Help, my gerbil lost its tooth! Gerbil teeth problems are common. And because your gerbil’s teeth, particularly the incisors, are so important these problems can threaten your pet’s health.
Gerbils can break or lose their teeth if they bite something too hard. Gerbils have four large incisors, so you can see when one is damaged or lost. A gerbil’s incisors will grow back when there’s a missing tooth. They are rootless, meaning that the root canal is open, so they can grow throughout your pet’s life. Gerbils have molars, but these don’t come loose.
If your gerbil lost top teeth (the incisors), you must feed it critical care mix until it can eat food again. Otherwise, your pet will lose weight quickly. You can get a critical care mix from a vet.
What Do Normal Gerbil Teeth Look Like?
A gerbil’s teeth are vitally important. Without them, it won’t survive. A gerbil’s teeth are largely hidden from view. However, you can check them by holding your pet on its back in your hand.
Your gerbil has four teeth at the front of its mouth. There are its incisors, and they are located at the front of your pet’s jaws. These incisors are similar to those of other rodents. According to the IADR, rodents have developed their unique incisors over millions of years.
The gerbils’ frontmost teeth, its incisors, are the most important. These are the ones your pet needs to crack open its favorite foods like grains and seeds. Without these teeth, your gerbil cannot eat. Your gerbil has four of these: two on the top, and two on the bottom.
The two on the top should be the same length, as should the two on the bottom. They meet in the middle. These teeth are visible from the outside, and are a yellow/orange color. They are flat on top.
The lower teeth of these four are longer than the upper teeth. In other rodents, they are significantly longer. But in gerbils, they aren’t long enough that you’ll see the difference.
Far back in its jaw, your gerbil has its molars. These are your pet’s chewing teeth. It uses them to break down foods further before swallowing them. This is a crucial part of the digestive process for any animal which eats fibrous foods, like gerbils do.
These teeth are large, short, and flat on top. They are the same color as your gerbil’s other teeth. They are similar to the molars that all other animals have.
How Many Teeth Do Gerbils Have?
In total, your gerbil has sixteen teeth. Of these, the front four incisors are the most obvious. You should check them regularly to see if your pet has the correct amount and that they aren’t damaged.
Gerbils don’t have canines. Canines are the long, pointed teeth which animals have at the front corners of the jaws. Other animals, including people, have four canines, but gerbils have none. Instead, they have a big gap between their incisors and the rest of their teeth.
Other animals have premolars, too. These are like a cross between the sharper teeth in the front and the flatter teeth at the back. They assist in chewing food, but can inflict damage in a bite like the front teeth. Gerbils don’t have any of these, either.
Your gerbil has twelve molars in total. It has six on each side of its mouth: three on the top, and three on the bottom. You won’t see these unless you prise your gerbil’s mouth open. Don’t do this because it will be stressful for your pet.
Because your gerbil has so few obvious teeth, it’s easy to spot when one is damaged or missing. You don’t need to spend a long time counting to see if it has the correct amount.
How to Check a Gerbil’s Teeth
Checking a gerbil’s teeth involves observing your pet in its daily life. Gerbils eat throughout the day, so check in on a time when it’s nibbling on something. You may see its front four teeth in action. If you suspect your gerbil is missing a tooth, you must examine it. Here’s how:
- Take your gerbil from its enclosure. Scoop it up with both hands and support its body.
- Place one hand under your pet’s body, and the other on top of it. Enclose your gerbil securely but without hurting it.
- Turn your gerbil onto its back. You can’t see its teeth when it’s on its four feet.
- Check your pet’s four front teeth. They should be easy to see from this angle.
There is no reliable way to see your gerbil’s molars without opening its mouth. Doing so will make your pet unhappy and distrustful of you.
However, there’s usually no need to check your gerbil’s molars. It’s your pet’s incisors that do the hard work cracking open nuts and seeds. The molars do the grinding, but before that point in the chewing process, the food is already largely broken up.
