© Ferret Rasputin/Courtesy Adrien Pettit
This is a happy, healthy ferret, but if a ferret starts grinding his teeth a lot, it’s time to visit the veterinarian.
Q: We have a 3-year-old, female, sable ferret named Perry. She grinds her teeth a lot, and I am worried that something is wrong. She started the grinding nearly a year ago when she came down with a possible case of epizootic catarrhal enteritis (ECE). She has since recovered, and yet the grinding continues. She underwent an adrenalectomy a couple of months ago and is doing great (total hair regrowth and more energy than ever), and yet she is still grinding. I asked her vet about the problem, and she fell short of giving me a concrete answer. I read online that teeth grinding is generally caused by abdominal pain. Could she really be in pain all the time?
A: You ask a great question that we don’t have a solid answer for. We do believe that tooth grinding represents a ferret that is not feeling well. We believe this because when the ferret improves, the grinding usually stops. Perry is unusual because her diseases have been treated appropriately, yet she continues to grind. It is generally believed that grinding is due to either diseases of the gastrointestinal tract or to the low blood glucose seen in ferrets with insulinoma disease.
We don’t know if grinding is due to pain per se or more to an uncomfortable feeling. You may want to discuss this matter again with Perry’s veterinarian, because it has continued, and it is unlikely that tooth grinding is a normal behavior.
These are some thoughts I have about Perry’s continual tooth grinding:
1. The first place I would look would be the teeth. Ferrets are prone to different types of dental disease, and I would want to make sure that there are no broken teeth, dental abscesses or severe periodontal disease.
2. Then, I would check the roof of the mouth. Sometimes ulcers in that area can signify the presence of Helicobacter disease. Because Perry has a history of ECE, possibly there is a continual infection with Helicobacter leading to ulcers of the gastrointestinal tract, including the oral cavity.
3. I would also want to be certain of the blood sugar status and make sure that Perry does not have an insulinoma.
4. Finally, it may be more important to be certain that adhesions did not form after the adrenal gland surgery.
Given all of these possibilities, Perry’s vet might recommend that Perry have some bloodwork performed, have her mouth examined while she is sedated and have abdominal radiographs taken. I do not know if this will find the cause of the tooth grinding, but it is unlikely what you are seeing is normal, and investigating this problem makes a lot of sense.
Finally, given that there are no easy answers to this problem of tooth grinding, I would also preach patience. Because we do not know the cause of the tooth grinding, your veterinarian may try one treatment or do one test at a time. If your vet tried multiple, different treatments at the same time and your ferret recovered, you would be unsure of which treatment actually worked for your ferret.