0208 943 2303   info@alpha-vets.co.uk
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CHINCHILLAS

How to care for your chinchillas

We’re happy to say that we offer chinchilla vet services at our surgery. For your little, cute pets, you’ll be matched with a chinchilla vet, who can offer you advice on a range of topics. At our veterinary surgery, we provide a variety of chinchilla vet services including, thorough health checks, weight monitoring, neutering and many others.

Consultations

Please call our regular telephone number:  0208 943 2303 (Alpha Teddington); 01372 460107 (Claygate) during office hours and speak to one of our receptionists who will help book you for the correct consultation appointment.

 

Please remember to inform our receptionists how many pets you will be bringing. Each pet will need to be scheduled individually for a consultation to allow the vet time to properly examine each pet and discuss its problems.

 

Please note that our staff who answer the ‘Emergency Call’ number outside of office hours, are unable to book regular day time consultations.

 

Here is a guideline to the different types of consultations we normally provide:

  • Regular Consultation: This is our standard 15 minute consultation with the vet for an animal with a new health problem, a problem that has recurred from some time ago, or an ongoing problem.
  • Second Opinion Consultation:  If your pet has been to see another vet for this problem (within the last year) and you would like our opinion on the problem, then we need to read the previous medical record, blood results and x-rays etc. We can then learn what medicines have been used and what the original vet found on examination. We need to do this in order to properly understand your pets’ condition and provide you with a good second opinion. As this takes time to arrange, the consultation must generally be booked at least one day in advance. As this is a more complex and time consuming procedure, we normally schedule for you to spend 30 minutes with the veterinarian and we charge a higher fee.
  • Walk in Consultation:  If you come in without an appointment booked we will try our best to fit you in, however you may have to wait for an hour or even longer if the vets are busy. Of course if your pet’s life is in danger we will assess their condition and may admit them into the hospital while we make a vet available. The Walk in Consultation is generally scheduled for 15 minutes with the veterinarian but is charged at a higher fee than the Regular Consultation.
  • We strongly advise our clients to try and make an appointment as we are often fully booked or very busy. We do not want your pet to become stressed if they have to wait a long time.
  • Referral Consultation: This is when another vet has asked you to come and consult with us as they feel we have more expertise with chinchillas or with your chinchilla’s specific problem. In these cases the other veterinarian will directly fax us a ‘Referral Letter’ and your chinchilla’s medical records. Afterwards we will also inform your original vet of the outcome of the case. This also requires the extended 30 minute consultation.

Once you have made the appointment please make sure that you, or whoever is bringing in the pet, has all the information as follows:

  1. How long your pet has been sick for and what symptoms is it showing.
  2. What food your pet is fed on, including any snacks and supplements.
  3. Any medicines that may have been given to your pet (please bring in the packets or containers).
  4. What is the origin of your pet and what animals has it been in contact with.
  5. What are the urine & faeces (poop), usually like, what are they presently like.
  6. That the owner or a decision maker will be available on the telephone if they cannot come in.

Please note that to sign a consent form (for example for an operation or if your pet needs to be admitted into hospital) legally it must be someone over the age of 18 years old to sign.

We require payment for the services provided immediately after a consultation. If your pet does unfortunately need to be admitted to hospital or for surgery you will be required to pay a deposit. To try and make it more convenient for you we do accept payments bycash, cheque, debit and credit cards.

 

And don’t forget to collect your  ALPHA CARD – our free loyalty card which gives you 1% back on everything you spend with us! You collect points on your card which you can redeem against any of our services or products! The card is free to all clients, and we even give you 500 points (=£5) to get you started! Ask at reception for more details when you come in.

Vaccinations

We do not currently recommend vaccinations for chinchillas.

Health Checks

We recommend a health check shortly after bringing your new pet home.

Bring in details of all foods and any supplements or medicines you may be using.

Collect samples of urine and faeces from that morning if you can.

Take videos of any behaviour that you are worried about or confused by.

Isolate from the rest of your animal family at home (that means do not introduce or let them play together) until after the first check up and the vet has assessed the pet as being healthy.

If you do wish to introduce them please ask us how and when this should be done.

At the ‘Health Check’ we will perform a full physical examination and we will be assessing your new pet’s overall condition, the muscle and fat levels, and hydration and checking for anaemia.

We will be paying particular attention for parasites and for signs of any infectious diseases. We will be focusing on gut function and on the diet, whether is it appropriate and the amounts suitable. We may not perform a full dental check on young animals if the incisors look normal.

Once we have examined your pet hopefully we will have found nothing seriously wrong, and we will then make whatever recommendations we think are necessary for the diet and care of the pet.   If there is time we will talk to you about handling and training as this is the right age to be teaching your pet!

 

Regular Health Check

Once your new pet is settled in and any health problems have been solved, then we recommend a six-monthly general health check.

Please ensure you know the brands of foods your pet is on, and any supplements or long term medications.

Bring urine and faeces from that morning if you can. We would also like to see a photo of the cage set up.

