How to care for your chinchilla

We’re pleased that we can offer chinchilla vet services at our surgery. We’ll match you and your fluffy bundle of joy with a personalised chinchilla Vet, who can offer you individual advice on a range of topics. Our chinchilla vet services include thorough health checks, weight monitoring, de-sexing (neutering) for male chinchillas and much more. Read about the types of consultations we can offer your chinchilla.

Book a chinchilla vet consultation

 

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Unfortunately, at this time we cannot offer vaccinations for chinchillas.

A new environment can be strange, so we would recommend a health check shortly after bringing your new pet home.

You should bring in details of all the foods, supplements and/or medicines you may be currently using.

Please collect samples of urine and faeces from that morning if you can.

If there are behaviours you’re confused or worry about, then we recommend taking videos to show us.

Ensure the rest of your animal family at home stay away from your new pet (that means do not introduce or let them play together) until after the first check up, and once the vet has assessed your pet as being healthy.

We can advise you on how and when introductions can be made, so if you do want to then all you have to do is ask us.

At you pets’ ‘Health Check’ we perform a full physical examination and will assess your new pet’s overall condition, including the muscle and fat levels, hydration levels and checking for anaemia (deficiency of red blood cells).

We pay particularly close attention when checking for parasites and signs of any infectious diseases. We will be focusing on your pets’ gut function and on their diet, including if it’s appropriate and whether the amounts suitable. If the incisors look normal on younger pets, we may not do a dental check.

Once we have examined your pet hopefully we will have found nothing seriously wrong, and then we can start to make whatever recommendations we think are necessary for the diet and correct care of your pet.   If there is time, we will advise you on handling and training, as this is the right age to be teaching your pet!

Regular Health Check

Once your new pet is settled into it’s new home, and any health problems have been solved, we will then recommend a six-monthly general health check.

Please ensure you know each brand of food your pet eats, and remember any supplements or long-term medications.

Please bring urine and faeces from that morning if you can. We would also like to see a photo of the set up of your pets’ new cage.

At this health check we will assess your pets’ body condition, muscle and fat levels, hydration and check for anaemia. We will check the eyes, ears, and perform the extremely important dental examination. We will feel the lymph nodes, examine the abdomen for any abnormalities, and listen to the heart and lungs.

We will examine the skin and look for parasites, whilst looking for any pressure sores or ‘sore hocks’ on the feet. Alongside this we will also assess your pets’ nail length.

Once we have fully examined your pet hopefully we will have found nothing seriously wrong. We will then make any recommendations we think are necessary for the diet and care of the pet.

Once your chinchilla has reached old age, or become ‘geriatric’ we advise having checks every six months, as it is safer for your chinchilla.

Did you know that 6 months for a chinchilla is equal to roughly 5 human years?

We believe that ‘geriatric’ is over 8 years for a chinchilla. However just like humans, animals age at different rates! If you are worried or prefer a 3-month health check instead, that’s fine with us. We do understand that many of our owners worry about their pets.

At each check we will assess body condition, muscle and fat levels, hydration and check your pet for anaemia. We check the eyes, ears, and perform an extremely important full dental examination. We will examine the lymph nodes, palpate the abdomen for any abnormalities and listen to the heart and lungs.

We will look for parasites, and examine the skin closely. We also look for any pressure sores or ‘sore hocks’ on the feet and also assess the nail length.

We will also be paying particular attention to the ‘gait’ or movement of the pet. With old age the flexibility as well as mobility problems become more common. As they are often too nervous to move freely in our examination room, taking a video of them walking, running, and self-grooming can be very helpful.

We would suggest taking a blood test once every 6-12 months. This allows us to monitor the liver and kidney function. We usually collect the blood from a vein in the back leg. To take a sample, we use a small needle and collect about 3 drops of blood, and it should be over in a few seconds so your pet won’t be in too much discomfort.

Once we have fully examined your pet hopefully we will have found nothing seriously wrong. We will then make any recommendations we think are necessary for the diet and care of the pet.

