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Behavior: Relating to People and Other Animals
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and Wild Chinchillas Today
Diseases (ringworm and giardia, pasteurella, pneumonia, rabbit viral
hemorrhagic disease (vhd), ectoparasites, listeriosis, bordetella
bronchiseptica, human herpes virus, rabies and monkeypox, frenkelia
Continued on next page:
Red Print: Please Read First
Tragedy: Don't Kill Your Chin With "Kindness!"
Articles (medical and anatomical, senior health and cataracts, vet
articles, vital statistics)
and Penicillin Warning
Fits, Convulsions (articles, brain infection)
Giardia (articles, oreganol article)
Parasites in Captive Chinchillas
Kidney Diseases In Small Pets
Rings and Prolapsed Penis (photos and articles, hair ring removal,
treating a prolapsed penis)
and Urine Scald (articles)
Continued on next page:
System Ailments (additional articles, rectal prolapse of the intestine
or bowel, the gastrointestinal system and gi stasis, bloat, enteritis,
lower gi disease, hepatic lipidosis)
and giardia, pasteurella,
viral hemorrhagic disease (vhd), ectoparasites,
herpes virus, rabies
and monkeypox, frenkelia
Also see: Quarantining
New Chins and Pseudomonas
aeruginosa (.doc), a bacteria that "has been associated with
conjunctivitis, enteritis, pneumonia, septicemia, sudden death, and
abortion in chinchillas"
Chinchillas themselves are an
exceptionally clean, healthy and low-risk pet to have. As long as
the chinparent is meticulous about maintaining the cleanliness of
environment and the freshness and quality of their supplies, especially
edibles, then the chances of infectious disease are very low. This
section lists some of the diseases they can contract that are potentially
transmittable to other chins and humans. Herpes, Rabies, Monkeypox
and Frenkelia Microti Infection are very rare
but are mentioned because there have been cases involving chinchillas.
This list is NOT all-inclusive.
Ringworm Fungus and Giardia
fungus and Giardia
are the most common conditions that chinchillas
can contract which are transmittable to humans. The links to both
describe their symptoms, prevention and treatment in detail.
Also see: Chins
and Buns Don't Mix
Article and photo of internal abscesses: The
Microbial Biorealm, Photo: abscess
DVM Glikis-Scott (was Fernandez) of the Birmingham Veterinary Clinic,
Pasteurella in both rabbits and
chinchillas is a frustrating thing to treat. There is no cure, we
try to manage the infection through a combination of surgical drainage
of abscesses and antibiotic therapy; often times very long courses
of antibiotics. Pasteurella can be a dormant infection, especially
in rabbits. It is present in the nasal passages of most rabbits and
a combination of stress,
poor nutrition, etc., can bring about an active infection. It is transmissable
when animals are in contact with nasal secretions, pus, etc. Pasteurella
also naturally resides in cat saliva.
Warning symptoms are respiratory problems, eye infections. In chinchillas,
jaw and tooth root abscesses can occur and when this happens they
are given a very poor prognosis; they seem much less tolerant of Pasteurella
infections compared to rabbits. If the infection is mild, i.e.,
sneezing and small amounts of nasal discharge, antibiotics can be
helpful. I use Baytril and sometimes a combination of Baytril and
Penicillin in rabbits. Generally speaking, if the infections creates
abscesses, the prognosis is far poorer. The abscesses can be drained
but they typically reform or new ones develop as in the jawline, often
leading to osteomyelitis (infection of the bone). I have seen
this in chins and the outcome is very bad. The chinchilla becomes
very toxic as a result of the overwhelming infection.
In milder cases of infection (upper respiratory infections)
even when an animal responds to antibiotics, I always warn owners
that the potential exists for the infection to return at some point
because it is never truly cured. The bottom line is that Pasteurella
is difficult to treat in rabbits, chins and guinea pigs, however chins
seem to carry the worst prognosis when they present with this disease.
Article Submitted By A Veterinary Technician With Case
Signs of Pasteurella include abscesses internally and/or
externally (especially along the jaw line) and/or respiratory
infection, which in turn causes runny nose, goopy eyes, etc. An animal
can be infected with Pasteurella
and never show symptoms but still be a carrier of the disease.
