Chinchillas need to be housed in a wire cage with openings no larger than 2.5cm x 5cm that is well ventilated. Chinchillas love to chew so be careful when using a cage made of wood or plastic.
Never put your chinchilla in an aquarium where there is not enough fresh and clean air and your chinchilla could get really sick or overheat and this will lead to death.
When using a wire floor cage make sure that the wire spacing is 1.25 x 1.25 as their feet could get stuck in wider spacings. Use cage linings (which can be purchased at one of our recommended suppliers) as flooring. Never use hay or grass as flooring as they soil it.
A chinchilla cage should be big enough for them to run and play in and have at least 2 shelves (ledges) for jumping. Chinchillas have a lot of energy and if your chinchilla can’t run and play they could get sick with no bowel movement and this could lead to serious emergencies.
Your chinchilla needs regular playtime outside the cage. Please always make sure that there is no wires, poison or harmful object around.
Remember the bigger the cage the better. A good size cage is 1m x 800x 500-600mm.
If you only have 1 or 2 chinchillas you can change the bedding twice a week and make sure to wipe the cage clean. You could try and potty train your chinchilla as they tend to find one spot in the cage and urinate there. Take a bowl and place some cat litter in it and place it on the spot of urinating. This does work most of the time. Remember your chinchilla will leave poop droppings everywhere.
Important points to keep in mind
- No plastic that they can chew through easily;
- No wood except for Solid untreated pine and sekelbush (keep in mind that this is dry wood);
- I prefer the water bottle shape bottles that cling to the outside of a cage. With babies in mind they do work better as a baby can easily drown in a bowl of water, or get wet and die of cold;
- A food tray made of steel that screws to the cage wire work perfectly, if you use a dish your chinchilla could use it for a bathroom;
- An extra dish or bowl can be used for Lusern and teff;
- Water bottles and food dishes and bowls should be washed with soap and rinsed very well, every time you refill them to avoid bacteria growth;
- You can build your own pine ( when pine is used remember untreated solid dry) toys and hang them for your chinchilla to chew on;
- Sekelbush toys can be found at most pet stores they will have a label to say safe for chinchillas;
- Chinchillas love a hiding spot to sleep in, a pine house or even a soft bed can be used;
- You can also use PVC pipe as a toy ( please keep in mind to remove all plastic or rubber);
- Chinchillas love to exercise so a large chinchilla safe wheel will keep them happy for hours. I suggest hanging the wheel from the top of the cage so that the scissor effect will be at the top of the wheel and the bottom of the wheel (where the chin will be entering and exiting) will be clear;
- Shelving or ledges can also be made from pine, please check them and change them when the time comes;
- You can place a clean tile in the cage for cooling down or even a marble slab which will keep them cooler for longer;
- Never use sawdust for any animal!!!
Keep in mind that you do not place your cage in direct sunlight in droughty rooms or even a droughty area. The room should always be a nice cool temperature. Because of their thick fur, they can overheat easily and if heatstroke is found too late it could be deadly. Make sure there are no electrical wires near the cage, no poison, nothing that they could reach through the cage wires.
Keep your chinchilla away from lead-based paint this could kill them.
Room temperature and Heat
The humidity in a room plays a huge part in what temperatures a chinchilla will be the most comfortable. Areas with higher humidity will need to keep the chinchilla room cooler than areas of low humidity. A good rule of thumb is to add the humidity and the temperature together.
Keep the room about 27 -28C.
Bathing & Grooming
Chinchillas have very dense fur with a lot of lanolin. They require a special dust bath a few times a week. Use a dish that is large enough for your chinchilla to roll in. Pour about 2.5 cm of dust into the dish and place it inside the cage. Your chinchilla will jump in and have a wonderful time. Only leave the dust in the cage for about 15 minutes. Always use chinchilla dust. Never put your chin in real sand. The dust can be reused for about a week or until it begins to look clumpy. Scoop out all the pellets before you store them away for the next use. If your chinchilla urinates in the dust you cannot reuse it. Do not wash a chinchilla with water. If you do happen to get your chin wet roll him up in a towel immediately and keep him warm. Never mix other ingredients in your chinchilla’s bath sand. The sand you buy at the pet store was specifically designed and approved.
A chinchilla’s main diet is made up of Chinchilla pellets, teff and lusern. We recommend Burgess. Stay away from food that contains fruit. Do not give your chinchilla gerbil or other rodent food as the main diet. Find one kind of pellet and stick to it. Chinchillas have very delicate digestive systems so changing their diet too drastically can cause sickness and even death. We keep our chinchilla food dishes full. There is no need to measure their feed since they will only eat when they get hungry. However, if you have a chinchilla that becomes fat or has soft, sticky pellets you will need to cut back on the feed. Give your chinchilla unlimited access to timothy (teff –mountain hay) or (lusern) alfalfa hay. We recommend a mixture of the two since each has different nutritional values. Both can be bought in almost any pet store either as loose hay in a bag. This is given with the pellets.
