal. (P120.2008.w2)
    • If the tooth leaves an open alveolus, hydrostatic gel or synthetic bone matrix can be used to pack the cavity. (P120.2008.w2)
    • The cavity may be sutured with 4-0 or 5-0 absorbable suture material. (P120.2008.w2)
      • Suturing the cavity assists with healing and prevents debris contamination. (P120.2008.w2)
    • Following the procedure, oral or parenteral antibiotics are given, and analgesics (see Treatment and Care - Analgesia). (P120.2008.w2)
      • The owner can be instructed in rinsing the area twice daily with mild chlorhexidine solution, for up to a week. (P120.2008.w2)
In Ferrets
  • Natural prey items can be given to ferrets, encouraging prolonged chewing which cleans the teeth. (B602.34.w34a)
  • Chewable objects can be given to ferrets to increase cleaning effects on teeth and improve gum health. (P120.2007.w5)
  • Dental homecare can be carried out as with cats and dogs. (P120.2008.w2)
    • Owners are recommended to brush their ferret's teeth twice weekly. (J29.17.w3, J213.2.w6)
    • A small infant or cat toothbrush can be used. (B602.34.w34a, J213.2.w6)
    • A pet toothpaste or oral antiseptic (chlorhexidine) gel should be used wih the toothbrush. (B602.34.w34a)
  • Yearly dental checks and cleaning by the vet are recommended. (J29.17.w3, P120.2007.w5, P120.2008.w2)
Associated Techniques
Host taxa groups /species
Disease Author Debra Bourne MA VetMB PhD MRCVS (V.w5): Bridget Fry BSc, RVN (V.w143)
Referees Molly Varga BVetMed DZooMed MRCVS (V.w125)

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