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Chinchilla Care 101: Signs of a Healthy Chinchilla

Your chinchilla depends on you for her health and happiness, and in return, she offers you years of love and delight. As a pet parent, you want to do everything you can to ensure the best possible care for your chinchilla, and recognizing the signs of good health is an important first step. Here are the basic signs of a healthy chinchilla:

  • Clear eyes. Your chinchilla’s eyes should be clear and clean, without any discharge or a watery appearance.
  • Bright, happy and alert disposition. Chinchillas are athletic pets that love to jump and play (a multi-level habitat is often recommended for this reason); as such, any signs of lethargy, distressed or labored breathing, an unsteady gate or disinterest in their surroundings can indicate a problem. Since chinchillas are nocturnal, don’t be worried if you see them sleeping during the day.
  • Proper weight. Chinchillas are rather active small pets and should be kept at a healthy weight—not obese, and not too thin. Your chinchilla should have constant access to timothy hay, a high-quality commercial pelleted food and clean, fresh water. You can also feed small amounts of fruits (dried fruits are a favorite treat), nuts and vegetables, but you should not feed chinchillas treats in amounts that exceed 10 percent of their diet.
  • Correctly aligned teeth. A chinchilla’s teeth grow continuously throughout her life, and malocclusion (misaligned teeth) can occur at any time. Regularly examine your chinchilla’s teeth for developing problems; additionally, keep an eye out for excessive drooling as this can be an indication of a dental issue. To wear down their constantly growing teeth chinchillas need store-bought chew sticks or other safe items to chew on. Note that chinchillas are born with white teeth that turn yellow as they age, which is completely normal.
  • Healthy skin and fur. A chinchilla’s coat should be healthy and free of bare areas, skin lesions or scaly patches. Chinchillas are prone to ringworm, a fungal infection that is contagious and transmittable to humans. Seek veterinary care immediately if you suspect that your chinchilla has ringworm. Chinchillas are also prone to mites. Because of the density of chinchilla fur, regular water bathing (the way you might bathe a dog or cat) is not a good idea, as it can be very difficult for the fur to dry and this can lead to bacterial or fungal issues. Instead, chinchillas naturally keep themselves clean by taking a dust bath about twice a week to absorb and remove oil and dirt from their bodies. Allow your pet chinchilla to dust-bathe only in store-bought chinchilla dust.
  • A comfortable temperature. Chinchillas do not handle heat very well; their natural high-altitude habitat is dry and cool. For this reason, you’ll want to prevent the chinchilla’s room from becoming overly humid or hot during warmer weather. Temperatures over 80 degrees Fahrenheit can cause overheating in chinchillas, and high humidity can also play a factor. Chinchillas release excess heat through their ears, so if your chinchilla is getting too hot, you may notice the skin in her ears becoming red, with visible red veins. Keep your pet cool and make sure your chinchilla always has access to fresh, clean, chlorine-free water.
  • Normal droppings. Chinchillas should have a clean anus that is free of any droppings sticking to the fur. Droppings should be a dark brown or a brownish-black color, slightly oval in shape and somewhat moist. Watch for signs of mucus or other abnormalities (such as strange shapes or a sticky texture) that could indicate a health-related problem and contact your veterinarian anytime you notice anything out of the ordinary.
  • Clean genitals. Male and female genitals should be dry, clean and free of discharge or bleeding. Regularly check your male chinchilla’s penis for “hair rings,” which are strands of hair that get wrapped around the penis and could be fatal if not removed immediately. Ask your veterinarian to show you how to gently remove the hairs if you have a male chinchilla.

Observing the signs of a healthy chinchilla can be effective in promoting the overall health and well-being of your pet, but you’ll also want to locate a veterinarian that specializes in exotic small pets. By taking your pet to a veterinarian with extensive knowledge of chinchillas, you’ll ensure that your pet will receive care that is specifically appropriate for her species.