Health Issues D - H
This is a guide to some of the health issues a chinchilla may encounter during their life. It is not a substitute for proper veterinarian care. I am not a veterinarian. My information is from years of personal experiences with chinchillas, consulting with experienced veterinarians and other chin parents and their experiences. If you suspect your chin may be ill, please do not hesitate to take him/her to a qualified veterinarian. It is extremely important that you find a chinchilla experienced veterinarian before you need one because a chin can become very ill quickly and you are going to need a veterinarian you can rely on.
A chin that is dehydrated will be lethargic and weak. His cheek bones may appear more prominent. His poops will start to get smaller, maybe thin. Urine amount will decrease. Not peeing causes the acid in urine to build up in the kidneys which can eventually cause toxins in your chin. Your chin may be slightly dehydrated and you may not realize it. If your chin is severely dehydrated you can check by doing the tent test. Gently lift the skin up on the back of his neck using your thumb and index fingers and if the skin stays up or is slow to go back to normal, then your chin is dehydrated. It is vital that he be rehydrated immediately. Subcutaneous fluids given by your vet is the fastest way to hydrate your chin. If you can not get your chin to a vet right away, then give Pedialyte to help replace electrolytes, but water will do to help get things started. Remember to always give your chin fluids into the side of their mouth and not directly in the front. Your chin will need to see a vet if dehydration is present. There is always an underlying cause why your chin would stop drinking, so you need to resolve this problem quickly.
The first thing you should do if your chin has diarrhea or soft poops is take away all pellets and feed only timothy hay for 1-3 days. Evaluate why your chin is having soft poops. Have you given your chin too many treats or has he gotten into something that upset his stomach? I always give one spoon size (un-sugared) shredded wheat biscuit, and then about an hour later I will give one acidophilus tablet to help balance out the gut flora. Watch your chins water consumption because diarrhea can cause dehydration. You may have to give one spoon size shredded wheat a day and one acidophilus tablet once a day for 2-3 days depending on how upset your chin intestinal tract is. If your chin does not show improvement in a couple of days, a vet visit is in order.
If your chin has discharge from his eye you can try to use natural tear drops to see if you can flush the eye clean. GenTeal (mild) is a very good natural tear drop to use for your chin and you can get it over the counter. If the problem does not clear within a day, you should bring your chin to the vet. He may stain the eye to see if there is a scratch on the cornea. If there is, he may prescribe an eye antibiotic. I don't recommend using any eye ointments with chinchillas. They are too greasy and most are petroleum based. Many chins get more irritations from petroleum and it makes the fur around their eyes very sticky. That in turn causes every speck of dust to cling around the eye and that causes irritation also. Ask for antibiotic drops which are a better option I have found when treating a chins eye. Please note that giving oral antibiotics is useless for an eye problem. The blood vessels are so tiny that the oral antibiotics do not get absorbed by the eye. You need to give drops directly into the eye as treatment.
Fatty Live Disease (Hepatic Lipidosis)
This is one of the most common reasons for death in chinchillas. A poor diet with nuts, seeds and other fatty treats is the cause. Chins can not process fat so it accumulates in their liver. Over time the fat prevents the liver from functioning properly. I have spoken with vets that say during necropsy there are yellow fat globules throughout the liver. The excess fat causes toxicities so the liver can not properly do its job by flushing the body of toxins. The problem with a chin developing this disease is that it is often undetectable until it is too late. It is very important that you have your chin on a proper high fiber diet and limit (if any) healthy treats. A blood test can confirm if your chin has liver issues. If caught early enough, a change in diet can improve the problem. A prescription from your vet with a mixture of Lactulose/Milk Thistle/DMG can be given to your chin to help reverse the liver failure. You need to discuss your options with your vet to see what the best treatment for your chin is. Milk Thistle is a very good natural liver detoxifier, but don't give this without consulting with a vet first. Milk Thistle is an herb and does have medicinal properties, so respect that fact and use carefully.
