Health Issues A - C
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.
An abscess can form anywhere on the body, including in the mouth. An abscess is a puss filled pocket caused by bacteria and it can feel hot to the touch. They can be very difficult to heal because the puss is very thick and can have a cottage cheese or toothpaste like consistency. An abscess can also have small canals branching off of the main part of it. At times, flushing an abscess does not fully get into all those tiny canals to remove all the bacteria. It is these canals or vein-like branches that hold small amounts of bacteria that can build back up again causing the main pocket to become full again. This is what can make an abscess so difficult to get rid of. The puss usually has an odor and can range from whitish to green in color. If it is located in the mouth, your chin will have a bad odor to his breath. He will have trouble eating and may have wet fur around his mouth. You may see a lump on the side of his face, jaw or on his body depending on where it is located. An abscess is similar to an iceberg in the sense that what you see on the surface is usually only half the size of what is underneath. You will not always see a lump, so keep this in mind. You need to get your chin to a vet as soon as possible because the abscess will continue to fill up with the puss and will be very painful. If it fills too much, the pressure can cause it to rupture which is very dangerous for your chin. A vet can do one of two things; lance the abscess and drain the puss by flushing it or drain the abscess then completely remove the membrane surrounding it. Removing the membrane is not always possible depending on the location. Removing the membrane would also require your chin to be put under anesthesia because that would be a surgical procedure. If the abscess can only be drained you will need to flush the wound every day because it will fill up again with puss. This process will take 10-14 days before the wound will dry up and finally start the healing process. Your chin will need to be on oral antibiotics during that time. At times your vet can fill the drained pocket with antibiotic beads or antibiotic filler (Doxirobe Gel). This is medication that will dissolve over a period of time to help heal from the inside. If this is able to be used, the wound is sutured closed and you do not have to flush the wound or give oral antibiotics. You will need to discuss the best option with your vet.
Chinchillas can have allergies just like people. It is usually certain bedding material that they may have trouble with. Some chins can not be around pine as it can make them sneeze or have watery eyes. You can use alternative bedding such as Care Fresh, Aspen or Fleece.
Also, some chins do have an allergy to wheat. I had a rescue that would have a seizure when given a shredded wheat biscuit. Needless to say she was only given that treat twice when I realized what had triggered it. I don't believe this is common for chins to have wheat allergies, but it is possible. Your chin may experience stomach/GI issues if they have an allergy to wheat by having soft poops.
It is so important that you have a safe cage for your chin to live in because many have suffered from broken legs when living in inappropriate ones. The set up of the cage will make a difference also. Please see Domestic Habitat for cage information. Because chin's bones are so small, they are almost impossible to pin. Placing a cast on the leg will not work as chins chew everything. They are also so active, that keeping them quiet for weeks while the leg heals would not be possible. Amputation is usually what is done, but you must have a qualified vet to do the procedure. If done properly and with pain medications, chins actually recover fully and quickly.
Your chin can aspirate (choke) if you are giving medication or hand feeding and it goes down the trachea into the lungs rather than the esophagus into the stomach. You always want to give anything orally to your chin by the side of their mouth and not directly in the front of their mouth. Their mouths and throat are very small and narrow. Give medication, fluids or any hand feeding in small amounts and allow your chin to swallow each time.
Chins can be very irritable towards each other at times. They can nip at each other by only pulling a small amount of fur or they can give a full blown bite. Bites can result in anything from a small cut in the ear to a toe being bit off. A large cut or gash can be very serious. A chin's thick fur can hide wounds so if your chin should get into a fight, you need to check him all over to make sure you know how many injuries he has and how bad they are. If a wound is bleeding you need to carefully cut the fur from around the wound to evaluate it and if necessary clean it carefully with sterile saline. If the wound is more than a scratch, or you are not sure on how to care for it, you need to take your chin to your vet. If your chin is bit or scratched by another type of animal; a cat, dog, etc, you need to take him to the vet to have him examined. Salva and claws of other animals can carry bacteria and you want to make sure the wound does not get infected.
Some chins, whether because of diet or metabolism, do not properly flush minerals out with their urine. Instead, the minerals accumulate in their bladder causing a stone. Stones are very painful for your chin. Signs that your chin may have a bladder stone are dribbling urine, trying to urinate often or having trouble urinating, blood in the urine and painful urination. There will also be a strong smell to the urine. A chin may actually whimper or wince when trying to pee. Years ago, I had a male chin that had very swollen testicles and suddenly stopped eating and after an x-ray was taken, it was discovered he had a stone. Your chin needs to see a vet as soon as any of these symptoms start. The only way to know for sure if your chin has a stone is to take an x-ray. They show up as a white spot. Some chins will get bladder stones from excess calcium in their diet. If your chin is not lacking calcium in his diet, I don't recommend supplementing him with it as you risk causing stones. A chin can not pass a stone like a person can. The stone needs to be surgically removed. This is not an easy surgery and you need a very qualified vet to do it. A chin's bladder is only about the size of a half dollar and the wall of the bladder is very thin.