At this check we will assess body condition, muscle and fat levels, hydration and check for anaemia. We will check the eyes, ears, and perform the very important dental examination. We will feel the lymph nodes, palpate the abdomen for any abnormalities and listen to the heart and lungs.

We will search for parasites, and examine the skin, and look for any pressure sores or ‘sore hocks’ on the feet and also assess the nail length.

Once we have examined your pet hopefully we will have found nothing seriously wrong, and we will then make whatever recommendations we think are necessary for the diet and care of the pet.

Geriatric Health Checks

Once your chinchilla is older, or ‘geriatric’ we advise moving to checks every six months as it is safer.

6 months for a chinchilla is roughly equal to 5 years for a human.

We believe this ‘geriatric’ to be over 8 years for a chinchilla although just like humans, animals age at different rates!  If you are worried or would like a check every 3 months, that’s fine with us. We do understand that many of our owners worry very much.

At this check we will assess body condition, muscle and fat levels, hydration and check for anaemia. We will check the eyes, ears, and perform the very important dental examination. We will feel the lymph nodes, palpate the abdomen for any abnormalities and listen to the heart and lungs.

We will search for parasites, and examine the skin, and look for any pressure sores or ‘sore hocks’ on the feet and also assess the nail length.

We will also be paying particular attention to the ‘gait’ or movement of the pet, and the flexibility as mobility problems become more common in the older animal. As they are often too nervous to move freely in here a video of walking and running, and self-grooming can be very helpful.

We will probably suggest taking a blood test every 6-12 months to monitor the liver and kidney function. We usually collect the blood from a vein in the back leg, we use a small needle and collect about 3 drops of blood, and it should be over in a few seconds

Once we have examined your pet hopefully we will have found nothing seriously wrong, and we will then make whatever recommendations we think are necessary for the diet and care of your older chinchilla.

Nutritional Advice

The wild chinchilla lives on a diet of bark, grasses and leaves and has developed a specialised gut which is adapted for this high fibre and coarse diet. The large intestine contains bacteria which break down the grass fibre to make it digestible. The chinchilla passes the fibre through the gut twice to make sure all the nutrients are absorbed. This means that they produce and eat a special kind of faeces (poop) which many owners do not ever see as their chinchilla eats them directly from their bottom. These faeces are dark, sticky and smelly, and are called caecotropes.

Because of this specialised gut and the constantly growing teeth the adult chinchilla needs a high fibre, restricted carbohydrate, restricted protein and virtually no fat diet to stay healthy.

We recommend that the healthy adult chinchilla be given a limited amount of fresh pellets twice a day, each time around ¼ – ½ a tablespoon full.

Your chinchilla must have 24 hour access to loose hay (not cubes).

We strongly recommend TIMOTHY hay (first cut, or high fibre). Orchard grass, botanical & mountain hay are also good choices as they are high fibre, low protein hays. Alfalfa hay is too rich, too much protein and calcium.

Check that the hay is good quality it should have a fresh sweet smell and not smell dusty or mouldy. Hay varies in colour according to the weather conditions and can be cream, yellow, green or light brown. As long as it smells fresh and nice the colour is not important. An occasional insect may be found, and this is quite natural, but if it is crawling with insects it should be thrown away.

Be careful where you buy your chinchilla food. You should either buy from a busy chinchilla pet shop or from our retail shop. You must buy from a supplier that sells a lot of food to ensure the foods will be fresher. We keep all our hay in air conditioning to ensure it is fresh. We recommend the shop you buy from does the same.

Young (under 6 months), pregnant, sick or old (over 8 years old) chinchillas should be given more pellets. It is best to seek veterinary advice on the exact quantity. They may also be offered a proportion of alfalfa hay as it is a richer hay, with more protein and calcium.

 

Fresh vegetables: These are a good source of vitamins and water but many chinchillas don’t really like them. If your chinchilla does, then some vegetables are good for their health but too much can upset their guts, so the maximum amount given should just be a couple of pieces a day. Choi Sum, Pak choi, Chinese lettuce, romaine lettuce, carrots, parsley, spinach and yau mak choi are all good choices.  Wash thoroughly and make sure they are fresh. Like all new foods, introduce them slowly, start with a little and work up.

 

Fruit: A few small pieces are acceptable twice a week – perhaps 1/2 a teaspoonful each time.

Biscuits and candies, seeds, oats and nuts are very unhealthy and should NOT be given.

Any diet changes MUST be slow and gentle. Upsetting the gut causes bacterial imbalances that can kill your chinchilla.

Take up to 1 week to introduce a new vegetable or hay or a new brand of pellets.

Neutering (De-Sexing) Surgeries

Female Chinchillas: 

We do not recommend routine de-sexing of female chinchillas unless the vet has diagnosed a health problem such as an infected uterus.

 

Male Chinchillas:

If you want to keep two or more chinchillas together, (which we recommend!) it is important to castrate any males.

If you have one male and one female it is best to castrate the male to prevent any uncontrolled breeding.

If you have two males then you will not want them to fight.

