Health Issues I - Z
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.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
Many years ago I asked the question if chins can get IBS. I got silence as a response from everyone. I believe a chin can suffer from IBS. I have seen chins, despite being on a healthy diet; have issues from time to time with soft poops and no issues with intestinal parasites. I feel some chins get it from too many treats and a poor diet. I also believe that a low immune system caused by in-breeding and poor breeding of unhealthy chins has created this problem. Because of the low quality of so many pellets on the market, this also adds to digestive issues. Any time a chin is fed a poor diet they do not have as strong an immune system as they should. Acidophilus can help to balance out the gut flora during times when your chin is having soft poops to get things back to normal. I believe some chins just have a sensitive stomach. It may be trial and error to find out which diet best suits them. I had a chin at our rescue that could not eat regular chin pellets, no matter what brand without getting severe bloat. I worked with this chin for months to try to get her healthy and I finally found a pellet she could eat along with hay that she was able to digest well and maintain a good weight.
Malocclusion (teeth issues)
Malocclusion (also called Malo) is when the upper and lower teeth do not align properly. This misalignment can cause very serious health problems for your chinchilla. Malocclusion is hereditary and can be passed from one generation to the next. Inbreeding can also cause malocclusion along with very poor diets. Diets have an impact on your chins teeth because if they are not using their teeth properly by chewing hay, pellets and chew toys they will not have proper wear and their gums will not be strong to support the tooth's roots.
Since chinchillas teeth are open rooted, they continually grow throughout their life. It is because of this that the problem of malocclusion is never ending. Signs of malocclusion are crumbled food, drooling, wet eyes, weight loss and grinding their teeth. Because the drooling can be severe, your chin will have sweet/sour smelling breath. This is from not eating and drinking as usual. It may also be because your chin could possibly have an abscess. This is one of the problems with the teeth being misaligned; teeth will grow in different directions at times which can cause a spur or point. These spurs can dig into the tongue or check which may cause an abscess.
In severe cases, your chin can drool so badly that his mouth and down the entire front of his chest may be wet with drool. Malocclusion is very painful for your chin and you must get him to a quality exotic vet. Once malocclusion has started, there is no cure. With a great vet who has experience with chins and treating malocclusion, you can improve you chins condition and many chins have lived for years with special care. Even though it is difficult to have chins with teeth issues chew enough hay to keep their chins teeth worn down to a healthy length, that is exactly what you need to try to do. Getting your chins teeth trimmed will become a part of his life. There are times when a trim will be minor and can happen every 4-6 months, sometimes even longer. Over time, the trimmings may need to become more frequent to keep your chin healthy. It is normal that over time trimmings may have to be done every 8 weeks. You need to make sure you speak with your vet about the anesthesia used. You want only Isoflurane gas (masked) to be used for your chin. This is the safest way to anesthetize your chin because you can wake him up very quickly should any complications arise. Please ask your vet to give your chin a small amount of sub-q fluids before giving him anesthesia. This helps his body to assimilate the anesthesia better and to recover from it much faster. Also have your vet give Metacam after the procedure to help with pain. This way you don't have to give it to your chin when you get home and you can allow him to rest. You will need to have Metacam to take home with you because he will need pain meds for 2-3 days. You may have to also hand feed your chin for a few days, so you will need Critical Care.
Some chins are able to go back to eating pellets after they get their teeth trimmed. Others are not able to go back to it right away or at all. You can hand feed Critical Care until he gets back to eating on his own. You can also try to make up a very thick version of Critical Care and leave it in a small bowl in his cage and see if he will eat on his own. I have had really good success with giving malocclusion chins puffed pellets mixed with Critical Care. That is when you add some regular chinchilla pellets to a bowl and add just enough water to cover them. Let them sit for about ten minutes. The pellets will absorb the water and puff up. Some chins will eat that as is, but I have often added a small amount of Critical Care to the puffed pellets and then added a small amount of water and mixed it into a thick paste. I have had many chins eat that on their own and do very well. They have gained and maintained a healthy weight with that mixture. You want to make up a fresh mixture twice a day. The malocclusion will most likely get worse over time. At that time you will need to discuss with your vet what your option are. There may come a point when he is unable to gain weight or the malocclusion is just so severe that trimmings are not helping anymore. You will need to make a very difficult decision at that point.
Chins that are overweight have gotten that way because of people giving them too many sugary and fatty treats. Chins are adorable, but horrible beggars. If you start giving them treats, they will always beg for them. You need to use tough love and resist those adorable faces. There are very few treats that are on the healthy side and even those should be given in strict quantity. If you have a chin that has rolls on their sides or fat pouches on their inner thighs, then your chin is overweight. You can have a chin that is big and larger than other chins, but that is not fat. Extra rolls everywhere are a problem. This puts a strain on the heart, lungs and other vital organs and it can take a toll on your chin. Please try to keep your chin diet to a simple and healthy one, he/she can live a long life with you.
