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Chinchilla Squeaks Or Coughs And Has Eye Discharge

What could be going on when a chinchilla makes abnormal noises and is occasionally listless, but a veterinarian found nothing wrong after an exam?

Karen Rosenthal, DVM, MS
Posted: April 29, 2014, 7:10 p.m. EDT

two chinchillas in cage
Chinchillas Ryi-Oki & Snuggles/© Courtesy Krystal Minna
Being aware of what is or is not normal behavior for your chinchillas can help reveal medical concerns sooner.

Q: I have two chinchillas who live in the same cage. One is having a problem, but the other is not. The one with the problem is a male of about 4 to 5 years old. We noticed a small amount of discharge in his right eye. But what we first noticed is the different sound he started to make. It’s unlike any communication sound I've ever heard from him or his roommate. I've searched high and low for sound clips similar to it on the Internet, and I've found nothing. The best I can describe it is as a larger squeak that sounds like he is in distress or pain, followed by a series of smaller squeaks that sound like he’s coughing. He has no problem hopping around the cage and greeting me at the door, but seems to be lying down a tad more often. I've taken him to a veterinarian for a consultation, but he found nothing wrong. He suggested it could be pneumonia and to monitor his symptoms, but at this point he couldn't pinpoint a cause. I know it occurred before we cleaned his cage. Regretfully I think we may have left it too long to be cleaned, we'd been in the middle of a move and I've been caught up with my obstetrician appointments. At this point there is no change in his feces, no runny nose, his teeth were photographed and they checked out fine. The vet checked his eyes and said there wasn't anything he could see. I'm very worried. This sound accompanied by the "eye goop" is scaring me. And I know how fast chinchillas can take a turn for the worse.

A: Cases as you describe in chinchillas can be very frustrating to all of us. On one hand, as you properly note, you never want to ignore even subtle signs of illness in a chinchilla. Very quickly, a slightly sick chinchilla can become a dying chinchilla. If we can catch an illness before it is serious, that is our best chance of saving your chinchilla. But on the other hand, no one wants to be an alarmist and mistake some behavioral changes for signs of illness.

You certainly have taken all of the proper steps by noticing these subtle changes and visiting your veterinarian. Because you know your pet best, I have no doubt there are changes from normal that you are observing. Sometimes, those changes are only apparent at home, are very infrequent, or seem extremely minor when you visit the veterinarian.

My suggestion is to listen to your veterinarian. Watch for any other signs of disease. If your chinchilla gets worse, certainly revisit your vet as soon as possible. But if you still believe that there is something wrong with your chinchilla, even if there are no changes in the signs of disease, then I would also revisit with your veterinarian and have him or her redo the physical examination and possibly redo some diagnostic tests to determine if there is some form of disease present in your chinchilla.

See all veterinary Q&A about chinchillas, click here>>
See chinchilla behavior Q&A, click here>>
See veterinary Q&A for all small animal pets, click here>>

Posted: April 29, 2014, 7:10 p.m. EDT


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