Chinchilla Ailments: Symptoms and Causes

All health articles aim to provide very basic guides to spotting some of the more common ailments, they are NOT to replace veterinary treatment at the earliest opportunity.

Fur Ring

Main Symptoms
Male may be withdrawn, lethargic and off food. He may be seen to keep trying to groom his “bits” repeatedly. Penis may be red/purple, swollen, congested or simply may not be able to retract correctly. Be warned that some symptoms are very hard to spot!!

Possible Causes
Hair can become wrapped during the act of mating. Densely-furred chins may also be unable to groom themselves free of all fur (this also applies to very overweight chins too.

Long-term digestive problems

Main Symptoms
Abnormal droppings. Unexplained weight-loss. General loss of condition. Failure to thrive. Non-specific lack of condition.

Possible Causes
Worms (nematodes) and protozoal infections (giardia) are the most usual causes. Veterinary treatment is needed.

Sudden-onset distress

Main Symptoms
Inappetence. Lethargy. Depressed state. Shallow, rapid breathing.

Possible Causes
Accident, injury, overheating or severe trauma.

Bad skin

Main Symptoms
Itchy, dry flaky skin. Yellow crusts on skin. Red, sore skin. Fur loss around the nose and eyes.

Possible Causes
Many causes. Fungal infections (ringworm) being the primary cause. Allergies or hormonal conditions can also be implicated. Poor nutrition may also affect the skin and fur. Excessive sandbaths (combined with central heating) may excessively dry the skin causing it to flake.

Swollen and sore teats

Main Symptoms
Hard, hot swelling around the teats.

Possible Causes
This is a bacterial infection. Causes are varied, but antibiotics are a required treatment.

Injured toes

Main Symptoms
Toe amputation is very common when breeding chinchillas. This is caused by other chins biting toes through the wire mesh cages, when being introduced. Most injuries are quite visible, but those which are not, such as bites on the body, hidden by fur, can be problematic. Blood in the cage is usually the most common symptom. Fractures are very common, and the affected leg may often be seen hanging at an awkward angle.

Possible Causes
Usually another chinchilla (or other pet) is the main culprit. Unsuitable or very tall cages can increase the risk of fracture, however chinchillas are more prone than many other pets. Always check the suitability of caging, hay racks and hanging-toys.

General soft droppings

Main Symptoms
Too many too list. May range from diarrhoea, anorexia and lethargy to sudden death. Only an autopsy will reveal a possible cause.

Possible Causes
Bacterial, viral or protozoal infections are the most likely culprits. Good hygiene and quarantine may lessen risk.

Overheating

Main Symptoms
Ears flushed red. Fast, shallow breathing. Immobility/lethargy. Lack of appetite. Disorientation. Fitting/convulsions.

Possible Causes
Not kept cool enough or inadequate airflow during hot weather. Allowed to exercise during hot weather. Unsuitable cage positioning (by window or radiator). Transportation during warm/hot weather.

Fighting

Main Symptoms
Patches of fur missing – exposing of the skin.

Possible Causes
Chinchillas fighting. Rough handling. Grabbing at the chinchilla when picking it up. Startling the chinchilla.

Usually grows back quickly.

N.B. Ensure it is not ringworm – skin should look healthy!

Fur Chewing

Main Symptoms
Top centimetre of fur removed – exposing the darker undercoat. This occurs especially over the flanks and can be patchy.

Possible Causes
Boredom. Stress. Unsuitable diet. Poor husbandry/hygiene. Overcrowding. Loneliness. Genetic pre-disposition. Habitual and very hard to stop.

Fitting/seizures

Main Symptoms
Head-tilt. Disorientation. Loss of balance. Body rigid and twitching. Complete unco-ordination. Usually only lasts a few minutes.

Possible Causes
Genetic. Injury. Heat-Stress. Disease or illness. Dietary deficiency (calcium/thiamine). Hypoglycaemic. Over-exersion. Possible genetic link to the beige gene

Eye problems

Main Symptoms
Flattened fur around the eye. Swollen eyelid. Eye closed (gummed shut) or half closed. Rubbing or scratching at the eye. Profuse (sometimes white) discharge from the eye.

