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The Link Between Heatstroke And Seizures In Chinchillas

There are many causes of seizure in chinchilla’s but by far the most common of these is that of heatstroke. The reason for this is because chinchilla’s do not have the natural ability to dissipate heat – more specifically this means they cannot sweat. As sweating acts as a natural cooling system in the body the chinchilla is therefore compromised in high temperatures. Here are some general guidelines:

  • Between 60 - 65 degrees is considered the best temperature, by many owners, for your chinchilla.
  • Higher or lower will have an adverse effect.
  • 75 degrees Fahrenheit / 25 Celsius and above is a definite danger zone.

What though, exactly is a seizure?

A seizure is defined by sudden, involuntary changes in body function. Movement may become spasmodic and the animal will display a marked lack of orientation, becoming unaware of their surroundings. They may also not respond to touch. Sometimes the chinchilla will list to one side and give the appearance of being ‘asleep with its eyes open’ – at this stage though it is often found that the chinchilla is in the latter stages of a seizure and as such is either over the worst or sadly, beyond help. Because seizures can range from the barely noticeable to that of total collapse, the sooner you are able to spot a seizure or the onset of one, the better. Your chinchilla will try to counteract the effects of overheating in a couple of distinct ways:

  • Rather than the usual hunched sitting position they most normally adopt they will stretch out on their sides in a rather exhausted fashion.
  • Ear colour – these act a bit like traffic signals, bright red ears signifying danger.

Both of these behaviours will immediately precede laboured breathing and once the chinchilla enters this stage he is in a very serious situation. At this point the speed of your reaction is tantamount to his recovery.

Preventing a heat related seizure

Preventing a heat related seizure is always preferable to treating it and there are several measures you can take:

  • Try keeping your chinchilla in a room that has a stable temperature of between 60 – 65 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • In the summer time you can place a flat granite stone in the chinchilla cage for him to lie on. Granite has the natural quality of maintaining a surface temperature that is always a few degrees below that of the room temperature.
  • Keep the cage well away from windows or other areas of potential heat.
  • If temperatures do soar and you are having real trouble controlling them, then place frozen water bottles in the cage for your chinchilla to lie against – keep one in the freezer in reserve at all times.
  • Do not take your chinchilla into the garden
  • Do not travel with your chinchilla in the summer time – some people like to take their chinchilla’s on holiday so they don’t get lonely – In reality it is far better that they stay at home with a responsible person coming in to see to them a couple of times a day than that they be hauled around the country in cars, which can become hot and cramped and noisy.
  • If you use a cooling fan then do not direct it immediately onto the chinchilla – just close enough by to lower the general temperature.

Sometimes and with the best will in the world it may happen that your chinchilla still suffers from a seizure. In the case of heat related seizures you should try some of the following:

  • Remove the chinchilla to a cooler place.
  • Mist the ears lightly with cool, but not cold, water.
  • Leave to quietly recover.

Some general information about seizures

Other causes of seizure are: certain infectious diseases, hypoglycaemia, toxic substances and some bacterial and viral and fungal organisms - of these though hypoglycaemia is the most common cause. Hypoglycaemia is the term used to identify a drop in blood sugar. This, in turn, is caused by stress, overexertion and overheating. Seizures are often quite short lived. If they are the result of a one off situation such as an underlying illness then the best course of action is to wait until the seizure passes. Always though, ring your vet to ask for advice and to advise him of your chinchilla’s state of health. However if your chinchilla has a tendency towards seizures and you are certain it is not heat related then you must look for a common denominator in the situation:

  • Does it happen at a certain time of day?
  • Does it happen when you pick them up?
  • Or let them out to play?

Once you have determined the cause then the obvious action is to bypass it in some way. Perhaps the play area does not feel secure, or is too stressful, household noises, washing machines, tumble dryers, children playing can all have a negative effect. All of these named instances though would indicate that the chinchilla is suffering from a drop in blood sugar. One way round this is to feed your chinchilla a half – to one full raisin, to elevate the sugar levels prior to the action – ideally it is best if your chinchilla is happy and relaxed in all given situations and whilst some may feel that artificially boosting the sugar levels is not altogether satisfactory some owners have reported that this has taught the chinchilla to have a more positive response to sensitive handling and therefore stress has been indirectly reduced. Always speak to a vet that is chinchilla knowledgeable if you are in any doubt about your chinchilla’s general state of health. Finding the right vet takes time – don’t wait until you need help. Have the number to hand in a place where you can find it without searching. With small animals especially, time can cost lives.


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