Please note, the following page does discuss illness, injury and death in chinchillas. Unfortunately, when owning a pet, there are circumstances in which any of these can occur. This page is here to help educate owners on why these events may happen and how to prevent them from occurring now or in the future. Although we are not a veterinarian, we do have over two decades of experience owning chins as pets. This has helped us over the years to learn about these different instances of tragedy, both through personal and secondhand experience. When owning any pet, it is a good idea to understand that sometimes negative things can occur; this is just part of life.
If you believe your pet may need medical attention, please contact your veterinarian as soon as possible. The information on this page is for informational purposes only and does not forgo the advice of an experience exotics vet.
"Malocclusion is a leading cause of untimely chinchilla death and can be caused by genetics, over breeding (for females), environmental conditions, injuries, and/or diet. Usually any combination of these things can lead to malocclusion and because chinchillas are part of the rodent family, they are characterized by having continuously growing teeth. Just like anything that is continuously being replaced, things will start to go wrong with age. If a chinchilla lives long enough, their teeth will inevitably grow wrong at some point and it will lead to overgrowth of the teeth characteristic of this disorder. We generally group any misalignment of the teeth, overgrowth, or incorrect growth of the teeth under the broad umbrella of malocclusion.
Time and time again, we hear of chinchillas with classic symptoms of malocclusion, but the owner is convinced that the teeth are fine because a veterinarian took a cursory glance and declared them normal. Typical signs of malocclusion include drooling, chronic weepy eyes, swiping at the mouth, grunting and grinding teeth while eating, loss of appetite, decreased interest in hay, foul smelling breath, and weight loss. While a veterinarian can tell is there is misalignment of the teeth or spurs (pointed growths) on the teeth from a quick glance, they cannot tell if there are deeper issues such as root elongation. In severe cases, the roots will grow backwards and grow into the eye socket, nasal cavity, and down through the jaw. It cannot be stressed enough how incredibly painful and excruciating this particular consequence of malocclusion is to a chinchilla. Once root elongation has started, this is a death sentence for the animal. If they are not humanely euthanized, they will starve to death while continuing to live in excruciating pain. Many owners have tried having problem teeth removed and unlike in lagamorphs, this is extremely harmful for chinchillas. They end up with deep pockets that allow the other teeth to move out of position and create deep seated holes for infection.
If malocclusion is suspected, it is best to have radiographs (X-rays) done of the head as shown below. A lateral (side) view as shown is the most informative when the animal is sedated and the exposure on the X-rays is done correctly by the technicians and veterinarians. A top down view will only show if the jaw is properly aligned, which it is very uncommon for it not to be perfectly seated. In the image below, I have highlighted in green where the eye socket is on this chinchilla. The red lines indicate where the root growth should start. This chinchilla has severe root overgrowth and exhibited classic signs of drooling and two chronically weeping eyes. The owner opted for euthanasia once the extent of the overgrowth was realized."
One of the most common reasons we get inquiries regarding illness would be due to impactions and bloat. Impactions of the digestive tract that lead to bloat can be caused by a myriad of factors. Most often we see it after a chinchilla has consumed something they should not; carefresh or paper bedding, corncob bedding, towels, blankets, plastic, toxic wood, etc. Although certain cage accessories may not be "toxic" to chinchillas, over time they can block the digestive organs leading to bloat or death.
Another way that bloat can occur is due to what the chinchilla is eating. Eating too much or too little, not having access to fresh hay or water, and eating sugary/watery/fatty foods can disrupt the natural flow of digestion. Thus, it is so important to make sure they have access to a good chinchilla or rabbit pellet, timothy hay and filtered water. If you plan on switching your chin to a new food, take your time acclimating them to it. Quick transitions to another food brand or item can also cause the digestion to be disrupted.
To treat bloat, it is imperative to act quickly. If you begin to see your chinchilla excessively stretching the belly on the ground or the fecal pellets have empty pockets when broken open, bloat may be occurring. Phazyme or baby gas drops should immediately be administered as this disease can kill a chinchilla in under 12 hours. It is crucial to keep the gut moving to prevent GI stasis. If the gut is blocked as a result of ingesting an unsafe material, emergency surgery may be required.
