How to trim squirrel's teeth

If you have a wild squirrel that comes in with overgrown teeth, here is one way to trim them without anesthesia with simple at home tools. Squirrel's teeth do not have nerves just like human hair or nails so they do not feel pain when you trim their teeth properly. This procedure is still best left to a trained wildlife rehabilitator, vet or vet tech.

teethinstruments.jpg (39434 bytes)1. Ready your tools ahead of time in your work area. I use a variety of tools depending upon the situation. Very young squirrels teeth can be cut with finger nail nippers or strong cuticle clippers. Adult squirrels teeth can be cut with sharp straight edge toe nail nippers, super strong professional nippers, bone cutters or pointed wire cutters. Make sure all of your tools are sharp. Some people use cat nail trimmers but they are more prone to just crush the tooth rather than snap a straight edge. You want to limit fractures, chips and jagged edges. You are basically snapping the tooth, not actually trimming or cutting it. Some also use a Dremmel drill with a cutting disc, see below.

squirrelburrito.jpg (59940 bytes)2. Wrap the squirrel up like a squirrel burrito. This will protect you from scratches and bites and the squirrel from moving during the procedure causing damage to himself. Be sure to have his legs restrained so he cannot wriggle free. Also make sure to cover his eyes as this will reduce stress and keep him more still. I've also noticed that if you get the head lower than the rest of the body, this position makes them stay more still. It's best to have one person hold the squirrel while the other trims the teeth. Then one person can make sure the lips and tongue are out of the way while the other concentrates on the trimming. I personally wrap them up then put them between my knees as I sit in a chair and trim them myself. It's a good idea to wear thick leather gloves because you can easily get scratched wrapping them up. One good thing about malocclused teeth is that they probably won't be able to bite you. Sometimes they will still try to bite you and end up stabbing themselves with their own deformed teeth which is not good. You should also wear glasses because once you trim the tooth, it will go flying and could get you in the eye.

The video above is not a normal trim job. This girl has a cleft palate so her top incisors were very deformed. The top incisors had grown into the roof of her mouth 1/2" to 3/4". I could not get a dowel into her mouth for this reason. It was physically impossible. I'm just showing you this video to give you the general idea.

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3. Insert wood dowel into mouth to protect tongue and mouth. Slide the wood dowel behind the teeth on top of the tongue with dowel protruding out the sides of the mouth. This is a short wood cuticle pusher purchased from the nail polish aisle in the drugstore. This will keep the tongue and lips out of the way so you won't accidentally snip them. The person holding the squirrel can also press their fingers behind the dowel on the sides of the mouth to get it to open wider. You can sometimes press directly under their chin which may get them to splay their lower teeth apart a little. They can also pull down the lower lip to reveal the gum line of the teeth so you can trim them to the proper length. The incisors of an adult squirrel are supposed to be orange. They are not dirty. The incisors of baby squirrels are supposed to be white.

4. Trim the teeth. I've noticed on adult Fox and California Ground squirrels that the upper incisors should be exposed 1/8 to 3/16 of an inch below the gumline. The lower teeth should be exposed 1/2 to 3/4 of an inch above the gumline. (See photo on far right below). All squirrels are different so use your best judgment. It's also sometimes tough to trim the teeth to their correct length because you cannot get the trimming instrument in between the teeth to cut them this low. If it's a younger squirrel with small teeth, you can trim two teeth at once so you can more easily get the trimming instrument around the teeth. You can also use the cuticle trimmer on younger squirrels which is easier to get between teeth. 