Besides that, gerbils don’t bite with their molars like they do their incisors. They also don’t grind them down on things. This means that it’s highly unlikely that there will be an issue with them.
Do Gerbils Lose Their Teeth?
Gerbils can lose their teeth in certain circumstances. While their teeth are strong, they will break if subjected to enough force. This force can be applied either gradually or all at once.
Gerbil Broken Tooth (Chipped or Snapped)
Breaking or chipping is far more common than losing a tooth altogether. This applies to all animals, people included. Teeth are used every day for eating. In other animals, they’re used for hunting, too. Gerbils and other burrowing animals also use them when burrowing, i.e. to bite through plant roots.
This places lots of strain on your pet’s teeth. In captivity, this is less evident, although your gerbil still needs to eat lots of solid foods.
By contrast, things that could happen which would knock teeth out entirely are uncommon. In people, only severe accidents or significant fights could knock a tooth out. Gerbils don’t encounter situations like this. So, chipping is more common.
Can Gerbils Have Missing Teeth?
That being said, a gerbil’s tooth can come from its mouth entirely. A gerbil’s incisors don’t have roots in the way that our teeth do. Instead, they have ‘open roots,’ which means that the root canal in the tooth remains open. This allows its incisors to grow indefinitely.
When one of its teeth is missing, this should be immediately noticeable. You will notice:
- That your gerbil stops eating altogether, or that it eats sporadically
- If it does eat, your gerbil will favor one side of its mouth over the other exclusively
- Your gerbil will lose weight quickly
Your gerbil’s tooth could also be partly missing. It could have broken, and some tooth remains, but it’s only a small amount. This is a little different from the whole tooth going missing, although it will grow back quicker.
Gerbils can’t lose their molars, however. While it is physically possible for one to be knocked out or damaged, this practically never happens.
Gerbils’ Teeth Falling Out Due to Lack of Nutrients
Another reason why your pet’s teeth may fall out is if it doesn’t get enough nutrients. According to the NAP, a lack of nutrients can have all sorts of effects on your gerbil, including:
- A dirty or ruffled coat
- Alopecia (hair falling out)
- Weaker teeth
Your gerbil needs many nutrients, including magnesium, calcium, phosphorus, and sodium chloride. But unfortunately, less is understood about other nutrients including iron, copper, zinc, manganese, and many vitamins.
When the body doesn’t have enough of a particular mineral, there are things it can’t do. So, if your body doesn’t have enough calcium, for example, it can’t keep teeth and bones strong. Not all animals need the same nutrients, or need nutrients for the same reasons, but the idea is the same.
However, this is highly unlikely to have caused your gerbil’s teeth problems. Gerbil food mix contains everything that a gerbil needs to survive. So, unless you severely neglected your pet and fed it entirely unsuitable foods, this problem won’t arise.
Do Gerbils Die after Losing Teeth?
Gerbils can die after losing their teeth, although this isn’t likely in captivity. Having no teeth means that a gerbil can’t eat as easily as it did before. But if it still has three, or even two teeth, it can still eat some foods.
Besides that, you can feed your gerbil food by hand. Critical care mix is the best thing for a sick gerbil. But your pet will survive on soft foods like mashed vegetables, applesauce, etc. You can also moisten some food pellets for your pet to eat.
The risks are far more for wild gerbils than for captive ones. A wild gerbil without teeth is more likely to get an infection because an owner doesn’t clean its environment. It also can’t defend itself without its teeth.
How Do Gerbils Break Their Teeth?
Gerbils can easily break their teeth in the course of their normal lives. Normal, everyday behavior takes a toll on your pet’s teeth, and there’s little you can do about it. But you can watch out for behaviors that may make the problem worse.
Eating Hard Foods
Much of a gerbil’s diet consists of hard foods. Gerbils eat grains, nuts, and seeds both in captivity and in the wild. This means that the gerbil’s diet is physically harder and tougher than other animals.