For a list of safe and unsafe items, check out our safety do's and don'ts page.
Just like with humans, stress can take a toll on the body. Animals that are aggressively handled or forced into being held when they are struggling are more prone to stress related illness. An animal that is stressed will start to show signs eventually. Each animal is unique in the way they deal with things, just like humans. Some chinchillas may start to look "sad" and with their ears drooped to the side or a hunched back. Some may get lethargic or stop eating. Others may not show any signs at all but pass away suddenly the next day.
Thus, it is imperative for the first few days after they arrive in their new home that they acclimate to the new surroundings. An animal who has went from being in one environment to a completely new one needs a minimum of two weeks to settle down in their new home. Excessive handling, playtime, treats, loud noises, or overly large cages can quickly take a toll on your chinchillas well-being. To avoid this, allow them to have their own space where they can relax and feel safe. Find a space for them in the home where is it a bit more quiet and calm. Allow them time to adjust to their new settings and people or animals around them. Don't force them to do anything they are not interested in doing.
For more information on what to do as a new chinchilla owner, check out our page on bringing home your new chin.
Two of the biggest myths we have encountered regarding handling would be that you cannot pick a chinchilla up by the tail and they have "floating" rib cages. Both of these are completely false; grabbing them by the tail does not break it and no animal has a free floating rib-cage. Holding a chinchilla by the base of the tail is actually the safest way to pick them up. It will not break the tail off, cause emotional pain or hurt them. The base of the tail is the strongest bone in the chinchillas anatomy, thus it is the hardest to damage.
Grabbing a chinchilla around the body or ribs can cause more harm than good, do not grab them this way (pictured). This is due to how flexible the ribs are; they can bend to the point of squishing the internal organs or causing neurological damage. You may not break the ribs, but you can certainly accidentally squeeze them too hard and cause irreversible damage or death. Please, either firmly grasp the base of the tail or gently scoop them up from underneath if you need to handle them, this is much less traumatizing to these little creatures. How do we know the floating rib cage is a myth? Check that out here on our chinchilla anatomy page.
Also, never put a harness or leash on your chinchilla, this can also damage their ribcage. Not to mention, taking a chinchilla on a walk can cause heat exhaustion and death. Plus, there is the possibility they can accidental become wet, get stepped on, or attacked by a predator. Please, do not take your chinchilla for a walk.
Hypoglycemia is a one of the most common reasons young chinchillas pass away after being brought home.This can be caused by a number of things, most commonly is playtime outside of their cage and over-handling. When allowing a very young chinchilla to run around in a wide open space, this increases the chances of accidents or injuries to occur. Chinchillas under six months of age are still considered to be babies and should be treated as such.
Small animals' blood sugars can quickly lower due from over activity. This causes lethargy, difficulty breathing, slowed heart rate and potential death. If your animal begins to act tired, wobbly or "flappy" there may be something wrong. Unfortunately, once they are at this stage it can be hard to get their blood sugar back up. The best way to prevent this is to forgo playtime altogether and avoid over-handling as it is much safer to keep your chinchilla within their cage. If your chinchilla does not want to be picked up, it is best to leave them within their cage where they are not stressed. An animal struggling to get away can also quickly lower their energy and glucose levels. Chins don't become depressed from lack of playtime, they can easily be entertained by providing more toys, hay, or shelves. This is a much safer option all around and can actually safe your chinchillas life.
For more information on playtime and handling, check out our page on bringing home your new chin.
Chinchillas can be like toddlers, they will get into almost everything that they can. That is why it is so very important to make sure there is nothing within their reach that will hurt them. Over the years, we have seen many different injuries. Some common, some uncommon, and some downright shocking. Chinchillas can get almost any limb or teeth stuck in various different places, leading to spraining, breaking, damaging, or severing.