Your chin will need two weeks to fully recover. He will need to be kept in a one level cage with soft bedding or fleece. You don't want him jumping around as he will have a good size incision on his abdomen. He will need pain medication and your vet may decide to put him on antibiotics. No dust baths until he heals. You should seriously consider changing his diet because stones can form again if he does not process calcium properly. I have had a couple of chins have stones and I switched them over to Oxbow Bunny Basic T which is an adult bunny pellet. It is the same pellet as Oxbow Chinchilla except it is Timothy hay based instead of Alfalfa so it is lower in calcium. I have never had a reoccurrence with a chin after changing over to the bunny pellets. As already stated, I don't recommend giving calcium to chins that have had bladder stone issues. I also don't recommend giving extra Vitamin C as that can also accumulate in the bladder.
Another way that I had success in preventing another stone from forming was to give Potassium Citrate on a daily basis. Potassium Citrate binds to calcium in the body so it can be passed out of the body in the urine rather than accumulating in the bladder. This is a prescribed medication which you would need to talk to your vet about and see if it would be a good choice for your chin.
Bloat or gas is very serious for a chinchilla. Having a very high fiber diet, limiting treats and avoiding all sugar will help to prevent this problem. Signs that your chin has bloat can be one or several of these symptoms: a round extended firm belly, your chin pressing his hips to the floor or doing an army crawl while rubbing his belly on the floor, rapid breathing, standing with his butt in the air, rolling from side to side, sitting in a hunched position, gurgling stomach, pits (moon like) in his poop or actual air bubbles in his poop, not eating or drinking and having very small or no poops.
Your chins poop can also look like it has cellophane wrapped around it with air bubbles. The cellophane appearance is a sure sign of bloat in the intestinal tract. One of the biggest signs of severe bloat is when your chin stretches often followed by flattening his belly/pelvis to the floor. By pressing his pelvis flat he is trying to get relief. Your chin is in pain when he does this. Very often he will then lie on his side because of the pain. Don't confuse this with your chin just stretching or sleeping on his side. The flattening is accompanied by the other symptoms. It is important that you act quickly if your chin has bloat because bloat will continue to build and it is very painful. It will not resolve itself and you need to help your chin to get things moving. If left untreated, your chins intestines could rupture. Your chin will most likely stop eating and drinking. Starting your chin on Simethicone infant drops immediately will start to help to break up the consistency of the gas bubbles so they can be passed and move more easily. Simethicone can be purchased at any drugstore or grocery store and should be part of your first aid kit. It is very safe to use and there are no known drug interactions since it is not absorbed through the intestinal lining. You should give Simethicone at the first sign of bloat. You also need to get him moving since exercise helps, so let your chin out to play and run around. Gently massaging his belly will help, but don't press too hard as that can aggravate the intestine.
It may sound strange, but if you can, have the chin facing you sitting on your lap. With one hand supporting his upper body just enough so he does not fall forward, place your other hand under his pelvis area lifting his hips just a couple inches off your lap. Do this just enough so that his hips are higher than his head. You want to massage his abdomen starting from just below his rib cage moving down toward his pelvis using circular motions. For many animals, gentle massage will feel good, but for some it is not comfortable. The purpose of doing this is that the gas bubbles will float to the top (hence having your chins butt slightly higher than his head). This does work, I know it sounds crazy, but I have done this with my bunnies that have had bloat and it does bring them relief faster and helps to get things going. If your chin will not allow you to raise his butt a little, don't worry about it. The massage itself will still help him to get some relief. Do not ever give your chin who has bloat any treats, not even healthy ones. Sugary treats will make his situation worse (you should not be giving your chin sugary treats anyways). You want to keep things as simple as possible until his intestinal tract balances out.
If your chin does not show improvement within a day or gets worse, you must take him to a vet right away. An x-ray will show you where and how bad the gas is. Depending on where the gas is (upper intestinal or lower intestinal tract) the vet may give you Reglan or Cisapride which are both motility drugs that cause contractions in the GI tract to help get things moving. Reglan helps with upper GI and Cisapride is very good for your chin which helps gastric emptying and cause contraction in the lower intestines. All three of these medications, Simethicone, Reglan and Cisapride act differently on your chins intestinal tract, but together they can perform miracles to a chin with bloat. Do not give antibiotics when a chin is bloated. It can make the situation worse by causing an unbalance gut flora, which can increase bloat.
