Your gerbil will grind its teeth down naturally. But if it’s sick or injured or eats the wrong type of foods, it’ll be unable to do so. So, you may have to get your gerbil’s teeth cut or trimmed.
A gerbil’s incisors will continue to grow throughout its life. The tooth grows up from the bottom, and the gerbil grinds it down from the top to keep it sharp. A gerbil’s teeth will also grow back if they break or fall out. If it can’t grind them, they can cause injury, so they need to be trimmed/cut.
You shouldn’t trim your gerbil’s teeth yourself as you could easily hurt your pet by accident. Doing so would make your gerbil distrust you, so ask a vet to perform the operation.
Do Gerbils’ Teeth Keep Growing?
Gerbils, like all rodents, have special teeth. These teeth are hard and sharp, and are perfect for gnawing through things. This is vital to a wild rodent, as it needs sharp teeth to:
- Bite through plant roots that get into their burrows
- Gnaw and nibble on tough foods like seeds and grains
- Defend itself against predators, and strangers of the same species
But because rodents use their teeth for so much, they wear down quickly. All rodents have teeth that grow continuously. They don’t grow quickly, but they grow enough to replace the amount of tooth that’s been lost.
This seems strange when you think about it for the first time. But every animal can do the same thing with different parts of its body. Even people can regrow skin, and our fingernails constantly grow outwards. It’s the same for gerbils, only it’s their teeth that keep growing.
Do Gerbil Teeth Grow Back?
Animals lose teeth all the time. An animal may be eating something particularly solid, upon which it breaks its teeth. Or, it may have been in a fight and lost its tooth that way. Teeth can either chip, break somewhere around halfway up, or come out completely.
If your gerbil breaks its tooth, don’t worry. The tooth will grow back to its regular length over time. In the meantime, your pet may find it slightly hard to eat. But it should be fine.
If its teeth fall out completely, your gerbil can’t eat. You must feed it critical care food, which is a soft mush that it can eat without chewing. However, it won’t take long for the teeth to grow back anyway, so don’t worry too much.
But not all of a gerbil’s teeth keep growing. This applies to the incisors, which are a gerbil’s most crucial teeth. It has four of them, two on the top and two at the bottom. They’re right at the front of a gerbil’s mouth and are very hard and sharp.
Gerbils have molars, too. These are the teeth that an animal uses to grind up food. They are located at the sides of the mouth, and a gerbil has twelve of them. These are more like our teeth: once one is broken, it’s broken for good. It doesn’t grow back. But these teeth are less vital to a gerbil anyway.
How Fast Do Gerbils’ Teeth Grow?
There are no studies that specifically focus on the speed a gerbil’s teeth grow. That’s because gerbils naturally grind down their teeth. Even if you provide them with nothing to gnaw on, they gnaw on their cage bars. There’s no way to get them to stop.
However, a rough estimate is that they grow as fast as fingernails. You obviously can’t watch them grow; they aren’t that fast. But a full set of teeth can grow back within a week or two.
While again this hasn’t been studied, it’s also likely that a gerbil’s teeth will grow faster when it’s healthy. This applies to all regenerative processes. If you have a cut but your body is run down, it will take longer to heal over and may even scar. The same perhaps applies to a gerbil’s teeth.
Why Do Gerbils’ Teeth Keep Growing?
They grow back because the root canal of these teeth isn’t like that of other teeth. It continually develops new tooth tissue. According to JAX, this is referred to as an open-rooted tooth.
Again, this is like the fingernail. Nails continually grow outwards in the same way because new tissue is created. Even when the tissue is gone, the tissue-creating bed on which it normally rests will make more. That’s why nails grow back if they’re removed.
As for their use, a gerbil’s teeth must keep growing because otherwise they would become worn down. Gerbils use their teeth for both eating and defending themselves. Without their teeth, gerbils would be helpless.
Gerbils also need to keep their teeth sharp. If you like to cook, you’ll know that the more you use a kitchen knife, the less sharp it gets. The same applies to a gerbil’s teeth. It needs to keep them sharp by gnawing on wood, for example.
All this adds up to the teeth grinding down over time. The gerbil, like all rodents, must do these things so this is an unavoidable issue. The only way around it is for the teeth to grow continually.
This doesn’t apply to the gerbil’s molars. Rodents don’t use their molars to break open nuts and seeds, and they don’t use them to fight. They can get away with having regular molars which don’t regrow instead.
How Big Can a Gerbil’s Teeth Get?
The length of a gerbil’s teeth can be a major issue. Whether they’re too short or too long, they could cause a health problem. So, for example:
- Gerbil’s teeth too long: They could cause open wounds in your pet’s gums.
- Gerbil’s teeth too short: Your pet can no longer eat.
So, you must periodically check your pet’s teeth to see whether they’re the right length. A gerbil’s teeth could continue growing forever. They aren’t limited by age, and their teeth will keep growing for as long as they’re alive. It’s only because they keep them trimmed that they don’t get too big.
However, there is a rough maximum length for a gerbil’s teeth. A gerbil that can’t or won’t grind its teeth will be injured by them. The incisors at the top of its mouth will curve down and pierce the gums of its lower jaw. The incisors at the bottom of its mouth can pierce into its upper jaw.
As the teeth continue to grow, this causes a severe open wound. Due to being in the mouth, this wound will likely become infected, as the mouth contains bacteria. This could kill your gerbil unless you get antibiotics from the vet.
So, the maximum length for a gerbil’s teeth is around two to three millimeters. This is around 1/8 of an inch.
How to Trim a Gerbil’s Teeth
You’ll find that almost all gerbils can keep their own teeth in shape. Through gnawing on a wooden toy, a gerbil can stop its teeth from getting anywhere near long enough to cause trouble.
