Chinchillas originated from Andes Mountains in South America. Its scientific name is Chinchilla lanigera. It has mushy grey fur and a long fluffy tail. Its thick fur acts as an insulator against cold and protects it against fleas, lice and predators. It has a near-spherical body, with large ears like those of mouse, short legs and long bushy tail.
A healthy baby chinchilla weighs between 60 and 70 grams during birth while a mature chinchilla weighs between 370 grams and 1.4 kg. Female chinchillas are larger than male ones.
Chinchillas have a life cycle of between 10 and 15 years while others may live for 20 years.
In this article, we shall look at how to select health chinchillas, how to properly care for them, how to handle them, how to detect when they fall sick, the common health problems and how to treat them and also the common illnesses and how to treat them.
Identifying a healthy chinchilla
To start with, it is important to always inspect the chinchilla during the day when it is active and alert.
The eyes should be shiny and glowing; they should not be watery or with discharge. The ears and nose too must not have discharge. The upper and lower jaw teeth should be evenly aligned when closed. The animal must not be drooling.
Inspect the whole body to ensure that it has no wounds. You can also take the animal to a veterinarian to examine its heart and check its parasites droppings.
Regular contact and handling of a chinchilla makes it to get used to human handling. The first approach of the animal should be slow and quiet to avoid frightening it. Allow it to smell your fingers then gently lift it with both hands.
Caring for chinchillas
Chinchillas should be provided with proper housing and clean source of water; favorably by water bottle because water in a basin can be easily contaminated. The cage should be disinfected and sanitized frequently and the bedding material should be gentle.
The diet should contain more fibre. Good examples include hay and fresh or dried fruits. Most importantly, the diet should be consistent with the gradual introduction of new food as the pet grows.
Any food that is not consumed within a day should be removed from the cage to avoid the growth of mold.
The cage should be large to allow space for play. It should also have ramps and platforms. There should be a bedding material such as dried pine to allow the animal to nestle. There should also be a peaceful place in the cage where the chinchilla can hide.
To ensure that the animal gets some exercises, you can provide it with a chew toy and wooden parrots.
How to handle Chinchillas
Chinchillas should be handled carefully and smoothly to reduce inflicting tension and stress. Whenever the animal is terrified or overexcited it releases a large fur covering whereby the smooth and clean skin below is visible. It takes some months for the fur to re-grow.
Handling pregnant female chinchillas should be avoided unless when necessary. Non-pregnant ones should be handled by holding and raising the bottom of the tail with one hand and supporting the body with the other hand.
They should be kept in dry and moderately cool housing away from direct sunlight. Their preferred outdoor temperature is at most 320C, indoor temperature ranging between 100 and 160C. Temperatures above 270C can cause heatstroke to the animal.
Avoid travelling with the animal unless when necessary. You can acquire a pet sitter for it or board it to a suitable facility safe for it. Boarding the animal in the same room with barking dogs should be avoided. Also, ensure that there is no excess heat or the chinchilla is not exposed to direct sunlight during travelling.
Signs of sickness
The usual signs of illness of chinchilla are bad coat, diarrhoea, lack of appetite, discharge from eyes and ears, drooling, unusual faeces, difficulty in breathing and walking, loss of weight, injury and inactivity.
A deviation of the animal from its normal conduct should call for attention and should be examined by your veterinarian.
Common health problems for chinchillas
- Bite wounds. This happens in a fight when chinchillas don’t get along. A deep bite may get infected which requires them to be cleaned with an antiseptic and kept in a clean and dry condition. If the infection prolongs see a veterinarian.
- Chinchillas can withstand cold weather better than hot weather because of their thick coat. Too high temperatures cause them to overheat. The signs of heatstroke are drooling, reddening of eyes and ears, fast breathing and resting stretched out. To cool him, immerse him in cool water from the neck down the body.
- It is swelling of the stomach and intestines caused by a sudden change in diet or inappropriate food. Its symptoms include weight loss, pain, diarrhoea and dehydration. Bloat is also a condition caused by built-up of gases characterized by gurgling stomach, rolling and reluctance of movement of the animal.
- Teeth overgrowth. Chinchilla’s teeth grow continuously in its lifespan but they may overgrow, bend or wear irregularly becoming painful soft tissues. The symptoms are drooling, weight loss, bad breath, difficulty in swallowing and protruding teeth. Offering the animals safe chew toys is important to regularly ensure the teeth are in the right condition.
- Mostly it’s not a disease but a sign of disease. It can lead to dehydration, inactivity and a dry coat.
- Respiratory problems. This may be caused by poor ventilation, high humidity and overcrowding. The symptoms include lack of appetite, inactivity, nose and eye discharge, trouble breathing and dilated lymph nodes.
- Ear and eye infection. This is caused by dust, injury, infection and irritation. The symptoms include rubbing of ears and eyes, head tilt, discharge and pain.
- Broken bones. The hind leg is thin and delicate. It is caused by rough playing, rough handling or the hind getting stuck at the cage. This requires veterinary attention.
- This happens when the food is caught at the windpipe and can lead to death since the animal does not vomit. The symptoms include drooling, trouble breathing and gaggling.
Disease treatment and prevention
- Regular check-ups by the veterinary are necessary to monitor the animals’ health.
- The bite wounds are treated by the use of antibiotics and proper cleaning.
- Pneumonia and respiratory issues should be treated with the use of antibiotics.
- Inactivity and lack of appetite in chinchillas are treated by aggressive and fluid therapy, and forceful feeding at the clinic.
- Overgrown and affected teeth are trimmed by the veterinarian. Anaesthesia is also used to avoid injury to the animal.
- Heatstroke is treated by swilling the body with cool water or cooling with a fan.
Other common problems include constipation, dehydration, hairballs formation, intestinal twisting, rectal protrusion, ringworms, excessive shedding, ulcers and curly fur, which may require the assistance of veterinary services.