Symptoms can be brought on by stress, a compromised immune system,
etc. Pasteurella is spread through bodily fluids, like saliva and
urine. So if a chin shares a water bottle, if they spray into another
cage or if you hold a sick chin in another room and it sneezes on
you, then you go hold another chin, that's cross-contamination. Rabbits
carry Pasteurella normally, which is why they should never share exercise
time with chins. Cavies (guinea pigs) can also contract Pasteurella.
Pasteurella may go dormant but it is incurable.
Medical Microbiology By Frank M. Collins:
Clinical Manifestations: In cattle, sheep and birds Pasteurella
causes a life-threatening pneumonia. Pasteurella is non-pathogenic
for cats and dogs and is part of their normal nasopharyngeal flora.
In humans, Pasteurella causes chronic abscesses on the extremities
or face following cat or dog bites.
Structure, Classification, and Antigenic Types: Pasteurellae are small,
nonmotile, Gram-negative coccobacilli often exhibiting bipolar staining.
Pasteurella multocida occurs as four capsular types (A, B, D, and
E), and 15 somatic antigens can be recognized on cells stripped of
capsular polysaccharides by acid or hyaluronidase treatment. Pasteurella
haemolytica infects cattle and horses.
Pathogenesis: Human abscesses are characterized by extensive edema
and fibrosis. Encapsulated organisms resist phagocytosis. Endotoxin
contributes to tissue damage.
Host Defenses: Encapsulated bacteria are not phagocytosed by polymorphs
unless specific opsonins are present. Acquired resistance is humoral.
Epidemiology: Pasteurella species are primarily pathogens of cattle,
sheep, fowl, and rabbits. Humans become infected by handling infected
Diagnosis: Diagnosis depends on clinical appearance, history of animal
contact, and results of culture on blood agar. Colonies are small,
nonhemolytic, and iridescent. The organisms are identified by biochemical
and serologic methods.
Several vaccines are available for animal use, but their effectiveness
is controversial. No vaccines are available for human use. Treatment
requires drainage of the lesion and prolonged multidrug therapy. Pasteurella
multocida is susceptible to sulfadiazine, ampicillin, chloramphenicol,
Pneumonia (respiratory infection)
Be aware that sometimes chins are just clearing their nose and this
can result in some watery nasal discharge and nose-wiping. A sensitivity
to dust or hay or some particle inadvertently inhaled can result in
the nose-clearing sound which is distinctly different from the sneeze;
it is a brief, voluntary expulsion of air through the nose as opposed
to an involuntary "Ahh-choo" sound. If you are at all uncertain
as to whether the chin is sneezing or clearing his nose, and if the
wetness around the nose or the nose-clearing sound lasts more than
a day, take your chin to your exotics specialist vet
for immediate examination.
Article about a case of bacterial pneumonia, by Fuzzy
Companions Animal Hospital:
Respiratory diseases are often seen in pet chinchillas.
The respiratory problem can easily become pneumonia. Conditions such
as overcrowding, poor ventilation, and high humidity may predispose
to pneumonia. Common signs include lack of appetite, lethargy, difficulty
in breathing, nasal discharge, and swollen lymph nodes.
Susan Brown, DVM, Midwest Bird & Exotic Animal Hospital:
Pneumonia is another common condition observed in chinchillas
which is caused by a number of disease agents. Bordetella, Pasteurella,
Pseudomonas and E. coli are a few of the bacterial species commonly
associated with the syndrome. Damp, drafty housing often predisposes
the pet to this condition. Clinical signs include discharge from the
eyes and nose, loss of appetite, and rough hair coat. Death may result
from this respiratory disease. Treatment involves supportive care
Rabbit Viral Hemorrhagic Disease (VHD)
Although this disease is usually listed as being only contagious
between and contractible by rabbits, we know of a case that affected
chinchillas which had been kept in a household that had rabbits. These
chinchillas appeared normal and healthy when they were relocated to
another herd, then shortly afterward the rabbits, the relocated chinchillas,
and almost half the herd they were relocated to suddenly manifested
symptoms and abruptly died of VHD. Veterinary autopsies revealed the
presence of the VHD calicivirus, so it must be noted that this disease
IS a risk for chinchillas, that it is highly contagious, may not be
treatable and is usually lethal to those it infects.
