Furnishing adequate housing, a good diet, and considerate care will minimize disease in chinchillas, as with any other animal.
Eye and Ear Disorders
Common eye and ear disorders in chinchillas include conjunctivitis and otitis media. Ear trauma is also common, due to the chinchilla’s delicate ears.
Conjunctivitis is an eye disease seen in some young chinchillas. It may be caused by a foreign body getting into the eye or a bacterial infection. Infected eyes may be bloodshot, swollen. Infections usually are treated with topical antibiotic ointments or drops.
This ear disease may occur in young chinchillas after a respiratory infection or trauma. Scar tissue can enclose the healing ear canal and trap wax and debris inside. The eardrum may become thickened and swollen. The swelling may progress to the inner ear, which will result in the chinchilla becoming uncoordinated, being unbalanced, or circling and rolling. Surgery may be necessary to reopen a closed ear canal. Regular cleaning, in addition to antibiotics, can help ensure that the ear canal remains open until healing is complete. Ask your veterinarian to show you how to safely clean the ears.
The chinchilla’s large, delicate ears are easily hurt, most often from bite wounds or, if exposed to extreme cold, frostbite. Treatment includes cleaning the wounded area with an antiseptic solution and antibiotic ointment. Closing cuts with stitches in the ear is usually not effective and not recommended.
Digestive disorders are among the most common disorders that occur in pet chinchillas. The cause may be infectious (such as a bacterial or viral disease), but noninfectious causes, such as changes in the diet or a diet that does not provide adequate nutrition or roughage, are also likely to cause digestive problems such as diarrhea, constipation, or bloat.
Loose or watery stools occur in chinchillas with intestinal disorders caused by nutritional, bacterial, protozoal, parasitic, or stress-induced illnesses. Animals with these disorders may die quickly without signs or, in long, terminal cases, show a range of signs including lack of energy, loss of appetite.
More common than diarrhea, constipation most often occurs from a lack of dietary fiber and roughage. Dehydration, environmental stress, intestinal obstruction, obesity, lack of exercise, hairballs, and pregnancy may also cause constipation.
Lung, and Airway Disorders
Infections of the respiratory tract can occur in chinchillas. The most common cause is a bacterial infection. Choking also poses a serious hazard in chinchillas because they lack the ability to vomit.
Upper Respiratory Tract Infections
Humid, crowded, and poorly ventilated housing conditions contribute to a greater chance of respiratory disease in chinchillas. Bacterial infections of the nasal sinuses and mucous membranes are seen more often in young or stressed chinchillas. Signs include sneezing, a discharge from the nose, and conjunctivitis. In severe cases, animals can die suddenly.
Pneumonia is usually associated with bacterial infection. Housing in cold, damp environments may lead to lowered resistance. Signs of respiratory distress include a thick, yellowish discharge from the nose, sneezing, and difficulty breathing. Pneumonia may be accompanied by eye infections.
Skin disorders in chinchillas may be caused by bacterial or fungal infection, but can also result from behavioral issues such as fur chewing.
Ringworm, which is caused by fungi called dermatophytes, does not occur often in chinchillas. Small, patchy areas of baldness are seen mostly around the ears, nose, and feet, but can be found on any part of the body. Areas that are affected appear as irregular or circular-shaped, crusty, flaky skin with reddened edges.
Abscesses in chinchillas may occur after bite wounds or other trauma sites become infected. An abscess can be caused by several common bacteria. It may remain hidden under the animal’s thick coat and become evident only after it ruptures. Ruptured abscesses should be completely drained and flushed with an antiseptic solution recommended by your veterinarian.
Chinchillas are very sensitive to sudden changes in their environment, especially temperatures above 80°F (27°C). Signs of heat stress include initial restlessness followed by rapid breathing, drooling, weakness, very high fever, congested lungs, coma, and death. To treat heat stress, the animal should be cooled down slowly and carefully with cool water baths and provided with general supportive care.
In male chinchillas, a ring of hair may surround the penis within the foreskin and cause serious complications. Affected males may be observed grooming excessively, straining to urinate, and frequent cleaning their penis. Hair rings often develop following sexual intercourse.