A wild chinchilla lives on an herbivore diet of bark, grasses and leaves and has developed a specialised gut that is adapted for this high fibre diet. Their large intestine contains specialist bacteria that break down grass and fibre to make it easily digestible.

The chinchilla passes the fibre through the gut twice to make sure all the nutrients are absorbed. This means they produce and eat a special kind of faeces (poop), which many owners will never see. These faeces are dark, sticky and smelly, and are called caecotropes.

The combination of their specialist gut and the constantly growing teeth, the adult chinchilla needs a high fibre diet, with restricted carbohydrate, protein and virtually no fat to stay healthy.

We recommend that the healthy adult chinchilla be given a limited amount of fresh pellets twice a day, each time around ¼ – ½ a tablespoon full.

Your chinchilla must have 24-hour access to loose hay (not cubes).

We strongly recommend TIMOTHY hay – the first cut or high fibre variety. Other good choices include orchard grass, botanical & mountain hay. These are high fibre, low protein hays. Alfalfa hay is too rich, too much protein and calcium.

You should always check that your pets’ hay is good quality. It should have a fresh, sweet smell and not smell dusty or mouldy. Hay varies in colour according to the weather conditions and can be cream, yellow, green or light brown. As long as the hay is fresh and in good condition, the colour should not matter. An occasional insect may be found; this is quite natural. However, if it is crawling with insects it should be thrown away.

Chinchilla food should be carefully sourced. We would recommend buying from a well-established chinchilla pet shop. You must buy from a supplier that sells a lot of food, as this ensured the food would be fresher. We recommend the shop you buy hay from keep it in an air-conditioned room.

Young (under 6 months), pregnant, sick or old (over 8 years old) chinchillas should be given more pellets than their older or healthier counterparts. If unsure on the exact quantity, seek veterinary advice. Your chinchilla may also be offered a proportion of alfalfa hay, as it is richer hay, with more protein and calcium.

Fresh vegetables: They may be a good source of vitamins and water but many chinchillas don’t really like them. If your chinchilla does, only feed them a small amount as too much can upset their guts. The maximum amount given should just be a couple of pieces a day. Choi Sum, Pak choi, Chinese lettuce, romaine lettuce, carrots, parsley, spinach and yau mak choi are all good choices. Ensure they are washed thoroughly, and always make sure they are fresh. Like all new foods, introduce them slowly, start with a little and work up.

Fruit: A few small pieces are acceptable twice a week – perhaps 1/2 a teaspoonful each time.

You should NEVER feed your chinchilla biscuits and candies, seeds, oats and nuts, as they are extremely unhealthy.

Any diet changes MUST be slow and gentle. Upsetting the gut causes bacterial imbalances that can kill your chinchilla.

Introduce a new vegetable, new hay or a new brand of pellets over a 1-week period.

Female Chinchillas:

We do not recommend routine de-sexing of female chinchillas unless the vet has diagnosed a health problem such as an infected uterus.

Male Chinchillas:

If you want to keep two or more chinchillas together, (which we recommend!) it is important to castrate any males.

With mixed-sex cage mates (one male and one female) it is best to castrate the male to prevent any uncontrolled breeding.

If you have two males then castration will help prevent them fighting.

Male chinchillas can be castrated at the age of 6-8 months old, once the descent of the testicles into the scrotal sacs is obvious. (i.e. you can see the testicles bulging).

Castration surgery is done under general anaesthetic. It is usually fairly quick and safe, but may have some potential complications like wound infection or bleeding.

We use 3 types of pain relief injections, one before, one during & one after the surgery to keep him as comfortable as possible.

We will always give fluids before or during the surgery to help reduce the risk of dehydration. Our nursing staff will also normally give 2 meals of Critical Care after the surgery to reduce the risk of gut stasis.

Once he goes home after the surgery, you will need to give your boy a couple of days of nursing, support feeding and rest.

Gut Stasis.

Gut stasis is a very serious disease that can affect rabbits, chinchillas and guinea pigs.

