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Chinchilla Introductions and Group Dynamics/ Chintelligence and Communication/ Dental Health/ Exercise and Play Grooming, Fur and Skin Health/ Healing: Ailments & Remedies/ Nutrition/ Origins and Wild Chinchillas Today

*Digestive System Ailments (additional articles, rectal prolapse of the intestine or bowel, the gastrointestinal system and gi stasis, bloat, enteritis, lower gi disease, hepatic lipidosis)

Continued on next page:
*The Red Print: Please Read First
*Avoiding Tragedy: Don't Kill Your Chin With "Kindness!"
*Health Articles (medical and anatomical, senior health and cataracts, vet articles, vital statistics)
*Antibiotic and Penicillin Warning
*Household Remedies

*Seizures, Fits, Convulsions (articles, brain infection)
*Curing Giardia (articles, oreganol article)
*Protozoan Parasites in Captive Chinchillas
*Common Kidney Diseases In Small Pets
*Hair Rings and Prolapsed Penis (photos and articles, hair ring removal, treating a prolapsed penis)
*Eye Irritations
*Incontinence and Urine Scald (articles)
*Quarantining New Chins

Continued on next page:
*Contagious Diseases (ringworm and giardia, pasteurella, pneumonia, rabbit viral hemorrhagic disease (vhd), ectoparasites, listeriosis, bordetella bronchiseptica, human herpes virus, rabies and monkeypox, frenkelia microti)


(additional articles, rectal prolapse of the intestine or bowel, the gastrointestinal system and gi stasis, bloat, enteritis, lower gi disease, hepatic lipidosis)

Additional Articles
Anatomy and Physiology of the Rabbit and Rodent [includes chinchilla] Gastrointestinal System (.pdf)
Cecal and Fecal Bacterial Flora of the Mongolian Gerbil and the Chinchilla (.pdf)
Constipation and Diarrhea Ebony Dragon Chinchillas, Crystal Chinchillas: see Health Articles, then Health Problems
Diarrhea in Chinchillas Betti Cogswell of CA Chins
Digestive System Diagram Chinchilla Quest
Loose Stool & Diarrhea Alison's Chinchillas

Rectal Prolapse of the Intestine or Bowel

Photo: Rectal Prolapse
Additional Articles: Cuddly Critters Exotics, Chinchillas Unlimited, Ebony Dragon Chinchillas

By DVM GLlikis-Scott (was Fernandez) of the Birmingham Veterinary Clinic, MI

The problem of rectal prolapse is not a common occurrence, thankfully, but it can occur for a variety of reasons. It seems as though young chins are more susceptible, though is is not understood why. It is possible that chins under a year of age don't have gastrointestinal function that is as well-developed as the older chins, therefore any irritation to the bowel can lead to prolapse in the young.

There are many potential causes of rectal prolapse: intestinal bacterial infection, parasites (Giardia), a sudden change in diet or amount of food or treats ingested. It is usually preceeded by diarrhea or just looser than normal stool consistency. The straining and irritation caused by the diarrhea or loose stool causes the rectal tissue to be pushed out (prolapse). Other possible indications of rectal prolapse include: tentative, hunched walking movement with sides drawn in; grinding teeth (due to pain); blood on cage floors, significant change in eating or drinking habits.

As soon as rectal prolapse is observed, this signifies a MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Regardless of its cause, rectal prolapse can quickly become fatal. The chin should be rushed to your exotics specialist vet immediately. The prolapsed tissue can quickly lose it's blood supply because it is strangulated and the ensuing complications include: shock, toxemia and sloughing of the prolapsed tissue, all of which can be fatal without immediate intervention.

The treatment includes assessing whether the prolapsed tissue is still viable, (pink in color and not purple, which means a compromised blood flow) and treating the patient supportively with antibiotics, pain medication and fluids administered intravenously or by syringe. The prolapse must be handled very gently and cleaned with saline solution, then lubricated with some KY jelly and replaced. Generally, several sutures are placed in the anal opening (while still leaving some space for elimination) to decrease the diameter of the opening such that the tissue does not prolapse again.

