Q: We recently rescued a chinchilla from a home where he was being mistreated. We already have one male chinchilla and are keeping them apart. The chinchilla we rescued is 2 years old and partially blind. The previous owners never fed him anything but raisins, offered hardly any dust baths and didn’t provide an exercise wheel in his cage. What can we do to help rehabilitate this poor animal and make him wonderful again?
A: Many times rescued chinchillas can make the most wonderful, loving pets. The first thing would be to improve his diet. Offering him fresh, loose timothy hay and good-quality chinchilla pellets is a good start. Once he becomes accustomed to the new diet, then you might introduce a small pinch of whole oat groats and whole sprouting barley along with the food. If you would like to offer him a treat, buy some whole wheat bread, set out a couple pieces on the kitchen counter and allow them to dry. Break up the dried bread into small pieces and give as a treat. Another treat alternative is half of a mini shredded wheat (nonfrosted). You can also give him pesticide-free apple branches for chewing.
If your chinchilla does not have very much room in his cage, a safe exercise wheel, like a flying saucer type wheel or an enclosed drum wheel (no spokes) is recommended for exercise.
If his fur is oily and/or matted, offer him a dust bath. If he does not bathe himself, give him a dust bath by hand. Take pinches of dust and rub it into his fur until you have thoroughly bathed him. Check him for mats and gently comb through his fur. Remove as many mats as you can by combing or cutting them out without overly stressing the chinchilla. Some chinchillas who are badly matted will sit quietly and allow you to do this, because they can feel the immediate relief once mats are removed.
It is unusual for a 2-year-old chinchilla to exhibit any degree of blindness unless there has been some type of injury or illness. A veterinary visit is in order. The issue might be treatable, perhaps with something as simple as daily cleansing with saline. If your veterinarian declares that your chinchilla’s vision is permanently impaired, do not be discouraged. We have found that chinchillas with limited vision are able to function very well once they become accustomed to their cage surroundings.
Since his diet consisted primarily of raisins, diabetes could be an issue. At this point in time, I would not be too concerned about that possibility and would concentrate on improving his diet, general health and hygiene. That will provide the greatest benefit.