What is Diarrhea?
Your chinchilla’s diarrhea may develop from one of several causes, including diet, too many treats, water-borne parasites or a sudden, unexpected change in pellet brands. Your first clue may come in the frequency of his bowel movements; he has many more movements when he is suffering from diarrhea.
Diarrhea in your chinchilla looks different from his normal, well-formed feces. When your pet is sick, his feces may look soft or sticky and have a coating of mucus. It may also be more moist than normal and smell bad. If the feces is formed, it is abnormally soft. If you see that his feces is runny or smelly, get him to the vet as quickly as you can. If his illness is allowed to go untreated for even a short time, he can become dehydrated and begin suffering from an electrolyte disturbance. Untreated diarrhea may also disrupt the normal bacterial balance (the “good” bacteria”) in his gut, which enables the development of septicemia (bacteria in his blood), which may prove deadly.
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Symptoms of Diarrhea in Chinchillas
Your chinchilla’s diarrhea symptoms look like this:
- Feces are soft and coated with mucus
- Feces may have a bad odor
- Feces may not have any form, instead being watery or runny (illness is urgent)
- Change in color of feces
- Lack of appetite or anorexia (if this goes on longer than 24 hours, it may be an emergency)
- Swollen abdomen
- Lethargy (sleepy or much less active than normal)
- Physically uncomfortable
Whether your pet seems to feel well or not, his diarrhea is a serious condition requiring veterinary care.
Causes of Diarrhea in Chinchillas
Your chinchilla’s diarrhea may be caused by one of several factors:
- Intestinal parasites
- Sudden change in diet (abrupt switch to a new food)
- Spoiled food or hay
- Algae in water bottle
- Too many treats or sugary treats
- Too much alfalfa
- Bacteria, fungus, viruses
- Eating a foreign substance (such as mold on his hay or bacteria-contaminated hay)
- Response to stress (this cause is rare)
- Drugs, such as antibiotics
- Metabolic conditions
- Inadequate fiber in his diet
Diagnosis of Diarrhea in Chinchillas
Once you realize your chinchilla has diarrhea, make an appointment with your vet as quickly as you can. Your vet will give your pet a head-to-toe physical, looking for the causes of his illness.
You’ll need to give a thorough history to your vet so he can rule out other illnesses. Because diarrhea in your pet is such a serious issue, choose a vet experienced in treating exotic animals.
Other diagnostic work may include blood work, such as a CBC and serum chemistry panel. These allow your vet to determine if your chinchilla is suffering from an electrolyte imbalance. The feces will be examined under a microscope (using gram staining and direct smear). Your vet should also run a fecal flotation test, which works to detect parasite eggs. The feces is mixed with a special preparation that enables the eggs to float to the surface, allowing them to be examined microscopically.
Your chinchilla will also undergo an abdominal ultrasound and X-ray to help determine the cause of his diarrhea.
Treatment of Diarrhea in Chinchillas
Depending on the cause of your chinchilla’s diarrhea, your vet will decide on the most appropriate treatment. Even if parasites are found to be the cause, remember that chinchillas commonly house low levels of giardia in their intestines without becoming ill. Your vet will choose the right medication if your pet has parasites.
Your pet will only be given high-quality hay (grass or timothy) to eat. All treats and pellets will be stopped. Your vet may also prescribe alkaline water and motility drugs, which change how quickly food is processed through your chinchilla’s abdominal tract. He will also receive antibiotics in the case of bacterial infection. If an infestation of parasites has been diagnosed, your vet will administer a dewormer to get rid of all the parasites in his system.
Your home care instructions will include administering medications exactly as prescribed and giving your pet only the foods approved by your vet. Keep a close eye on your chinchilla’s fecal output, appetite, and activity level. If he has not begun improving within 24 hours, return to the vet.
Recovery of Diarrhea in Chinchillas
Your chinchilla can recover easily from a bout with diarrhea, as long as you take him to your vet right away. Once the cause of his illness has been found, your vet will give you instructions about how to avoid a return of his illness.
Give him only fresh, high-quality hay and water. Throw out moldy, old hay. Keep treats and pellets to a minimum. If you notice your pet urinating or defecating in his food bowl, remove the bowl, empty and clean it, and add clean pellets.
Don’t give sweets, dried or fresh fruits, yogurt treats, seeds, or nuts to your chinchilla. Sugary, fatty foods should not be given to your pet because he can’t digest them properly. While fresh veggies are good for humans, they cause the rapid growth of bad bacteria in your chinchilla’s gut, which leads to more diarrhea. As much as you can, avoid giving him treats. He does the best on high-fiber, high-quality hay and fresh water. Limit his pellets to one to two spoonfuls a day.