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Cheeky Chinchillas - Keeping Your Chinchilla Healthy
With the right care, environment and correct diet, a chinchilla can live for up to 20 years, although on average, most live to about 12-15 years. Chinchillas are generally quite sturdy creatures but there are some health problems to be aware of. The information below covers the following: Dental Issues, Heat Strokes, Seizures, Fur Biting, Fungal Infection, Diarrhoea, Constipation and Hair Rings. This information is through my own experiences and research and is only a guide line. If you are at all concerned about the health of your chinchilla, please visit your local vet Teeth One of the most common problems that chinchillas have today, is with their teeth. This may be due to uneven tooth wear causing spikes and spurs, overgrown teeth, root elongation and more, all of which can cause great discomfort to a chinchilla. Chinchillas have 20 teeth, 4 incisors and 16 molars. The dental formula for their teeth is: I 1/1 C 0/0 P 1/1 M 3/3 Chinchilla's teeth should be yellowish in colour and the top teeth should not overhang the lower set. Their teeth are open-rooted and grow all the time. The incisors can grow 2 to 3 inches in a year. A chinchilla must chew and grind food to prevent the teeth from overgrowing and creating problems. Not all tooth problems are through incorrect or poor feeding, some are inherited. Help to prevent some dental problems by always providing a correct, healthy diet of chinchilla pellets, good quality hay and suitable items to chew, which will help wear down his teeth. Chinchillas need good quality hay to chew. Hay not only provides fibre, essential to your chinnie's diet, but also helps them to grind and wear their teeth down. The first signs of a dental problem, maybe a discharge from the eye and then the chinchilla might start to eat less, eat softer food and as a result will lose weight. A chinchilla may also paw at his mouth and drool to a point that his paws and chest will be wet. The droppings may also be much smaller and of an irregualr shape. Sometimes, there are no obvious signs and unfortunately, some problems are inherited. If your chinchilla shows sign of having problems with his teeth, you must take him to see your vet. It is not always apparent if there is a problem, so here again, are some of the obvious signs: Drooling/wet chest Watery eyes/discharge Weight loss Small droppings Pawing at the mouth Eating slowly and unable to chew food Crumbled pellets Looking after your chinchilla's teeth is VERY important Sometimes it is necessary to hand feed for a while, when your chinchilla is poorly. Click here to view a page on help with HAND FEEDING Heat Strokes Chinchillas cannot tolerate high temperatures and high humidity. Temperatures above 75ºf plus can cause serious health problems and even result in fatalities. Best temperatures are 60ºf - 65ºf and hummidity levels should be 40% - 60% Poor air flow, excessive heat, bright sunlight and lack of water can cause heat strokes. Chinchillas do not sweat like we do and so cannot cool their bodies down quickly. Therefore, it is essential that the air about them is cooled. Cool the animal immediately and cool the air. Air conditioners are best to use. Coolers are ok, if this is all you have, but they are not as effective as an air conditioner. If only a fan is available make sure that there is a constant flow of cool air, otherwise you will only be circulating the already hot air in the room. Placing blocks of ice in bowls around the room will also help to cool the air. If your chinchilla appears to be too hot, try a damp, cool cloth around his ears which will look very pink. In severe cases it may be necessary to wrap him in a damp towel - this should be cool but not 'icy' cold. They are suggestions, if you are concerned, please contact your vet. Some Signs of Overheating: Very pink/red ears Chinchilla lying flat out in the cage Difficulty in breathing with mouth open Keep Your Chinchilla Cool: Keep the cage in a shaded area. Use air conditioning where possible ... Portable air conditioners are ideal. Use black out blinds etc to reflect some of the heat. Never leave your chinchilla in an enclosed 'hot' room. Freeze ice packs or put ice in containers and place around the cage and room. (Making sure your chinchilla cannot chew any of these plastic items/containers) Marble slabs/tiles provide a cool area for your chinchilla ... These are available in most large pet shops. Put your sand in a suitable container in the fridge to keep it cool. (Wendy's tip) Your chinchilla will love his 'cool' bath. N.B. Never let your chinchilla chew any of the plastic items, as it is harmful to them. Seizures Seizures can cause the chinchilla to become unbalanced making it difficult for him to stand or he may even appear 'dead' or have muscle spasms. These often