Possible Causes
Foreign body. Injury. Infection. Allergy or irritation. Dental problems. Blocked ducts.

Diarrhea

Main Symptoms
In mild cases the owner will only see softer droppings than usual, often found squashed flat around the cage. Very runny droppings, resembling cowpats. Smelly, liquid droppings.

Possible Causes
Many causes. In mild cases, often too many treats are to blame. Lack of fibre in the diet (possibly dental-related). Unsuitable or poor diet. Poor husbandry/sanitation. Possible gastro-intestional infection. Protozoal infection. Full veterinary tests may be needed.

Dental problems

Main Symptoms
Eye discharge, flattening of the fur around the eyes. Drooling down the chin and chest. Unable to eat normally/lack of appetite. Pawing at the mouth. Quidding An x-ray of another chinchilla this time detailing lower root overgrowth(dropping food from the mouth when eating). Weight-loss. Constipation.

Possible Causes
Genetic causes and/or unsuitable diet. Poor husbandry. Possibly the biggest killer of domestic chinchillas.

Constipation

Main Symptoms
Small, dry, scant droppings. Thin, curved droppings. Few droppings or no droppings at all. Lethargy. Lack of appetite. Abdominal pain.

Possible Causes
Dental problems. Unsuitable diet lacking in fibre. Illness. Bloat.

Colds

Main Symptoms
Eye discharge, nasal discharge, sneezing, laboured breathing. Lack of appetite. Lethargy. Elevated temperature.

There are a few things to note – you can get both upper (affecting the nares/sinuses) and lower (affecting the trachea and/or lungs) respiratory infections.

Symptoms of Upper Infection
Temperature (signs – hot, flushed ears)
Nasal discharge
Excessive sneezing
Poor appetite
Snuffling/noisy breathing
In advanced cases the chinchilla may start to “mouth-breathe”

Symptoms of a Lower Infection
Temperature
Laboured breathing (in serious cases they may even start coughing)
Rattling/wheezing noises in chest
Poor/no appetite
Generally off-colour and lethargic

Possible Causes
Colds can be contagious. A damp, draughty environment can also trigger respiratory infections as can a poorly ventilated, dusty environment. Pneumonia can be viral.

Bloat

Main Symptoms
Stretching, rolling, pressing the belly onto the cage floor (if in pain). No droppings, reduced droppings or droppings covered in (bubbly) mucous. No appetite or reduced appetite. Doughy/lumpy-feeling belly, in bad cases abdominal distention can be felt.

Possible Causes
Varying Causes: Intestinal flora imbalance. Illness/Bacterial infection (enteritis). Gastric stasis or constipation causing over-fermentation. Tympanities (onset usually a week or two after giving birth). Feeding unseasoned hay. Sudden change of diet. Unsuitable diet.

Off food

Main Symptoms
Picking at food. Unable to eat hard foods. Not eating at all. Small dry, hard droppings. Lethargic.

Possible Causes
Dental problems, digestive problems – (these can be linked). Illness and disease. Lack of fluids (check water bottle is working). Heat stroke.

Injury or fracture

Main SymptomsThe same fracture after pinning (the pin is yet to be trimmed)
Leg may be twisted or hang at an unnatural angle. No weight put on leg. May display symptoms of shock (listless, no appetite and cold to the touch). A grating sound may be felt/heard when the leg is (gently) flexed.

Possible Causes
Accident or trauma are the usual causes. Unsuitable wheels and poorly constructed cages can be a problem too. Beware of add-on, shop-bought hay racks, ill-fitting shelves and some types of hanging toys too!!! Veterinary treatment is essential.

Lack of milk

Main Symptoms
Agalactica is relatively common. Kits will squabble amongst themselves to get to the teats. The female may bark at them and get generally upset when they try to suckle.

Possible Causes
If the female has had too many litters without adequate rest. Poor or insufficient nutrition. Genetic tendancies.

Shock

Main Symptoms
Can range from mild inappetance to delayed post-operative shock. The chinchilla will become lethargic and will cease to eat and drink.

Possible Causes
Any surgical procedures can set-off delayed shock, even as long as a week after the surgery.

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