If your pet has not eaten or pooped for 12 hours then you should be taking them to see a vet as soon as possible. Gut stasis is an urgent condition and cannot wait for any longer than 12 hours. Before the consultation, you also need to carefully syringe feed your pet some water.

Never offer them junk food or snacks; this may make things worse.

Gut stasis can be caused by any problems that cause a lack of appetite, and if not treated quickly can become fatal.

The causes of gut stasis can include stress, fast diet change, dehydration, eating too much junk food, too much sugar or carbohydrates, grooming too much fur and not eating enough fibre, as well as dental disease, liver and kidney problems.

We have seen ‘gut stasis’ after such a variety of events including owners moving house, the loss of a bonded companion, their normal hay or pellet being changed to another, going to a chinchilla party, having a hot-pot? Gathering at home, construction work taking place next door, the introduction of a new pet and even thunderstorms!

To reduce the risk of this common and serious disease you should:

  1. Follow our diet advice to give high fibre, hay based diets
  2. Do not give too many pellets, oats, biscuits, or junk food.
  3. Always have fresh water available.
  4. Groom your pet.
  5. Encourage exercise.
  6. Keep stress down and reduce change.
  7. Make all diet changes smooth and gradual.

Parasites

We have never found any endoparasites (gut worms) or ectoparasites (insects that live in the hair or skin) in any pet chinchilla that have been brought to us for treatment.

Fortunately parasite problems appear to be very rare for chinchillas.

If you think your pet is becoming too itchy, losing too much fur or has developed a skin disease then please bring them in immediately for a consultation.

NEVER, under any circumstances, use any dog or cat flea products on chinchillas as they can be too strong for the smaller pet, and can even lead to death.

Dental disease is one of the most common problems we see with our rabbit, chinchilla and guinea pig patients. It is a terrible disease as it hurts when they eat!

These smaller animals have adapted to feed on tough, fibrous grasses that take a considerable amount of chewing. The teeth grow throughout their life and if they are not worn down properly, the teeth can overgrow or develop sharp points or spikes, which can cut into the cheek or tongue. The tooth repositioning in the jaw can also cause this.

As you can easily imagine, this can be extremely painful and some animals will stop eating and subsequently starve to death if they do not receive proper attention.

The symptoms of dental disease include eating less, (particularly the foods that need more chewing like hay) salivation and dropping foods. Some animals may even show temper changes, becoming angry, throwing the food bowl around, biting the cage bars, but some want more love and physical contact with their owners.

You may hear occasionally hear ‘tooth grinding’ or clicking as well.

Some animals may only show small symptoms, for example losing weight or produce smaller faeces.

During your consultation the vet will carefully use a speculum to examine the jawbone and face, check the incisors, or front teeth, and examine the teeth within the mouth. Sometimes it can be difficult to get a good view as the poor animal will usually chew and push the speculum away with the tongue. There may also be too much saliva and pieces of food floating around.

If we suspect there is dental disease we will advise a full and proper examination under anaesthetic.

We use a specialised dental ‘rack’ that holds the mouth open and examine with the endoscope (a kind of miniature medical camera). During this check we will take photos that you will be shown once the examination is complete.

To take away those horrible sharp spikes and reduce the length of any overlong crowns, the vet will then use a combination of equipment. If there are loose or rotten teeth we will need to remove those too.

Understandably, owners often worry about the risk of anaesthetic, and it is true that there is a risk, especially with older animals, and those that are not in the best condition.

However, leaving your pet in agony and slowly starving is not fair to them.

We will give you advice on how best to reduce the risk, for example support feeding for a few days, or putting the animal onto an intravenous drip.

Please be assured that we want the same as you, a happy healthy pet, and we will try our best to make this happen.

To keep rabbits, chinchillas and guinea pig patients as relaxed and comfortable as possible, we have a ward dedicated to keeping them safe and happy during their time with us.

