Chinchilla Cataracts and How to Take Care of Them
Considering that chinchillas are very sensitive animals, it comes to no surprise that among different illnesses, chinchillas can also develop eye related problems.
Some of the eye issues that a chinchilla owner would have to deal with are related to mechanical injuries such as scratches to the cornea or illnesses related to bacterial or fungal infections, clogged tear duct and even cataracts.
Summary of this article:
- Can chinchillas get cataracts?
- What causes eye cataracts?
- Can cataracts be treated in chinchillas?
- How can you prevent cataracts from getting worse?
- How to help a chinchilla with cataracts?
While there are treatments for different kinds of eye problems ranging from antibiotic drops to surgery, some illnesses have no specific treatment, like cataracts.
Cataracts have two main causes: genetic and old age. Although this illness does not cause pain or discomfort to your pet, it would lead to a gradual loss of vision, but there are a few things you can do that would help your pet deal with its new condition a little easier.
Healthy Chinchilla Eyes
Before we start explaining what cataracts are, you should be familiar with how a healthy chinchilla’s eyes look like.
Chinchillas have big, dark, shiny eyes that in a wonderful way compliment their appearance.
The area around the eyes should be dry with no discharge of any kind, there should not be any balding of the skin surrounding the eye and there should not be any redness of the said skin.
The fur surrounding the eye should not be matted or dirty in any way. The eyes should be shiny without any clouding or fogginess.
If your chinchilla is awake, both eyes should be opened and your chinchilla should not be squinting on any of its eyes.
Although chinchillas have large eyes, in general, they have fairly poor eyesight, but tend to rely on other senses to navigate, so you will not be able to notice that their vision is actually blurry.
Can Chinchillas Get Cataracts?
Yes, cataracts are just one of the things that chinchillas are capable of having. Chinchillas have a very delicate and sensitive organ system and they do not handle well sudden changes in the environment, any kind of stress or trauma.
Considering that chinchillas live up to 15-20 years, an age-related illness does not come as a surprise. Since one of the main reasons chinchillas get cataracts is actually due to old age, this illness is quite frequent among elderly chinnies.
So if your older chinchilla develops cataracts you should not be too worried as it is a natural occurrence, but even younger chinchillas can develop this illness. Always be sure to consult a specialized vet before taking any further actions or treatment.
What Causes Eye Cataracts?
There are two major reasons why cataracts occur in chinchillas: old age and genetics.
While this does not mean that all chinchillas will develop cataracts due to these factors, there is a possibility that your pet will.
There is one more reason cataracts can develop and that is due to diabetes. Poor nutrition combined with high doses of glucose and carbohydrates can cause a chinchilla to develop cataracts (diabetogenic cataracts).
How do cataracts appear?
Cataracts develop in the lens of the eye, behind the iris (the colored part of the eye).
The lens of the eye is responsible for giving a clear image of what is observed as the light passes through the lens and into the eye.
With age, the lens of the eye becomes thicker, less flexible, less transparent and starts to deteriorate and break down, causing scattered foggy spots to appear within the lens.
As cataracts develop, the cloudiness of the eye becomes denser and bigger, involving a large part of the eye lens to be effected and foggy. This reduces the amount of light that passes through the lens into the eye and gives a blurry vision.
Cataracts vary in size from small to large and they appear as a cloudy white spot in the center of the eye.
Cataracts usually develop on both eyes, but not necessarily at the same rate, while one eye can be completely clouded the other one can be in the beginning stage of cataracts.
The process of cataracts appearing is not at all painful and will not cause harm or discomfort to your pet, but since cataracts cause gradual loss of vision, your pet will be challenged when it comes to navigating inside its cage and in the playroom.
Can Cataracts Be Treated in Chinchillas?
Unfortunately, when it comes to treating cataracts in chinchillas there are actually no options available for us.
Cataracts in humans and animals are usually treated with drops, preventive measures, dieting and corrective surgery.
These options are not available for chinchillas because they are limited with the medication they can receive and with sensitive as chinchillas are – surgeries are not a viable option.
If the cataracts are caused by diabetes, changing the diet to an appropriate diet, which is low in carbs, high in digestible fiber and excluding all sugary treats can help to slow down the development of the cataracts.
You can find medical eye drops containing N-acetylcarnosine (NAC), these drops are used for treating age-related cataracts.
They can be used for humans and animals alike. Some chinchilla owners have stated that the use of drops containing N-acetylcarnosine (NAC) have given positive and promising results.
However, due to the lack of studies done on chinchillas on how they respond to this medication, you should consult your vet before trying out any treatments on your own because you may end up causing your pet more harm than good.
As stated before, there is no prescribed medicine available for chinchillas, so using something that is not specifically designed for your pet’s needs can come with major risks.
Although this information may leave you feeling hopeless, it should not. Chinchillas can get cataracts, but unlike other illnesses, they will feel no discomfort or pain.
Your chinchilla will be feeling like its usual self, with a little less sight than before. We already mentioned that chinchillas have poor eyesight so they will be relying on their other senses in the same way with cataracts as they did before.
How Can You Prevent Cataracts from Getting Worse?
Cataracts cannot be prevented from appearing. Only in the case of diabetic cataracts, you can influence the appearance of this illness by feeding your pet proper nutritional meals specially designed for chinchillas with very low sugar content.
Cataracts are a progressive illness, which means that they will continue to develop at a certain rate and they will cause complete blindness. Since there is no medical treatments for stopping or slowing down this progression, you can look into other factors that will help keep the cataracts “under control”.
Different types of cataracts develop at a different rate and you should keep a watchful eye on your pet, making sure that it is adapting well to its new condition.
Try to adapt the living conditions of your pet to its needs by protecting your chinchilla’s eyes from the sun and ultra violet light.
Make sure that the cage is not getting any direct sunlight and that it is in a shaded part of the room, as it is known that prolonged exposure to the sun can speed up the development of cataracts.
Another thing you can do is to provide your pet with the highest quality pellets and hay and completely avoid sugary foods and treats.
Chinchillas adapt very well to this illness and the chances are you will not even notice that your pet is vision impaired.
Once you notice changes in your pet’s eyes be sure to contact your exotic pet veterinarian who will give you proper guidance on how to take care of your chinchilla and provide any possible treatment for your pet’s illness if necessary.
How Can You Help Your Chinchilla?
Even though your chinchilla might be losing its sight that still does not mean that the game is over. Your chinchilla will be looking forward to playtime, snack time and spending quiet time in its cage.
Once a chinchilla starts to get cataracts you should either remove or lower all the ledges or platforms in its cage so that there is no risk from your chinchilla falling and hurting itself.
Since your chinchilla will be relying on other senses rather than sight, make sure to always keep the inside of the cage arranged in the same way, the way your chinchilla remembers it.
This will prevent him from bumping into the equipment in the cage, he will find its food bowl and water bottle much easier this way.
Same goes for the playroom. Since your chinchilla will remember the layout of its favorite room in the house, make sure to not introduce any big changes to the furniture in the playroom.
This will prevent your chinchilla from getting confused or hurt and it will just enjoy the exercise and fun.
Your chinchilla can still live a long and happy life even with cataracts, all it needs is a little help from your side and of course, a lot of your love.