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Bowmanville Veterinary Clinic
Common conditions of pet chinchillas include bite wounds, respiratory diseases, overgrown teeth, diarrhea, and heat stroke.
Bite wounds are common in chinchillas that are housed with other chinchillas. They can also occur as a result of an attack by the household cat or dog. Dog bites can be fatal to chinchillas due to the difference in the size of the pets (a large dog can quickly kill a chinchilla). Bites by other chinchillas, dogs, and cats are often infected with various bacteria, especially Pasteurella; left untreated, the infection in the wound can easily spread throughout the body.
Respiratory diseases are often seen in pet chinchillas. The respiratory problem can easily progress to become pneumonia, which can be fatal. Conditions such as overcrowding, poor ventilation, and high humidity may predispose to pneumonia. Common signs include lack of appetite, lethargy, difficulty in breathing, nasal discharge, and swollen lymph nodes
As is true with many rodents, overgrown teeth are common in chinchillas. The teeth of chinchillas grow continuously throughout life. Either the front teeth (incisors) or back teeth (molars) can overgrow. Signs of overgrown teeth include drooling ("slobbering") and a depressed appetite; overgrown incisors are easily noticed upon inspection of the mouth. It is often difficult to tell if the molars are overgrown; anesthesia, to allow a thorough evaluation of the mouth, and radiographs (X-rays) may be needed to identify this problem.
Diarrhea is not a disease but rather a sign of disease. Rodents, being pets whose digestive system is designed to digest a large amount of fiber, easily develop diarrhea due to changes in diet, incorrect usage of antibiotics, stress, and diets low in fiber or high in fat and protein. The correct diagnosis is made after diagnostic testing including microscopic fecal examinations, cultures, radiographs (X-rays), blood tests, and exploratory surgery.
Heat stroke, a common problem in many rodents, also occurs in chinchillas. Being normal inhabitants of the Andes Mountains, they are very comfortable at temperatures of 35o – 45o (2o - 7 o C). Temperatures above 80 o (27o C), especially if high humidity is also present, can easily lead to fatal heat stroke. Signs of heat stroke are similar to those seen in any pet with this problem and include panting, high body temperature, open-mouth breathing, and recumbency with reluctance to move.
Bite wounds are usually infected with any of several different bacteria and can be rapidly fatal. Bite wounds to your chinchilla are a true medical emergency that requires immediate veterinary attention. Bite wounds are treated with the appropriate antibiotics, as well as thorough wound cleaning (anesthesia may be necessary).
Pneumonia and other respiratory problems are treated with antibiotics. Chinchillas that are lethargic and have stopped eating require aggressive therapy in the hospital; fluid therapy and force-feeding may be necessary.
Overgrown teeth are trimmed by the veterinarian. Anesthesia is often necessary to prevent injury to the chinchilla. In the past, nail trimmers were used to trim overgrown teeth. However, due to the chance of injury to the teeth and the jaws, the teeth are now often filed with a Dremel tool, which causes less injury to the teeth.
The correct treatment of diarrhea depends upon the cause. Parasites are treated with the appropriate deworming medication. Bacterial infections are treated with antibiotics. An inappropriate diet is corrected by switching to a high fiber diet.
Heat stroke is an emergency condition requiring immediate treatment. The chinchilla is immediately cooled with ice packs, cold water enemas, various medications, intraperitoneal fluids, and intravenous fluid therapy. Chinchillas that are discovered with heat stroke at home should be immediately cooled by the owner; applying cold water to the chinchilla and ice packs to the armpits, groin, and neck of the pet will help lower the pet's body temperature. Owners should avoid giving their pets medications such as aspirin or Tylenol; alcohol applied to the chinchilla's skin actually decreases the loss of heat from the body and is not recommended.
Signs of disease in chinchillas may be specific for a certain disease. Often, signs are vague and non-specific, such as a chinchilla with anorexia (lack of appetite) and lethargy, which can be seen with many diseases including pneumonia, overgrown teeth, cancer, and even kidney or liver failure. ANY deviation from normal should be a cause for concern and requires immediate evaluation by your veterinarian.
Chinchillas should be offered grass-hay, free-choice (available 24 hours a day). While alfalfa hay can be used, it should not be served as the main source of hay as it is too rich and could result in digestive disturbances for your chinchilla. Additionally, they can be fed a small amount (several tablespoons per day) of rabbit or chinchilla pellets.
Any necessary changes in diet should be done slowly over several days to decrease the chance of gastrointestinal problems.
Chinchillas do not require additional vitamins if fed properly.
As a rule, chinchillas don't require treats, although an occasional offering of fresh vegetables, fruits, and grains is all right. Do not offer any "people food" without checking with your veterinarian first.
Fresh water should be left in the cage 24 hours a day. Most owners choose to offer water through a sipper bottle hung in the cage. Check it whenever you change the water (at least daily) to make sure the sipper tube has not become clogged with food.
The cage should allow a lot of movement by the chinchilla. Multilevel cages, similar to those designed by many ferret owners, work well. Like other rodents, chinchillas love to chew. Wire-mesh cages are preferred to wooden cages. Many doctors recommend covering at least a part of the floor with Plexiglas or wood in order to take some of the pressure off of the feet of the chinchilla from the wire bottom of the cage.