But if your pet is sick or lazy, it may not grind its teeth. This leaves things up to you. According to JAALAS, the process of cutting your gerbil’s teeth back to normal length is referred to as trimming.
To trim a gerbil’s teeth, you need a sharp pair of clippers. You hold your gerbil in your hand, and clip its teeth to a normal length. Clipping them any further would do more harm than good. However, it’s not a good idea to try trimming your gerbil’s teeth at home.
Why You Shouldn’t Clip a Gerbil’s Teeth
You mustn’t cut your gerbil’s teeth yourself. While leaving them to grow out would hurt your gerbil, trying to clip them yourself would also hurt your pet. Here’s why:
- Break more of the tooth than you intended. Clipping too much of your pet’s teeth is no better than leaving them long.
- You could harm the gums. The clippers have to be sharp to clip through teeth. You could easily catch your gerbil’s gums or tongue.
- Introduce bacteria into your gerbil’s mouth. It’s difficult to sterilize things at home, and you could infect a small wound as well as making one.
- Your gerbil will grow to dislike you. Your gerbil won’t like being held tightly against its will. It will try to escape, which makes it likely that the clipping will go wrong.
Furthermore, you have alternatives. Your vet can clip your gerbil’s teeth for you. Or, you could buy your gerbil something new to gnaw on that it might prefer.
Vets that specialize in small animals perform these treatments regularly. Ask before you commit to the treatment about whether they have done this many times before. If so, your pet should be in good hands.
They may use a dental drill or a bone file to smooth the edges of your pet’s teeth, leaving them sharper and smaller. The vet may file only the top half or the bottom half if one is much more troubling than the other. Or, they may trim both.
Gerbil Teeth Trimming Cost
The cost of this procedure depends on the vet you see. A regular check-up for a gerbil costs between $20-40. For a basic procedure like gerbil teeth trimming, you might expect to pay between $10-30. However, additional costs may include:
- A physical exam ($20-40)
- Anesthetic ($50)
- Antibiotics ($20-40)
- Critical care food ($50)
Ask your vet how much they charge before proceeding, as you may want to shop around. Your vet may recommend some, all, or none of the above additional charges. Critical care food, for example, is only necessary if your gerbil cannot eat regular food. Even after trimming, gerbils usually can.
What to Do after Your Gerbil Has Its Teeth Trimmed
If your gerbil’s teeth have grown too much for a while, they may have caused small wounds. If that’s the case, your gerbil may find it difficult to eat without assistance.
According to the RMCA, a sick rodent will need critical care food. This is a special formula that comes in powder form. It contains all the carbs, fats, and proteins that a small animal needs. You add water to it, and it turns into a mush that’s easy to eat.
Your pet likely won’t identify it as food. So, you may need to feed your pet by hand. Here’s how.
- Prepare the critical care mix. Follow the instructions that come with it. A normal ‘recipe’ is 1tsp mix, 2tsp water, and 2tsp applesauce.
- Fill a medical syringe (the kind without a needle) with some of the critical care mix. Use the amount your doctor recommends, which is usually around 0.5ml.
- Take your pet in your left hand if you’re right-handed.
- Pick up the syringe.
- Gently push the syringe into the side of your gerbil’s mouth. This will encourage it to open its mouth. Don’t force it; be patient.
- Slowly empty the contents of the syringe into your pet’s mouth. Allow more than enough time for your pet to swallow.
- Put your gerbil back in its enclosure.
You shouldn’t need to do this for long. Your gerbil’s teeth will grow back within a week or two.
Alternative Treatments for Trimming Gerbil Teeth
Trimming your pet’s teeth on your own is a bad idea. You don’t have access to anesthetic, so you can’t easily keep your pet still. You don’t have access to proper tools, and you’re inexperienced. You should consider alternative forms of treatment.
Give Your Gerbil a Gnawing Toy
The best way is to offer your pet something to gnaw on. The materials for a gerbil to gnaw on are woods other than pine, and cardboard. These materials aren’t too hard, but aren’t too soft either.
Avoid letting your gerbil gnaw on plastic. Plastic is the right level of hardness for gerbils to gnaw on. However, when a gerbil gnaws, it can accidentally ingest some of what it gnaws on. Plastic is indigestible and can damage your pet’s gut.
You can tell that your gerbil wants something to gnaw on from its behavior. A gerbil that needs something to gnaw on will:
- Gnaw on its cage bars
- Dig at the floor of the cage even when there’s nothing to dig
This is known as stereotypy, and these behaviors as stereotypies. They are behaviors that the gerbil repeats because it is unhappy with its environment. Provide it with something to gnaw on, and these behaviors may go away.
Wait for Your Gerbil to Grind Its teeth Down
You could also get away with not helping your pet at all. If your pet’s health isn’t severely damaged, this is something you could consider. If your pet’s teeth are too long, it may be in the process of grinding them down already. Give your pet a little time and see how it does.
Gerbils know through instinct that they need to keep their teeth from growing too long. All rodents have similar teeth, so all rodents have to keep them short in the same way. Only rodents who have this instinct will survive, so by now, all of them do.
Gerbils grind their teeth on food, and if you’ve provided one, on a gnawing toy. You don’t need to teach your gerbil to so this. It will do so automatically unless it’s severely ill. Keep an eye on your pet to see if its teeth get any longer. Also, check to see if:
- Your pet has any sores around the sides of its mouth
- Your pet’s teeth are misaligned, i.e. pointing to one side instead of straight down
- Your gerbil is losing weight
If these issues arise, then you should consider consulting a vet about teeth trimming. But if they’re a little longer than average, but don’t cause your pet any issues, leave them alone.