Fungus is caused by dark, moist and dirty conditions with no air circulation. A chin with a low immune system is more vulnerable when living under these conditions. If you have your chin in a proper environment and keep his cage clean and bedding clean, it should not be an issue. The type of fungus a chin gets is not the same as cats and dogs. However, it is just as contagious since it is an air borne illness. Being clean and obsessive about washing your hands and cloths after being around your chin will prevent it from spreading. Yes, people can catch fungus from their chins. Keeping your chins cage exceptionally clean will help, but you will need to replace all wooden shelves or toys as fungus can get into the pores of wood. The entire cage will need to be disinfected during treatment and then again when your chin has healed to prevent another outbreak. Place your chin in a safe carrier when you disinfect the cage and wait until all surfaces are dry before putting him back in it. Fungus appears as dry pink or red patches and scabs may be present. This is very itchy for your chin. Areas where fungus will first show are around the nose, eyes, tail, paws and genitals. Hair loss is usually one of the first signs you will notice. Your chin may also have whiskers falling out or broken whiskers. The whiskers are broken because of the itching and your chin will often rub his face to get relief, thus breaking off whiskers. If you suspect your chin may have fungus, please take him to your vet to confirm it. Do not self diagnose him because I feel people jump into treating their chins too quickly without knowing for sure if fungus is actually the problem. The only way to know for sure if your chin has fungus is having your vet do a skin scrapping or take a small amount of hair around a bald spot to see if it will grow in a special culture. Some vets will tell you it will take up to 21 days to know for sure, but honestly the fungus will start to grow long before then if the test is positive. You will usually know for sure in 7-10 days. Using a wood's lamp will not tell you if your chin has fungus. The type of fungus chins get will not glow with this type of light.
There are a lot of suggestion out there for treatments. I do not recommend using over the counter foot fungus products.Those products tell you right on the label to keep away from children and animals. There are too many safety factors that put your chin at risk. There are also some oral medications that are used, but again, these are not necessarily safe for chinchillas and put your chin at risk. There is no easy way to get rid of fungus, but it can be done. I know of someone who has used Food Grade Diatomaceous Earth (often referred to as DE) in with the chins regular dust bath with very good and quick results. You mix about 1 teaspoon (use 1 tablespoon in severe cases) of the DE in with your chins regular bathing dust (Do not use the DE alone! Also mix it with your chins regular bathing dust). This will help to dry out the fungus and kill it. Give your chin a dust bath with this mix at least 5 days a week, leaving the dust in the cage for about 10 minutes. You should change the dust to a fresh mix a couple of times a week. After about a week, it usually stops the fungus from spreading. Continue the treatment for about three weeks. You should bring your chin back to your vet for a follow up visit to check on his progress and to be cleared of the fungus.
If a chin is stressed, bored, malnourished or kept under neglectful circumstances he may chew his fur. This is similar to someone who bites their nails. It can become such a habit that they are not even aware they are doing it. Some chins are more sensitive than others and those are the chins that seem to do this the most. It is also believed that this may be hereditary from one generation to another. It is possible to get a chin to stop chewing his fur. If he is removed from a stressful situation and given chew toys we have seen many chins stop chewing and their fur grows back completely with no further problem. Making sure your chin has a house he can hide and relax in can make a huge difference with relieving your chin from stress. Provide plenty of chew toys for your chin to try to keep him busy and re-direct his energy to a better source. If your chin lives with a cage buddy, make sure they are getting along. If they are not, this could be causing stress. A fur chewer may also chew the fur of a cage buddy. A change in environment, a move or change in routine can upset a chin enough to cause them to become a fur chewer.
There are times when no matter what you do a chin will continue to chew his fur. As long as your chin eats a healthy diet with plenty of hay for fiber, it should not make a difference except his appearance will be a little different. You will want to keep an eye on his poops to make sure they are normal so you will know that he is passing any excess fur he is ingesting.
