Common medical problems seen in chinchillas
Most owners are unaware that chinchillas have not only 4 incisor teeth for gnawing but 16 back (molar) teeth for chewing their food. Like all rodents, chinchilla teeth are rootless and constantly growing. In the wild they spend a lot of time chewing coarse fibrous food to derive nutrients and this helps the teeth get evenly worn down. In captivity a low fibre diet prevents the teeth wearing down properly. Consequently the molar crowns get elongated, grow sideways and dig into the gums causing severe and painful ulceration.
Signs of dental problems
The chinchilla will stop eating, often paw at its face, have rapid weight loss and hide away more due to pain. Often the chin becomes wet and red ('slobbers') due to the saliva drooling down the chin and neck. An eye discharge can also be seen if the upper molar tooth roots become deformed and block the tear ducts.
It is very easy to miss dental problems as chinchillas are superb at hiding signs despite being in severe pain. They also tend to show 'feeding behaviour' even when not eating luring their owners into a false sense of security about the severity of their illness. All chinchilla owners should weigh their pet every 2 weeks. If you see any sign of weight loss or 'slobbers' take them to an experienced chinchilla vet promptly.
This literally is when the gut stops working. In the wild their high roughage diet makes the complex chinchilla gut work very efficiently. Pet chinchillas often don't get sufficient fibre or are fed high sugary treats. This causes the gut to slow down, gas builds up and the chinchilla experiences painful cramps.
Signs of gut stasis
The chinchilla may become quiet and less active. They will show reduced feeding behaviour and faeces will become reduced in size or absent. Tooth grinding can occur due to abdominal pain.
Gut stasis often occurs secondary to dental problems but is also common in chinchillas fed a low fibre diet like cereal. If ignored it is potentially life threatening. If you observe any of the above signs take your chinchilla to an experienced chinchilla vet ASAP. Treatment may involve x-raying and checking the teeth under anaesthetic, giving pain relief, fluid therapy and assisting feeding with a high fibre liquid food (Oxbow critical care mix for herbivores). Removing sugary treats, increasing fluid intake and feeding good quality hay and fibre pellets may prevent further attacks.
Chinchilla can shed a patch of fur if handled roughly. The fur will grown back but it may take 4-6 months. 'Fur slip' is an escape mechanism to get away from predators in the wild. Always handle chinchillas gently and if they are very wriggly hold them close to your body with your hand steadying the base of the tail.
Chinchillas are susceptible to respiratory infections if they are immuno suppressed or kept in poorly ventilated cages. Bacterial pneumonia can be treated with antibiotics and fluid therapy if caught in time so seek veterinary attention promptly.
Signs of respiratory disease
Increased respirations, weight loss, sleeping more, a reduced appetite, small or absent faecal pellets, eye or nasal discharge.