What is Gingivitis and Periodontal Disease?

Periodontal disease is a serious health condition, as bacteria enter the bloodstream through the blood supply in the ferret’s tooth. As the bacteria circulate the blood, they infect the kidneys, liver, and eventually the heart, causing endocarditis. If gingivitis is caught and treated in time, periodontal disease can be prevented, reversing any damage that was caused. Periodontal disease, on the other hand, can only be slowed down and the damage this form of dental disease causes is permanent.

Gingivitis and periodontal disease in ferrets are subcategories of dental disease caused by an accumulation of plaque and tartar buildup. Gingivitis is defined as the inflammation and irritation of the gingiva, or gums. When a ferret eats, the particles from the food stick collect along the gum line, attracting bacteria in the mouth and forming plaque. In three to five days’ time, this plaque mixes with saliva and mineralizes, adhering itself to the teeth, forming tartar. The tartar irritates the gums, causing the soft tissues to swell, inflame and even bleed, resulting in gingivitis. If the tartar is not removed, the bacteria will slowly eat away at the teeth, separating the bone from the gums. At this point, the teeth rot, break, and deteriorate into an irreversible condition called periodontal disease. 

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Symptoms of Gingivitis and Periodontal Disease in Ferrets

Gingivitis and periodontal disease are often noted by yellow colored teeth paired with bad breath. Over time, the ferret may be reluctant to eat and gnaw on items around the home to account for the gum pain caused by gingivitis. At home, ferret owners may notice a small amount of bleeding from the gums and weight loss due to the inability to eat properly. Listed below are clinical signs associated with ferrets suffering from gingivitis and periodontal disease: 

  • Oral/facial swelling 
  • Purulent or bloody nasal discharge 
  • Loose teeth 
  • Missing teeth 
  • Bone resorption 
  • Periapical infection 
  • Facial bone fractures
  • Root exposure 
  • Salivation 
  • Anorexia 
  • Halitosis (bad breath) 
  • Gingival recession 
  • Red and inflamed gums
  • Visible plaque 

Causes of Gingivitis and Periodontal Disease in Ferrets

Gingivitis and periodontal disease in ferrets is the result of poor dental hygiene. Like humans, ferrets must have their teeth cleaned daily to prevent dental disease like gingivitis and periodontal disease. Consuming a meal, the food lodges between the teeth and along the gumline of the ferret’s mouth. If the particles are not removed within a three to five day period, the saliva mixes with the debris and mineralizes the food to the teeth. The healthy bacteria found inside the mouth is attracted to this accumulation of food, slowly eating away at the gums in the process. If the pet owner fails to remove the tartar buildup at this point, the condition progresses to a point of the loss of teeth and a great deal of pain to the ferret. 

Diagnosis of Gingivitis and Periodontal Disease in Ferrets

Gingivitis and periodontal disease are easily diagnosed in ferrets upon oral examination. The veterinarian will be able to see the red and inflamed gums and yellow colored teeth, paired with the accumulation of plaque. The vet will likely request a dental examination to view the full extent of the problem. Most dental exams require the ferret to be sedated to keep the pet calm and prevent the doctor from being bitten. The veterinarian will likely ask the ferret owner about his/her diet, oral hygiene regimen at home, and clinical symptoms noted.  

Treatment of Gingivitis and Periodontal Disease in Ferrets

If the bacteria from the periodontal disease has not reached the bloodstream, the veterinarian can treat the affected ferret with a dental cleaning and/or teeth removal. A dental cleaning mimics that of a human dental cleaning, but ferrets require sedation and a gas anesthetic. The veterinarian will remove plaque and tartar buildup and rinse the mouth with a chlorhexidine solution, followed by a fluoride treatment. If any teeth are beyond saving, the veterinarian will have these teeth removed and note the ones removed in your ferret’s medical health record. 

If your ferret has been suffering from periodontal disease and the bacteria have reached the bloodstream, your ferret will require hospitalization. A blood infection is extremely serious and requires a strong antibiotic treatment infused intravenously. If the bacteria has already reached the heart and other organs, the prognosis for your ferret is grave. 

Recovery of Gingivitis and Periodontal Disease in Ferrets

Ferrets who are only suffering with gingivitis will make a full recovery within a few days after treatment. The veterinarian will request at-home care follow the dental cleaning to prevent the reoccurrence of this dental condition. The veterinary technician present in the clinic will likely instruct you on proper brushing technique and may even send home a special toothbrush for your ferret.