Additional Articles: aphis.usda.gov,
House Rabbit Society,
Information Network (VIN)
Ectoparasites: Lice, Mites, Ticks, Fleas
Fur density does NOT protect chinchillas
from getting lice, mites, ticks or fleas because these pests can affect
the face and ears where the fur is less dense, causing wart-like lesions
and possibly anemia. We know of one case at a chinchilla rescue
where both fleas and flea bites were observed on a chin's back, where
the fur is densest. We know of another case where the chins' ears
were covered in flea bites and one chin had scratched a hole in his
ear from the constant itchiness; those chins were also anemic. Chinchillas
are also vulnerable to biting
lice and blood-sucking mites.
Chinchillas Unlimited has an article on the subject of ectoparasites,
some select quotes: "Chinchillas are only transient hosts for
fleas - but they can get mites and ticks (around the facial/ear
area more commonly)... Mites are generally host (and food)
specific. Some cause agricultural concerns (red spider mite for
instance) - others are a health hazard - causing allergies
(respiratory), skin conditions (mange and dermatitis etc)...
Ticks are a different matter altogether - and generally require blood
as a food source as part of their life-cycle - therefore they bite!!
It is possible for disease to be passed on by tick-bites..."
Listeriosis in Chinchillas
Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, by G.K. Zellen-
Food Safety/ OMAF
Also see: An Outbreak of Listeriosis in a Breeding Colony of Chinchillas
-and- Incidence of Listeriosis in Farm Chinchillas (Chinchilla laniger)
in Croatia (.pdf)
Listeriosis is one of the more common diseases of chinchillas, causing
death at any age. It is a common infection in many other animal species
(i.e., mice, rats), both domestic and wild in many parts of
the world. The organism can also infect man. Hence, care should be
taken when handling infected animals or when in an infected environment
to avoid ingesting the bacteria.
Listeriosis is caused by a small, gram-positive rod-shaped bacteria
called Listeria monocytogenes.
The bacteria may be introduced into a herd by the introduction
of infected chinchillas, by contact with another animal species or
by contaminated feed. Feed may be contaminated
while in the barn (ie: open feed bins), or the hay may be contaminated
in the field prior to processing (ie: mice). Chinchillas usually
acquire the infection orally. Once a chinchilla is infected with the
bacteria it is passed in the feces. Therefore equipment, cages, feed
and water contaminated with the infected feces are the most important
factors involved in the spread of the disease to other chinchillas
within the herd.
Sickness due to listeriosis is
slow in onset with slow spread throughout the herd. There may be one
death followed by the death of another chinchilla in 5-6 months; the
affected animal will lose weight and condition. Diarrhea may be noted,
however constipation is more common. Straining may result in prolapse
of the rectum. Less frequently, chinchillas may show blindness or
nervous signs (ie: convulsions, head tilt), if the bacteria
invades the brain. Eventually, the chinchillas appear to be in pain
and will move only if urged. They may stop eating but continue to
drink water. They may grit their teeth and vocalize. This occurs a
day or so prior to death.
The most common finding is the presence of pin-point white
spots throughout the liver. These areas of dead tissue are sometimes
also seen in the spleen, bladder and intestinal wall. Examination
of the intestinal content often reveals constipation with the presence
of scant, hard, dry ingesta.
A presumptive diagnosis can be made based on the history and
postmortem findings. Listeria bacteria can be readily isolated from
the liver of chinchillas with typical postmortem findings. A diagnostic
laboratory can identify the bacteria and determine what antibiotics
would be useful for treatment. This is important since some bacteria
may be resistant to certain commonly used antibiotics (ie: tetracycline).
Antibiotics including tetracycline, chloramphenicol and penicillin
should NEVER be given to a chinchilla under any circumstances!] have
been reported to be useful, however, the disease must be treated at
an early stage. Chloramphenicol may cause infertility hence should
he avoided in breeding animals. Tetracycline may be fed orally at
the rate of 25 mg/ounce of drinking water, and chloramphenicol at
the rate of 10 mg/ounce of water for at least 5 days. All animals
may not respond. Note that animals which appear to recover may remain
carriers of the bacteria.
