Chinchillas - Problems

By Gregory Rich, DVM; Laurie Hess, DVM; Rick Axelson, DVM

Chinchillas are generally hardy animals but can have several unique problems; understanding them will help you care for your pet and manage potential health problems.

Skin Problems

Chinchillas are susceptible to numerous skin and fur problems, such as fungal infections (ringworm), fur chewing/barbering, and hair loss. In males, an unusual problem in which the fur becomes wrapped around the base of the penis in a 'ring' leads to irritation or constriction of the penis. This is commonly referred to as a ‘penile hair ring’. If your chinchilla develops any of these issues, seek help from your veterinarian.

Fur Slip

Chinchillas can release or 'slip' patches of fur while mishandled, stressed, or fighting. This reaction developed as a defense mechanism in response to being caught by predators. There is usually no permanent damage done to the chinchilla. The fur regrows, although the new growth may take several months. Chinchillas should never be handled or restrained roughly or grabbed by the skin.

Antibiotic Sensitivity

All rodents are susceptible to antibiotic toxicity. Many antibiotics, including penicillin and erythromycin, can be lethal to chinchillas. For this reason, owners should NEVER give their pet chinchilla medications unless prescribed by their veterinarian. Because of antibiotic sensitivity and other unique problems of pet chinchillas, ensure the veterinarian you choose is qualified and experienced in treating these pets.

"Many antibiotics, including penicillin and erythromycin, can be lethal to chinchillas."

Dental Problems

Chinchillas have open-rooted (continuously growing) teeth that grow 2-3 inches (5-7.5 cm) per year. The upper and lower rows of teeth must align properly to wear each other down. Malocclusion occurs when the teeth do not meet properly and therefore do not wear correctly, leading to overgrowth. This can happen with the visible front teeth (incisors) and the premolar and molar teeth in the back of the mouth that you cannot see. These overgrown teeth may develop sharp edges, or spurs, from improper wear that may cut into the tongue, cheek, or lips, leading to difficulty eating, decreased appetite, weight loss, drooling, eye problems, and pawing at the face.

"Malocclusion occurs when the teeth do not meet properly and therefore do not wear correctly, leading to overgrowth."

Chinchillas can also develop tooth infections or abscesses in incisors, premolars, or molars. If your chinchilla displays any signs commonly associated with dental problems, especially drooling or decreased appetite, seek veterinary care immediately. Anesthesia or an injectable sedative will be necessary to allow your veterinarian to evaluate the mouth thoroughly. Radiographs (X-rays) may also be needed to identify problems associated with teeth roots and jaw bones.

Heat Stroke

Chinchillas are very susceptible to heat stroke. The optimal environmental temperature should be 50º- 68ºF (10º- 20ºC) and never get as high as 80ºF (27ºC). High humidity should also be avoided, as chinchillas do not tolerate humid conditions and can quickly die from overheating.

Dust Bathing

Chinchillas have a unique grooming habit essential for maintaining healthy fur and skin; dust bathing is a part of their grooming routine.

A dust box should be at least 6" x 6" x 9" and have 2"-3" of dust explicitly made for chinchillas in the bottom. This should be provided for 10-15 minutes daily and removed after use. The "Chinchilla Dust" can be purchased at local pet stores and consists of one part of Fuller's earth and nine parts of silver sand. Since dust can become soiled with urine and feces, you should change the dust every week for hygienic reasons.

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