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The One Chinchilla Health Issue You Can’t Ignore

If your chinchilla is straining to urinate, alert your veterinarian to this as soon as possible.

Jerry Murray, DVM
Posted: June 2, 2014, 3:30 p.m. EDT

Pet chinchillas are originally from the higher elevations of the Andes Mountains in Chile, so they are used to dry conditions and cool to cold temperatures. They do not tolerate high humidity or hot temperatures. Thus pet chinchillas need to be kept in the temperature range of 50 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit and in a dry environment. Temperatures above 85 degrees can cause heat stress and even heatstroke. In the wild, chinchillas are found on the rocky slopes above 10,000 feet and often hide in burrows and rock crevices, so it is good idea to have a hiding spot, such as a box or PVC pipes, in the cage of your pet chinchilla. Chinchillas are very agile and quite active at dusk and during the night. Thus pet chinchillas need to be kept in relatively large cages, so they can get plenty of exercise at night.

Chinchillas are prone to two problems of the urinary tract. Because chinchillas are adapted to semi-arid environments, they normally produce urine that is very concentrated. This may make them more prone to bladder stones. A chinchilla with a bladder stone typically strains to urinate and frequently has a blood tinge (red color) to the urine. Sometimes a small stone becomes stuck in the urethra and prevents the chinchilla from urinating. This is a serious and life-threatening situation that requires emergency surgery to remove. Fortunately most of the time, the stone is large enough to stay in the bladder. The bladder stone can be painful, and the chinchilla may become lethargic and avoid playing. He may be especially painful when being picked up.

In a recent article from the University of Minnesota, it was noted that 88 percent of the bladder stones from pet chinchillas were made of calcium carbonate. The calcium in the bladder stone makes the stone very obvious on a radiograph. The best way to treat the stone or stones is to do an abdominal surgery and remove them from the bladder. In general this is an easy surgery, and the chinchilla recovers quickly. There is no medicine that will dissolve a calcium carbonate stone. The exact cause of calcium carbonate bladder stones is still unknown, but it is best to avoid calcium supplements and alfalfa hay. Alfalfa hay is high in calcium, which may add calcium to the urine and possibly cause a bladder stone to form.

Another urinary problem happens in male chinchillas, especially during the breeding season. The breeding season typically runs from November through May. Often males will develop a "fur ring” around the base of the penis. This causes the male to strain to urinate, lick excessively at the penis and prepuce, and the distal penis may become very swollen (paraphimosis). This is a painful condition and needs to be treated as an emergency. This condition usually requires general anesthesia with either Sevoflurane or Isoflurane to remove the hair and smegma from the penis. The penis is cleaned gently, and a topical antibiotic ointment is applied. If the penis is too swollen to fit back into the prepuce, a topical antibiotic with cortisone ointment may be needed for a few days. In worst-case scenarios, an oral antibiotic and a pain medication may be needed too.

chinchilla on hay pile
© Gina Cioli/I-5 Studio
Offer your adult chinchilla grass hay, not alfalfa hay.
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15 Questions And Answers About Pet Chinchillas, click here>>

Posted: June 2, 2014, 3:30 p.m. EDT

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