occur in young chins, pregnant females or chins lacking in minerals, vitamins or calcium. They are sometimes referred to as 'calcium fits'. Cuttle fish is a good source of calcium and it may be necessary to add vitamin drops to the water. Seek advice from your local vet if you think your chinchilla has a deficiency. Make sure there is fresh food, hay and water each day. Exhaustion and heat can also bring on seizures. Keep the chinchilla calm - the seizures do not usually last very long and he will return to normal. Do not let your chin get over excited. Fur Biting Chinchillas will sometimes start chewing at their fur. The fur will appear matted and wet and looks as if it has been cut short. There are various reasons for this. Some owners believe it could be genetic. Others, believe it to be due to stress, poor diet, noisy environments or boredom. It is not considered harmful to the chinchilla but will spoil the chin's appearance. Make sure your chinchilla is in a quiet, well ventilated but not draughty environment. Chinchillas are sensitive to stress and noise, so approach them in a quiet way, handle gently and provide active stimulation Fungal Infections Fungal infections can be due to poor housing and ventilation or spores from damp hay. There are two types of infection, one causes the fur to fall out and leave pink, irritated skin beneath, usually around the eyes, nose and genital areas. The other condition causes the fur to 'break', and as a result, the fur will look thin and shaggy and the whiskers may split and break off. The vet will recommend an anti-fungal powder to cure the infection Diarrhoea Diarrhoea can be due to overeating in young kits, incorrect feeding in adults or from eating contaminated food or hay. Remove any contaminated food if you think this could be the problem. Scrub his water bottle and always provide fresh water daily. A chinchilla can soon become dehydrated. Sometimes, a chinchilla may suffer from diarrhoea through stress. For example, as a result of changing his environment/moving to a new home etc. Try giving a little burnt toast or mix a little 'shredded wheat' into his food for a couple of days. But, If the diarrhoea does not clear up within a couple of days, pay a visit to the vet. Constipation If your chinchilla is constipated, the droppings will be very hard and thin. This can be due to overfeeding, too many treats or perhaps not enough exercise. Make sure there is plenty of fresh water and hay. Try giving your chinchilla a couple or raisins and make sure he/she has exercise. If the problem continues, visit the vet, in case there is an obstruction Hair Ring Male chinchillas can sometimes get a ‘hair ring’. This happens when fur gets wrapped around their penis and the chinchilla is unable to remove it himself. He might appear lethargic and eat less as it is very painful and he will appear to be cleaning himself all the time. If not removed, it can severely injure or even kill him. If you are confident enough, you can remove it yourself, if not seek help from your vet… immediately If you remove it yourself you have to be very, very gentle ... get someone to help you. You need to push back the sheath to expose his penis as the hair is usually wrapped around the base. You will probably see a dark ring where it is wrapped around. Have some luke warm water in a dish and try and tease it off....gently. Make sure you put his penis back afterwards and don't pull it out too far, otherwise you will hurt him. It is easier, if someone holds the chinchilla and another person do it. If you are at all unsure, take him straight to your vet and he will do it for you. Bumblefoot Chinchillas have hard callouses on their feet to protect them on hard surfaces, but sometimes their feet can become sore when jumping around on rough surfaces and wire-bottomed cages. Bumblefoot is caused by a bacterial infection entering by a cut or a sore on their feet and this in turn can cause abcesses. It starts starts with red lumps on the feet ... these lumps are known as 'bumbles' and inside these are the abcesses. As it gets worse the bumbles break open and bleed. It is very important to have it treated as soon as possible as the infection can spread and enter the bloodstream. Help to prevent this from happening by providing some softer resting areas for your chinnie ... For example, if you have a wire-bottomed cage, place some pieces of untreated, kiln dried pine on the floor or a couple of marble cooling slabs (available in most large pet stores) to create extra sitting/resting areas. Polar fleece cage liners are also a good idea and provide softer flooring for your chinchillas’ feet. Polar fleece is safe to use because it does not thread like cotton and so chinchillas are less likely to chew it. Having said this, always take care and check, as some might try !
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