COMMON DISEASES OF PET CHINCHILLAS
What are some of the common diseases of pet chinchillas?
Common conditions of pet chinchillas include bite wounds, respiratory diseases,
overgrown teeth, diarrhea, and heat stroke.
What are the signs of these diseases?
Bite wounds are common in chinchillas that are housed with other chinchillas.
They can also occur as a result of an attack by the household cat or dog; dog
bites can be fatal to chinchillas due to the difference in the size of the pets
(a large dog can quickly kill a chinchilla). Bites by other chinchillas, dogs,
and cats are often infected with various bacteria; left untreated, the infection
in the wound can easily spread throughout the body.
Respiratory diseases are often seen in pet chinchillas. The respiratory problem
can easily become pneumonia. Conditions such as overcrowding, poor ventilation,
and high humidity may predispose to pneumonia. Common signs include lack of
appetite, lethargy, difficulty breathing, nasal discharge, and swollen lymph
As is true with many rodents, overgrown teeth are common in chinchillas. The
teeth of chinchillas grow continuously throughout life. Either the front teeth
(incisors) or back teeth (molars) can overgrow. Signs of overgrown teeth include
drooling ("slobbering") and a depressed appetite; overgrown incisors are easily
noticed upon inspection of the mouth. It is often difficult to tell if the molars
are overgrown; anesthesia, to allow a thorough evaluation of the mouth, and
radiographs (X-rays) may be needed to identify this problem.
Diarrhea is not a disease but rather a sign of disease. Rodents, being pets
whose digestive system is designed to digest a large amount of fiber, easily
develop diarrhea due to changes in diet, incorrect usage of antibiotics, stress,
and diets low in fiber or high in fat and protein. The correct diagnosis is
made after diagnostic testing including microscopic fecal examinations, cultures,
radiographs (X-rays), blood tests, and exploratory surgery.
Heat stroke, a common problem in many rodents, also occurs in chinchillas.
Being normal inhabitants of the Andes mountains, they are very comfortable at
temperatures of 35 - 45° F (2 - 7°C). Temperatures above 80°F (27°C),
especially if high humidity is also present, can easily lead to fatal heat stroke.
Signs of heat stroke are similar to those seen in any pet with this problem
and include panting, high body temperature, open-mouth breathing, and recumbency
with reluctance to move.
How are chinchilla diseases treated?
Bite wounds are usually infected with any of several different bacteria and
can be rapidly fatal. Bite wounds to your chinchilla are a true medical emergency
that require immediate veterinary attention. Bite wounds are treated with the
appropriate antibiotics, as well as thorough wound cleaning (anesthesia may
Pneumonia and other respiratory problems are treated with antibiotics. Chinchillas
that are lethargic and have stopped eating require aggressive therapy in the
hospital; fluid therapy and force feeding may be necessary.
Overgrown teeth are trimmed by the veterinary surgeon. Anesthesia is often
necessary to prevent injury to the chinchilla. In the past, nail trimmers were
used to trim overgrown teeth. However, due to the chance of injury to the teeth
and the jaws, the teeth are now often filed with a rotating burr causing less
injury to the teeth, or cut with a small rotating saw.
The correct treatment of diarrhea depends upon the cause. Parasites are treated
with the appropriate deworming medication. Bacterial infections are treated
with antibiotics; inappropriate diet is corrected by switching to a high fiber
Heat stroke is an emergency condition requiring immediate treatment. The chinchilla
is immediately cooled with ice packs, cold water enemas, various medications,
intra-peritoneal fluids, and intravenous fluid therapy. Chinchillas that are
discovered with heat stroke at home should be immediately cooled by the owner;
applying cold water to the chinchilla and ice packs to the armpits, groin, and
neck of the pet will help lower the pet's body temperature. Owners should avoid
giving their pets medications such as aspirin or paracetamol.
How can I tell if my chinchilla is sick?
Signs of disease in chinchillas may be specific for a certain disease. Often,
signs are vague and nonspecific, such as a chinchilla with anorexia (lack of
appetite) and lethargy, which can be seen with many diseases including pneumonia,
overgrown teeth, cancer, and even kidney or liver failure. ANY deviation from
normal should be a cause for concern and requires immediate evaluation by your
to Rodent Information Index