Prevention and Control
Good management practices, especially sanitation, are the
best means of preventing listeriosis. This includes thorough cleaning
and disinfecting of cages, water bottles and sand baths. Introduction
of new stock should be chinchillas from known healthy sources. These
chinchillas should initially be raised in complete isolation from
the rest of the herd. Chinchillas with listeriosis should he treated
with antibiotics as soon as possible. Isolation of such animals is
ideal to prevent spread within the herd. All badly affected chinchillas
should be removed (culled) and euthanized.
based on pet breeder and rancher cases)
know of Bordetella bronchiseptica
and how it relates to chinchillas derives from many hours of research
Additional Reading for some of our sources) on the disease in
general, and from consultation with vets, testing labs, and those
who've had direct experience with it.
Bordetella bronchiseptica is a "small, gram-negative,
rod-shaped bacterium of the genus Bordetella" (ref-
wikipedia.com), and is one of several strains of Bordetella. This
particular strain affects chiefly animals and is transmittable between
species; human infection is possible but usually limited to immuno-compromised
is a respiratory pathogencan and can be either a primary or secondary
is known to afflict many species, including: pigs, monkeys,
sheep, goats, guinea pigs, rats, rabbits and horses, but it is most
common to dogs, where it is referred to as "kennel cough,"
and cats where it can lead to bronchopneumonia. Bb
is relatively rare in chinchillas,
but when active this bacterial infection manifests in symptoms that
appear like pneumonia or bronchitis: hacking, sneezing, respiratory
distress, nasal discharge.
very fast acting and lethal to chinchillas, especially if not treated
immediately and vigorously, and it is can be lethal despite treatment.
It's extreme level of contagion cannot be stressed enough as this
bacteria is airborne, i.e.,
not spread through direct contact alone:
"Though it [Bordetella bronchiseptica] is commonly known to colonize
in respiratory tracts of animals, it can also withstand surviving
long-term in the environment, a trait that separates it from its most
"B. bronchiseptica also differs from the other subspecies in
its ability to survive nutrient limiting conditions, at least in vitro,
suggesting that in addition to transmission by the aerosol route,
this organism may be able to transmit via environmental reservoirs
(Porter et al 1991, Porter and Wardlaw 1993)."
(ref- felinebb.info: see Disease
Info, then Pathogenesis)
"Bordetella bronchiseptica is a commensal in the upper respiratory
tract of dogs, cats, swine, rabbits, horses, guinea pigs, rats and
possibly other animals. Infections may be endogenous or exogenous.
Inhalation is the principal mode of infection. Spread is by direct
and indirect contact and fomites."
inanimate object or material on which disease-producing agents may
be conveyed" (ref-
"Essentials of Veterinary Bacteriology and Mycology" by
Gordon R. Carter, Darla J. Wise, 2004, p. 116)
"Both viral and bacterial [Bordetella bronchiseptica being the
bacterial infection] causes of kennel cough are spread through the
air by infected dogs sneezing and coughing. It can also spread through
contact with contaminated surfaces and through direct contact. It
is highly contagious, even days or weeks after symptoms disappear."
It is quite probable that this disease can
be carried in chinchillas asymptomatically, that is, a chinchilla
that survives Bordetella may recover and show no symptoms but may
still be carrying the pathogen in a dormant, as opposed to active
state. We know of one reported case where a chinchilla Bordetella
survivor experienced a recurrence of the disease and other animals,
cats in particular, can be asymptomatic carriers:
"In many species Bb is an opportunistic pathogen. The same is
probably true in cats. Long-term asymptomatic carriage commonly occurs
in cats (Coutts et al 1996). Shedding of Bb can be triggered
by a variety of environmental factors. Stressful conditions are a
common cause of development of opportunistic disease." (ref-
nobivacbb.com, also see felinebb.info,
a peer-reviewed Information Website on Bordetella bronchiseptica infection
Culture tests are still the most common method of testing for Bordetella
bronchiseptica, but the bacteria can be hard to grow in culture, according
to our exotics specialist vet.
