Nursing a Sick Chinchilla

Knowing the habits and behavior of your healthy chin will help you to more quickly notice if his behavior seems unusual.  This could be a sign that your chin may not be feeling well.  This is a guide of some symptoms your chin may show.  I also give you some basics about care that is often needed while your chin is recovering when ill. If you suspect your chin is not well, do not give him any treats.  Many people do this thinking it is a good test to see whether the chin feels well or not.  Until you know for sure whether your chin is sick and with what ailment, some treats can make his condition worse.  Instead, offer him a dust bath or let him out to play and see his energy level and enthusiasm.  If he does not respond in a normal way, then a vet visit should be scheduled. 

Emergency Situations
The following symptoms are an emergency situation and your chin should be brought to a veterinarian immediately.  You should have a number for a 24 hour emergency veterinarian hospital readily available.  Make sure they have a doctor on staff that knows how to treat chinchillas.
~ If your chin has rapid breathing or is open mouth breathing.
~ If your chin is lethargic and nonresponsive.
~ If your chin has an intestinal prolapse.
~ If your chin is bleeding severely from a wound.
~ If your chin has a broken bone.
~ If your chin has been severely attacked by an animal; including
   another chinchilla.

Signs of Illness
~ If your chin stops eating or drinking.
~ If he sits hunched in a corner and his fur is puffed up.
~ If your chin is not active at night when he normally is.
~ If the poops are small, thin or jagged.
~ If the poops are soft, have mucous or have an odor.
~ If your chin is wheezing or making any noise when breathing.
~ If your chin's stomach is extended and hard.
~ If your chin is flattening his belly to the floor repeatedly.
~ If he has watery eyes or a wet nose.
~ If his chin is wet or he is wet around his mouth.

Antibiotics are beneficial because they help your chin when he is sick. The down side is that along with killing bad bacteria, it also kills good bacteria in the stomach. This will disrupt the natural gut flora and that can upset a chins stomach and cause him to stop eating.  The way to restore the good bacteria is to give your chin acidophilus. I have given antibiotics to chins and they have not lost their appetite at all, while others are more sensitive. It is a good idea to give acidophilus to make sure there is no disruption to your chins digestive tract. You can purchase acidophilus tablets (see Our Store) and give a ½ - 1 tablet a day.  Give it one hour before or one hour after giving any antibiotic.  It takes about one hour for medication to enter the bloodstream.  Once in the bloodstream, anything in the stomach will not affect the medication. This is important because if you give antibiotics and acidophilus at the same time the antibiotics will make the acidophilus in effective.

Giving Medications
Chinchilla are never given any medication in a pill form.  If you have a vet that does give a pill to your chin, find another qualified vet.  Medication is always given in a liquid form to chins.  You always want to give the exact amount your vet prescribe and make sure you give it as directed for the full length of time that is instructed.  Most medications are given for 10-14 days.  It takes 4-6 days for the medication to start to work to the point where you will see improvement, so be patient.  I know that will be difficult when your chin is sick, but the drugs need time to do their job.  Make sure you store the medication properly.  Some do need to be refrigerated.  Some also need to be shaken before you measure out the dosage. 

You always give a chinchilla any fluids, no matter how small of an amount, through the side of the mouth.  Giving it in the front of the mouth could cause your chin to aspirate or choke.  If you need to give a larger amount, then give a small portion first, allow him to swallow, and then give more until the full amount is administered.

Pain Management
If your chin is sick he may also be in pain depending on his illness.  It is thought that animals have a higher threshold of pain than people.  I believe they have pain the same as the rest of us do, they just hide it much better for survival purposes.  Your chin should not be allowed to suffer pain.  Talk to your vet about giving him pain medication as part of his treatment.  A chin that is in pain will not eat or drink, will be lethargic and sit hunched in a corner.  He may also grind his teeth. Chins that do not feel well will often have fur that looks puffed up and their eyes look small with their ears tilted forward.  Relieving a chins pain will help him to recover faster.

Hand Feeding
Hand feeding a sick chin is very often needed.  If a chin is taking antibiotics, his stomach will often become nauseous.   This causes him to eat less or stop eating completely.   You will need to hand feed Critical Care which is a product made by Oxbow Hay Co.  This is a nutritional formula that is ground in a powder in which you will add water to for syringe feeding.  Do not purchase the 'Fine Ground' Critical Care as that is not needed for your chin.  The instructions on the package make it too thick to draw up into a syringe, so add enough water so it is oatmeal consistency.  You can add acidophilus to your Critical Care mix as a way to help your chins gut flora.  You will use a 10ml syringe and feed your chin as much as he will eat.  Hand feeding a chin is not easy and chins can be very stubborn about the process.  They will push the syringe away or refuse to swallow what you put into their mouth.   Always allow your chin to swallow before trying to feed more.  Sometimes I will gently jiggle or rub their chin to encourage them to swallow.  Your chins mouth is very small, so feed in small amounts because you don't want him to choke.  A chin can not vomit, so if something is choking him, he may not be able to get it back up.  If you feed him too fast, it can go down his trachea into his lungs rather than his esophagus and he can develop pneumonia.