Chinchillas love to get treats, however, you can only give a small amount a day. An adult chin may have 1 dried cranberry a week, or Goji Berries could be given 1-2 a day.
If your chinchilla becomes fat or develops diarrhea (soft, sticky pellets) you need to cut back on the treats. For diarrhea, you may need to stop treats altogether until the stomach settled.
One Chin or Two? How much time you have should be a big factor in deciding how many chinchillas to get. If you are able to spend some quality time with your chin each night, then a single chinchilla will do just fine. If you travel a lot or are very busy it may be better for you to get two. Chinchillas do very well in pairs. They can handle stress better together. Two males can be successfully housed together if they are introduced slowly. Females can also be housed together but sometimes it is a bit harder if they are not littermates. I have found that in pairs, the outgoing one tends to help tame the shy one. If you already have a friendly chinchilla you won’t have to worry about it bonding to a new chin and no longer accepting you.
Introducing the New Chinchilla
Usually a new chinchilla placed into the cage with your other one without a proper introduction period will not get accepted. In fact, chinchillas can fight to the death if they are put together too fast. When you get a new chin it is best to introduce him slowly over time. Some matches take a bit longer than others but with a bit of patience and a few techniques, pairing them up is possible. These techniques should be used for same sex pairs as well as for male/female pairs. Many pairs will go together only using the first step, but sometimes all of them will be needed:
1. Place their cages side by side for a week so they can meet through the cage bars. Once they seem OK with one another place them in the same cage.
** Make sure you do this on a day when you can be there for a long while to watch for fighting. If they fight you will have to separate them and try again later. If you are introducing a male to a female be sure to place the female into the male’s cage NOT the other way around. But ensure that both are sterilised before introducing them.
2. If the above doesn’t work, place the chinchillas in each other’s cage for about half an hour. Make sure you leave the original bedding and houses, etc. This way they can get used to each other’s scent.
3. At the end of one of the above methods place the two chinchillas in a brand new cage with new bedding that doesn’t have the smell of either animal. Neither one will have the “home turf” advantage.
How to Pick Up or Catch a Chinchilla
It is best to leave your chinchilla inside his cage until you have gained his trust (see below). Once you have become friends it should be easy to get him to walk out onto your arm and then you can cuddle him from there and take him where you need to go.
If your chinchilla is not to this point and you must get him out of his cage, place both hands inside. With one hand on the right side and one hand on the left, try to sweep your chinchilla towards your body and cuddle him close to you. This is the least stressful way to catch him. If your chinchilla is loose in the house it is best to corner him in a small space. Get down on your knees and then scoop him up just as you would in his cage. If your chinchilla has hidden himself under or behind furniture try shaking his dust bath around and then placing it on the floor. Once he has jumped in you can place them both inside the cage. This is a good time to talk about training your chinchilla. It is a good idea to rattle the Cranberry packet before you give your chinchilla a treat, or say a certain word before you give the dust bath. Once your chinchilla has learned to associate a sound with its favourite treat or bath it can be very helpful in luring him out from behind the tv or under the couch.
Things to Remember:
Never grab a chinchilla by the tip of his tail. If you must hold him still (i.e. for a health check) you can hold his tail right at the base where his tail meets his body. Make sure he is standing on his feet.
Never try to catch a chinchilla by grabbing at him. You will end up with a hand full of fur and your chinchilla will still get away. if this happens accidentally don’t worry. It didn’t hurt him and the hair will grow back.
How to Make Friends with Your Chinchilla
When you first bring your new friend home give him some space to get used to the new environment. Expect your chinchilla to be a little afraid. Remember that he has travelled in a strange car, entered a new house, and a new cage. Even the tamest chinchilla can be withdrawn and frightened at first. Here is what I suggest for getting a new chinchilla to be your friend. This is by no means the only way to make friends with your new chinchilla. This is what I have found works best for me.
Step #1 Get him to show interest in you.
The first step in making friends with your new chinchilla is to let it know that you are no threat. Open the cage door and place your hand just inside of the cage. If your chinchilla is afraid it will usually run and hide in the back corner of the cage. If it hides inside a box and will not come out then slowly remove the box so that your chin will have to look at you. Now just sit tight. If you are lucky enough to have a very curious chin then it will slowly start creeping up to you. If after awhile it has no interest in you at all you will have to try the cranberry.
Baiting with A Cranberry (Note: A chinchilla should only have one cranberry a week) If your chinchilla has never had a cranberry then you must first teach it what one is. Try to feed your chinchilla through the bars of the cage. If it won’t take it at first then you may have to place it inside the cage and give your chinchilla some room. Once he learns how great they are he will soon begin taking them from your hand through the bars. Once he has mastered bar feeding it is time to open the door. With any luck your chin will take the cranberry from your open palm. This is what you want to achieve. You want your chinchilla to be comfortable with your hands and arms.