The comparatively new method of PCR (Polymerase
Chain Reaction) testing is an improvement over that: "The
conventional method of detection, by culture, is specific but lacks
sensitivity. It also takes 3 to 7 days to obtain a result. Current
serological tests do not differentiate the closely related Bordetella
species. Only molecular detection by PCR can give both rapid and specific
identification of B. bronchiseptica." (ref-
A PCR test can
identify the Bordetella bronchiseptica pathogen in chinchillas (ref-
we verified this by contacting two testing laboratories: Zoologix,
and Clongen Laboratories (ref).
According to our communication with Zoologix, Inc., a laboratory that
specializes in PCR testing, a respiratory swab (from the nasopharynx,
or throat) is the preferred sample from which to do PCR testing
for Bordetella bronchiseptica in chinchillas. If
symptoms are nasal or ocular in an active case, then swabs from those
areas would also be useful.
PCR testing can be effective
in detecting the pathogen in appropriate samples from asymptomatic
Because there is the potential
for a chinchilla to carry Bordetella
with the possibility of becoming active and infectious again in future,
and because the disease is so contagious and deadly to chinchillas
when a case is active, we
believe that it is absolutely necessary to declare the place where
an outbreak has occurred under quarantine until all infected chinchillas
have been submitted for and cleared by PCR testing.
References and Additional Reading
McGraw-Hill Concise Encyclopedia of Bioscience
School of Veterinary Medicine, University of Wisconsin-Madison
book: "Essentials of Veterinary Bacteriology and Mycology"
by Gordon R. Carter, Darla J. Wise, 2004, pp. 116-118
These sites have a particular focus, but also contain general information
about Bordetella Bronchiseptica:
Will Travel: Kennel Cough
Bordetella in Cats
Intervet Schering-Plough Animal
Bordetella bronchiseptica and its treatment in chinchillas is not
new news, cases have been reported since at least the mid 1990's.
The following article was written by a pet breeder and rescuer who
has also worked as a veterinary technician. It is a summary of information
gathered from pet breeders and ranchers in the U.S. and Canada who
had experience with the disease:
"Bordetella is a zoonotic airborne gram negative bacteria that
can be catastrophic to chinchillas. Unfortunately there is not excessive
amounts of research regarding this highly infectious disease but the
evidence left from infected herds both large and small rarely leaves
many survivors, and any long term effects in any surviving animals
has not been determined, although some of the few seem to have no
lasting effects if they make it through the infection.
"Symptoms of Bordetella are very similar to those of a basic
upper respiratory infection and pneumonia although the cause is different
and must be treated accordingly. Symptoms include wheezing, rattling,
fluid in the lungs, runny nose and/or eye, fluid in the ears, sneezing,
and coughing. Left untreated Bordetella is fatal, and even with extensive
treatment recovery is not guaranteed. All, some, or none of the symptoms
may be expressed, there does not appear to be any set pattern in which
symptoms will or will not show, or for how long.
"Animals that show symptoms or test positive for this should
be immediately separated to help prevent any further infection. Separation
should include different structures with different ventilation systems.
Separation within the same structure will not prevent the spread as
it will easily travel through air ducts, under doors, and on air currents.
Cleaning with bleach and water has appeared to not be helpful in preventing
the spread once the disease is active.
"Certain conditions will help spread the disease quickly and
allow the bacteria to flourish, these include crowded areas, same
cages with poor ventilation through them, poor ventilation in the
housing structure, high humidity, and poor house keeping practices.
Like most bacteria it grows in moist, warm conditions.
"Full treatment is critical in treating Bordetella. A course
of antibiotics must be run for 14 days to fully get rid of the disease
and prevent re-occurrence from the same bacteria. The best known way
to treat Bordetella is with Baytril (injectable is the best route
for Baytril) twice per day. Due to the effects that such strong
antibiotics have on the chinchillas digestive system hand feeding
may be required, which is why it's advised to always keep Critical
Care on hand, you will never know when you will need it!
"If bloat is a concern to your chinchilla while treating you
can use 1 full dropper of simethicone every four hours to help reduce
gas build up. If the chin is eating or being hand fed enough this
should not be necessary. Probiotics are needed to help replenish the
good bacteria in the digestive system. Probiotics should be given
at least two hours after antibiotics to prevent them from canceling
each other out.