Many times we have heard of chin owners waking up to find a chin has gotten their arm, leg or teeth stuck in cage bars, hay holders, hammock clips, cage doors, water bottle holders, hidey huts, shelves, and almost any crevice you can imagine. This leads to vet visits and treatments that could have been avoided if the cages had been more "chin proof." Other things that can harm chinchillas would be electrocution from cords near enough to chew through, furniture falling on top of them, falling from a height of three feet or more, ingesting unsafe materials, poisoning from chewing unsafe woods, climbing in between drywall of homes, and escaping outside of their owners home. It is best to be aware of your chinchillas activity and to avoid anything that could potentially harm them.
Check out our safety do's and don'ts page for a list of potential risks and how to prevent them.
Unfortunately, not every group of chinchillas will get along. Occasionally, there can be fights that break out between established chinchilla pairs. Although uncommon, it is still a good idea to always monitor your chins to ensure there is no biting or attacking between animals.
Most fights break out due to improper bonding methods, the biggest being slow drawn out ones. By keeping the animals apart without being able to see or smell each other, you run the risk of them forgetting the other and "meeting" all over again each time they are put together. This highly increases the chance of fights breaking out.
The best methods for bonding include the "smoosh" method, the car ride method, or the cage within a cage/side by side cage method. We personally use the side by side cage method as it allows the animals to see and smell each other consistently for two weeks before bonding. This reduces possible fighting as the animals are already used to each other and have been living next to one another for a longer span of time. Other ways that fights can break out are due to dominance issues, females not wanting to breed, or kits fighting over a lack of milk. To avoid this, always monitor your chinchillas and separate at any sign of blood being drawn or excessive fur slips in the cage.
To learn how we bond our chinchillas, check out our chinchilla introductions page.
Due to how dense chinchilla fur is, it can be very easy for them to overheat. Never use Run-About or exercise balls as these are deadly for chinchillas. Commonly coined, "Death Balls" these contraptions can quickly overheat and kill a chin within minutes of use. Imagine being in a heavy winter coat during a hot summers day, this is the equivalent of what your chinchilla feels like in this environment.
The best temperature rage for chinchillas is usually between 65-72 degrees. For some chinchillas, their tolerance for warm temperatures can depend on what climate they're used to. For most Florida animals, they can usually tolerate temperatures going a few degrees past 72 Fahrenheit. However, for animals from colder regions this can be the opposite where they may do better in temps below 65 Fahrenheit.
Overheating usually causes the animal to begin acting lethargic, the ears may or may not be bright pink or red while the animal may be breathing heavily. Once an animal has become wobbly or "flappy" it may be too late as this stage will cause irreversible neurological damage. If you suspect your animal is too hot, immediately take them to a cooler area.
Here are some common safety do's and don'ts for chinchillas.
Although this does not occur commonly, it can happen due to a multitude of reasons. The main cause is typically based on their food consumption or what they have eaten. Chinchillas must always have something to eat so that their digestive system is continuously moving. If anything disrupts this system, issues can arise. Lack of food, unhealthy diets, toxic materials, Giardiasis from contaminated water sources, diarrhea, bloat, stomach or intestinal blockages, and stress are most commonly why this occurs.
On some occasions, there can be other factors that cause it to happen. Mishandling or blunt force trauma have caused some animals to pass from this unfortunate affliction. When prolapse occurs, it is easy to spot. Most animals will have blood in their cage, a wet bottom and visible protruding intestine (or uterine tissue for uterus prolapse). These animals typically are very lethargic and usually are visibly uncomfortable. Uncommonly, there have been cases where animals can be saved via surgery. However, this can sometimes cause more stress on the animal which in turns causes more suffering. Most often, the best course of action for animals with a prolapse is humane euthanasia.