Fur slip or Blown Fur
As a natural defense mechanism to survive in their wild habitat, a chinchilla can slip or blow fur. In the wild, if a predator tries to grab a chin he can survive the attack by slipping his fur which would leave the predator with a mouth full of fur, but not the chin. When a chin is handled roughly or they get nervous when you try to catch them, they can lose a patch of fur and leave behind a bald spot. The bald spot will leave the skin perfectly smooth. As the fur grows back, it is similar to peach fuzz, there is no stubble. Don't worry, the fur will grow back fully, but depending on the chin's age and health, it will grow back anytime from a couple to several months.
This is a protozoan parasite that lives in the intestine and adults can attach themselves to the intestinal wall. They affect animals that have a weak immune system, are under stress, have poor diets and live in poor living environments. Giardia love and thrive on glucose, so giving sugary treats are never good, but when your chin is infected, it will make the situation worse. They can be contracted through contaminated water or by eating/licking feces of another contaminated animal. The Giardia cause the intestine to be weak and inflamed so it can not absorb the nutrients from food. This causes nutrients to go through the intestine quickly without being absorbed and that causes diarrhea or soft poops. The poops will usually have an odor of a sweet/sour smell and often, but not always, can have a greenish tint. Poops can also be formed, but be overly larger than normal and have a shiny mucous coating. Chins who are affected rarely have normal poops. They will be lethargic and weak and can have weight loss as the Giardia prevents the nutrients from being absorbed by the body.
It is very important you keep your chinchilla away from other chins as they can become contaminated too. The only way to know for sure if your chin has Giardia is to have a fecal floatation test done by your veterinarian. A good vet will be able to see Giardia and cysts if they are present. The poop needs to be fresh because once out of the body for 1-2 minutes, Giardia can form a cocoon around themselves and it can be very difficult to see them even with a proper fecal floatation. If your chin tests positive, treatment must begin right away and it can be very difficult to resolve. Prevention is the best way to avoid Giardia all together by keeping a clean environment for your chin and feeding him a healthy diet. Although different treatments have been used over the years, it has been found that some of them simply don't work to kill the Giardia and cysts and others have grown inaffective as the Giardia has grown immune to the drug. Medications most commonly used are Albendazole (Valbazen), Metronidazole (Flaygl) and Fenbendazole (Panacur). Panacur does not work to kill the Giardia. Flaygl had shown signs of working on some of the parasite years ago, but now is only 50% affective and can cause liver issues, nausea and nerve damage over time. Valbazen also has worked in the past and still seems somewhat reliable. The Valbazen would be the medication that I recommend for treatment. The usually course of action is give for 3 days, then wait 5 days and treat again for 3 days. The purpose for the second treatment is to kill the cysts. I recommend giving Acidophilus to your chin because this will build good bacteria in the intestines and Giardia does not like that. They thrive on bad bacteria and an unhealthy GI track. During the few days in between treatments, you need to remove your chin from the cage to a clean environment while you completely disinfect and sterilize the cage, including replacing wooden shelves, toys and any fleece, if possible. Wood is porous, so it will be very difficult to be sure you have rid all the cysts from the wood. You should really replace the wood completely to be sure. You can use a steam cleaner as Giardia and eggs can not survive the heat. Food bowls and water bottles must be sterilized or you can re-contaminate your chin.
This is a buildup of fluid in the eye thus causing pressure and ultimately blindness. It causes the eyes to bulge, which will be noticeable with your chin. The pressure can be very painful. I had a chinchilla diagnosed with advanced glaucoma in both eyes. She is completely blind as a result. Fortunately, I was able to treat her with medicated eyes drops to relieve the pressure in the eye. She needs to receive these eye drops every day, but the fluid pressure in her eyes has gone back to normal.
