Chinchillas are usually healthy, robust animals, and if fed properly and housed in a clean environment they remain that way. Dull, watery eyes are a warning sign that all is not well.
If the "weeping" is accompanied by red and swollen lids or white matter surrounding the eye, the animal's eye is infected. The infection may be a simple one resulting from dust or small pieces of litter in the eye, or it might be the result of lowered resistance due to stress or improper diet.
Your veterinarian will probably prescribe an eye medication or a broad-spectrum antibiotic. Clean and disinfect the animal's cage and the dust bath container, too and fill it with fresh powder, but don't dust the animal until the infection is gone and you've stopped medicating the eye.
Watery eyes without infection may indicate a cold or the onset of pneumonia. Check the animal to see if it's running a temperature (with a special small pet thermometer). A Chinchilla's normal temperature is 98.6°F The easiest way to determine elevated temperature is to examine the animal's ears. If warm to the touch, and bright pink or even red, the animal is running a temperature. Wheezing or difficulty in breathing may indicate pneumonia. To treat a cold, keep the animal warm and make sure it has lots of water. To treat pneumonia you will need a vet's assistance and antibiotics.
It is very important to place your pet's cage in an area where where the humidity is as low as possible: 30 to 50 percent humidity is normal for Chinchillas. Chinchillas are very sensitive to heat and are prone to heatstroke. They must be house at temperatures below 90°F. High humidity increases their chances of heatstroke. They cannot tolerate temperatures at or below freezing.
Watery eyes could also be a sign of tooth problems. Watch the animal eat. Does it paw its mouth while chewing or have a wet chin due to drooling? Are the front teeth so long that the animal can't close its mouth properly? If the answers are affirmative, your Chinchilla has serious dental problems.
You may want to have your pet's mouth checked by your veterinarian. If front teeth are the only problem, they can be clipped into shape. With back teeth the problems are usually more serious: if your chin develops spurs that grow downward into the lower jaw or upward toward the eyes, it is best to put the animal to sleep to avoid unnecessary suffering. Tooth problems are often the result of old age or the animal lacking something to chew on. An ounce of prevention in the shape of a wood block or pumice stone can help avoid such problems.
Another ailment that affects chins and may be accompanied by watery eyes is known simply as fungus. One form of fungus causes the fur to fall out in patches, exposing irritated skin. The other type of fungus causes fur breakage that results in patches of thin, shaggy hair. Often the animal's whiskers will be split, broken or bent at the ends. In either cases, change the dust in the Chinchilla's bath and add a heaping tablespoon of a foot powder for athlete's foot, mixing the powder into the dust. Put a drop or two of Grifulvin medication on a raisin and give one to your pet in the morning, another in the evening for 3 or 4 days. Skin irritation should disappear within a few days. In the case of broken fur, it will take longer to notice an improvement since the old broken fur will still complete its growth cycle before being replaced by new hair.
Ear ailments are not as common as watery eyes and are usually the result of another infection or lower resistance due to a poor diet. If you notice drainage form the animal's ears, see the chin paw at an ear often, tip its head to one side repeatedly, or walk around in circles, take the animal to a veterinarian ASAP. The doctor will clean the ear and administer an antibiotic. Disinfect the cage; keep the chin warm and quiet. Don;t dust the animal until it is well and off medication.
Diarrhea or constipation are usually temporary conditions controllable by dietary changes. However, if either condition lasts for more than a few days, worsens, or is accompanied by droppings coated by mucus or stuck together in long strings surrounded by a jelly-like substance with air bubbles, the animal has more than simple diarrhea or constipation. It may have enteritis. Since different bacteria can cause various forms of enteritis, tests may be required to determine what causes the disease. Unless a specific bacterium can be identified, the veterinarian will recommend a broad-spectrum antibiotic. Follow the doctor's directions carefully. Keep the animal warm. While it is recovering, give it water by the dropper to make sure it gets enough liquid and feed plenty of hay.
In cases of constipation, try to get the animal to exercise. One technique is to give the animal a dust bath several times a day and let it roll around in the powder as long as it wants. Another technique is to take it from its cage, put it on the floor, and prod it along gently, forcing it to move.
Be sure to make any changes in the animal's diet gradually and give it plenty of time to adjust to its new home and surroundings before you begin to play with it. By eliminating stressful situations, a chin owner increases tremendously the animal's chances of living a long, healthy life.
- All about Chinchillas. Karen Zeinert
- The Chinchilla Handbook (Barron's Pet Handbooks) Sharon L. Vanderlip DVM