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Chinchillas make great pets. They are fun to have around and are naturally curious. They bond well and will repay sensitive care and affection in kind. However before taking the plunge and buying one you should understand first that they are not completely trouble free. Because they have a tendency towards certain health issues that if neglected can cause serious problems. It's quite a list: Uneven teeth - overgrown teeth - teeth spurs - conjunctivitis - fur biting - fungal infections - diarrhoea - constipation - heat stroke and seizures. (Whilst this is not a definitive list it does deal with much of the more common health issues.) However the good news is: All of the things mentioned above can pretty much be prevented. Oh yes, and one more thing... Chinchillas unlike some small animals, are pretty much odour free, which is a real bonus! So let's look at those other issues a little more closely:
A Chinchilla's teeth are hypsodontic - meaning they grow continuously throughout the animal's life. If they are healthy then they will be dark yellow in colour. In order to keep teeth and gums healthy, then you need to pay particular attention to the chinchilla's diet, which is mainly fibrous and should consist of a high quality commercial pellet and timothy hay. As well as this though you should provide something for them to chew on to prevent the teeth from overgrowing - you can buy specially made goods for this at any good pet store - the growth rate of chinchilla teeth is 2 to 2.5 inches (4 to 6 cm) per year. Overgrown chinchilla teeth may result in severe pain, and if left unattended, can entrap a chinchilla's tongue.
Commonly referred to as pink eye this is a very contagious condition. It can be passed from chinchilla to chinchilla and even between species. Because of this 100% hygiene standards are essential when dealing with a chinchilla - hand washing before and after contact is top of the list here. Always seek the advice of an exotic veterinarian who will prescribe medication. A mild saline solution can be used to wash the eyes with.
Many breeders claim that fur biting is a genetic trait and avoid breeding from chinchilla's that do this. It is however somewhat exacerbated by stress and boredom. Avoid small cramped conditions and noisy, over busy environments. Provide plenty of interest through toys and try to give the chinchilla as much time as you can out of the cage.
These are most prevalent when the conditions are warm and humid. They can also be spread through contaminated dust baths, bedding or even humans - so again absolute care in hygiene is essential. Clean and tidy cages daily, clean by dismantling the cage and washing in hot soapy water on a weekly basis if possible to stop the growth of certain fungus developing in those nooks and crannies that are not easily reached otherwise. Dry the cage thoroughly. Ringworm, which is a common Chinchilla problem, can be treated with an anti-fungal powder. Always speak to a veterinarian for advice.
This should always be treated by a veterinarian; unless a cause is determined and the condition is relieved quickly dehydration will occur and this can be very serious. Causes of tummy upset in Chinchillas are varied but one thing to be aware of is that they do not take to dietary change well. Any changes that are made should be undertaken over the course of several days to give the chinchilla's digestive system time to adjust. Other causes can include: stress, inadequate amounts of roughage in the diet, toxins, infectious agents - these can be viral, bacterial and fungal - intestinal parasites and certain metabolic diseases. By understanding the causal effects of diarrhoea, you can significantly lessen the instance of your chinchilla becoming ill.
This can be caused by an insufficient amount of fibre in the diet - always make sure your chinchilla has plenty of nice timothy hay to munch on. As well as this it is important that they have constant access to clean, fresh water - it can be due singly to a lack of fluid or both. Exercise is occasionally a factor here too. If your chinchilla has been cooped up for a few days then let him out to get some exercise. Apart from this the odd raisin or two will certainly not go amiss - do not overdo this though or you will end up with a different kind of tummy disorder altogether. If the situation does not improve within 24 hours then consult your vet - if your chinchilla appears unwell, showing signs of listlessness or not eating etc then consult your veterinary sooner.
It is a strange fact that chinchilla's do not have the ability to sweat and thus control body temperature. Because of this we need to be very specific about where they are kept. Anything above 75 degrees Fahrenheit (25 degrees Celcius) and your Chinchilla will begin to struggle. So for instance it would be dangerous to place their cage near to a window, which may magnify heat in the summer or close to a radiator or other heater in the colder months. An ambient temperature of around 60 degrees Fahrenheit is considered ideal by many chinchilla owners.
These can be caused by a number of things including infectious diseases, hypoglycaemia, ingesting a toxic substance, bacterial and viral organisms. However the most common reasons are stress related - this in turn is caused by overexertion and overheating. In the main a seizure is a one off and will pass without too much mention. However you should try to determine the cause so as to avoid it happening again. In the case of heatstroke you should move the chinchilla to a cooler place and allow them to recover quietly.
Please note: You can read a further related article about Heatstroke and Seizures on this site.
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