Step #2 Building TrustOnce your chinchilla decides that you are interesting he will begin to come forward. If he
startles and runs to the back again, don’t move. Your chinchilla will soon learn that you are not going to chase it. Then the fun begins. He will creep forward and run to the back. Take a few steps closer and once again take off. Finally he will sniff your hand. He may even give you a little taste. If he begins to linger in the rear of the cage or becomes agitated end the “lesson” there and try again later. Once he is comfortable standing or holding on to your hand you have gained some trust.
Step #3 Petting
Almost all of my chinchillas love to be scratched behind the ears, under the chin, and just under their front legs on their bellies. The trick is to get them to let you do it. Once they have become very comfortable with your presence it is time to begin petting. I place my hand just inside the cage with index finger ready. It is easier to start on top of the head and work your way behind the ear. (Their whiskers are ticklish) The way I see it is if they come to me they are fair game, but I respect their space. When they come to my hand I try to rub their head. The less you move your hand the better. At first he will take off to the back of the cage. Soon he comes right back and you do it again. If he gets upset and won’t come back to your hand wait a few days before you try to rub him again. The idea is to gain trust, not loose it. I do have a few chins that are just too ticklish. The moment you touch them they shake and rub their heads. Those may not ever become pet-able, but they still love to climb on you! Those chins that learn to love petting will close their eyes, lift their legs, and get so relaxed that they practically fall over!
***All chinchillas are different. Some may follow this example perfectly and others will be painfully slow. Some may love petting from the start. I wrote this to give some ideas as to how gaining trust might be done. What works for me may not work for you. When it comes to you and your animal, you will have to find what is right for you. As with any animal, patience and love are always the best tools!
In general, chinchillas are fairly healthy animals as long as they have a proper diet, clean water to drink and a clean, safe cage. However, even with the best of care, occasionally a chinchilla can become ill, injure itself, or chew on items which can cause illness, injury or even death. Additionally, chinchillas are very good at hiding illness and injury and can be severely injured or extremely ill before the owner realizes something is wrong and you have a need to get the chinchilla to the vet as soon as possible.
For these reasons, it is best to have the number saved of your nearest exotic vet or a vet who has experience with chinchillas who you trust. This can be the difference between life and death.
When acquiring a new pet, it is best practice to take them to the vet they will be going to should they ever be sick. If your new pet is sick, the vet will have caught the illness early and thus no diseases or illnesses will be spread to any other pets you may have.
At the initial visit, the veterinarian should check the chinchilla’s teeth to make sure they are the proper colour and length, listen to its breathing and heart, check its eyes, ears, and coat for any signs of illness.
Once the veterinarian has completed the initial visit, the vet may ask to see the chinchilla once a year for a check-up. This is fine, but not necessary. The reason for this is quite simple. Taking a chinchilla to a vet’s office is stressful for the animal. Stress can weaken the immune system, causing the animal to become ill when it would have been just fine if it had not been taken to the vet. Most people only take their chinchillas to the vet when they suspect that something is wrong.
Antibiotics to Avoid
Not all antibiotics are safe for use in chinchillas. Because they upset the delicate balance of the digestive tract, they cause severe, possibly deadly, digestive issues such as lack of appetite, diarrhoea, constipation, and GI stasis. These antibiotics should be avoided and only used as a last resort. Below is a list of antibiotics that can cause these problems.
It is easy to remember the antibiotics if you follow the PLACE rule. According to the rule, if an antibiotic name starts with P, L, A, C, or E, do not use it with chinchillas.
• Ampicillin, Amoxicillin
• Clavamox AKA Augmentin (amoxicillin/clavulanate)
• Cephalosporins, Clindamycin
If a veterinarian prescribes one of these medications for a chinchilla and has not tried any of the safe medications, find a new veterinarian.
Below is a list of chinchilla safe antibiotics. These can also have an effect on the chinchilla’s digestive tract, though usually to a much lesser degree.
• Bactrim AKA Sulfamethoxanol and Trimethoprim
• Baytril AKA Enrofloxacin
Anytime a chinchilla is on antibiotics, they should be monitored closely for any signs of digestive or other problems. One way to avoid these problems is to administer the medication through injection. This way, the medication is never in the digestive tract and therefore does not have the bad side effects.
How to Burrito a Chinchilla
Often, when a chinchilla is sick or injured, it is necessary to wrap it up in order to care for its illness or injuries and administer medication. Another reason for wrapping a chinchilla is to force feed one that is not eating on their own. If done correctly, it can make caring for the chinchilla much easier. If not, the chinchilla can get loose and the animal can actually make matters worse by aggravating the injury. Below is the list of supplies needed and the steps to safely wrap a chinchilla.
