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Chinchillas - Diseases

Chinchillas - Diseases

Author: Rick Axelson, DVM

What are some of the common diseases of pet chinchillas?

Common conditions of pet chinchillas include bite wounds, respiratory diseases, overgrown teeth, diarrhea, skin problems and heat stroke.



What are the signs of these diseases?

Bite wounds are common in chinchillas that are housed with other chinchillas. They can also occur as a result of an attack by the household cat or dog. Because of their dense fur, skin wounds are often missed. Dog bites can be fatal to chinchillas due to the difference in the size of the pets (a large dog can quickly kill a chinchilla). Bites by other chinchillas, dogs, and cats are often infected with various bacteria, especially Pasteurella multocida. If left untreated, the infection in the wound can easily spread throughout the body.

Respiratory diseases are often seen in pet chinchillas. A relatively minor respiratory problem that is left untreated can rapidly progress to pneumonia, which can be fatal. Conditions such as overcrowding, poor ventilation, and high humidity may predispose to pneumonia. Common signs include lack of appetite, lethargy, difficulty in breathing, nasal or eye discharge and swollen lymph nodes.

As is true with many rodents, overgrown teeth are common in chinchillas. Chinchillas have open rooted or continuously growing teeth that grow 5 - 7.5cm (2 - 3 inches) per year. The teeth must align or meet properly in order to wear properly against each other. Malocclusion occurs when the teeth do not meet properly and therefore do not wear correctly, leading to overgrown teeth. This can happen with the front teeth (incisors) that are visible, and the back molars that you cannot see. These overgrown teeth may start to cut the tongue, cheek or lips leading to difficulty eating, a decreased appetite, weight loss, drooling ("slobbers"), eye problems and pawing at the face. They can also get deep tooth root infections. If you suspect problems with your chinchilla's teeth, you should immediately seek help from a veterinarian familiar with chinchillas. Anesthesia is often needed to allow a thorough evaluation of the mouth, and radiographs (X-rays) may be needed to identify problems.

"Overgrown teeth are common in chinchillas."

Diarrhea is not a disease but rather a sign of disease. Rodents, being pets whose digestive system is designed to digest a large amount of fiber, easily develop diarrhea due to changes in diet, incorrect usage of antibiotics, stress, and diets low in fiber or high in fat, carbohydrates and protein. The correct diagnosis is made after evaluating and correcting the diet and conducting diagnostic tests including microscopic fecal examinations, cultures, radiographs (X-rays), blood testsor exploratory surgery.

Chinchillas are susceptible to numerous skin and fur problems such as fungal infections, fur chewing, hair loss and an unusual problem in which the fur becomes wrapped around the penis in a "ring" leading to irritation or constriction of the penis.

"Chinchillas DO NOT tolerate humid conditions at all."


Heat stroke, a common problem in many rodents, also occurs in chinchillas. Being native inhabitants of the high Andes Mountains, they are very comfortable at temperatures of 35o - 45o (2o - 7 o C). Optimal environmental household temperature should be 50º - 68ºF (10º - 20ºC) and definitely below 80º F (27º C). High humidity should also be avoided, as chinchillas DO NOT tolerate humid conditions at all. Temperatures above 80 o (27o C), especially if high humidity is also present, can easily lead to a fatal heat stroke. Signs of heat stroke are similar to those seen in any pet with this problem, and include panting, high body temperature, open-mouth breathing, and recumbency with reluctance to move.


How are chinchilla diseases treated?

Bite wounds are usually infected with one or more of several different bacteria and can be rapidly fatal. Bite wounds to your chinchilla are a true medical emergency that requires immediate veterinary attention. Bite wounds are treated with the appropriate antibiotics, as well as thorough wound cleaning (anesthesia may be necessary).

Pneumonia and other respiratory problems are treated with antibiotics. Chinchillas that are lethargic and have stopped eating require aggressive therapy in the hospital; fluid therapy and force-feeding may be necessary.

Overgrown teeth should be trimmed by your veterinarian. Anesthesia is often necessary to prevent injury to the chinchilla. In the past, nail trimmers were used to trim overgrown teeth. However, due to the chance of injury to the teeth and the jaws, most veterinarians now trim the teeth using a Dremel tool, which causes less injury to the teeth.

chinchillas-diseases-2The correct treatment of diarrhea depends upon the cause. Parasites are treated with the appropriate deworming medication. Bacterial infections are treated with antibiotics. An inappropriate diet is corrected by switching to a more appropriate, high fiber diet.

Heat stroke is an emergency condition requiring immediate veterinary treatment. The chinchilla is immediately cooled with ice packs, cold water enemas, various medications, intraperitoneal fluids (fluids placed directly into the peritoneal (abdominal) cavity) and intravenous fluid therapy. Chinchillas that are discovered with heat stroke at home should be immediately cooled by the owner; applying cold water to the chinchilla and ice packs to the armpits, groin, and neck of the pet will help lower the pet's body temperature. Care must be taken as to not chill the animal too much. 

"NEVER give your pet chinchilla a human medication such as AspirinTM or TylenolTM."

Alcohol applied to the chinchilla's skin actually decreases the loss of heat from the body and is not recommended. NEVER give your pet chinchilla a human medication such as AspirinTM or TylenolTM.


How can I tell if my chinchilla is sick?

Some signs of disease in chinchillas may be specific for a certain disease. Unfortunately, clinical signs are often vague and non-specific, such as a chinchilla with anorexia (lack of appetite) and lethargy, which can be seen with many diseases including pneumonia, overgrown teeth, cancer, and even kidney or liver failure. ANY deviation from normal should be a cause for concern and requires immediate evaluation by your veterinarian.

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