Handling a sick chinchilla is a difficult situation to navigate. As caretakers, we want nothing but the best for our fluffy friends and it’s heartbreaking when they are feeling under the weather.
Chinchillas are not typical pets and it can be hard to know when they are unwell. I chose this topic to shed some light on common chinchilla ailments.
How to know if your chinchilla is sick?
Chinchillas are joyful, energetic creatures and it can be jarring when a pet chinchilla is sick. Although your chinchilla may not be able to verbally tell you that they are feeling unwell, there are several signs you can look for to know if your pet is ill.
Summary of today’s article:
- Signs of a sick chinchilla
- What should I do if I suspect that my chinchilla is sick?
- How can I prevent chinchilla illness?
- Do chinchillas live for a long time?
- An ounce of prevention
Sign #1. Lethargy/Refusal Of Food
Like most animals, chinchillas may act sluggish or not eat when they are feeling unwell. Chinchillas love to eat, so it is a cause for concern if your chinchilla is consuming less or refusing food altogether.
Sick chinchillas may be lethargic, often lying on the floor of their cage or displaying a hunched posture. Although these behaviors may be a sign of multiple ailments, the most common reason is heatstroke.
Heatstroke is the number one cause of accidental death in chinchillas and can occur if the chinchilla is kept in an environment that is a higher temperature than their preferred range of 60°-70° Fahrenheit.
Sign #2. Drooling
When a chinchilla is having trouble with their teeth, they will often be unable to close their mouths properly, resulting in drool. Chinchillas have teeth that are continuously growing and they must chew frequently to keep their teeth worn down.
A chinchilla who can’t access timothy hay or chew treats may not be receiving the benefits of worn-down teeth. When teeth are overgrown, the roots can become impacted, causing pain when your chinchilla attempts to eat.
A very serious condition caused by overgrown teeth is malocclusion. Malocclusion occurs when the chinchilla’s teeth are misaligned.
Teeth that are not lined up properly will not wear down evenly, leading to tooth spurs, ulcers inside of the mouth, and root displacement. A chinchilla suffering from this ailment may not exhibit behavior changes right away, but will eventually lose the ability to chew and eat.
Malocclusion can be caused by injury, genetics, or improper diet. Malocclusion takes time to develop and can sometimes be treated if detected early.
Sign #3. Trouble Breathing
Chinchilla respiratory problems can become fatal if not treated properly. Common signs of respiratory illness are breathing through the mouth, wheezing, and nasal discharge.
Respiratory distress can be caused by infections as well as environmental factors such as high humidity and poor ventilation around the chinchilla’s cage. Cages that are too small for multiple chinchillas can also cause respiratory issues due to overcrowding.
Respiratory problems can quickly lead to pneumonia and should be addressed right away.
Sign #4. Changes With Feces
Chinchillas have sensitive digestive systems which is why a nutritious, balanced diet is essential. Healthy chinchilla poop is dry, hard, brown, and the size of a grain of rice.
Chinchillas possess fast metabolisms and a healthy animal will be pooping constantly. A chinchilla who is not defecating frequently or has unusually small poops may be suffering from constipation.
Typically, constipation is the result of dehydration or insufficient fiber intake. Constipation may also be caused by the ingestion of a foreign object which can be deadly without medical intervention.
Diarrhea is a good indicator that your chinchilla is having stomach problems. Watery, soft, or sticky feces can strike a chinchilla who has eaten too many treats or has had their food switched out too quickly.
Diarrhea may also occur if your chinchilla’s food has spoiled or there are algae present in your pet’s water bottle.
Chinchillas can become infected with various parasites, however, Guardia is the most prominent and can be deadly. Giardia is an opportunistic parasite that can cause symptoms such as constipation and diarrhea.
This parasite will stay dormant in healthy mammals then multiply when the animal becomes ill or stressed. A chinchilla who is battling Giardia must be treated early, so any sign of infection should not be taken lightly.