• One dish towel
• Medications, food, syringes, first aid items (varies depending on what needs done)
1. Make sure that all medications, the food, syringes, etc. are ready to go. It is best to fill any syringes ahead of time to shorten the amount of time the chinchilla is wrapped. This will help to ease the stress for both the chinchilla and the owner.
2. Get the chinchilla.
3. Lay the dish towel across your chest. One edge of the towel should be about mid breast line, on one side.
4. Set chinchilla on the towel near the edge. The chinchilla should be belly down. The excess towel on the other side will give you plenty of material to wrap around the chinchilla.
5. Grab the short side and pull it up and around the chinchilla’s back and side, then very quickly wrap the longer side around the chinchilla. Continue wrapping it until the chinchilla is completely covered and all four legs are safely tucked inside. Be careful not to get it too tight.
6. Place the wrapped chinchilla between your left (if you are right-handed) arm and body.
7. Hold the head by putting your thumb on one side of the head, the index and middle finger on top of the head and the ring and pinkie fingers on the remaining side of the head.
8. Administer medication or feed the chinchilla. If checking or cleaning and injury or surgery site, uncover the area in question to perform the necessary tasks.
Lifespan: Their lifespan is around 15-20 years (or longer), make sure you are sure you will be able to care for them their entire lives.
Signs of a healthy chin: active, alert, sociable, unlaboured breathing, healthy fur, clear eyes
Signs of unhealthy chin: weight loss, skin lesions, abnormal hair loss, diarrhoea, overgrown teeth, eye or nasal discharge, lethargic, trouble breathing, sneezing, sores on feet, unusual stools and urine.
General Health issues seen in chinchillas: Chinchillas are generally very healthy animals but there are some issues to always look out for. Please seek an EXOTIC VET who has experience with chinchillas. Chinchillas are specialized animals and not all medications are safe for them (as mentioned above).
Ringworm (Skin Fungus): Ringworm is not a worm or parasite; it is a one of a group of fungus that affects the skin. The name comes from the shape of the affected area. It most frequently occurs during warm humid weather or conditions, but it can show up at any time. These fungi are the same ones that are responsible for athlete’s foot, jock itch and yeast infections in humans. Ringworm is extremely contagious and can be passed to other chinchillas, animals or people. Ringworm can be airborne. Other causes are lack of ventilation, poor hygiene, bathing in dust that was used to bathe an infected chinchilla, not drying a wet chinchilla, injuries and stress. The incubation period for ringworm is 3 weeks. Ringworm presents itself as an itchy area that is either pink or red. The area will often be ‘ring shaped’ and contain flakes, scales, crusty patches and scabs. The fur in the area will fall out. Ringworm is most often found around the eyes, nose, mouth and genitals but can spread to or be found anywhere on the body.
Once a chinchilla exhibits the symptoms of ringworm, it should be quarantined in a separate room, away from all other animals. If more than one animal is infected, they can all be kept together in the same room. Remember to wash your hands after handling an infected individual. Any dust that was used to bathe the infected chinchilla should be thrown out. New dust should be used for all the chinchillas and the dust from infected animals should not be used for healthy chinchillas. The cage and all equipment used should be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected. You will need to see a vet to get anti-fungal powder which you can put in the dust bath.
Bumblefoot: Bumblefoot, medically known as ulcerative pododermatitis, is an inflammation of the foot pads. Wire floored cages, or cages with wire shelves and ramps are hard on sensitive little feet and are often the culprits of this disease. A chronically dirty cage is also one of the primary contributors of bumblefoot. Where a chin is exposed to damp, dirty floors or where he/she is inclined to urinate in favourite spots and rest there, these conditions are breeding grounds for bacteria that causes ulcers to form. Veterinary care is required.
Obesity: Fat typically pockets around the upper and lower limbs. Some fat around the upper limbs is not a concern, but when those fat pockets extend down the body and can be felt around the hips, the body condition is obese. They will also have extremely limited movement and tire easily. An adult chinchilla weighs about 500-900 grams (some can be bigger and not overweight). Obesity can be a problem but will be avoided if you let your chinchilla run outside their cage daily and/or provide them with an exercise wheel.
Broken bones: Obvious breaks can present with a compound fracture, often one of the legs. Other breaks can be hairline fractures, broken toes, or a spiral fracture of the tail. Sometimes a broken limb will look out of place, the chin will limp, tail may be limp or obviously crooked, or the chin’s behaviour will be drastically different such as a chin who suddenly bites. Veterinary care is required.
Parasites: Chinchillas fur is too dense for external parasites such as ticks and fleas to survive (unless it’s on places where the fur is thinner such as their tail, feet and face).