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Ready to trim One trimmed Normal skull Normal teeth

Trim one tooth at a time, 1/4 inch or so at a time, first one side, then the other until they are short enough. The bottom teeth grow more quickly so they will need to be trimmed more. Use a quick snapping motion to trim the teeth. Make sure the patient is still so you do not traumatize their jaws and be sure to watch out for skin. Make sure you trim the teeth to the natural ground down angle, not straight across. (See the skull photo above for normal angle). This will leave you and the squirrel with less to file down. Remove any bits of clipped teeth from their mouth so they don't swallow it.

teethdone.jpg (49173 bytes)5. File the teeth. If you've used the straight edge nippers and clipped cleanly, there should not be much to file at all. If there is a little jagged edge, you can use a coarse metal nail file to file it down. This squirrel arrived at my facility dead and has rigormortis so I couldn't get him to splay his lower teeth so I couldn't get the straight edge toenail nipper in there so I used the other nippers which don't get as clean an edge as you can see from this pic. If I use the straight edge nippers, I rarely have a jagged edge. 

6. Return squirrel to cage. I remove the dowel but keep the squirrel bound up like a burrito. I place him in the cage then gently unravel the towel from around him until he is free. Be sure to give your squirrel lots of things to chew on so he can learn how to grind down his teeth. Give him sterilized dog bones, cuttle bone, unshelled nuts, pieces of wood, pumice stone and deer antlers. Make sure he's getting proper nutrition for bone and teeth growth with plenty of calcium.

Keep a record of his dental trims with dates and approximate amount trimmed. Squirrels teeth grow about six inches a year or 1/2 inch a month with the lowers growing more quickly than the uppers. You should probably trim their teeth every two weeks so they can eat and drink easily. If you let their teeth get too long, they can snag one on their cage, get stuck and break it off. If it breaks off below the gum line, it can get infected. It can also never grow back due to root cell trauma or infection. They can break their back trying to free themselves from the cage bar. They can also irritate their penis if their teeth get too long or are jagged. They can poke themselves in the eye with a super long tooth or just stab the roof of their mouth while trying to bite. They can also accidentally injure their tongue if their teeth are deformed and grow down the roof of their mouth.

Here is a before/after of a live squirrel with temporary malocclusion. A woman saw her very skinny with a huge neck. She trapped her and brought her to me. She lost one incisor so the opposing one grew out of control and she couldn't eat. Then she got an unrelated horrible infection in her neck. We drained 1/4 cup of pus out of there then trimmed the one long tooth. Two months later the upper incisor started to grow in. The lower one is overgrown again in this pic and hitting the upper one at the wrong angle. It's grinding into that tooth. I trimmed the lower one here and she should be good to go with maybe one more trim as soon as the top one grows in fully. It's real easy when you just have to trim one tooth.

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Before              After

Causes of malocclusion. Hopefully your squirrel just lost or broke one tooth which caused the others to be overgrown so he may just need a trimming or two to get his teeth back in shape. It's possible for a squirrel to lose one tooth permanently. This could be caused by dental trauma caused by overly aggressive trimming, an accident or an infection. If it does not grow in within 6-8 weeks, the root cells have probably been damaged and it may never grow back. Sometimes they can learn how to grind down the opposing two by themselves. Sometimes you may need to just remove the tooth opposing the missing tooth. The above squirrel died from starvation combined with a penis infection. He lost an upper tooth which caused difficulty in grinding down the others. He was grinding the lowers into the middle of the uppers causing a very sharp edge which irritated his penis until it became extremely infected. I've seen five cases of adult males with infected penises caused by bad teeth. 

Sometimes malocclusion is caused by a cleft palate which causes the upper teeth to grow in deformed and malaligned. It can also be caused by a head injury during growth which can cause their jaws or skull to be deformed. A broken jaw will also cause malaligned teeth if the jaw is not set properly. Poor nutrition will also cause poor bone and dental growth which could cause a deformity. 

You can also trim their teeth with a Dremmel hand drill with a cutting disc. Some use anesthesia, some do not. I believe the squirrel could feel the heat of the drill on their teeth but someone told me the Dremmel cuts the teeth quickly so it doesn't get too hot. Just be sure to protect them using the wood dowel. Below is a fantastic article on trimming teeth with a Dremmel using anesthesia. 

Most rehabbers euthanize squirrels with permanently malocclused teeth. If the teeth are permanently malocclused, please read this article on another option. There are also other articles on malocclusion in rodents which you may find useful. Malocclusion in squirrels