Now I'm going to say something strange, the window to a chinchilla's health is through his poop. Yes, I know that is something weird to say, but honestly, when a chins poop changes consistency there is usually an imbalance in the GI tract. So you want lots of nice healthy chin poops which is a sign of good health.
Keep a periodic check on your chins weight. Chins are usually weighed in grams, but if you have a scale that only has an ounce measurement, that is fine. The average adult chin can weigh between 455–800 grams (approx. 1lb - 1lb 12oz). Females usually weigh more than males. Some chins are smaller than others and heredity plays a role. It is good to have a weight of your healthy adult chin so that you will have a baseline reference in case of illness. Sudden weight loss or slow continuous weight loss usually indicates that there is something wrong.
Coprophagy & Cecotropes The act of eating poop is called coprophagy. A chinchilla produces normal poops of digested food, but they also produce poops called cecotropes that contain undigested nutrients and vitamins. A chin will eat cecotropes to fully digest these nutrients which their body needs. This is perfectly normal and necessary for a chin to be healthy. They will eat these particular poops directly from their anus. When you see your chin bend completely forward towards their bottom then pop up chewing, that is what he is doing. They will even hold a poop in their hand to eat it as they would a pellet.
Dust bath Chinchillas need to take dry dust baths to keep their fur beautiful and healthy. In the wild, chinchillas bathe in the find ground volcanic sand that is native to the area. Blue Cloud is the best dust you can use for your chin. If they receive regular dust baths 2-3 times a week and are kept in a proper environment with cool temperature (70 degrees or lower) and low humidity (65% or lower), you should have no trouble with your chins fur. If your chins fur becomes matted, clumps together or has a greasy look, he is in conditions that are too warm/humid and they should be corrected immediately.
Exercise Ideally your chin should be given some play time outside of his cage every day. This will be great for his heart, lungs, muscles and emotional health. If your schedule does not permit play time every day, you want to at least let your chin out 3-4 times a week. You want to supervise your chin when out of his cage. This is a great opportunity to bond with your chin. Always make sure you have a chin safe area for your chin to play in as he will test chew everything including electrical wires.
Gender: Boy or Girl? So many people including pet stores, breeders and some vets mis-sex chins all the time. Many people are surprised by the arrival of kits when they think they have two chins of the same sex. It is very easy to tell a male from a female chinchilla. At first glance both sexes have a urethral cone and many people see that and think it is a male. Remember, the male's penis is inside the cone. Male chins testicle don't drop until they are about four months old. Plus a male chin can draw up his testicles inside himself so that they are not visible at all. They do this if they are nervous or cold. Carefully turn your chin so you can see their groin area. Gently move the fur and lift up just above the urethral cone. You will see the anus near the tail and then the cone. If there is no space between the anus and cone, you have a female. If there is a smooth patch of skin about ½" long between the anus and cone, then you have a male.
Grooming (penis) Male chins will groom their penis to prevent hair rings. This is a natural and normal thing for him to do, but can be quite a shock to a chin parent the first time you see them doing this. Your chins penis is actually inside the urethral cone, it is not the cone itself. A chins' penis is about an inch when fully extended. The only way a chin can groom his penis is with his mouth. He will push the penis out and bend forward to clean himself. This is not a sexual act for chins. They do what they need to do and the penis immediately goes back into the cone. I lived with male chins for years before I ever walked past their cage and saw them doing this, so you may never really see it being done. This is an important part of a chin keeping himself healthy. If a chin develops a fur ring around his penis it is very painful and if left untreated it can cut off circulation to the penis.
Life Span Living with a chinchilla is a long term commitment as they can have a life span of 15 – 20 years. The oldest chin we have here at the rescue is 20 years old and we have many chins that are in their mid to late teens. This is a big factor to consider before bringing a chin into your family.
Tooth Color A chins natural and healthy tooth color is yellowish to dark orange. A chin is born with white teeth and the color does not change until they are about 4-5 months old. If a chin's teeth start to get too light that is usually a sign of calcium deficiency. Chins can have seizures from calcium deficiency. You should evaluate the diet you feed your chin to see if it is lacking in proper nutrition. You may need to supplement your chins diet if he is deficient. Building a chin's calcium level back up will not happen overnight, it can take months. Ways you can add calcium to your chins diet is with alfalfa hay, cuttlebone, Tums original tablets (fruit flavor). Please do not go crazy with giving your chin calcium because if he is not deficient you can cause other problems by overdosing him. So in other words, do not give extra calcium if your chin is not showing a deficiency. Excess calcium can cause bladder stones and giving too much alfalfa hay can cause soft poops.
Red Urine A chins urine can range from clear to light yellow to orange red. Many people mistake the dark orange urine for having blood in it. Dark orange urine can be normal for a chin. Blood will often appear as small red veining in urine rather than the urine itself being one color.
Neutering (male) The only time you should consider neutering a male chin is if he has been living with a female for a length of time and they are very bonded and you don't want to separate them. Anytime a chin has to go under anesthesia and have surgery, there is a risk. It is very important that your chin is given a complete physical exam before any surgery and that he is of a proper age. Chins are not like cats, dogs or bunnies when it comes to neutering. Chins should not be neutered when they are too young. The ideal age is between 1½ - 4 years old. You must have a vet who has knowledge of chins and successfully done chin neuters in the past before you consider having this done. A surgery that goes well with no complications should have a chin back on his feet within a couple of hours.
I have had about eight chins neutered over the years and those have been cases where I have rescued a pair that is bonded and the male is healthy and a good age. I have not made this decision lightly, but, trust my vet and wanted to keep the pair of chins together. Some vets will remove the inguinal ring, but my vet does not do this as she feels it is not necessary and I have never had any problems with the neutering. I know some people whose chins have had problems after surgery because they have had the inguinal ring removed, so check with how your vet would proceed with the surgery. My chins have gotten a few internal dissolvable stitches done and then the skin is sealed using surgical glue. Surgical glue is great because he will leave the incision alone. When traditional stitches are used, chins will pull and pick at the incision. The vet should not let your chin leave the hospital until he is up, moving around and eating. Your chin will be tired and sleep a lot his first night home and may eat, but not a lot. By the next morning, he should be more active and eating normally and show improvement every day.
I am a firm believer in giving your chin pain meds when he needs it. Trust me; having his testicles removed required some pain meds for 2- 3 days. Metacam will help with pain and be an anti-inflammatory.
Spaying (female) I do not recommend spaying a female chin unless there is a medical emergency. Spaying is a very difficult procedure for a chin. If you have an aggressive female or one that sprays urine, spaying her will not change her behavior or calm her down. So please don't put her through such a difficult & dangerous surgery unless it is absolutely medically necessary.
Situations that may make it necessary to spay your female would be an emergency while pregnant such as difficulty giving birth and needing a c-section, or excess bleeding while giving birth. A uterine tumor may also be cause to spay. Your vet would have to determine if it is a medical emergency. Please do not consider spaying to prevent pregnancy. Either separate your male and female or if he is healthy, consider neutering the male, but only if you have an exotic vet that experience with doing the surgery.
Vaccinations Your chinchilla does NOT need to be vaccinated and should never be given any.