Heat stroke: Due to their dense fur, chinchillas are particularly susceptible to heat stroke. As soon as temperatures exceed 25 degrees Celsius you should begin seriously monitoring your chinchilla. Tips to help deal with increased heat is moving their cage to a cooler room in your house, putting an air-con on (air-con mustn’t blow directly on them and a plain fan will not help cool them), placing a cool tile in their cage (tile was cooled in fridge/freezer). Signs of heat stroke include; Fast, shallow breathing, hot (red) ears, listlessness, wetness around the nose area, tossing back of head while breathing rapidly from open mouth. Veterinary care is required for extreme cases where the chinchilla becomes unconscious.
Male Hair rings: Male chins can sometimes get a ‘hair ring” which is when fur wraps around their penis. This is a major concern since the ring can become tight enough to cause pain, impede urination, and affect the circulation to the penis; therefore, it needs to be removed immediately. Male chinchillas are usually very good at cleaning themselves and it is not necessary to regularly check for hair rings. If your chinchilla shows signs of having a hair ring (trouble urinating (squeaking or grunting while urinating), exhibits a change in habits (urinates on the shelves when he previously did not do so), excessively licking his genitals, lethargic, swollen or non-retracted genitals) then you should check for a hair ring. Spread the legs and get a firm but gentle hold on the penis. Push back the sheath. You may need a small amount of Vaseline to extend the penis all the way out. The hair ring, if there, should slide right off. Vaseline can be used to remove the hair as well. If it is too tight or you are unable to check yourself, a vet can assist. Monitor the chinchilla for a while afterwards to make sure he regains full use of his penis. If redness or swelling occurs, or the penis will not fully retract into the sheath, a trip to the veterinarian is in order to treat a possible infection.
Fur chewing: Fur Chewing, also known as Fur Barbing, is when a Chinchilla chews their own fur. Some chinchillas chew fur more than others, or only chew other chinchillas. A fur barber could have just a few patchy spots or be chewed so badly that they only have a strip of fur extending down their back where they cannot reach. Environmental causes for fur chewing could be any of the following:
Nurture: Some kits are taught to chew fur by their mother.
Stress: A stressful home will result in a stressed pet. It could be the location of the cage is not ideal, another family pet harasses your chinchilla, you may have loud children who make your chinchilla uneasy, the cage may not be ideal for your pet, etc.
Boredom: A chinchilla who lacks stimulation may begin to chew their fur because they’re bored and lack enrichment.
Medical: A chinchilla who has dental issues my chew at their chest or pull at their fur on their face to try to find and stop the pain. A skin issue could prompt a chinchilla to chew at their fur. An amputation may result in phantom-limb syndrome, and the pain from that may prompt your chinchilla to chew at the area.
Dominance: A dominant chinchilla could chew its cage mates’ fur.
A fur chewed chinchilla can still be a happy, loving pet who lives a long life if given the proper care. Be sure to talk to your vet about preventative measures for hairballs, because it’s not something a chinchilla is normally suspected to have or able to pass on their own.
Fur priming: Fur priming is when a chinchilla sheds it’s old fur and replaces it with a new coat. In perfect conditions chinchillas prime 1/3 of their fur every 90 days. Season, temperature or humidity change will cause a chin to prime earlier or later than normal. The new strands push the old out of the way. The old fur will appear longer and make the coat look rough. This is only temporary. As your chinchilla blows their fur the dead fur will fall out, it may take longer for chins with very dense fur.
Bloat: A chinchilla with bloat has gas forming in their digestive system. Since chinchillas cannot burp and have trouble passing gas, the gas becomes trapped. Without assistance, the bloat can progress to the point of causing twisting of the intestines or rupture of either the stomach or the intestines, all of which are deadly to the chinchilla. Bloat can also cause the chinchilla’s digestive tract to go into stasis, meaning that the digestive system has totally stopped. The symptoms of bloat include lack of appetite, constipation, hard swollen belly, stretching and pressing the belly to the floor. A chinchilla with bloat is in severe pain and will probably not eat or drink. Veterinary care required.
Eye issues: Can be a simple irritation, scratched cornea, conjunctivitis (pink eye), a plugged tear duct, a symptom of malocclusion, or genetically related. Eye issues can arise if improper dust is used in the dust bath and causes an eye irritation. Veterinary care is required.
Malnutrition: If your chinchilla is feed a diet of mixed pellets (more than one type of pellet, even in the same bag of food), they can ‘select feed’ and not eat each type of pellet. This can lead to malnutrition because of an unbalanced diet.
Urinary tract infection: Uncommon and could be prevented with correct diet and clean cage. A noticeable symptom is a strong urine smell (chinchilla urine is typically odourless or has only minimal smell) or inflamed genitals. Veterinary care is required.
