Chinchillas love to sleep during the day which can make it harder to notice when they aren’t feeling well. But if you see changes in their behavior you might wonder, is my chinchilla sick?
The early signs of an illness can be subtle. Chinchillas are prey animals who don’t like to show signs of weakness. But nobody knows your chinchilla better than you do. Some of the early signs could be they aren’t eating as much or they’re not interested in playing. Any change in their usual behavior!
We often have routines with our pets. This helps us notice if something is stopping them from their usual behavior. For example, someone might say hello and give a treat every morning to their chin. Then one morning the chin stays in its hideout or isn’t interested in a treat then you quickly notice something is off.
It's important to be aware of the common signs and symptoms of sickness, so you can quickly identify any health issues and seek out the necessary veterinary care.
In this article, we'll delve into more of the telltale signs that your chinchilla may be unwell, and what steps you can take to nurture them back to health.
Common Signs Your Chinchilla Isn’t Feeling Well
There are a lot of behaviors that point to illness in chinchillas. The problem is sometimes we don’t notice them until the chinchilla has been sick for a while!
The sooner you can spot the red flag, the better chance they have of recovering from the illness.
Signs and symptoms to be on the lookout for:
decreased appetite with no recent change in diet
change in bowel habits
wetness around the eyes or nose
chewing on their fur or another chinchilla’s fur
over-drinking or playing with their water bottles
acting lethargic or sitting hunched in a corner
doing repetitive movements such as pacing back and forth
Once you do start to notice signs of sickness, reach out to your exotic vet ASAP. These symptoms could also be a sign of injury.
Chinchilla Care to Prevent Illness
A lot of chinchilla health problems stem from poor diet and poor living conditions. If you can get these two things right for your chinchilla then you’ll set them up for great health.
Chinchillas need constant access to high-quality hay. This keeps their digestive system and oral health on track.
A low-fiber diet sets them up for gastrointestinal stasis which is when their digestive system slows down and stops running as it should.
If your chinchilla isn’t doing enough chewing they’re at risk of overgrown teeth. Their teeth are constantly growing so they need to be constantly chewing!
Keeping their cage and bedding clean prevents fungal infections. And keeping their environment as natural as possible prevents chemicals and other irritants from messing with their respiratory system.
What Is My Chinchilla Sick With?
So, what are all of these signs and symptoms pointing to? Is my chinchilla sick?
The best answer to that question will come from your exotic vet, but it’s good to understand what can happen with your chinchilla. Here are some common illnesses found in chinchillas.
Gastrointestinal problems usually happen secondary to another issue. Such as if your chinchilla has dental pain they may stop eating which stops fiber from passing through their digestive system.
When a chinchilla isn’t feeling well, they won’t move around as much which can also contribute to their digestive system slowing down (GI stasis). Or if your chinchilla has a poor diet then their digestive system may not be getting the fiber it needs. This can also contribute to GI stasis.
Parasites, overgrowth of bacteria, or yeast infections can also lead to GI stasis. If your chinchilla is having gastrointestinal problems you may notice them bloated, eating less, not passing stools, or experiencing diarrhea.
When this happens they need to see a vet ASAP!
An exotic vet can examine and test their stool for parasites and bacteria. Once they determine the primary cause they will treat that. Some treatments could include syringe feeding, fluid administration, pain relief, antibiotics, and medication.
Overgrown or Impacted Teeth
Chinchilla’s teeth can grow 2-3 inches each year. The only way to stop an overgrowth from happening is to make it a daily job to chew, chew, chew. Some chinchillas are fed too much pellet food and not enough fibrous hay which really messes with the job.
In some cases, a chinchilla's teeth will grow so long that they stop each other from growing out any further. When the tooth can’t grow out anymore it will become impacted in the gums and jaw.
This is very painful for a chinchilla when they are trying to chew which leads to them chewing less… which makes the problem even worse.
From there the chinchilla is susceptible to an infection in their tooth root as well as any cuts in their mouth from overgrown sharp teeth edges cutting their tongue, gums, cheeks, or lips.
