Not By the Hair on My Chinny Chin Chins

Chinchilla: (noun) small furry rodent made of adorable and rainbows originating from Peru, known mainly for their ultra soft hair, but also a darling housepet. I wish to share the charm and personality of my little friends with you.

WISDOM WEDNESDAY—GRAPHIC IMAGES WARNING.

DISCLAIMER:  Boyfriend and I hold a B.S. in Biology, but we are NOT veterinarians.  Our experiences are personal in nature, and there is no substitute for sound, veterinary advice.  When in doubt—see your vet!!

EYE AILMENTS

Chinchillas are normally quite hardy creatures; however, sometimes they do have issues, particularly with the delicate tissues of their eyes, ears, nose and mouth.   Their eyes should be bright, clear, and open—free of clouding or discharge. We recently encountered some of this ourselves, when we came down one morning to find Quince’s eye glued shut with goop.   We are currently working our way through some options.  Causes may be:

IRRITATION FROM FOREIGN BODIES:

This can occur when something like a fleck of bedding, dust, or hay splinter gets into the eye, causing irritation and discharge, and sometimes infection.  It can be cleared up with antibiotic eye drops prescribed by the vet. 

I successfully cleared up Quince’s irritation by using STERILE SALINE found in the first aid/eye care section.   I used a series of sterile, soft, smooth cotton cloths (a clean white t-shirt cut into 4x4 squares) and wiped the area from ear to nose up to 4x daily, diminishing the frequency as the irritation decreased so as not to over-dry the area surrounding the eye.  It is VERY IMPORTANT to wipe the eye in that direction, so as not to draw the infected mucus further across the eye.  DON’T USE ANYTHING OTHER THAN STERILE SALINE.  Chinchillas cannot use eye washes made for humans, or any other human eye treatments such as drops, etc, which can cause damage to the eye or blindness.  Sterile saline is nothing but water with salt (NaCl) balanced to be body-neutral.

If the eye is glued shut, DO NOT TRY TO PRY IT OPEN.  This can cause a scratch on the delicate surface of the eye (corneal abrasion) among other things.  If there is fur missing from the area surrounding this eye, this is most likely due to your chinchilla trying to clear the problem by scratching at it with her foot.   You can help loosen the gunk by doing a two person washing process:  have one participant gently restrain the chinchilla (I found Quince did this fine for just me if I had a hay brick or timothy biscuit for her to gnaw on while I administered treatment) and soak a smooth soft cloth (like the clean t-shirt square) in warm (NOT HOT) sterile water (like bottled water warmed gently in the microwave), and gently hold it to the chin’s affected eye, not pressing or rubbing.  After about 15-30 seconds, remove the cloth, rinse in warm water, and reapply.  It may take several rounds of this to loosen things enough to wipe it away, but it’s better to remove small amounts at a time.  Don’t be anything less than extremely gentle at any point!  Have a clean dry cloth on hand (again with the clean t-shirt squares) to wipe away the discharge and blot dry the surrounding area.  Don’t overstress your pet, do a couple rounds of this and give her a rest, then repeat later in the day/evening.


Withhold dust bathing from your pet during the time of treatment to ensure that no other foreign matter continues to irritate the eye.  I also recommend moving from a chip bedding to a paper bedding such as Care Fresh, as the softness will be beneficial to your pet as they like to continue to dig and roll.

TOOTH PROBLEMS:

This can range from root elongation, to abscessing, to malocclusion (problems with the bite).  Chinchillas’ teeth grow constantly for the entire length of their lives.  Even their cheek teeth continue to grow, making them somewhat unique among rodents.  This is due to the high amount of silicates (essentially, glass) found in the dry tundra grass they munch on in their native habitat.  It is paramount that you have lots of options for your pets to choose from when it comes to gnawing, as well as “free choice” hay (as much as they want i.e. always available).  The only way to tell for sure if it’s any of the above issues, is to go to the vet and have them examine your pet, often taking x-rays to examine the roots of the teeth, which can grow into the lachrymal glands (the area where tears are made), causing the irritation to the eye.   They can recommend treatments which may include a routine trimming of the teeth, performed by your veterinarian.  It’s important that you undertake treatment because this is a problem which will not go away on its own, but can be managed by providing a wholesome, balanced diet with lots of interesting options to stimulate your chinchilla’s desire to chew, along with your vet-prescribed procedures.


Many tooth problems are hereditary, meaning they are passed down from parents to children.  If you find that you have a chinchilla with hereditary tooth problems, it is wise to not choose them for any breeding that you may plan, as it is a painful disorder which can shorten your chinchilla’s lifespan and tarnish the gene pool.

I hope this helps you understand some of your chinchilla’s symptoms in a more comprehensive way.  Again, the best option is to see your vet, as they will know best what’s wrong with your companion and have the best advice for getting your furry friend happy and healthy again!

  • 4 December 2013
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