This can take its toll over time. While an individual grain isn’t hard or sharp enough to break a tooth, strain over time can be. Continually breaking up hard foods can first cause slight damage, then a crack, then a break.
There’s nothing you can do to stop this from occurring. Gerbil food mix, which is what you should feed to your pet, does contain tough foods. And if you stopped feeding your pet things it had to gnaw and nibble, it would be unhappy.
Your gerbils could also damage their teeth when fighting. Gerbils fight in many ways. What you’ll see most often is two gerbils trying to box or wrestle each other. This is where they try to knock each other down to prove who’s the strongest.
But gerbils can also fight with their teeth. Hypothetically, they could bite one another in a way that damages their teeth.
This is unlikely, though. Gerbils fight infrequently and two gerbils will rarely go toe to toe. What’s more common is for one dominant gerbil to get aggressive, and the other gerbil backs down. They don’t lock teeth, for example, when they both try to bite each other.
Biting Cage Bars
A common way for gerbils to damage and break their teeth is by gnawing on things they shouldn’t. All gerbils have an in-built instinct to gnaw on things. The end result of this behavior is that the gerbil keeps its teeth sharp and stops them over-growing.
However, captive gerbils often don’t have the luxury of a gnawing toy. If a gerbil is neglected, it won’t have anything in its environment to bite on. It’s then that you’ll see behaviors called ‘stereotypies,’ which are negative behaviors the gerbil can’t stop acting out.
According to Applied Animal Behavior Science, neglected gerbils will dig even if there’s nothing to dig into. Another ‘stereotypy’ behaviors is biting the cage bars, which is more relevant here. This is bad for your gerbil’s teeth because:
- Metal is too hard for gerbils to gnaw on, and can result in instant chipping
- The bars are at an angle where the gerbil bites them, so their teeth grow crooked
Over time, this behavior severely damages your pet’s teeth. But your gerbil will feel compelled by instinct to continue.
Do Gerbils Teeth Grow Back?
When an animal loses a tooth, or several teeth, it’s in a precarious situation. An animal without its teeth can’t eat, so it is at risk of starving to death. It also loses its primary weapon.
Your gerbil needs to grow its teeth back, and quickly. The good news is that it can. Gerbil teeth will grow back when missing because they continually grow throughout your pet’s life.
This applies both to chipped teeth, and teeth which are missing entirely. A chipped tooth will grow back around as quickly as a fingernail. When it’s long enough, your gerbil will gnaw on things and grind it down as normal.
This is due to the open, rootless nature of your gerbil’s incisors. However, anecdotal reports suggest that sometimes the incisors don’t grow back. The reason for this occurring is unclear. So, don’t assume that your pet’s teeth will grow back for sure.
How to Care for a Gerbil with Broken Teeth
If one of your pet’s incisors is slightly shorter than the other, there’s no problem. Your pet can survive perfectly well for the time being. It will use its other teeth more frequently for a while, but its broken tooth will grow back soon.
What is an issue is if your gerbil’s teeth are entirely broken. If one is missing, for example, this can place too much pressure on the other incisors. It may be best if you hand-fed your gerbil for a while.
To do this, you’ll need food that meets your pet’s requirements. You can’t feed it baby food, for example, because it doesn’t contain everything a gerbil needs. Instead, you’ll need a critical care mix, which is available from most vets, especially those that specialize in small pets.
A critical care mix is a powder. You mix it with water and something appetizing like applesauce to make a nutritious goop. You then hand feed this to your gerbil in the following way:
- Prepare the mix in advance. Follow the instructions that your vet gives to do so.
- Fill a medical syringe with a small amount of liquid (around 0.5ml).
- Pick your pet up in your non-dominant hand, and the syringe in your dominant hand.
- Push the syringe into the side of your gerbil’s mouth.
- Slowly empty the contents of the syringe into your pet’s mouth.
Continue until your gerbil is comfortable feeding itself. This shouldn’t take long, at most a week or two. With good care, your pet can easily overcome its health issue.