Gastro-intestinal Stasis: This is highly dangerous and occurs when your chinchilla’s digestive system stops working (hence the term ‘stasis’). It is vital your chinchilla’s digestive system is constantly in motion digesting food. Some of the causes include an improper diet, too many or inappropriate treats, a sudden change of feed, dehydration, illness or pain, stress, lack of exercise, hairballs and the ingestion of a foreign object (impaction). Carefresh (paper-based bedding) has been known to cause a blockage in chinchillas so it is advised that you do not use it in their cage/litterbox. Chinchillas defecate a lot, if you see a decrease in the amount of poop in your chinchilla’s cage, take your chinchilla to the vet.
Chinchilla Teeth: Unlike human teeth, chinchilla teeth grow continuously throughout their lives. For this reason, chinchillas require safe items to chew. Toys help keep the front teeth worn to the appropriate length while the hay does the same for the molars. When chinchilla teeth are allowed to grow too long, the chinchilla can develop malocclusion which is a severe, painful and usually deadly dental condition. Chinchillas have 20 teeth.
Diet is also an important part of dental health. If chinchillas are fed a quality pellet that meets their nutritional needs the teeth will be healthy. The photo below shows how the teeth lighten and turn white when the chinchilla is not receiving enough calcium. Chinchilla teeth should be checked regularly to ensure that they are the proper colour. If the teeth are white, light yellow or striped, consult with a veterinarian as to the proper course of action to correct the deficiency. Even with proper nutrition, the chinchilla can experience dental issues. If the chinchilla is fed treats that are sticky or contain a lot of sugar, dental caries (cavities) can occur, causing tooth loss and other problems since the teeth will move within the mouth, attempting to fill in the gap. While other mammals’ teeth are imbedded in the jawbone, chinchilla teeth are attached with connective tissue. The teeth float freely in the socket, held in by the connective tissue and the surrounding teeth.
If a chinchilla does not receive enough vitamin C from its diet, the connective tissue will loosen. This will cause the teeth to move within the gums causing them to point inward or outward and resulting in spurs or points. Abscesses can also develop when the teeth are loose. Keep in mind, a quality chinchilla pellet should contain enough of both vitamin C and calcium to help prevent any dental issues.
Watching your chinchilla eat is one of the best ways to determine if any dental problems exist. If the chinchilla constantly paws at the mouth, acts like it is choking, drools, has a loss of appetite, loses weight, or begins to eat but then drops the food, it could be experiencing mouth pain.
What to do if Signs of Dental Issues are Present: If the chinchilla exhibits any signs of dental problems, it is best to get a full dental workup performed. Since chinchilla mouths are so small and chinchillas are wiggly animals, it is necessary for the chinchilla to be anesthetized for the exam. Often, x-rays will also be taken to get a better idea of the nature of the problem. Some issues such as points, spurs, a trapped tongue and dental abscesses can be treated. Others, such as malocclusion, are unfortunately often a death sentence for the chinchilla.
Malocclusion: By definition, malocclusion is a faulty or irregular contact of opposing teeth in the upper and lower jaws. With chinchillas, this definition has come to include a condition in which the teeth or their roots are overgrown. This can occur in either the upper or lower teeth and can involve either root elongation, crown elongation, or both. The teeth that overgrow can include both the molars and the incisors. Overgrowth can be present with or without misalignment of the teeth. Often, although overgrowth and misalignment are often closely linked, when a chinchilla is diagnosed with malocclusion, the veterinarian is referring to overgrowth of the roots or crowns and not crooked teeth. This is probably because misaligned teeth by themselves do not produce the serious symptoms that overgrowth does. Points are overgrown teeth that point inward. The points can cut into or trap the tongue. Teeth that overgrow outward create spurs which can cut into the cheek.
Like rabbits and guinea pigs, chinchillas are hypsodonts. This means that their teeth, both molars and incisors, grow constantly. Chinchillas need to chew on coarse material in order to keep their teeth worn to the proper length. When chinchilla teeth overgrow, they can reverse direction and the roots will elongate. When this happens, the roots grow up into the sinuses and eye sockets or down through the lower jaw or both. This is extremely painful for the chinchilla and cannot be cured. Since this type of overgrowth is hidden, it is usually quite severe by the time the chinchilla shows any symptoms.
Malocclusion can be genetic, accidental, or environmental. Genetic malocclusion is hereditary. This means that it is passed down through the genes from both parents. Genetic malocclusion usually shows before the age of five and can occur as early as 1 year of age.
Genetic malocclusion normally presents itself within a certain time frame. Accidental malocclusion can happen at any time. Like the name suggests, accidental malocclusion is the result of an accident. If the chinchilla injured its mouth or teeth though an accident, such as biting the cage bars and/or falling and hitting the mouth or jaw, the result can be broken or lost tooth, causing the surrounding teeth to grow out of alignment in order to fill the gap. Additionally, an injury to the jaw that does not produce a gap in the teeth can still cause irregular tooth growth and/or misalignment. This can occur within weeks of the injury or several years later depending on the type and location of the injury.
