Do Chinchillas Need Annual Vet Visits?
In short, no. Chinchillas do not require annual vet visits, vaccinations, microchipping, deworming, or spaying/neutering. All of these services only cause unnecessary stress on your chinchilla, which can lead to health problems and/or death.
The only time a chinchilla needs to see a veterinarian is if there is a suspected health problem. These include lethargy, broken limbs, drooling, wet or gooey eyes, teeth or mouth injuries, giardia, or emergency c-sections. Although this is a short list, there are other cases in which a chinchilla may or not not require vet assistance. Of course in an emergency situation, always bring your chinchilla to a veterinarian. If your chinchilla does not require immediate healthcare, its always a good idea to get a recommendation from a reputable breeder.
Vet Visit Frequency
Unlike a cat or a dog, chinchillas are considered a prey animal. This means that chinchillas in the wild are not carnivores that hunt for their food. Rather, they are the food to predators around them. This causes them to have different instincts and reactions to stimuli compared to carnivorous animals such as cats, dogs, ferrets, or birds of prey. Even though domesticated chinchillas living in a safe home no longer have to worry about predators, their instincts still tell them to.
Taking your chinchilla to the vet, or on any sort of trip, can induce the same feelings of stress as being hunted by a predator. This is why chinchillas can get stressed at a vet's office. A chinchilla in a stressful situation will always be on high-alert, ready for a predator to pounce. This causes fear responses that can be confusing and lead to misdiagnoses. The physiological response chinchillas have to outer stimuli are a result of their fight or flight body response, meaning the animal is ready to fight back or make a run for it from the stressful situation. Chinchillas never need vaccinations, microchipping, vitamins, spaying/neutering or deworming.
The chinchilla community is very small compared to other rodent communities. Chinchillas came to the United States in 1923, thus they are still a very recent addition to the pet community. Breeders over this last century have personally passed down their first-hand knowledge and experience to each other. Today, many reputable breeders who show chinchillas have learned from the best. Many of us have met and learned a lot from the big ranchers of the mid-century, these were really the individuals who studied these animals and learned the proper way to care for them. Some breeders and rescuers have even went into the veterinarian and science fields to help educate the pet medical community about chinchilla specific care.
A common misconception is that chinchillas are a pocket pet to which their care will then be generalized as if they are not unique to a hamster, gerbil, guinea pig, rabbit, rat, etc. Although chinchillas are rodents, they are do not fall under this pocket pet category that most veterinarians learn about. In the veterinary field, rodents are typically put into a blanket category. Unless a vet specializes in rodent health and has several years experience with them, they most likely do not have specific chinchilla knowledge. The information learned about rodents is very general and does not take into consideration healthy weights, diets, care, and myths that surround chinchillas. This information is usually only found in the chinchilla community, thus if a vet is not part of this they may not know the ins and outs of chins.
Because chinchilla healthcare is very generalized in the average vet medicine, chins do often receive misdiagnoses that can be harmful.
Chinchillas are a desert animal, thus the vegetation they ate in the wild was much drier with a low water content. Foods with a high water content can cause diarrhea, G.I. stasis and bloat, high blood sugar, and death. Oftentimes, unsafe foods recommended are leafy greens or fruits as a diet for chins, this is false information and can be detrimental to a chin's health.
Since chinchillas are prey animals, they will get stressed during vet visits. This has led to the myth that chins are prone to heart murmurs. Chinchillas commonly display physiological anomalies when in times of stress, this is one of them. Level three or four heart murmurs in chinchillas is normal as this is a natural fear response. Studies have shown that chinchillas examined in their home versus at a vet office will indicate that they do not have a heart murmur.
Diabetes and Obesity
Another fear response chinchilla's have is to raise their blood sugar, this may confuse a vet if they take a blood sample. A misdiagnosis might then be given suggesting the animal has diabetes. This is not the case as the chinchilla is likely very stressed, thus the blood panel reflects this. Vet's may also assume that a chinchilla larger than 700g is obese, this is also untrue. Chins come in all shapes an sizes, show quality bred chins can be upwards of 1000g and still be healthy. Chinchillas on a healthy diet of pellets, hay and water will almost always not have diabetes or be overweight.
Bumblefoot or Dry Skin
A common misconception during a physical examination of a chinchilla is that their feet pads are too dry or calloused. Dry and calloused feet are very important and healthy for chinchillas. Chin feet are designed for maneuvering on rock, dirt, pebbles, and sand; thus a dry calloused foot is perfect for this terrain. Many times vets will think this is a bad thing and will recommend steroid creams, bag balm or lotion to moisturize the feet. This can cause problems for a chinchilla as if their pads become soft, this puts them at risks for injuries. The only time a chinchilla foot needs care is if there is an open wound, pus or a broken bone.
Chinchilla handling is also important to consider during a vet visit. Squeezing around the ribs or back can cause injury to the internal organs and nerves in the spine. Handling a chin by the base of the tail is actually the safest method, the tail will not fall off or deglove.
Vaccinations, Deworming, & Supplements
Some vets may think that chinchillas require preventative deworming or vaccinations, this is not true. These treatments are rather unnecessary and harmful to a chinchilla, it is best to just give your chinchilla a healthy diet, fresh filtered water, wash your hands when handling and keep their cage clean to avoid any illness. If a chinchilla is on a high quality pellet such as Oxbow, Mazuri, Blue Seal or Manna Pro, they will be getting all their necessary vitamins and minerals. If a chinchilla is showing signs of GI stress, then a visit to the vet for treatment is neccessary.