A chin's penis can sometimes come out of its sheath and stay out. I have seen this happen when a chin is severely dehydrated. Usually a chin only becomes dehydrated if there is an underlying issue of another health problem. It could be any number of things, but teeth issues are often at the top of the list for reasons. Your chin will need to see a vet to determine what the cause is. The penis does always go back to normal once the chin starts to recover. In the meantime, your chin may over groom himself more because the tip of the penis gets dry and is uncomfortable for him. There is not much you can do to help him because if you put any lotion on it, he will just lick it off. Plus the lotion makes everything stick to the penis which can be more uncomfortable for the chin.
Rectal Tissue Prolapse and Intussusception
The rectal prolapse is when the intestine is pushed out of the rectum. This is usually caused by constipation, extreme diarrhea, or a severe intestinal infection. The intussusception is when the intestine is folded back onto itself (it is like a sock that is folded over at the top). This makes the prolapse more complicated. If your chin is brought to a vet immediately, there is a slight chance they can save the intestine, but there will most likely be some necrotic tissue that will need to be removed. To help prevent the intestine from drying out or being exposed to bacteria, moisten a paper towel with warm water and place it over the exposed intestine to keep it moist. Once the intestine has been repaired (if possible), it is very difficult to put it back into place and still have it function properly. You will have to watch your chin very carefully every day and most likely moderate his diet. I'll be honest, the chance of recovery is very slim.
If your chin shows signs of a respiratory problem, you need to take him to see a vet right away. Signs of a problem are slow long breaths lasting for a few seconds. Your chins sides may concave much more than normal when he is trying to get a breath. His nostrils may flare open to get a deeper breath. Any discharge from the nose should also be checked by a vet. Any kind of wheezing or whistling through his nose is not normal and may be a sign of congestion. Any noises of a raspy or croaking nature when breathing is not good and should be checked by a vet without delay. If your chin is ever breathing with his mouth open, this is an emergency and he needs to be brought to a vet immediately.
Seizures can be caused by several things; heat stroke, head trauma, lead poisoning, low blood sugar, brain infection, toxins, tumors and electrolyte imbalance. Seizures can last from 20 seconds to 2 minutes, although when they are happening it seems like forever. After the seizure, your chin may be very tired and will sleep a lot to recover. If your chin continues to have seizures, you need to go to a vet and try to find out what is causing them. Please keep track of when and how bad the seizures are so you can inform your vet.
Low blood sugar or hypoglycemic shock often happens if a chin is running around and playing too hard, especially if they are not accustomed to it or they get too warm. If your chin has trouble standing up and is swaying or acting drunk, this is a sign of low blood sugar. Do not wait to treat your chin. Time is vital because, if not treated right away, your chin could pass away. If your chin is able to chew, immediately give him one raisin. If your chin is past the point to be able to chew, then place a couple of drops of Light Karo Syrup (corn syrup) onto his tongue or rub some onto his gums. This is the only time I ever recommend giving a raisin or corn syrup to your chin. You should see improvement in 15-30 minutes.
Thiamine deficiency produces tremors and your chin will stagger when he tries to walk. Vitamin B complex is said to help with thiamine deficiency.
Calcium deficiency is usually caused by a poor diet. However, I do believe that heredity of a parent's poor health can cause it to be passed down to their children. Please do not supplement your chin unless you are sure they are deficient in it. Giving calcium to a chin that is not deficient can cause bladder stones as well as urinary and kidney problems. Calcium can be supplemented with a cuttle bone, original Tums fruit flavor or alfalfa hay. The alfalfa hay can cause soft poops so that may not be your best bet for a prolonged period of time. I have also given chins Calcium Gluconate which needs to be gotten from your vet.
Urinary Tract Infections (UTI)
If your chin has a UTI he may have trouble urinating or he may dribble urine (you will find small spots of urine all over the shelves). He may try to pee often and only pee a drop or two. There may be blood in the urine, please don't confuse red urine for blood. Your chin may pee and because he feels so bad he does not attempt to walk away, but will sit on a urine soaked shelf or in wet bedding. He may whimper or wince while trying to pee. If your chin shows any of these signs, he needs to see a vet for a prescription of antibiotics right away. Please make sure your vet takes an x-ray to make sure he does not have a bladder stone. UTI's cause a lot of pain and discomfort so your vet should give pain meds to help give relief until the infection has begun to clear.