You can NOT insert a needle into a chins abdomen to release the gas. I know this sounds like a simple solution, but it's not. The smallest pin prick can allow bacteria into the GI tract and cause very serious health issues and infection. A good vet will know not to do this, but if a vet suggests it to you, don't allow him/her to do it.
When I give Simethicone, depending on how severe the bloat is, I am aggressive with how much I give. Since bloat is so serious, you must treat your chin until the problem is fully resolved. For severe bloat, you will need to give Simethicone three to four times a day depending on the progress your chin is making. I personally give .30-.50ml each dose. Depending on the severity of the bloat, it can take several days to fully resolve the problem. You must monitor your chin to make sure he is drinking so he does not get dehydrated. He most likely will not want to eat because a chin in pain will not eat and you can supplement him with Critical Care, but be careful when hand feeding that you do not get more air into his stomach. A chin that is very bloated will only eat so much because he is full of gas and in pain. Because bloat is painful, I advise speaking to your vet about giving Metacam to your chin to help ease the recovery and encourage him to eat on his own.
If your chin is open mouth breathing, has rapid or irregular breathing or has pale gums, an indication of lack of oxygen, this is an emergency situation and you need to get your chin to a vet immediately!
Having a proper and safe cage for your chin along with safe toys and supervision during play time should avoid your chin getting into a situation where there is the possibility of a broken bone. Because chins bones are so small and fragile, you can't really put a cast on them if they should get a break. Chins are so active, keeping them quiet to allow the bone to heal is impossible. A chin will also chew everything so preventing them from chewing a cast or bandage is also impossible. Trying to pin a bone can actually cause more damage to the bone. We have heard of a couple of chins that broke their legs and the guardians decided to try to have the leg pinned. I was told by one person that their chin "went through hell" during the whole process. After months of healing, the chin broke the same leg again and had to have it amputated anyways. If, by chance, it is possible to splint and wrap the bone and limit the mobility of the chin, it would take a length of time and several vet visits to check on the progress. The bone would still most likely not heal straight and be very vulnerable to future injury. We have rescued several chins that were kept in cages that had bar spacing and ramps that were inappropriate and as a result broke their legs. Ultimately, they had to have their leg amputated. Keep in mind that with a good vet, chins actually make a quick and full recovery after amputation. They can get around very well with three limbs. I recently rescued a chin that has no hind legs because both were amputated at different times because of improper care. She actually gets around very well with her arms and the vet left small stumps that help her move. We setup a special cage for her to be able to get around comfortably.
Pregnant and moms nursing kits, chins with teeth issues are the most common reasons why they would need calcium supplementing. Tums (original) contains calcium carbonate and is one of the most common ways to get extra calcium into your chins. Feeding extra alfalfa hay is another way, but that can cause soft poops for some chins and you would have to give a large amount. Cuttlebone is also a good source. Calcium should only be given if your chin is lacking it or needs a boost because of pregnancy/nursing. You should not supplement your chin with calcium if he is on a healthy diet with a pellet that is well balanced. Giving large amounts of calcium to a chin that is lacking is overload and the body will just excrete it out through urine. A white urine stain on shelves is an indication of excess calcium in the diet. You want to supplement slow and steady when needed. You do not want to supplement calcium every day, but rather three times a week. The exception is a pregnant or nursing female when you give alfalfa hay in addition to timothy hay.
When chins are kept in a cage that has nothing but wire shelves and flooring, they can develop callused/cracked feet and paws. If a dust bath is left in their cage and a chin sits in it a lot, that can cause dry feet too. That does not mean that you can't have a wire floor or a wire shelf in your chins cage. It just means that you should always have several solid surfaces also available for your chin to sit on as an option. I rescued a chin that had the worst calluses I have ever seen. He was kept in an all wire cage for years which was filthy and all he had was a small rotting house to sit on. The bottoms of his feet were literally thick black pads. He was in such pain that he could not stand on a solid firm surface. I put him in a drop in pan type cage with kiln dried pine shavings and a new house and couple of wood shelves and with time he regained healthy feet again with no calluses. I really love a product that I sell in Our Store called Calendula Cream. This is an all natural product that is not greasy and is like a miracle for dried, cracked or calloused feet.