Many people will wrap their chins in a small towel leaving their head sticking out to try to hand feed and preventing the chin from squirming.  This is called a 'burrito'.  Personally, I don't like to do this with a chin, nor have I ever had to do this.  If you do feel you need to do a burrito, please be careful and don't wrap your chin too tight.  Be aware of how is arms, legs and tail are positioned inside the towel.  I prefer to have a chin sitting in my lap when hand feeding.  I do not believe in laying them on their backs as I feel this can cause them to choke much more easily.  If your chin is not eating at all, you will have to hand feed three times a day.  Give your chin as much as he is willing to eat.  If he is not eating readily, which often does happen, try to get at least 20ml – 30ml into him at each feeding.  There is a lot of info on the internet that says to feed 120ml a day of Critical Care to a sick chin.  That is a lot and almost impossible for most chins.  The reason that is advised is because chins can lose weight very quickly and it is hard to maintain a weight when a chin is sick.  However, getting any Critical Care into your chin is better than none as the hand feeding is also vital to keep his digestive tract moving. 

Always, always give your chin any hand feeding into the side of his mouth.  Never feed directly into the front of his mouth as this can cause him to choke.  Most chins seem to prefer the Apple/Banana flavor of Critical Care.  They will often still fight you when you try to hand feed simply because their stomach does not feel well  and we all have had times when we have an upset stomach.  The last thing we ever want to do is eat.  Well, that is the same thing for a chin that is sick.  Because of their digestive tract, it is important to get the food into them though.  At times, adding a small amount of baby food, preferably winter squash, to the Critical Care will encourage your chin to eat it.  Do not add too much.  You are looking to just add some flavor.  Do not add fruit or string bean baby food to the mix as that could give your chin bloat.  You can also add Pedialyte instead of water to the Critical Care to give your chin an extra boost of electrolytes.

If your chin is hungry, but has trouble eating pellets and hay because of malocclusion or another mouth injury or infection, you can prepare puffed pellets for him.  This is when you take a small amount of his pellets and add just enough water to cover them.  Let that sit for about ten minutes and the pellets will soften and puff up.  You can place that in your chin regular food bowl for him to eat throughout the day.  Give him fresh puffed pellets a couple of times a day.  You can also add a little Critical Care to the puffed pellets.  You often have to add a small amount of water to make a semi dry thick mixture.  Chins don't like to get their mouth/fur wet, so if you add too much water, they most likely won't eat it. If you feel your chin could use an extra boost, you can also add Pedialyte to the puffed pellets instead of using water.   I have fed this mixture to many chins over the years (many with malocclusion) with great success.  It has helped chins to gain and maintain a good weight. 

Keeping your chin hydrated is by far one of the most important things you can do, especially in times of illness when a chin tends to not drink as much.  A chin that is dehydrated will be lethargic, weak, and can easily become constipated and suffer from GI stasis.  Checking his water bottle regularly will let you know how much he is drinking.  The general test that you can do to check for dehydration is to gently lift up the skin on the back of your chin's neck with your thumb and index finger to form a tent.  If the skin stays up or is slow to fall back into place that indicates dehydration.  A well hydrated chin's skin will fall back into place quickly.  Since a chin's fur is so thick, it can be hard to judge just how dehydrated he may be.  Any dehydration will hinder your chins recovery. 

There is no set amount of water all chin drinks on a daily basis, every chin is different.  You will get to know your chins average consumption of water after a week of living with him.  When you give your chin fresh water daily, note how much is gone from the previous day.  If he has not drunk his average for more than a day, check for signs of illness.  Most chins will drink more water if they consume more pellets and less if they are big hay eaters.  If you need to see a vet, he/she may give subcutaneous fluids (aka sub-q fluids) to your chins.  This is a saline solution with electrolytes given by injection under the skin. It is the best and fastest way to get fluids into a chin that is dehydrated.  You should always keep Pedialyte on hand since it is the next best way to rehydrate your chin and you can give it at home.  You can give it by syringe undiluted if dehydration is severe.  Make sure you always give any fluids to your chin through the side of his mouth and not directly in the front of his mouth as he could aspirate or choke.  If dehydration is mild, you can mix 50% Pedialyte with 50% spring water in his water bottle.  Make sure you wash the bottle every day and put in a fresh mixture.  Pedialyte must be refrigerated after opening.  Once opened, the Pedialyte will keep in the refrigerator for one week.  
Hand feeding your chinchilla Critical Care, no matter how much fluid you add, is not enough to rehydrate a dehydrated chin.  Additional fluids are always needed.

Dust Baths?
When your chin has any kind of a respiratory issue, a wound that needs to heal or eye infection,  do not give him a dust bath until he has fully recovered.