With continued supportive care it is possible that the chin will respond to treatment and the sutures can be removed after a week or so. It can take up to three weeks to know for certain if the prolapsed tissue has a normal blood supply and has not sloughed or incurred nerve damage. The worst case scenario is that the tissue continues to prolapse despite the sutures in the anus or the patient becomes progressively sicker due to shock or toxemia. Repeated prolapses can cause that section of tissue to become traumatized to the point where the prognosis is extremely guarded or grave.

The bottom line is that if a chin has a rectal prolapse, seek medical attention WITHOUT DELAY, even though the prognosis can be guarded. It IS possible that with early intervention the outcome can be a positive one.

The Gastrointestinal System and GI Stasis

Articles on GI Stasis in rabbits, for a comparative analysis with chinchillas: RWF, The Silent Killer, HRS

From the 2006 AEMV Proceedings, .pdf (footnote markers were removed for easier reading, refer to source)
"The gastrointestinal tract is long, 11.5 feet for the small and large intestine combined in an adult. The cecum is large and coiled. The colon is sacculated. The cecum of the chinchilla holds approximately 23% of the dry matter content of the large intestine compared to the rabbit (57%) and the guinea pig (44%). Cecrophagy is similar to the guinea pig except that cecotrophs may be passed in the day as chinchillas feed mostly at night. Fecal excretion is primarily at night. Transit time of ingesta through the gastrointestinal tract is approximately 12–15 hours." (more on chinchilla cecotropes and Coprophagy)

Care Myth: "Chinchillas need to eat continuously during their waking hours to avoid Hepatic Lipidosis or GI stasis." Sometimes stated as, "Hepatic lipidosis [in chinchillas] is caused by a sudden cessation of eating."
This myth is connected to the Hepatic Lipidosis myth and that article explains why this statement is not true.

GI stasis is a lack of gut motility (movement) caused by problems with, usually a severe blockage (impaction) of, the digestive (gastrointestinal) tract. Complications from an illness, the ingestion of something indigestible, such as plastic, or an inappropriate diet, as described in the Pet Care Veterinary Hospital article below, are typical causal factors. This condition, if left untreated, will be FATAL.

Symptoms are subtle and often only noticeable after the condition has significantly progressed because chinchillas, by instinct, strive to mask any display of pain or infirmity that would, in the wild, disclose their vulnerability and make them easy prey. Please note that once GI stasis has set in, a chin rapidly loses vitality, even overnight, therefore it is absolutely URGENT that the chin is brought to an exotics specialist vet without delay!

Symptoms include: stays hunched in a corner, on all fours, swaying slightly as if rocking in pain, eyes partly closed. Has a painful-looking walk with sides somewhat concave from being drawn in, impaired hind quarter mobility, grinds teeth (in pain) and is unwilling to move about, jump or assume positions that were once routine.

By Peter G. Fisher, DVM, Pet Care Veterinary Hospital:
"Like the rabbit and guinea pig, the chinchilla is a hindgut fermentor, meaning it digests much of its food in the cecum and colon (large intestine), which make up the end of the digestive tract. In the chinchilla, the cecum (“appendix” in humans) is a large blind-ended sac located at the junction of the small and large intestine. Inside the chinchilla's cecum, specific bacterial and protozoal populations aid digestion of foods. Fiber is necessary for the populations of these bacteria and protozoa to stay in balance and function properly. Fiber also stimulates gastrointestinal motility, which allows ingested food to move along properly for normal digestion.

"Without fiber, the gastrointestinal tract slows down, resulting in changes in cecal pH, fermentation capabilities and microorganism populations. Over time, these disruptive changes can result in various forms of chinchilla indigestion: gastrointestinal stasis, constipation or diarrhea. The chinchilla with gastrointestinal stasis will be anorexic or have a reduced appetite and will produce very small stools or none at all. The chinchilla with constipation will strain to defecate, and the few fecal pellets passed are thin, short, round and occasionally blood-stained. The chinchilla with diarrhea may or may not have a reduced appetite and will pass soft stools that frequently mat the fur around the anus. Again, these forms of chinchilla gastrointestinal upset are commonly associated with inappropriate diets – that is, diets that contain excess amounts of grains, seeds and / or fresh greens without sufficient roughage or fiber."

