Ferret Friendly Facts and Advice by Erika Matulich, Ph.D.

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© Erika Matulich

What? You have to brush your ferret’s teeth? You bet! A twice-monthly regimen can save on costly vet trips later and result in a longer and healthier life for your ferret.
Ferret Teeth
Ferrets have 40 adult teeth on which plaque can collect and calcify to form tartar if it’s not removed. Like other pets, ferrets should have their teeth brushed regularly – veterinarians recommend every other week. Although a diet of dry kibbled food can help clean teeth, softer food, treats, and sugary snacks will build up plaque, just like on our own teeth. My own ferrets enjoy "healthy" treats such as raisins, dates, and grapes, but the natural fruit sugars also harm teeth. And when Little Bear was recovering from surgery, she was put on a diet of turkey baby food, which caused a quick buildup of gumline gunk! So if your furry friends eat treats or softer foods, you may want to increase your brushing regimen to once a week.
What if You Skip the Brushing?
If plaque continues to build up on the teeth, gums will become red and swollen (the same as human periodontal disease). This allows bacteria to enter your ferret’s system, and this bacteria can cause tooth root abscesses, susceptibility to infections, lethargy from low-grade infections, kidney and liver problems, and even heart disease! The plaque will eventually harden into tartar and continue to build layers, making gums very painful, and teeth less able to chew. At the point where tartar builds up (usually on the side molars), it’s time to see the vet! A veterinarian can anesthestize the ferret (trust me, they are too squirmy to do without) and perform a professional dental scaling. If you don’t regularly brush your ferret’s teeth, you may need to visit the vet yearly for this pricey procedure. As your ferret gets older, the risk of anesthesia increases, and dental scalings may not be an option. Avoid the need for this procedure with a ferret toothbrush!
Ferret Toothbrushes
Never use a human toothbrush! Even the softest baby toothbrush is too hard for ferret teeth and gums. There are several cat toothbrushes on the market that work quite well. I use a kitten toothbrush that looks like a tiny standard bristle brush with an angled head. Another popular style is a finger toothbrush, which is a soft latex-type material which fits over your index finger thimble style. The bristles are of the same soft material. I think the finger toothbrush is gentler and gives you more control, but I had to quit using mine because Slinky likes to chew rubbery things and kept biting the brush! I was afraid he would get a blockage if he swallowed some brush by mistake!
Ferret Toothpastes
Never use a human toothpaste! Human toothpastes are too abrasive for ferrets and can actually cause tooth damage. Additionally, if your ferret swallows any toothpaste, he can get very sick! Use a special pet toothpaste (sometimes called an "animal dentifrice"). Pastes for cats work well, and my ferrets prefer the malt flavoring. These toothpastes are edible, so there is no need for rinsing and no fear of your ferret swallowing any!
How Do You Brush a Ferret’s Teeth?
Start by wetting the bristles of the toothbrush and apply a tiny amount of paste (a blob about the size of a drop of water). You may need to scruff your ferret or have an assistant hold your ferret’s head. Then gently massage the gums and the canines (the long front "fangs) and work back toward the molars. You should notice the buildup of treats and soft food items clean off easily. Especially work on the outside surfaces to help reduce the tartar buildup in the area that the tongue does not reach. Most of my ferrets don’t mind the procedure once they have gotten used to it, which takes about six times. Misty, on the other hand, continues to squirm and projectile spit every time – even after 7 years! Because she is so hard to brush, I did not do a very good job, and on her last checkup, Misty was given antibiotics to take for 10 days because her gums were inflamed. I think the antibiotics taste worse than the toothpaste, so maybe she’ll shape up next time! Good Luck with your furry ferret friends, and keep those chompers clean!