An infected tooth root may need to be extracted by an exotic vet. A vet can also take X-rays of your chinchilla’s mouth to get a better idea of what’s going on.
Wild chinchillas live in the Andean mountains where they adapted to live in cool temperatures. We humans have adapted to live in warm houses. So when you put chinchillas and humans together you need to make sure you're keeping the temperature on the lower end of comfortable.
This is because when it gets hot and you start to wonder, is my chinchilla sick, they may actually have heat stroke.
Chinchillas should never be in temperatures higher than 80 degrees. 55-70 degrees is the ideal temperature for them. Keep your chinchilla out of direct sunlight and don’t let the room get too humid.
Signs of heat stroke in chinchillas:
high body temperature
breathing with their mouth open
Organ failure and brain injury can result from untreated heat stroke in chinchillas. If you suspect heat stroke, get your chinchilla to a vet immediately. They can safely monitor your chin while giving them emergency treatment.
If you suspect your chinchilla is overheating, take action to cool your chin off. Move them to a cooler room and turn up the air conditioning.
Having them lay on a cool tile could help them bring their temperature down as well. However, none of these actions will replace the emergency care a chinchilla needs if they are experiencing a heat stroke.
A respiratory infection is caused by a virus or bacteria. A respiratory infection can look like this:
wiping their nose
not eating or drinking
A healthy chinchilla kept in an optimal environment with low stress is less likely to catch a respiratory infection but it does happen! So keep an eye out for these symptoms.
Here are some conditions that contribute to respiratory infections:
crowded conditions with lots of chinchillas (viruses are contagious)
damp bedding or fleece (bacteria grow with moisture)
stress (weakens their immune system)
Young chinchillas are also more likely to get a respiratory infection as their immune system isn’t fully developed.
A veterinarian can test your chinchilla and determine if a bacteria or a virus is to blame. And then prescribe the appropriate treatment plan from there.
Ringworm is a common fungal skin infection among chinchillas. This causes hair loss and crusty scaly skin. This infection is very contagious and can infect other pets or people. This is why it’s especially important to get treatment for your chin right away.
A chinchilla with a mild infection may be treated with topical medication. More serious infections may need long-term oral prescriptions.
Skin infections can occur when there’s too much moisture on the skin. It’s important to keep your chinchilla (and their cage) clean and dry. Make sure your chin doesn’t go too long without a dust bath as well!
If you have multiple chinchillas and you start to wonder, is my chinchilla sick, quarantine that chinchilla and clean the entire shared space to prevent the spread of any illness.
Have An Exotic Vet Ready
Not all veterinarians have experience with chinchillas. So it’s important to have an exotic vet picked out before you start to wonder, is my chinchilla sick? That way you don’t waste any time in an emergency situation and your chinchilla can get the help they need.
Even if your chinchilla is perfectly fine and your worry is a false alarm, it's not a big deal to check in with the vet. It’s always better to be safe than sorry.
What To Feed A Chinchilla Who Isn’t Feeling Well
Most healthy chinchillas will want to eat 1st or 2nd cutting Timothy hay as this provides a great amount of fiber and roughage for their teeth. However, when a chinchilla isn’t feeling well or they are in recovery, they may have an easier time eating 3rd cutting Timothy hay.
This hay has more leaves and fewer stems so it’s easier to chew. While this hay has less fiber than the earlier cuttings, the important thing is that your chinchilla keeps eating as much as they can. So when they need something easier, 3rd cutting will still get them fiber and important nutrients.
Oat hay is also a good option for keeping a chinchilla’s teeth down and fiber running through their system if they aren’t interested in their usual hay.
The important thing is that you keep trying something else when your chinchilla isn’t interested in eating. If their digestive system slows down, it can have a snowball effect that’s hard to break free from.
Chinchilla research is continuously growing! If you have any doubts or concerns contact your exotic vet.
We are not veterinarians, and none of our information should be construed as veterinary advice.