Chins can get cataracts the same as people do. Age is often the reason why they get them. Cataracts are a buildup of proteins on the lens of the eye which cause a cloudy surface of the eye. They can cause partial or complete vision loss. Partial vision disruption can create a foggy view for your chin. Chins adjust and can manage very well with cataracts because it is a gradual loss of vision and they learn to get around their cage very well. I would not move things in their cage if it gets to the point of vision loss.Conjunctivitis
This is an irritation of the eye which can be caused by an injury such as a scratch from hay, dust or litter. It will trigger the eye to water or get a thick white discharge. Dirty living environment can cause eye irritation. Conjunctivitis can also be a chronic condition if the chins overall health and immune system is not strong. Your chin may have watery eyes which is an irritation that may easily be resolved with natural tears. Natural tears will help to flush away debris that can cause irritation. Your chin may have a scratch on the cornea which is more serious and you need to see a veterinarian who may prescribe an antibiotic eye drop. You should avoid using an antibiotic ointment as is it very messy and will cause every speck of dust to cling to the eye and lid making your chins eye more irritated rather than better. Since petroleum is the base of ointments, many chins are allergic to it and will very often make your chins eye worse as they can have an negative reaction. You can easily get eye antibiotics in a liquid drop which works very well. You should not use a steroidal eye drop unless the vet really thinks it's necessary.Constipation
Constipation in chins can be caused by different reasons; but the primary reason is usually because of poor diet. A chin should eat a simple high quality diet of Timothy hay, pellets and fresh water with very limited or no treats. Do not give your chin pellets that have nuts, fruits or other junk mixed in with it. It should be pellets only with fiber listed as 20% or higher. A high fiber diet should prevent constipation. Chins have a very fast metabolism, so they digest their food quickly. A healthy chin is a little pooping machine! Chins should have access to clean hay at all times.
If your chin should become constipated you need to figure out why. Did they eat something that caused it or has he stopped eating because of an illness. If you think your chin has stopped eating because of illness, take him to your vet to find out what is wrong. If your chin ate something to upset his digestive tract you need to take steps to resolve the issue. The longer your chin is constipated the worse it will get and the longer it will take to resolve. Constipation in chins is serious and he needs your commitment to help get through it. Depending on how bad and how long your chin has been constipated, it can take a few days to make slow and steady progress.
A constipated chin can have poops that range from tiny specs to long very thin poops, to strange shapes and ragged edges. One of the most important things if your chin is constipated is fluids, fluids, fluids! When a chin stops eating, they usually stop drinking also. Dehydration is a definite possibility if your chin has small poops. Plus the intestinal tract dries out, both the poops and the intestinal wall itself. Any fecal matter remaining in the intestines can become like concrete. It takes a lot of slow and steady fluids to rehydrate the intestinal tract. Subcutaneous fluids are the best and fastest way to rehydrate an animal. However, that is not possible to do for most people unless administered by a vet. That means you will have to give fluids orally. Always give fluids (or hand feeding) through the side of the chins mouth in small amounts. Never give fluids/food into the front of the mouth or your chin could aspirate. You can give your chin spring water or diluted Pedialyte. If you are hand feeding with Critical Care and try to add more water to the mix as a way of re-hydrating your chin, please know that it will not be enough fluids to replenish your dehydrated chin. He will still need to be given added fluids.
Canned pumpkin, not pumpkin pie filling, is excellent to help resolve constipation. Baby food Winter Squash or Summer Squash is also an excellent source of fiber. Do not give your chin baby food of string beans, peas or fruits! Both the canned pumpkin and squash needs to be refrigerated after it is opened. The pumpkin will be very thick and many times if your offer your chin a small amount on a teaspoon they will eat it. The squash has a thinner consistency and he may not eat it off of a spoon. You can mix either one with critical care for hand feeding. You should only give pumpkin/squash 1-2 times a day and in small amounts. You should only need to give it for 1-3 days and you will see improvement. Do not give both the pumpkin and squash; pick one or the other to give your chin. If you start to see your chins poops improve after only a small amount, stop giving it to him and encourage him to eat more hay or hand feed Critical Care without the added pumpkin/squash.
A chin that is constipated always has bloat/gas to some extent. Giving Simethicone infant drops will help give relief. Exercise is another way to help get a chin's intestinal tract moving. Constipation can cause pain, so if you go to see a vet, consider getting a pain relief with Metacam. A blockage is not the same thing as your chin having constipation. Constipation is a slow digestive tract; it is a matter of working on it to get things going again. A full blown blockage is when an obstruction can be felt by a vet and an x-ray is taken to confirm that there is a solid hard mass blocking the intestinal tract. A blockage can not be removed by surgery for chinchillas. Their intestinal wall is thinner than tissue paper and it can not be cut open and then stitched back up. If there is a tiny pinhole that has not been repaired, bacteria from the bowel can leak into the body and cause severe infection and possible death.
A blockage must be broken down so it can pass through the intestinal tract naturally. The best way to do that is with FRESH pineapple juice (not canned). If you are buying a pineapple, you want a nice golden ripe one. Pineapples ripen from the bottom up, so if you get a pineapple that is ripe on the bottom half turn it upside down as that helps to speed up the ripening process. The ripened juice from the bottom flows through the rest of the fruit and speeds up the ripening. The enzymes in the pineapple, called bromelain, help to break up organic matter that a mass is usually made of. I give .50ml once a day for three days and then I don't give anymore. You need to give the pineapple juice time to work.