Posted: January 13, 2015, 4:10 p.m. EST
© Gina Cioli/I-5 Studio
How a chinchilla acts can give clues about whether it is sick.
Q: My chinchilla of two years that I love dearly has been sick for more than a month now. He was hand-reared as a baby, if this has any relevance. Originally I took him to the veterinarian due to him hunching over in the cage, looking in discomfort and distress and generally looking very unwell and sad. He has also been tilting his head to the side and facing the wall. He’s had complete body weakness, been stretching his body out to being almost flat and sitting in strange positions. He’s not eating much of his food at all at night, roughly 1 to 3 grams. I took him to the vet originally and they sedated him and did bloods, X-rays and removed a very small tooth shard. He stayed in and had syringe-feeding and medications for three nights. The vet said he had pneumonia, and I saw this on the X-rays. His bloods were fine, just a slightly low sodium level.
He came home and we carried on the syringe-feeding as we still are now after a month. He has 5 mls of food, three hourly throughout the day, giving him five feeds in total. We are weighing his food in his bowl at night and in the morning to see what he has had. Since being home he has had two relapses in which he has had to go back to the vets, today is his third. I don't want to keep taking him back, as he gets very distressed being taken to the vet and in his current state I believe this could make him worse.
With the first relapse they started his medications all over again including: Zantac syrup for his gut and Metoclopramide, antibiotics, painkiller and anti-inflammatory. Then he seemed to perk up and get better, then again last week he relapsed again. I took him back to the vets for a third time. They sedated him again and X-rayed him and removed a larger shard of sharp tooth, which I was told was probably due to him not eating his solid food and not grinding with his teeth. I was told the pneumonia was not completely gone but looked a lot better, and his gut sounds were good as they have been throughout. He never went into gut stasis.
He has now come home again and has all the medications again for a third time, including a different antibiotic he has not had before. I've started him on 100 mg of vitamin C powder mixed with water once a day also. Then last night after once again perking up he is poorly again, showing all the same signs.
I just don't know what to do anymore, and I think the vets may be missing something. I wondered if you had seen this before and if there is any chance you can help shed some light on this or give me some advice? The vets in England are not very clued up on chinchillas, as they are an exotic animal and there's not anyone to go to.
A: A 2-year-old chinchilla is still a young chinchilla, and it is unusual for a chinchilla that young to be so sick. I can see why both yourself and your veterinarians are frustrated, as you should have a healthy, happy, playful chinchilla in your house and you do not. Everything you describe — the hunched position, the reluctance to move, not eating and lying almost flat — tells us that you have a very sick chinchilla with an illness that is causing him to feel extremely weak.
The fact that he was hand-reared may be a clue. Is it possible that he received no milk or colostrum from his mom? If so, he may be lacking some of the proper internal ingredients he needs for his immune system to function as it should to fight infections. If that is true, he will be prone to infections that most chinchillas can fight off without even showing signs of disease. If a chinchilla, or any animal, does not have a working immune system, no matter how much antibiotics we give them, they may not improve.
Another point to consider is that although your chinchilla has appeared ill to you now for a while, the diagnostic tests that we run on sick animals sometimes are slow to catch up with the disease process. This means that we can tell a chinchilla is sick, but the changes in the blood work or radiographs appear days or weeks after your pet becomes ill. At this point, it is a good idea to go back to your original veterinarians, let them see how sick your chinchilla still is, even with proper care, and possibly repeat some of the tests to see if things have changed. It is not uncommon for diseases to show up on a second round of diagnostic testing. If that is the case with your chinchilla, then you and your veterinarians will have a much better chance to help your pet.
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