This ward is cooled to 22 degrees to keep them comfortable. Cats and dogs are very scary to smaller animals as they’re seen as potential predators, so they are kept in separate wards, out of the sight and smell of these nervous creatures.

We try to keep it calm and quiet in this ward and most animals settle down quickly.

To tempt their appetite, we have a range of pellets, hays and vegetables available. However, if you would like to pack a little lunch box of their home foods you are more than welcome.

You may also bring in your pets own water bottle too.

We have wonderful Registered Veterinary Nursing staffs, which are very experienced with the care and handling of these nervous creatures. We understand that this is particularly important, especially when they are not eating and need to be support fed, as many of our sick patients do.

As many of the pets we see mature, they do become overweight. They have an easy and comfortable life, with fresh food available every day, but often do not get enough daily exercise.

If you feel that your little darling is overweight (or if the vet tells you this!) you are welcome to make an appointment for a ‘Weight Consultation’ with one of our veterinarians.

During the consultation, the vet may also discuss this and recommend a weight loss diet. They will be able to give you advice on the right combination of foodstuff to help your pet lose weight, as well as how to encourage exercise.

The vet will set a target weight along with a realistic time span to lose this weight over.

Losing weight too fast is not healthy, and as these animals are much smaller than us, we may plan for them to lose a few grams per week.

Once the diet plan has been set we will then be happy to make free “weight monitoring” checks for you to follow up, usually every month or two months, and these will be with one of our British Vet nurses or our Australian trained Vet Assistants.

It can be very rewarding to see a little chubby chinchilla regaining a slimmer, healthier shape whilst becoming more active and flexible!

Have you ever caught your naughty little chinchilla chewing and scratching furniture?

To us these may be perceived as “bad habits”, but the truth is that this is just a chinchilla’s natural behaviour.

Chinchillas are social animals and in the wild they spend a lot of time grooming each other, searching for food and exploring. However, pet chinchillas are usually not able to express all these natural behaviours in our household, so what we see are those “bad habits”. Occasionally, a chinchilla can over groom due to stress, resulting in them chewing the fur off the sides of their bodies. As naturally sociable animals, they do like companionship.

However sociable, they are still prey to many animals (i.e. in the wild they will be killed and eaten) so they are always alert and aware of their surroundings. Letting them express these natural behaviours is important to reduce the stress of our chinchillas and to help their overall health, especially the bones and muscles, gut function. Equally as important is their mental health, and these natural behaviours help with this.

The living environment of the chinchilla should be enriched to stimulate the expression of their natural behaviours, without causing much trouble.

Make sure that they can exercise properly by having several layers in their cage.

Being exposed in open area, without anywhere to hide, can be extremely stressful for a chinchilla. Give them a safe hiding place such as a box whilst they’re out of their cage. This gives them a chance to rest and escape from potential danger so they will feel more secure and comfortable. Please place at least one box for each chinchilla in your cage.

Chinchillas in the wild chew sticks; so chewing is part of their natural instinct. In our home environment, giving them chewable toys can help encourage this behaviour. It also means that their teeth are kept in a healthy condition.

Allowing your chinchilla out of their cage to run around on a daily basis will help maintain their health. Consider building a playground of tunnels, or simply let them out of the cage for exercise. This can make a great difference to our pet’s happiness. We prefer that you give you chinchilla a minimum of 2 hours of exercise every day.

Foraging: making them work for food. In the wild, chinchillas need to search for their food.

We can mimic this by:

  • Stuffing hay inside the cardboard roll found inside normal toilet/kitchen paper rolls.
  • Making them stretch by poking bits of vegetables or treats through the higher bars of the cage.
  • Scattering pellets around the floor when your chinchilla is let out to roam.
  • Create a “forage box” by using an old cardboard box and filling it with hay so the chinchilla can dig through it. Add in some pellets or a little treat to reward them for digging around.

Providing an enriched environment for your chinchillas is lots of fun for both you and your pets!

If you would like more advice on caring for chinchilla, contact our friendly team who will be happy to help.

 

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