Male chins can get hair wrapped around their penis. This is more common with chins who breed, but can happen to any chin. Because their hair is so fine, it can quickly cling, accumulate and entwine itself around the penis. This hair forms a 'ring' around the penis and can be quite strong. This is why males will clean themselves to prevent this from happening most of the time. If a ring does form, often you will not discover it until you see your chin is in discomfort. You will see him trying to groom himself much more often than normal. That is because he is trying to remove the ring himself and get relief. The hair ring can actually strangulate the penis and cause pain. If severe, it can cut off circulation. The hair ring must be removed by you at this point. This is really a two person job, so I would advise having someone hold your chin while you remove the hair ring. You must be gentle as the penis is usually very sensitive and irritated. Carefully push back the sheath to reveal the penis and slowly pull the penis out until it is fully extended. You can use a dab of Vaseline or KY gel on your finger tips to slowly roll the hair ring off of the penis. If the penis is swollen or purple from lack of circulation, you may not be able to get the hair ring off easily. In that case you may have to try to carefully pull a few hairs at a time to try to loosen the ring. Once it is removed, gentle push the sheath back over the penis. It may take a few days before the penis will retract on its own because of irritation. If you have trouble removing the hair ring yourself, you need to bring him into the vet.
Head Tilt or Spinning
When a chin has a severe head trauma, ear infection or infection of the brain, they may not be able to keep their balance. Your chin will tilt his head to one side. At times this can be so severe that his head will be completely sideways or may tilt downward to the front and side. It can also turn backwards towards their shoulder blade and it will pull his body in that direction causing him to spin in circles uncontrollably. He may also roll repeatedly only pausing slightly at times
Head tilt causes your chin to be very dizzy (vertigo). This can cause your chins eyes to continually roll from side to side, often in rapid succession. Therefore, he has extreme nausea and may not want to eat or drink or is unable to eat because he does not stay still for any length of time to be able to do so. He feels like his whole world is constantly spinning and can cause it to be difficult for him to even sleep. This illness happens very quickly, often with very little warning. This is a very serious illness for your chin. The uncontrollable going in circles and rolling is torture and exhausting for him.
It needs to be determined what the cause of the head tilt is. If your chin hit his head and there is trauma to the brain, there may be nothing that can be done. If it is an ear infection, antibiotics need to be given. There is usually discharge with an ear infection. A culture of the discharge needs to be taken and tested to determine exactly what the bacteria is so the proper antibiotic can be given. You will also want to talk with your vet about giving your chin something for the nausea.
Because of the dizziness and spinning, you need to keep your chin to one level with lots of soft bedding or fleece fabric as padding. He can not be allowed on any shelf as he could easily fall. Set up a special cage or rearrange his current cage for him to live in until he fully recovers. This is a very serious illness and it can take weeks for recovery. Antibiotics often need to be given for a good 2-3 weeks if not longer.
It is vital that you keep your chin in an environment that has a proper temperature and humidity level. Chins can not sweat and can only release a small amount of heat through their ears, so they can get heatstroke very easily. Heatstroke can cause a seizure. A chin can die of heatstroke quickly, so please always use air conditioning in warm months. Keep in mind that what is a nice day for you and I will most likely be too warm for your chin. The temperature for the room where your chin will live should not exceed 70 degrees and the humidity should not exceed 65%. Signs of heatstroke are rapid breathing, laying on his side, listlessness, lethargy and very red ears with engorged blood vessels. To try to cool your chin down, do so slowly. A very sudden drop in temp could put your chin into shock. You do not want to blow cold air directly onto the chin, but rather have the room temperature be low. In an emergency situation, you could hold your chin next to an open refrigerator door. Do this just so the chin will get some of the cool air without being too close. You only want to hold your chin there for a few minutes. You want to try to give fluids to your chin also, but only in very small amounts and make sure your chin is responsive when trying this. If you are able to cool your chin down, it may take him some time to fully recover as heatstroke takes a lot out of them. No play time for a couple of days so your chin has time to recuperate.
This is when a chin has a hump on their back behind the neck and around the shoulder blades. This is often seen in older chins, but young chins can get this condition too. Poor nutrition has a lot to do with this illness. Low potassium, low iron and calcium can cause this issue. Liver problems can also contribute to this condition.