"Summary: Bordetella has been a contributing factor in wiping
out entire herds of more than 200 animals. The results are almost
always fatal with less than 10% known survival rate. Full course of
treatment is very important to prevent the return of various and inconsistent
symptoms. It can be transferred to and from chinchillas and other
species including, but not limited to: humans, cats, dogs, other chinchillas,
and more. It is airborne and highly contagious."
Human Herpes Virus
"Spontaneous human herpes virus type 1 infection in a chinchilla
(Chinchilla lanigera f. dom.)" by P. Wohlsein, A. Thiele, M.
Fehr, L. Haas, K. Henneicke, D. Petzold, W. Baumgärtner for Acta Neuropathologica
Note by ChinCare: Herpes in chinchillas is extremely
rare, humans with Herpes should take special precautions when interacting
with their chin.
A 1-year-old male chinchilla with a 2-week history of conjunctivitis
suffered subsequently from neurological signs comprising seizures,
disorientation, recumbency and apathy. After 3 weeks of progressive
central nervous disease the animal was killed in view of the poor
prognosis. A non-suppurative meningitis and polioencephalitis with
neuronal necrosis and intranuclear inclusion bodies were observed
at necropsy and by light microscopy. The brain stem and cerebral cortices
were most severely affected. Both eyes displayed ulcerative keratitis,
uveitis, retinitis and retinal degeneration, and optical neuritis.
Additionally, a purulent rhinitis with focal erosions, epithelial
degeneration and intranuclear inclusion bodies was present.
Ultrastructurally, herpes virus particles were detected in neurons
of the brain. Immunohistochemistry with antisera specific for human
herpes virus types 1 and 2 resulted in viral antigen labeling in neurons,
glial cells and in neuronal processes. Viral antigen was found in
the rhinencephalon, cerebral cortices, hippocampus, numerous nuclei
of the brain stem, single foci in the cerebellum, and in a solitary
erosive lesion of the right nasal vestibulum. Viral antigen was not
detected in the eyes. The virus was isolated from the CNS, and nucleic
acid sequence analysis of the glycoprotein B and the DNA polymerase
revealed a sequence homology with human herpes virus type 1 of 99%
and 100%, respectively. The clinical signs, the distribution of the
lesions and the viral antigen suggest a primary ocular infection with
subsequent spread to the CNS. Chinchillas are susceptible to human
herpes virus 1 and may play a role as a temporary reservoir for human
Rabies documented in MA and OH
"Between September 1992 and September
2006, more than 47,000 animal specimens have been submitted to the
State Laboratory Institute (SLI) for rabies testing. Of these specimens,
more than 4,400 have tested positive for rabies. Positive animals
include more than: 2,500 raccoons, 1,400 skunks, 340 bats, 125 cats,
125 foxes and 80 woodchucks. Other species that have had at least
one animal test positive in Massachusetts include: cow, dog, horse,
pig, otter, fisher, goat, chinchilla, shrew, rabbit, and deer."
In Ohio, the Rabies Testing and
Percent Positive spreadsheet declared 5 chinchillas testing positive
for rabies from 1980-2002. (from
a now archived report by
the Ohio Dept of Health)
a now archived report by
the WI Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection)
This orthopox virus can be transmitted to humans, and was first
found in the Western Hemisphere during a Wisconsin outbreak in May
and June 2003. While farm animals are generally not susceptible to
monkeypox, farm-raised rabbits and chinchillas may get the disease.
Frenkelia Microti Infection in a Chinchilla
(Chinchilla Laniger) in the U.S.
Archived USDA article
by: Dubey, Jitender/ Clark,
T - Naval Med Center, CA/ Yantist, D - Armed Forces Inst, DC
Parasites of the genus Frenkelia are single-celled parasites of rodents,
small mammals and birds. Rodents become infected by ingesting feces
of infected birds and birds become infected by eating rodent tissues.
Scientists at the Beltsville Agricultural Research Center and the
U.S. Naval Medical Center, San Diego, California report for the first
time Frenkelia infection in the brain of a chinchilla and suggest
that the same parasite causes hepatis in chinchillas. The results
will be of interest to biologists, parasitologists, and pathologists.