Bloat (acute indigestion)

Severe stress (even without dietary changes) can be a predisposing factor for bloat, but the primary cause is digestive (and often treat related), as detailed in the internet articles and book excerpts below. Bloat can be successfully treated with the medications available today, but this is a serious condition that can also be deadly. If your chin is listless and cowering in pain, avoiding movement except when absolutely necessary, or has drawn in his sides around his haunches in reaction to the pain, then he may have bloat and needs to see an exotics specialist vet immediately. Be sure that the vet prescribes a painkiller, because bloat is painful and the chin could succumb from pain alone.

Until he has completely recovered, a chin with bloat will need to stay in a single level cage by himself, with some cloth (no strings, fringe or loose weave) or fleece to rest on and cuddle up to. We saw a chin with bloat jump from only about a foot high and it ruptured his stomach. This was lethal needless to say, and having other chins jumping and jostling around the affected chin would greatly increase his gastrointestinal discomfort. Keep the chin's stress levels low by providing a variety of chew toys and relocating his cage to a quieter part of the house, where he can watch some TV or listen to soft music.

DON'T give treats of any kind to a chin with bloat, he should be given only the most basic, bland diet until his recovery is complete: distilled or filtered water, pellets, and grass hay (timothy, orchard grass, etc.) as opposed to the richer hay types (alfalfa, clover, etc.) which are normally very nutritional and beneficial when a chin is not suffering from bloat .

Internet Articles:
Davidson Chinchillas,
Eyes of Texas Chinchillas, Ebony Dragon Chinchillas

From (.doc) Chinchilla Rancher's Guide, 1976, Bernard Koch, DVM:
Defines bloat as: "acute indigestion, flatulence mostly of stomach. Can also be in intestine or cecum."
Potential causes: "soft diets, irritating chemical, mouldy or spoiled feed, sequel of digestive disturbances & disease." Also mentioned is, "these animals become dehydrated when bloated."

From (.doc) Chinchilla Care, 1962, Houston and Prestwich:
Excessive gas formation may be caused by… particular foods of combinations of foods which do not agree with the animal. Lack of exercise due to overcrowding or pens that are too small or provide bad footing for the animals will contribute to increasing the number of cases of bloat in a herd. Young which are being raised by handfeeding sometimes fall victim to bloat.

From (.doc) Diseases of Small Domestic Rodents, 1997, V.C.G. Richardson:
This occurs when there is a build up of gas in the stomach, often triggered by a change in diet, gastric stasis and fermentation by the bacterial flora. It is associated with a lack of Bacillus acidophilus (an acid forming organism usually present in the intestine). Bloat is commonest in hand fed or older animals.
Clinical signs: Usually 2 hours or more after feeding the abdomen becomes distended and affected animals show obvious abdominal discomfort by rolling and stretching. The pressure of the gas on the thorax causes dyspnoea.
Causes: The most common cause is the feeding of fruits and greens, which cause a decrease in the fibre intake and allow gastric fermentation to take place…

From (.doc) Chinchilla Diseases and Ailments, 1952, by A.H. Kennedy, B.S.A., D.V.M., D.V.Sc:
It is sometimes caused by an atonic condition of the stomach walls. The sudden changing from one type of feed to another, the overloading of the stomach with certain kinds of feed, the feeding of some form of yeast… Certain types of plants, particularly some species of clover, are prone to cause bloat. Green feeds to which the chinchillas are not accustomed may sometimes lead to bloat… The feeding of tid-bits, such as peanuts, nut meats or raisins should be avoided as they are not too digestible and may lead to the development of acute indigestion [bloat]…

Bloat is often associated with other disease conditions. An obstruction or blockage of the stomach which may occur at the point where the stomach empties into the intestine will sometimes be the cause of bloat. Bloating will often occur about two hours following the eating of certain kinds or types of feed, when they are not accustomed to it. The affected chinchillas will suddenly appear dull and weak and will be found lying flat on their abdomens with their limbs sprawled out sideways from their bodies. When examined they will be found unable to stand or move and their bodies will be limp. Breathing will appear jerky and the affected animals will gasp for breath. On manipulation the abdomen will feel full and doughy, or it may feel hard and drum-like when palpated.