Though pregnancy is not a disease or illness, it can be just as deadly for some animals. Breeding any animal is not for the faint of heart. If considering breeding, please take in mind that not every birth will turn out well. Complications or casualties can and will happen at some point, check out our page on chinchilla breeding for more info. Every breeder has experienced it and do have horror stories about certain instances they have dealt with. Mothers can die due to many different reasons. Calcium deficiency, infection, mastitis, internal or external bleeding, uterine tears, uterine or rectal prolapse, kits stuck in the birth canal, miscarriage, emergency c-sections and sometimes unknown causes can all cause an animal to pass away. Mating pairs also have the potential to fight; if this occurs and you do not separate them, one of the animals may attack and kill the other.
Kits are also not immune to death. There are so many different reasons a kit can pass away, thus it is so important to take precautionary steps. Miscarriage, premature birth, breech birth, mummification, birth defects, lethargy, postpartum hemorrhages, decapitation or limbs being bitten off from the mother pulling them from the birth canal, rare instances of mothers eating kits alive, rare instances of fathers attacking kits, kits being stuck in the birth canal and asphyxiating, failure to thrive, kits fighting to the death, lack of milk production from the mother, bite wounds from other chins, mothers consuming dead kit remains, internal or external bleeding, rectal prolapse, hypoglycemia, hypothermia, heat exhaustion, getting stuck on an object within the cage, water bottles flooding the bottom of the cage, squeezing through cage bars, escaping the cage, falling from high shelves and sometimes unknown causes can result in kit causalities. Birth and motherhood can be beautiful as well as dangerous. This is just how mother nature is, both in the wild and in domesticated animals. Death is natural and does happen.
For information regarding breeding, check out our chinchilla breeding page.
Ingesting unsafe materials can be detrimental to your chinchillas health. Never under any cirumstances should they have plastic, paper bedding, toxic woods, rubber, carpet, towels, electrical cords, or any of the materials we have listed as unsafe on our Basic Care pages. These can and will cause impactions or blockages within the digestive tract that will lead to death.
Allowing your chinchilla to consume fresh fruit, vegetables or outside vegetation can also lead to dangerous side effects. Foods with a high water or sugar content can cause diarrhea that may lead to lethargy, bloat, prolapse or death. Some plants, woods, or glues can also be poisonous to chinchillas. Another consideration to take in mind would be electrical cords. If you allow your chinchilla to have play time near any or have cords hanging within chewing distance of a chinchilla, they can electrocute themselves. When in doubt, if you don't think your chinchilla can have it, don't risk it!
Here are some common safety do's and don'ts for chinchillas.
Diet is very important to ensure your chinchilla is happy and healthy. Foods with too many treats or unnecessary fillers can actually cause your chinchilla to not want to eat the healthy stuff, the pellets. Thus, it is imperative to find a brand of chinchilla or rabbit pellet that has no treats in it. This means that the bag will only contain the alfalfa timothy based pellets; no fun shapes or colors, no yogurt drops, no sunflower seeds, no dried fruit or veggies. A plain alfalfa based pellet and fresh timothy hay is the ideal diet for pet and show quality chinchillas. Although this may seem boring or less fun for your chin to eat, it is much better for them in the long run and is what they will be used to eating here at Sunshine Chinchillas.
Improper diet can lead to sad looking animals (pictured); weight loss, hunch backs, lethargy, teeth issues, and a greasy or dull coat are just a few of the side effects an unhealthy diet can cause. Eventually, this can lead to reducing the life span of your chinchilla or cause bloat. If you would like to still give your chin a treat once in a while, consider giving them a plain cheerio or plain shredded wheat. You can even give them a toy as a treat as well rather than a food item, a favorite of our chins is apple wood sticks and KD pine toys.
Check out our list of safe foods here on our safety do's and don'ts page.
There are a few different transmittable infections that chinchillas can catch. More common ones being upper respiratory illness, Giardia, Bordatella, and Strep infections.
Animals with an upper respiratory illness may have wet eyes, runny noses and discharge stained fur. It is always important to wash your hands before and after interacting with your chinchilla. This prevents bringing in any bacteria that your chinchilla may ingest or inhale, preventing illness. Chinchillas that show symptoms of illness should be taken to the vet for treatment. Your vet may be able to diagnose what strain of bacteria or virus is afflicting your pet with a culture of the drainage. They can then choose what method of treatment and medication to use. Most commonly, Baytril will be the medication used to treat the illness.