Spaying or Neutering
Spaying or neutering a chinchilla is extremely risky and unnecessary. Chinchillas can be successfully housed in same-sex pairs or live alone with proper socialization. Neutering a chinchilla just to be able to house males and females together is costly, dangerous, and just unnecessary. If you have a male and female chinchilla, it is better to just house them separately and possibly find a same-sex friend for each of them later on.
Chinchillas do not need fecal samples taken unless illness is suspected. The process of getting a fecal sample is very stressful to a chin and is just not necessary for a check-up. Chinchillas with foul smelling soft stool, lethargy and bloating may need a fecal sample to rule out giardia. If this is found to be the culprit, a round of medication may be necessary. If the chinchilla has liquid diarrhea, immediate vet care is necessary as the risk of intestinal prolapse is imminent.
As for bloat, it is imperative to seek immediate treatment. A vet with this knowledge will have you begin administering baby gas drops as soon as possible. Chinchillas pass gas extremely slowly, to the point that a gas build up can be deadly. Any baby gas drop with simethicone will be sufficient. A chinchilla with a distended belly that drags/stretches the stomach on the ground needs gas drops immediately. Three droppers full a day (morning/day/night) for a couple of days are imperative, a few dropper fulls a day will not cause overdose.
Malocclusion care can be another area of misinformation for many. There is no preventative dental care to prevent malocclusion. The best way to prevent environmental malocclusion is to offer plenty of pellets, hay, and toys to grind the teeth down. As opposed to environmental factors, genetic malocclusion is not preventable. Animals with malocclusion cannot be cured; the teeth/roots are slowly growing into the skull and/or eye sockets causing immense pain. Animals suffering with this condition will begin to slowly starve to death, common symptoms include weepy eyes, drooling, weight lost, teeth overgrowth, swiping at the mouth and foul smelling breath. Chinchilla's with malocclusion cannot have their teeth trimmed or removed, this does not cure them. Since chinchillas are a prey animal, they hide illness well and will not show they are in pain until it is too late. Thus, once malo is found, the chinchilla has probably already been in pain for a while regardless of their outward behavior. A vet with this knowledge will always recommend euthanasia as the only way to end the chinchilla's suffering. This is the kindest thing to do for an animal with this affliction.
Please also consider that a vet cannot determine the genetic health problems an animal may carry. To do this, genetic testing is required. Most vet offices do not have the means or knowledge of chinchillas to do this properly. Thus, it is always recommend to purchase from a reputable breeder as they will know the history of their lines. This leads to a healthier animal that was born out of top quality lines, no history of health concerns, and was cared for properly since birth. Buying from a pet store, craigslist, or backyard breeder increases the chances of a health issue popping up. Unfortunately, there is no easy way to predict what genetic issues animals purchased from these conditions may have.
Sometimes chins with fur slips, fur chewing or bald spots may be misdiagnosed with ringworm/fungus. Symptoms of ringworm/fungus will be hairless areas with flaky or scaly red skin. These can pop up anywhere on any chinchilla during anytime of the year, it is not fatal and is very common. The best treatment is to purchase an athletes foot powder to add to their dust bath. This can be used as preventative care as well as a treatment, no steroid creams necessary. Some breeders do also purchase Blu Kote from their local farm and pet store to spray on the affected area. Blu Kote is an alcohol based antiseptic treatment that helps to disinfect wounds and areas of the skin. It does leave bright purple staining but is effective in preventing ringworm/fungus spread.
Choosing a Veterinarian
By no means do we recommend not having a veterinarian on hand. In fact, we encourage it. The best way to choose a good vet is to consider their credentials and get some recommendations from reputable breeders. Chinchillas are a unique animal, thus it is so important to find a vet that has the proper knowledge and love for these animals to give them the best possible care and respect they deserve.
Here are some points you may want to ask your vet before choosing them as your primary:
Do they know that chinchillas cannot have fruits/veggies/nuts/seeds?
Do they know that chinchillas can emulate a heart murmur under stressful conditions? This is not fatal.
Do they know that a chinchilla's blood sugar raises in times of stress, thus they do not have diabetes?
Do they understand that chinchillas come in all shapes/sizes and do not need to lose weight?
Do they understand that chinchillas have naturally calloused feet with dry skin?
Do they know proper chinchilla handling techniques?
Do they understand that chinchillas can overheat?
Do they understand that chinchillas don't require vaccinations, deworming, microchipping, vitamins, or spaying/neutering?
Do they know how to treat bloat?
Are they familiar with malocclusion and know there is no preventative dental care for it?
Do they know how to identify and treat ringworm/fungus?
Do they specialize in rodent medicine?
Have they ever owned a chinchilla?
How long have they been in practice for rodent care?
Vet Visit Frequency
An animal on a healthy diet that does not exhibit any symptoms of illness does not need frequent vet visits. Since these can induce stress that leads to physiological reactions by the animal, this in turn can actually manifest health problems and misdiagnoses. If you are concerned about malocclusion, there is no preventative care for the genetic form. An animal with genetic malocclusion will get it no matter what feed, roughage, chew toys or care they receive. It is just a matter of time, thus if symptoms arise it may be time to seek a vet visit for x-rays. Once an animal has malo, either genetic or environmentally caused, the only ethical treatment is euthanasia.
If you suspect your chinchilla may have malocclusion, bloat, giardia, a broken limb, intestinal prolapse, diarrhea, infection or some other serious ailment, please seek immediate vet care.
Here are some vet's we recommend in the Central Florida area, they both have several years experience with chinchillas:
Dr. Robert Hess, DVM
Winter Park, FL 32780
Dr. Beau Delaporte, DVM
Mount Dora, FL 32757