The condition of the affected chinchillas will usually quite rapidly become progressively worse. The breathing becomes quick and distressed. The eyes assume a dull appearance. The ears droop and the extremities- ears, legs and tail- become cold. A dribbling of the urine may occur. The body temperature drops rapidly and may be as low as 94.0 to 95.0 degrees Fahrenheit. Under these conditions, if relief is not given in a short period of time, the affected chinchilla will soon die. Prevention and Treatment-Care should be taken when changing from one feed to another… Feeds such as dry beet pulp and pablum, especially when being fed persistently and in fairly large amounts, are at times suspected of being the cause of digestive distrurbances

Enteritis (intestinal infection)

By All Creatures Animal Hospitall, archived article
Enteritis complex, (inflammation of the intestines), affects chinchillas and includes mucoid enteritis, diarrhea, and fecal impaction. Enteritis complex may be the most common problem of the digestive tract of chinchillas. This condition involves disruption of the complex system responsible for fermentation of non-digestible fiber in the diet. Factors involved in enteritis complex include changes in diet, effects of antibiotics, stress, and genetic predisposition to gut dysfunction.

Diets high in sugars or protein or low in fiber may cause changes in the fermentation process in the cecum, leading to changes in pH and motility, which in turn lead to enteritis. Additionally, some antibiotics that affect the normal bacteria of the hindgut (penicillin, cephalosporin, erythromycin, clindamycin, and lincomycin) allow overgrowth of bacteria found in the intestinal tract, which can cause enteritis. Signs of enteritis complex include loss of appetite, tooth grinding, painful and possibly bloated abdomen, crying or moaning, lethargy and reluctance to move, diarrhea, or absence or stool, and sudden death. Treatment includes the use of "safe" antibiotics, fluid therapy, and correction of the diet.

By Susan Brown, DVM, Midwest Bird & Exotic Animal Hospital
One of the most common disease conditions of chinchillas is enteritis, which is an infection of the digestive tract. In many cases, the exact cause may not be determined. Bacterial, viral and protozoal agents have all been associated with the syndrome. A few specific agents include Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Salmonella typhimurium, E. coli and Giardia. Poor husbandry and management is often associated with an outbreak. Clinical signs are ariable, ranging from depression to death. The chinchilla often exhibits diarrhea, but not consistently. Other signs of illness include loss of appetite, partial paralysis, and a painful abdomen. Examination of the feces through fecal flotations, direct smears, and cultures may reveal the causative agent. Veterinary care and treatment must be sought at the first sign of illness. Treatment of enteritis involves appropriate antibiotic therapy and supportive care. This disease is often fatal despite aggressive therapy due to the severity of the illness.

Lower Gastrointestinal Disease
From "Clinical Approach to the Chinchilla" by Heidi L. Hoefer, DVM, DABVP

Lower gastrointestinal disease is a common problem seen in chinchillas. Chinchillas are hind-gut fermenters with a relatively long gastrointestinal tract. The stomach and cecum are large and the colon is highly sacculated. High fiber, low energy diets are the driving force behind this herbivores' digestive physiology. Disruption in the system results in anorexia, painful abdomen, diarrhea, hair and fecal impaction, intussusception (telescoping of intestines), mucoid enteritis, ileus, bloat, and rectal prolapse. Hepatic lipidosis (fatty liver) is a common sequelae to prolonged anorexia.

Predisposing factors include abrupt diet change, inappropriate antibiotic use, overcrowding and stress, and diets too low in fiber, and too high in fat and protein. Changes in enteric pH or normal gut flora results in bacterial overgrowth and can lead to enterotoxemia. Clostridium, E. coli, Proteus, and Pseudomonas are common isolates. Clostridial enterotoxemia (C. perfringens) causes severe diarrhea, shock, and acute death.

Diagnosis is based on clinical signs and history. Anorexia and decreased fecal output are early warning signs. Whole body radiographs are taken to assess both body cavities. Varying amounts of gas and ingesta may be seen normally in hindgut fermentors. It can be difficult to determine simple gas production from an obstructive ileus; repeat radiographs in 24 hours and administer oral barium by syringe if neccessary to aid in visualization and motility determination.

