What is Upper Respiratory Tract Infection?

While you may be able to treat your own colds or upper respiratory infections at home, you shouldn’t attempt to treat your chinchilla’s URI. He will need to take antibiotics so his infection doesn’t become pneumonia, if the URI is bacterial in nature. Also, a URI in a chinchilla can be a fatal illness if it isn’t treated right away. As long as you pay attention to certain living conditions for your pet, you can decrease the likelihood of an infection.

An upper respiratory tract infection (URI) in your chinchilla is always a condition that should be seen, diagnosed, and treated by your vet. A simple cold can easily become pneumonia if left untreated. If your chinchilla comes into contact with Bordetella, Streptococcus, or Pasteurella organisms, he is likely to become ill. Other chinchillas, if you have a small herd, are vulnerable to developing an infection, as a URI is typically contagious.

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Symptoms of Upper Respiratory Tract Infection in Chinchillas

Once your chinchilla develops a URI, you’ll notice the following symptoms, which do require veterinary treatment:

  • Lethargy
  • Fever
  • Chattering teeth
  • Nasal discharge
  • Sneezing
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Breathing problems
  • Wheezing
  • Rapid or shallow breathing
  • Hoarseness
  • Watery eyes
  • Conjunctivitis (pink eye)
  • Changes in behavior or mood

Causes of Upper Respiratory Tract Infection in Chinchillas

The causes of an upper respiratory tract infection in your chinchilla can be divided into two groups.

Infectious agents:

  • Streptococcus
  • Bordetella
  • Pasteurella

Environmental contributors:

  • High humidity
  • Poor ventilation around cage
  • Crowded conditions, with too many chinchillas for the cage

Diagnosis of Upper Respiratory Tract Infection in Chinchillas

Once you realize your chinchilla has a cold or URI, don’t attempt to treat his condition at home. He must have veterinary care to prevent his illness from progressing into pneumonia. If the infectious agent causing his cold is bacterial, antibiotics are necessary, and your vet is the only one who can determine the source of infection.

In the vet’s exam room, your vet will give your chinchilla a full physical, focusing on his upper respiratory system and checking other organs out as well. She may have your pet X-rayed to see whether the infection has become pneumonia. If it has, your chinchilla will need immediate treatment.

Your vet will test your pet’s nasal discharge to aid in determining whether the infection is bacterial or not.

Treatment of Upper Respiratory Tract Infection in Chinchillas

For a viral URI, your vet will provide supportive treatments that help your chinchilla begin feeling better. She will also begin cleaning the debris (eye and nasal secretions) from your pet’s eyes and nose), helping him to see and breathe better. Since the infection is viral, he won’t be prescribed antibiotics (the fewer medications he has, the less likely his delicate digestive system is to become upset).

If his infection is bacterial, your vet will prescribe an antibiotic to help treat his condition. He may also need fluid therapy in case he hasn’t been drinking enough water. If he’s refusing food or hay, your vet may provide him recovery food and force-feed him so he begins to regain strength to fight his illness.

Recovery of Upper Respiratory Tract Infection in Chinchillas

Your chinchilla can recover from his upper respiratory tract infection, as long as you recognize that he’s ill. If you don’t get him to the vet soon enough, he will develop pneumonia. Both pneumonia and URIs can be fatal for chinchillas, if they aren’t treated by a vet right away.

While your pet is still under treatment at the vet’s office, give his cage a thorough cleaning. Remove the food, hay and bedding currently in his cage, clean and disinfect the cage, and replace bedding and food with fresh materials. 

If you realize that environmental conditions for your chinchilla contributed to his illness, lower the humidity in the house, lower the temperature, and reduce the overcrowding. Bring another cage, fill it with bedding, toys and food, then carefully move some of your chinchillas into that second cage. As you do so, remember that being moved can be stressful for these animals, and be on the lookout for subsequent illnesses.