Giardiasis is a diarrheal illness caused by the microscopic parasite Giardia. It is often found on surfaces and in soil, or in food or water contaminated with fecal matter. This is why it is so important to give your chinchilla bottled or filtered water. Tap water that is safe for human consumption can still have minuscule amounts of Giardia that can quickly cause illness in small animals. To prevent this, always give bottled or filtered water to your chinchilla and do not rinse their water bottle with tap water. Symptoms of Giardiasis are diarrhea, soft or mucousy stools with an accompanying foul odor. This can quickly become deadly for chinchillas. Treatment for this may involve antibiotics such as Panacur and probiotics to replace the loss of important gut bacteria. Giving your chinchilla some burnt toast can also help to firm up the stool as well.
Another transmittable illness to try and avoid is Bordatella. Commonly associated with dogs, this disease can be transferred to chinchillas. Chinchillas who catch this disease may show symptoms of lethargy or sudden death if not treated swiftly. To prevent your chinchilla from getting this illness, be sure to not allow any dogs who have not be vaccinated near your chinchilla. Always wash your hands before interacting with your chinchilla, especially if you have recently been in contact with a dog, or have been in a veterinary or animal shelter environment. If your chinchilla has been around an animal who hasn't been vaccinated and starts to act strangely, a vet visit may be necessary.
Just like any animal, chinchillas can get many types of abscesses as well. There are no specific causes why a chinchilla can develop an abscess; they may have one as a result of an infected wound, a small scratch, an insect bite, malocclusion, or different strains of streptococcus. Animals that develop lumps or abscesses near lymph node locations may have a strain of strep that affects these locations. Strep Equi Zoo or "Strangles" was a deadly strep infection that mainly affected the West Coast specifically several years back. It was thought to have been caught from horses and was resistant to Baytril. Most strains of strep these days are not nearly as deadly to chinchillas. Most animals now have a much less aggressive form of this bacteria that will erupt into one abscess and never occur again in the animal. If your chinchilla develops an abscess, veterinary care is require. Most vets will drain the lump to reduce discomfort for your chinchilla and may give an antibiotic.
Always quarantine any new animal you bring into your home away from your already established animal. It is advised to wait a minimum of 30 days before attempting to bond a new chinchilla with your previous chin. This will ensures that there are no infections spread between all animals involved. Remember to always wash your hands as well to prevent any exposure to bacteria, viruses, or parasites.
Although a wet or "goopy" eye can indicate possible malocclusion, this is not always the case. For some animals, there can be other factors that cause eye drainage. A simple scratch of the eye or eyelid can cause an eye to be irritated. Sometimes an animal may get dust, hay or bedding in the eye that aggravates it leading to crusting or oozing. Other times, there may be a bacterial or staph infection of the eye or tear ducts that may need ophthalmic ointments such as Terramycin.
For animals with a sore eye, a damp wash cloth can make for a great warm compress. Gently clean the eye of any debris by applying gentle pressure with the compress and wiping the material away. After cleansing, an ointment can be applied with a clean cotton swab. If the eye still persists, a vet visit may be necessary to see if the eye is damaged or if a more serious infection is occurring.
Most often in hot, humid summers, chins can get what is called "fungus" or "ring worm." Florida is the perfect climate almost all year round for fungus to grow. Keeping your chin room cool and low in humidity is vital to your animal’s health. Chinchillas have very dense thick fur. With our humid weather this can cause developed a fungal rash. All chinchillas regardless of where they come from have the potential to display fungus. Don’t worry, that doesn’t mean you are a bad housekeeper, it just means that the room you are keeping your chin in might be too warm. Warm, wet air is the perfect combination that creates this issue.