Sign #5. Fear Of Being Touched
Chinchillas who have suffered injuries will tend to shy away from touch in an attempt to protect the damaged area. Chinchillas are prey animals and will try to hide injuries as any sign of weakness can prove fatal in the wild.
Chinchillas can be skittish by nature, which is why it is important to become familiar with your chinchilla’s mannerisms as deviations from typical behavior may not be easily noticed.
Leg abrasions are common in chinchillas since limbs can get caught on items in the chinchilla’s cage. Nutritional deficiencies can cause a chinchilla’s bones to become brittle, resulting in fractures while they are jumping around their cage.
Look out for signs such as limping or an uneven gait to detect damage to your chinchilla’s legs, hips, or feet.
A chinchilla who is handled improperly can become injured quite easily. Tails can become severely damaged when they are pulled or stepped on.
A chinchilla who has been held or picked up improperly may suffer bruising or broken ribs. Be sure to always handle your chinchilla with care and look out for unusual postures that may indicate an injury.
Sign #6. Patches Of Missing Fur
Missing fur is one of the easiest signs that a chinchilla is in distress. Missing fur can be caused by fur slips which are the result of your chinchilla employing a self-defense mechanism while under stress.
Chinchillas who are stressed may also chew their fur, leading to bald spots.
Ringworm is a fungal infection that can cause your chinchilla to lose their fur. Bald spots that are the result of ringworm will exhibit scaly and dry skin.
Signs of infection will typically show up on your chinchilla’s legs, ears, or nose. Your chinchilla’s vet can diagnose a ringworm infection and treat it through medication.
Time is of the essence, so do not delay if you think your chinchilla may be infected! Ringworm is extremely contagious and can be transmitted to humans.
While it may be tempting to use the internet in an attempt to diagnose a sick chinchilla, the first thing you should do is consult a veterinarian if you suspect that your chinchilla is sick. Many of the conditions mentioned in this article can have serious or lethal consequences and it’s not worth risking your pet’s health.
Chinchillas are considered exotic pets and not all veterinarians are equipped to treat them. Do not wait until you are in a bad situation to source a qualified vet.
The best strategy is to seek out a competent veterinarian while your chinchilla is healthy. Establish a relationship with your chinchilla’s vet and take them for check-ups as recommended.
Should your chinchilla fall ill, you will already know a healthcare provider who has all of your pet’s medical history handy.
One of the best ways to prevent chinchilla illness is by tracking your chinchilla’s general health and behaviors via monthly health checks. Carefully examine your chinchilla and look for physical signs of distress or variations in their appearance.
Pay close attention to your chinchilla’s general disposition and notate any behaviors that may indicate a possible injury. Your chinchilla’s patterns are an excellent indicator of health so be sure to follow up on anything that is out of the ordinary.
Many illnesses first show themselves with weight loss that may not be visible to the naked eye. You can easily weigh your chinchilla at home by setting a container on top of a bathroom scale or kitchen food scale.
Once you establish a baseline weight for your pet, any substantial weight fluctuations will be easy to spot.
Domesticated chinchillas generally live 10-20 years. The reason for the broad life expectancy range is that many chinchilla caretakers do not properly care for their pets which results in a drastically shorter lifespan.
A well-maintained chinchilla has the ability to live a long time and their quality of life will be dramatically increased. Currently, the title of oldest chinchilla ever belongs to a chinchilla who was named Radar.
Radar made it into The Guinness Book of World records after living to be 29 years and 229 days old!
When it comes to managing a sick chinchilla, the best thing to do is prevent illness in the first place. A well-cared for pet is less likely to require medical attention and has a greater chance of living a long and blissful life.
Should your chinchilla exhibit signs of illness, take them to a qualified exotic pet veterinarian right away! Chinchillas bring their caretakers so much joy and it is up to us to be there for them without hesitation in their time of need.