Environmental factors can also cause malocclusion. This means that the chinchilla’s living conditions are the cause of the problem. The most frequent environmental cause is lack of chew toys or hay. Because of the way their teeth grow, chinchillas need a constant supply of items to chew in order to wear down the teeth and keep them healthy. Pellets alone do not require enough chewing to keep the teeth properly worn down. Hay and chew toys, such as apple wood sticks and pine blocks, are necessary. Another item some chinchillas like to chew on is pumice blocks or pumice stones. A chinchilla that has a constant supply of chew toys and hay is far less likely to develop dental issues than one that is not given any of these items.
Another environmental cause is poor diet. Lack of calcium and vitamin C can cause dental issues by weakening the teeth and jawbone. It is important to make sure that the feed a chinchilla is given meets their nutritional needs. Never feed bird food, or food meant for guinea pigs, rats, mice, hamsters or gerbils. In addition to the possible dental issues they can cause, they will also cause severe problems in the digestive and other systems of a chinchilla. Fruits and other sugary treats should also be avoided since they can cause dental caries leading to tooth decay and tooth loss along with possible digestive issues.
The symptoms of malocclusion can include the following:
• Drooling – the chin and chest can become wet, matted and sometimes smelly
• Frequent pawing at the mouth – due to pain
• Tooth grinding – a sign of pain
• Watery eyes – often mistaken for an eye infection
• Decreased appetite
• Weight loss
• Crumbling food
Often, only a few of these symptoms will be present. The first sign is often weight loss since the pain from the condition causes the chinchilla to eat less or not at all. Chinchillas are prey animals and because of this, hide illness and injury until it is often too late to help them.
In order for the chinchilla to be properly checked for tooth problems, they need to have a full dental evaluation done while the chinchilla is under anaesthesia. At this time, x-rays need be taken in order to obtain a full picture of what is going on. If x-rays are not done, it is impossible to know whether or not the roots are involved in the chinchilla’s dental issues. A quick exam of the mouth cannot tell the veterinarian what is going on beyond the gum line.
Below are x-rays of both a normal chinchilla and a chinchilla with malocclusion.
As can be seen, there is a major difference between the chinchilla with normal teeth and the one with malocclusion. The normal x-ray shows teeth meeting in a straight line with little or no curving of either the teeth or the roots. There is no evidence of the roots growing outside of the jaw line.
The maloccluded x-ray shows overgrowth of both the roots and the crowns. There is no clear line where the upper and lower teeth meet. Also, the roots are growing both out of the lower jaw and into the eye sockets.
If the malocclusion is limited to overgrown crowns, points, or spurs, a veterinarian who has experience with chinchilla teeth can trim them while the chinchilla is under anaesthesia. Chinchilla teeth should never be clipped but should be ground down with a special tool. Clipping will crack the teeth and cause more problems. Sometimes, one treatment is all that is necessary. However, more often than not, the chinchilla will need to have the teeth trimmed repeatedly over a period of time and for the rest of its life. Each treatment requires anaesthesia and a recovery period that often includes pain medications and forced feedings with a syringe several times a day. If frequent trimmings are necessary, it may be best to consider the chinchilla’s quality of life and possible euthanasia. Remember, there is no cure for malocclusion, only management of the symptoms.
For overgrown roots, there is no treatment, other than pain relief. This can help for a period of time, but eventually, the chinchilla will reach a point where there is no humane option other than euthanasia.
When is it time to say goodbye?
Malocclusion is an extremely painful condition. Pain management can help as can trimming the teeth when appropriate. Regardless of the form of malocclusion, there will come a time when the chinchilla spends too much time in pain and needs to be euthanized. A good guide to judge when the time has come is to ask whether or not the chinchilla is still enjoying the things that a happy chinchilla does. These items include eating, drinking, running, jumping, chewing, and bouncing around the cage. If the chinchilla is not participating in these activities, it is time to say goodbye. When chinchilla is spending a lot of time drugged, being force fed, or in pain, the only humane option is euthanasia.
Chinchilla poop: Chinchilla droppings tell you a lot about the health of your pet. If there are no droppings, you have an emergency and a trip to the vet is needed immediately. Healthy chinchillas poop a lot. Hard, crumbly, and or small droppings are an indication of constipation. Watery or soft droppings is an indication of diarrhoea. Droppings should not smell, be free of mucus and gas bubbles. Normal droppings should be odourless, well-formed and just slightly wet when fresh but dry relatively quickly. They should be dark in colour and consistent in size and shape, the ends should be rounded and smooth. The normal colour of chinchilla urine is dark amber to an orange/brownish colour. Chinchillas might eat their poop; this is done to receive extra nutrition.