Chinchillas are very susceptible to heat stroke; environmental temperature should be kept below 80 o F (27 o C); high humidity should also be avoided.
Most owners house one or two pets in a cage; often the two pets are mates. While chinchillas are social pets that rarely fight, injury and death can occur from fighting. Care should be taken when introducing a new pet into your resident pets’ cage. If you'd like several chinchillas, it would be best to purchase them as youngsters.
Wood can be placed in the cage to allow the chinchilla to chew and help keep its teeth filed down. Chinchillas require a dust bath for normal grooming. This should be provided daily and removed after use. The "dust" can be purchased at local pet stores and consists of one part of Fuller's earth and nine parts of silver sand.
Chew toys can also be placed in the cage, but remember as a rule of thumb that the smallest piece of the toy should be too big to be swallowed by the chinchilla.
The best bedding to use is pine wood shavings, they are readily available and easy to change as they become soiled. Bedding your chinchilla on soft towels can be hazardous as they can chew the towels and if swallowed can cause intestinal obstructions. Cage lining material can be placed under the wire-mesh bottom of the cage..
Cages should be cleaned at least weekly with soap and water (rinse well).
Chinchillas can make fun, enjoyable pets. The chinchilla is a rodent related to the guinea pig; they originate from South America where they live in the Andes Mountains. In addition to their popularity as pets, they are also raised commercially for their soft, luxurious pelts. Chinchillas can exhibit "fur slip"; part of the fur can be shed if the pet is handled roughly or the fur grasped too tightly. Their average life span is about 10 years. They are nocturnal animals and are often more active at night, preferring to sleep during the day. They do not hibernate. As with any pet, they do occasionally get sick, and their illnesses are often severe. All pet chinchillas should be examined by a qualified veterinarian within 48 hours of purchase, and at least annually thereafter. This "new pet" exam is critical to detect signs of disease and help new pet owners get off on the right foot. Many problems are caused by misinformation; the first veterinary visit can help prevent well-intentioned owners from doing the wrong thing and ultimately contributing to any illness that could occur.
Like all rodents, the chinchilla's teeth grow continuously throughout life.
Chinchillas have a digestivetract (like other rodents and rabbits) that is specialized for digesting large amounts of fiber.
The breeding season of chinchillas is mainly from winter through spring, November through to April or May.
Baby chinchillas, like their relatives, baby guinea pigs, are born with eyes open, fully furred, and active.
Chinchillas are usually purchased at pet shops or through breeders; they are often also for sale at exotic pet shows. As with any pet purchase, avoid chinchillas that appear ill. Chinchillas should be bright and alert, and move quickly when startled. Avoid pets with closed eyes or discharge from the eyes or nose. Check the ears for redness or excess wax, which might indicate an infection. If possible, examine the teeth and make sure the incisors (front teeth) are not overgrown. The pet should neither feel fat nor thin; you should be able to feel the ribs with just a small amount of fat over them. Check the anal area for diarrhea or moistness, which might indicate a gastrointestinal infection.
Your chinchilla should come with a health guarantee that requires a checkup by a veterinarian within a few days (usually 48 hours) after purchase. All pets including chinchillas need regular examinations. Select a veterinarian knowledgeable about chinchillas. The visit includes determining the animal's weight, as well as checking for lumps or bumps. The animal is examined for signs of dehydration and starvation. A fecal test is done to check for internal parasites. The veterinarian can also determine the sex of your pet. If all is well your pet can be given a clean bill of health. Like all pets, pet chinchillas should be examined annually and have their feces tested for parasites during their annual visit.
Pet chinchillas do not require vaccinations.
This client information sheet is based on material written by Shawn Messonnier, DVM.
© Copyright 2002 Lifelearn Inc. Used with permission under license. April 26, 2018.
Chinchillas have several unique problems; understanding these problems will allow you to better care for your pet and minimize future health care problems.
Chinchillas have the ability to release or "slip" patches of fur when handled roughly, when stressed, or when fighting. No permanent damage is usually done to the chinchilla. The fur usually re-grows, although the new growth takes several months.
Rodents are very susceptible to antibiotic toxicity. Many antibiotics, including penicillin and erythromycin, can be fatal to pet chinchillas. For this reason, owners should NEVER give their pet chinchilla medications without checking with their veterinarians first. Also, because of antibiotic sensitivity and other unique problems of pet chinchillas, make sure the veterinarian you choose knows how to properly treat chinchillas.
Chinchillas have a unique grooming habit. It is important for them to have access to a "dust bath". Each day, they should be provided with a bath, which is a mixture of 9 parts of silver sand and 1 part of Fuller's earth; these ingredients are available at most pet stores. Enough dust should be provided so that the chinchilla can roll around in the dust. Be sure to remove the dust bath after use and keep if clean and free of feces and urine.
This client information sheet is based on material written by Shawn Messonnier, DVM.
© Copyright 2002 Lifelearn Inc. Used with permission under license.