Chinchillas – Common Diseases


What are some of the common diseases of pet chinchillas?

Common conditions of pet chinchillas include bite wounds, respiratory diseases, dental disease, diarrhoea, and heat stroke.

What are the signs of these diseases?

Bite wounds are common in chinchillas that are housed with other chinchillas.  If untreated abscesses may develop.  Bites from other pets, e.g. dogs and cats are often fatal due to the mechanical trauma and the bacteria that are implanted by the teeth.  Bites from cats and dogs constitute an emergency.

Respiratory diseases are often seen in pet chinchillas.  The respiratory problem can easily become pneumonia.  Conditions such as overcrowding, poor ventilation, and high humidity may predispose to pneumonia.  Common signs include lack of appetite, lethargy, difficulty 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.  The main problem relates to overgrowth of the molars; overgrowth of the incisors is usually a reflection of the state of the molars.  Signs of overgrown teeth include drooling (“slobbering”) weight loss and/or a depressed appetite.  Overgrown incisors are easily noticed upon inspection of the mouth and usually indicate deeper problems with the molars.  It is often difficult to tell if the molars are overgrown – anaesthesia, to allow a thorough evaluation of the mouth, and radiographs (x-rays) will normally be needed to identify this problem, especially as most of the clinical signs relate to root disease.  Once established, dental disease carries a poor outlook.  Overlong molars may be trimmed but root disease will require long courses of painkillers.

Diarrhoea is not a disease but rather a sign of disease.  Chinchillas, being pets whose digestive system is designed to digest a large amount of fibre, easily develop diarrhoea due to diets low in fibre or high in fat and protein, and after sudden changes in diet.  Pain from other disease processes (especially dental disease) will also affect gut motility.  The correct diagnosis is made after diagnostic testing including microscopic faecal examinations, cultures, radiographs (x-rays), and blood tests.

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 2-7°C (35-45°F).  Although they can cope well at normal room temperature, temperatures above 27°C (80°F), 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.