Treatment for the acute abdomen includes supportive care (fluids, temperature regulation), anti-inflammatories (Banamine®) or analgesics (buprenorphine), antibiotics, and surgery if obstructed. Human pediatric anti-gas preparations (e.g., Phazyme®) may be helpful to decrease gas production. Keep in mind that a sick chinchilla is a poor surgical candidate and medical management may be indicated prior to abdominal surgery. Blood testing is recommended in anorexic individuals (CBC and plasma chemistry).

Other reported causes of gastroenteritis in chinchillas include Salmonella, Listeria monocytogenes, and Yersinia pseudotuberulosis. Intestinal parasitism is uncommon but nematodes, coccidia, Giardia, and Cryptosporidium can sometimes be seen in chinchillas. Low numbers of Giardia are thought to be normal in chins but an overgrowth can lead to diarrhea. Always check a direct fecal and perform a fecal flotation on any animal with diarrhea. Be careful with metronidazole administration; there are anecdotal reports of toxicity to Flagyl® in some chinchillas, although this author has not seen it.

Hepatic Lipidosis (fatty liver disease)

Care Myth: "Chinchillas need to eat continuously during their waking hours to avoid Hepatic Lipidosis or GI stasis."
Sometimes stated as, "Hepatic lipidosis [in chinchillas] is caused by a sudden cessation of eating."

Chinchillas are rodents that can safely go up to 24 hours without food (this is vet verifiable; a state of extreme stress either mentally or physically can put a chin temporarily off his food) barring other complications, but the dietary staples of fresh, high quality pellets, hay and distilled or filtered water should ALWAYS be available for consumption; chinchillas will not overeat of their dietary staples, only treats. If your chinchilla refuses to eat for ANY reason for more than a day, take him to your exotics specialist vet for a thorough examination.

Chinchillas CAN get Hepatic Lipidosis, or fatty liver disease, and in chinchillas this is associated with a poor diet or excessive treats, especially those high in fats (nuts, seeds). However, after consulting veterinary expertise, we are able to assert that chinchillas are NOT prone to Hepatic Lipidosis from going for a period without eating the way that cats (felines) and rabbits (lagomorphs) are and the following quotes, which in the past have been erroneously projected onto chinchillas, actually pertain to rabbits:

"Rabbits that don't eat will rapidly develop hepatic lipidosis, a condition that occurs when a rabbit is not taking in enough calories or nutrients to meet its metabolic needs. When a rabbit stops eating, as it commonly will when it is sick, triglycerides are mobilized to the liver from stored body fat elsewhere in the rabbit's body. This sets off a chain of complex metabolic processes that cause liver enzymes to elevate in the rabbit's bloodstream, which can then rapidly lead to potentially life-threatening liver disease." (ref- "Anorexia can rapidly cause gastric ulcers and hepatic lipidosis (fatty liver disease) in rabbits. Even 12 hours without eating is cause for concern. As long as your vet has determined that there is no actual blockage, and that there is enough slow movement of the GI to keep the stomach from becoming overly full, keep the bunny eating!"

By Chinchillas4Life, excerpts from their article "Hepatic Lipidosis," reproduced with permission:
Many people will feed peanuts, sunflower seeds and other fatty treats to their chinchillas. When we take in rescues, they often come with a bag of peanuts along with other little sins! The problem with feeding chinchillas peanuts/fatty treats is all down to their inability to metabolise fats. I will not feed my chins peanuts and I have seen the problems caused by this. Chinchillas need some essential fats but it is always better to never over do it.

Hepatic lipidosis is a condition of the liver caused by an overload of fats. The liver eventually becomes swamped with fat globules which stops any nutrients from reaching the liver cells. This leaves a very sick chinchilla . The chin shown came to us as she was very ill and her owner didn't know why she was losing weight. Her owner was killing her with kindness by giving her and her sister four whole monkey nuts a day. We fed her and medicated her for around six weeks. She ate very well, but as her liver was swamped with fat, she sadly never gained weight and died. Giving one peanut rarely may do no harm, but with so many other healthy goodies that they really love, I don't really see the point...

PLEASE do not feed your Chinchillas high fat treats. If you have a chinchilla who has the slobbers on and off and no other explaination can be found for this, consider lipidosis. I am sure this goes undiagnosed quite often and is mistaken for dental issues. Lipidosis can be treated with steroids/lactulose/vitamin B injections but I guess it has to be diagnosed early on to have a happy outcome.