Fungus looks like small patches of fur gone with rough scratchy skin underneath. It isn’t fatal and you don’t need to take your chin to the vet. A simple fix is to add antifungal powder to your chinchilla’s dust. Tinactin, Lotramine or your local store brand will work. Gently squeeze about two good puffs into the dust each time you dust your chinchilla. This will act as a preventive and help clear up any fungus that may have started. It can take about six weeks for a spot of fungus to clear up and fur to start to grow back.
For more info on this pesky affliction, check out our bringing home your new chin page.
Fur chewing, sometimes known as "barbering," can happen to any animal for any reason. Sometimes it can be a result of genetics; animals known for fur chewing may have it show up later down the line in their offspring. Other times, it can be caused by stressed; animals in a high intensity environment, have recently moved, have an aggressive cage mate, or are experiencing another form of stress may fur chew to relieve tension. Occasionally, some animals will chew another's fur rather than their own.
Fur chewing can be spotted by observing where the missing fur is and how it looks. Most animals will fur chew spots on their body that they are able to reach. The hips, sides, and belly are the most common places animals will begin to chew. To tell the difference between a normal fur slip, you will want to see how much is missing and what the fur looks like. Fur chewed spots will have much shorter fur of irregular lengths where you can see the undercoat color (pictured).
Fur slips are just spots of missing fur, in extreme cases bald patches may be present if it was a large fur slip. These result from the animal releasing fur as a defense mechanism. Fur slipping is not the same as fur chewing; fur slips are a result of a scared animal trying to get away whereas fur chewing is a behavior.
Although there is no cure or preventative, you can try your best to provide a calm environment for your chinchilla. This will encourage them to be more at ease and not feel the urge to chew. However, this doesn't mean that they will never chew. Some animals fur chew regardless of environment, it is just their personality. In these cases, the best course of action is to give them plenty of toys or shelves to chew and just love them the way they are.
Many times, it can be alarming to look at your chinchillas feet and see redness or dry skin like what is pictured. However, these feet are actually perfectly healthy! Chinchilla feet can be various colors and shades of grey or pink. Some may have dry skin, dust or debris on the bottoms of their pads but this is no cause for concern. The only time you should be concerned about your chinchillas feet is if there is visible ulcers, bleeding or pus.
Bumblefoot is caused by excessive pressure on only one part of the foot. Chinchilla feet are designed to bounce and walk along rocks and rough surfaces in the wild. They will not get bumblefoot from being on a wire bottom cage; it is more commonly seen as a result of them sitting for long periods on a flat surface where they rest on only one part of the foot. To prevent this, its always best to provide multiple surfaces to walk on such as fleece, bedding, shelves, apple wood branches, granite slabs, and hidey houses.
If you see your chinchilla has a wound, ulcer, or an infection on the foot, it is best to get the opinion of an experienced veterinarian.
For those who own a male chinchilla, you may have heard the common recommendation to give your chinchilla monthly hair ring checks. This is actually not recommended at all. Hair rings are the dense fur that gets stuck to the males penis. This fur then bunches up into a ring at the base of the shaft when the penis retracts back into the sheath. The concern most have is that the hair ring will get larger and may cut off circulation to the penis.
Although this may seem worrisome, this is extremely uncommon. Performing a hair ring check actually stresses the male out more and can damage the penis more if performed incorrectly than a hair ring would. Males naturally do their own self cleaning, they do not need help with this. It may be uncomfortable to see them perform their self cleaning, but this is natural and should be allowed. Performing the hair ring check for your pet will actually cause them to not want to do it themselves leading to hair rings forming. Breeders and ranchers with hundreds or thousands of animals never do hair ring checks and almost never have an issue arise from one.
The only time a hair ring check should be performed is when a male seems lethargic or the penis is visibly unable to retract into the sheath. If this is the case, you can gently pull the penis out from the sheath to check and see if a hair ring is the cause. If the hair ring is visible, you can gently roll it off the penis and discard it. You will then want to gentle put the penis back into the sheath. If the animal's genitals look damaged or injured, then a vet visit may be necessary.