Diarrhoea: This is when your chinchillas’ poop is soft, squishy, covered in mucus and moist. The poop may or may not smell. The diarrhoea is severe when the poo is runny. Poor quality food or hay, too many or inappropriate treats, too much alfalfa, a rapid change in diet, algae in the water bottle, ingesting a foreign substance, parasites, and bacteria can all cause diarrhoea. Often chinchillas will sit in their bowl, urinating and defecating into the pellets. If this is the case, the bowl should be emptied and cleaned prior to the addition of new pellets. Too many treats may cause problems by upsetting the delicate balance of the chinchilla’s digestive system. Inappropriate treats such as dried or fresh fruits and vegetables, dairy products, nuts and seeds can also cause diarrhoea because they contain items such as sugar and fat that chinchillas cannot digest. Additionally, fruits and vegetables contain sugars that encourage the rapid growth of bad bacteria in the chinchilla’s digestive tract. The first step in treating diarrhoea in chinchillas is to remove the cause, if it is known. For example. if the chinchilla is being fed too many or the wrong kind of treat, stop giving the treat to the chinchilla. If the hay is mouldy, throw it out and purchase new hay. If a chinchilla has diarrhoea that is extremely runny and smeared all over the cage and or the chinchilla, or if the diarrhoea lasts more than three days, the chinchilla needs to see a veterinarian immediately. Since chinchillas are such small animals, the amount of fluid lost with a bad case of diarrhoea can cause their health to deteriorate rapidly.
Fatty liver disease: Hepatic Lipidosis, it is an accumulation of excess fat in and around internal organs. A diet high in fats or sugars is the leading cause of this disease. Chins who are given nuts, seeds, dried fruits or who often go without food for days at a time are prone to developing this condition. Prolonged malnutrition forces a chinchilla’s system to convert sugars into fats for storage. A chinchilla’s natural diet is high in fibre, low in protein with virtually no fats or sugars. Chinchillas are hind gut fermenters and require unlimited access to hay and other fibrous food sources. Pellets are considered a soft food and should not be their primary diet. Most cases of hepatic lipidosis come from pet owners who are either unaware of a chinchilla’s dietary needs, or who kill their pet with kindness by feeding the wrong kinds of treats.
Pyometra: A uterine infection in female chins. When the uterus becomes infected you may see a whitish discharge from between the urethral cone and anus. The whole bottom area may be wet and crusty, and the chin may excessively groom the genital area. Emergency vet care is necessary.
Respiratory Issues: Troubled breathing, usually indicative of an upper respiratory infection (or in some cases, broken ribs). Laboured or noisy breathing or mucus coming from the nose is an early indicator of respiratory issues. Upper respiratory infections can happen by contact with people who have a cold, or from living in a damp, drafty environment. Could also be a symptom of Pasteurella. Know your chin and watch for signs of change in behaviour or other symptoms. Get vet care early to avoid more costly interventions or even death of your pet.
Seizures: A symptom of serious health issues. Seizures can cause your chinchillas to lose balance and it may become difficult for them to stand. Often occurs in young, pregnant or chinchillas which are vitamin/mineral deficient It could also be caused by over-exertion/exhaustion in the case of young chinchillas (under 6 months), for this reason young chinchillas should not have an exercise wheel.
Sterilizing your chinchilla: Sterilizing your chinchilla is a debated and controversial topic. It should only be done by an experienced vet and post operation complications are risky. It is, however, the law according to Cape Nature, that all male chinchillas be sterilized in the Western Cape. It is best to keep same-sex pairs and avoid unwanted pregnancies.
Weighing your chinchilla: Weighing your chinchilla on a kitchen scale regularly can be a good habit and will help you detect sudden weight loss which could indicate illness. Due to consumption, time of day, and slightly altering routines, your chin’s weight can fluctuate daily, upwards of 15-20 grams. Another method which has been successful for owners (but requires some minimal math or resetting of your scale settings) is to place a container on your scale that more easily confines your chinchilla, then weigh your chinchilla and subtract the weight of the container. This method helps minimize the need to manually contain your chinchilla, although you may need to try this method several times as well, due to any shifting weight or escape attempts. Record the weights somewhere where you won’t lose the data.
Signs to take your chinchilla to the vet:
• Loose, soft, or lack of stool or Small, dry, or infrequent stools
• Blood in the urine
• Overgrown front teeth
• Hunching in a corner or lack of activity (lethargy)
• Sneezing or trouble breathing
• Observed difficulty chewing
• Bald patches in the fur
• Sores on the feet
• Abnormal eating or drinking
• Sudden strong urine smell
• Obvious injury
• Unusual behaviour (you know your pets personality/behaviour best-trust your gut)
Never stop doing research into pet care. New information is always being discovered, pet care standards are increasing, and new products are coming out. Take each new information and opinion with a grain of salt and always keep your chinchillas’ best interests at heart.
We hope that you enjoy your new pet chinchilla and have many incredible and memorable moments together. Remember that it may take time for your chinchilla to bond with you, but your efforts will be worth it! Give them lots of love and they will return it.
All the Directors from Critter Rescue SA wish you many hopping years together!!!!