By Marty Hull, D.D.S. & Amanda Martin
Some serious maladies can affect chinchillas: teeth problems (malocclusions or spurs), intestinal blockages, respiratory infections, difficult births, infections or injuries. These may require help from a veterinarian experienced with exotic animals. However, many health issues may be avoided through daily observation and simple care and feeding practices. If you prevent an ailment, you won’t have to treat it. One vet visit can cost as much (and often more) than the purchase price of your pet. Chinchillas have excellent natural resistance. If you provide the following, they tend to stay in good health.
1. Clean Air To Breathe
Good health starts with clean air. Excessive moisture lowers air quality. Two sources of moisture exist in a cage: (A) a leaking water bottle (fix or replace) and (B) chinchilla urine. If the bottom of the cage is a solid pan with wood shavings, chins will spend every day in close proximity to damp, urine-soaked shavings. They nestle into these shavings when sleeping. Breathing urine-filled air brings higher risk of pneumonia. Long term contact with these saturated shavings causes skin irritation and heightened risk of fungus and/or bacterial eye infections. To prevent this, give your chinchilla dry place to sit and change the shavings once or twice weekly.
Every cage should have a house or nest box in which the chinchilla can retire. Provide a house that’s open on both ends for ventilation. Urine is tracked into the house on the chin’s feet, sot he accumulations of urine-saturated air can be significant in a completely enclosed house.
Try using a cage with a ½ by ½ inch wire mesh floor that has a metal pan with shavings beneath. This keeps most of the soiled bedding away from direct contact with the chinchilla.
Cage wire can be hard on a chinchilla’s feet, so cover a portion of the floor with several 1- by 6- by 16-inch Douglas fir or white pine boards. (The type of wood is important because the chinchilla may chew on it. Oak, cherry, walnut, cedar, redwood and all plywoods are some of the woods that are toxic to ingest.) The chinchillas will spend most of their time on the boards. If soiled, the boards can be washed.
2. A Well-Cleaned Cage
A clean cage is important to chinchilla health. For a single chinchilla, change the bedding once or twice per week. If you have two chinchillas per cage, then change bedding two or three times per week.
Every three to four weeks, clean the entire cage more thoroughly. Wet the cage using a hose, scrape off any buildup of droppings or urine and rinse with a strong spray from a garden hose or sprayer.
Every few months, a one-part bleach to nine parts water solutions can be used to disinfect the cage. Scrub the age with the solution and rinse it thoroughly until no chlorine smell remains, then let it dry in the sun.
House the chinchillas in a temporary cage or pet carrier and provide food and water any time you clean and dry their primary cage.
3. Clean Water
Provide fresh water each day. Thoroughly wash the water bottle every few days to avoid the growth of mildew and other organisms which may cause intestinal problems.
4. Proper Diet
A simple, basic diet is best for your pet’s overall health. A chinchilla’s digestive tract is very sensitive. Sudden changes can be dangerous, resulting in shock, diarrhea or intestinal blockage. When introducing a different brand of pellets, the new pellets should be gradually mixed into the old food. Increase the amount of new pellets each week by 25 percent while phasing out the old food.
Feed your chinchilla twice daily with hay and chinchilla pellets in amounts that will be consumed by the next feeding, check to see if any other behavior has changed. Carefully observing your chin’s behavior as you perform normal chin care tasks may help you notice early signs of a developing problem.
5. Regular Exercise
Most chins will use an exercise wheel. Daily exercise promotes digestion and general health. Select a wheel with a solid running surface, with no exposed spokes/wire and with a large diameter so the chin does not need to arch its back excessively when running. Large drum wheels and “flying saucer” type wheels are best.