There is a saying “You are what you eat”. When it comes to us human beings, we are lucky that most of us can eat a wide array of foods and have no issues with our digestive track, although we should be cautious of what we eat never the less.
Whenever you come across any information regarding chinchillas and their health you will notice that food is one of the main factors that influence their health and that their diet is limited to mostly dry plants, hay and pellets.
Chinchillas have a very low chance of getting sick if they are fed and cared for in the right way, but just like humans, chinchillas can develop bloating.
Bloating is a condition that causes a chinchilla’s digestive system to build up with gas and fecal matter that cannot be passed normally. Bloating is a painful condition that can result in the rupture or bursting of your pet’s intestine and result in its death. Treating bloating in chinchillas is difficult and it always requires a visit to an exotic pet veterinarian. Bloating in chinchillas is treated by a combination of medication, probiotics, massages and warming of the belly.
What Causes Bloating?
In order to understand bloating and how we can treat it we should look at the factors that contribute to this condition and what causes it. There are three most common causes of bloating.
Sudden diet changes
A chinchilla’s digestive tract is very delicate and sensitive to sudden changes in the diet. Chinchillas main food should be fresh hay and pellets but the diet should be constant and within a certain time schedule that your pet is used to. Chinchillas do not tolerate changes in their diet that are abrupt, an example would be when you change your pet’s food by switching to a new type of pelleted food or muesli type food.
Such a drastic change in the diet will cause an unpleasant reaction from your chinchilla’s intestine where the body would not have enough time to adjust to the new foods or to process them thus resulting in bloating and changes in the structure of your pet’s droppings, which is often a bad sign.
Muesli type foods should always be avoided as a chinchilla food. If you want to switch to a new type of pelleted food you should do it gradually, adding small amounts to your chinchilla’s regular feed and increasing gradually those amounts over the course of a couple of weeks until your pet is eating only the new food without any changes to its droppings.
Chinchillas should have a feeding schedule and it should be followed through on a regular basis in order to avoid any disruption of its eating habits.
Not only is it important to feed your pet at the correct time with the correct food but it is also important to make sure your pet is not overeating. Chinchillas love to chew so it is natural that they will always be close to the food bowl and hay as they need to gnaw their teeth down in order to avoid them overgrowing.
Chinchillas will eat out of boredom as well, so it is essential to give your pet enough opportunities to exercise, which also helps with passing gasses and stimulating the digestive system.
Offering your pet a couple of different chew toys will keep it entertained. A chinchilla’s diet should consist of 80% hay and 20% good quality pelleted food. Your pet should also have access to plentiful amounts of fresh water. All of these steps are important in keeping your pet’s bowel healthy and gas-free.
Nursing mother chinchillas could develop a condition known as hypocalcemia, which is essentially a lack of Calcium in their diet. Not only can this condition cause bloating but it also can be life threatening as Calcium is an essential mineral in helping the body function normally.
Diagnosing your pet with hypocalcemia is difficult because chinchillas are masters of hiding signs of illnesses. This condition can be avoided by offering pregnant chinchillas supplements rich in Calcium like cuttlebones and alfalfa.
Once the kits are 2-3 weeks of age if you notice the mother chinchilla starts showing signs of weakness, lethargy, seizures and muscle cramps you should take it to the vet immediately as these are all the signs of hypocalcemia.
Other possible causes of bloating
Bloating can be related to different digestion issues such as constipation caused by an obstruction of the bowel movement and consequently the buildup of gasses. Constipation can occur when your chinchilla ingests a foreign object e.g. an object that it cannot digest like bits of plastic, fabric or other non-organic materials (non-foods).
Increased gut bacteria activity caused by fatty or sugary foods can also cause bloating as the “bad” bacteria and yeast ferment the food trapped in the bowel making it release excess amounts of gas.
Anorexia can also cause or worsen bloating, this condition is characterized by not eating for a longer period of time for whatever reason. The bowels would be severely irritated and the digestion would be slowed down to such a point that even a small amount of food ingested will cause bloating.
What Are The Symptoms Of Bloating?
Bloating is a painful condition caused by a buildup of gasses in the intestine of a chinchilla. Chinchillas usually have difficulties passing gas and such conditions can cause stasis, which is when the digestion completely stops and it is a very serious condition often not revertible.
Since bloating causes severe pain your chinchilla will try to relieve itself by frequently stretching and pressing its stomach against the floor, trying to pass gas. A sick chinchilla will lose its appetite and its droppings will change in shape and size.
Your pet will show signs of lethargy, weakness and a swollen belly. If you place your fingers on your pet’s belly and gently press it it will feel hard like a stretched balloon due to the excess gasses. Immediate veterinarian care is essential.
How To Treat Bloating In Chinchillas?
Bloating is a serious condition in chinchillas and it is not possible to treat it by your own at home, you will need veterinary care. Once your vet diagnoses your pet he will prescribe treatment based on the type of bloating your pet is experiencing. The usual treatment for bloating in chinchillas are Simethicone drops which are also used for babies to help pass gas by breaking down the gas bubbles.
Alongside the drops, your vet will administer some form of analgesic to your pet to help it with the pain. There are also drugs which act as gut stimulants that will help your pet restore its normal bowel movement. If your chinchilla is suffering from bloating caused by hypocalcemia the vet will administer Calcium intravenously to your pet.
At home you can help your pet recover by gently massaging its belly with circular motions with your fingertips starting from the top of the belly slowly going lower to its rectum. A great pain relief remedy is filling up a sock with uncooked rice and (carefully!) warming it up in the microwave and placing it in front of your pet’s belly so that it can lean onto the sock and warm up.
In some cases force feeding by a syringe will be necessary because your pet will need all of its strength to get better. This type of feeding is done in small doses of specialized food like Critical Care in every couple of hours in order to not overburden your pet’s digestive tract but to help it move along.
How to Prevent Bloating?
Bloating is a serious condition that causes a lot of pain and discomfort to your beloved chinchilla. In order to avoid developing such a condition you should make sure that you are feeding your pet an appropriate chinchilla diet with good quality fresh hay and pelleted food.
Treats should be avoided especially if they consist of dry or wet vegetables and fruits. Pregnant chinchillas should be supplemented with Calcium and the proper dosage would be prescribed by the vet as too much Calcium can also cause other health related problems.
Obstruction of the bowel movement caused by your chinchilla ingesting a non-digestible object can be avoided by removing anything that is not chinchilla-safe from your pet’s cage and also removing objects around the cage that your pet can reach and chew.
Always monitor your chinchilla’s playtime outside of its cage or place them in a room where there is nothing to chew on. Be vary that chinchillas will chew walls as well and the paint can be toxic so supervision is always advised.
Maintaining a proper nutritional diet is key in keeping your pet healthy. Although some health issues cannot be avoided bloating is best treated with precaution but if it does occur then an immediate visit to the vet will give you a great chance in helping your chinchilla recover.