Male chinchillas can be castrated at the age of 6-8 months old, once the descent of the testicles into the scrotal sacs is obvious. (i.e. you can see the testicles bulging).

The surgery is done under general anaesthetic, is fairly quick, has some potential complications like wound infection or bleeding, but is usually safe.

We use 3 types of pain relief injections, before, during & after the surgery to keep him as comfortable as possible.

We always give fluids before or during the surgery to reduce the risk of dehydration. Our nursing staff will also normally give 2 meals of critical care after the surgery to reduce the risk of gut stasis.

Once he goes home your boy will need a couple of days of nursing, support feeding and rest after the surgery.

Preventative Care

Gut Stasis.

Gut stasis is a very serious disease which can affect rabbits, chinchillas and guinea pigs.

If your pet has not eaten or pooped for 12 hours then you should be taking them to see a vet as soon as possible, this is an urgent condition and cannot wait for 2 or 3 days.  You may also syringe feed some water carefully before the consultation.

Do not offer them junk food or snacks as this may make things worse.

Gut stasis can be caused by any problems that cause a lack of appetite, and if not treated quickly can become fatal.

Causes include stress, fast diet change, dehydration, eating too much junk food, too much sugar or carbohydrates, grooming too much fur and not eating enough fibre, as well as dental disease, liver and kidney problems.

We have seen ‘gut stasis’ after such events as owners moving house, changing the pet’s cage, changing from one type of hay or pellet to another, going to a chinchilla party, having a hot-pot? gathering at home, construction work taking place next door, a new pet, the loss of a bonded companion and thunderstorms!

To reduce the risk of this common and serious disease you should:

1) Follow our diet advice to give high fibre, hay based diets.

2) Do not give too many pellets, oats, biscuits, or junk food.

3) Always have fresh water available.

4) Groom your pet.

5) Encourage exercise.

6) Keep stress down and reduce change.

7) Make all diet changes smooth and gradual.

 

Parasites

We have never found any endoparasites (gut worms) or ectoparasites (insects that live in the hair or skin) in any pet chinchilla that have been brought to us for treatment.

Fortunately parasite problems appear to be very rare for chinchillas.

If you think your pet is too itchy, losing too much fur or has some skin disease then please bring them in for a consultation.

Do NOT use any dog or cat flea products on chinchillas as they can be too strong for the smaller pets and can even kill them.

Dental Services

Dental disease is one of the most common problems we see with our rabbit, chinchilla and guinea pig patients. It is a terrible disease as it hurts when they eat!

These animals are all adapted to feed on tough and fibrous grasses, and these take a lot of chewing. The teeth grow throughout their life and if they are not worn down properly, or if the tooth position changes in the jaw then the teeth can overgrow or develop sharp points or spikes which can cut into the cheek or tongue.

This can be extremely painful as can easily be imagined and some animals will stop eating and starve to death without proper attention.

Symptoms of dental disease usually include eating less, (particularly the foods that need more chewing like hay) salivation and dropping foods.  Some animals may show temper changes, becoming angry, throwing the food bowl around, biting the cage bars, but some want more love and cuddles from the owner.

You may hear ‘tooth grinding’ or clicking as well.

Some animals may only be seen to lose weight or produce smaller faeces.

During the consultation the vet will carefully examine the jaw bone and face, check the incisors, or front teeth, and examine the teeth within the mouth using a speculum. It is difficult to get a good view as the poor animal will usually chew and push the speculum away with the tongue, and there may be too much saliva and pieces of food floating around.

If we suspect there is dental disease we will advise a full and proper examination under anaesthetic.

We use a specialised dental ‘rack’ which holds the mouth open and examine with the endoscope (a kind of miniature medical camera)  and we will usually collect photos for the record and to show you later.

The vet will then use a combination of equipment to take away sharp spikes and reduce the length of any overlong crowns. If there are loose or rotten teeth we will need to remove these.

Owners of course often worry about the risk of anaesthetic, and it is true that there is a risk, especially with older animals, and those that are not in the best condition.

However, to leave your pet in pain slowly starving is not fair to them.

We will give you advice on how best to reduce the risk, for example support feeding for a few days, or putting the animal onto an intravenous drip.

Please be assured that we want the same as you, a happy healthy pet, and we will try our best to make this happen.

Hospitalisation

We have a ward dedicated to our rabbit, chinchilla and guinea pig patients, designed by our vets to keep these special animals as relaxed and comfortable as possible during their stay here.

This ward is cooled to 22 degrees to keep them comfortable. The cats and dogs which are potential predators (and therefore very scary) are kept in separate wards out of the sight and smell of these nervous creatures.

We try to keep it calm and quiet in this ward and most animals settle down quickly.

We have a wide range of pellets, hays and vegetables available to tempt the appetite, but if you would like to pack a little lunch box of their home foods you are very welcome.

You may also bring in your pets own water bottle too.

We have wonderful Registered Veterinary Nursing staff, who are very experienced with the care and handling of these nervous creatures.  This is particularly important when they are not eating and need to be support fed, as many of our sick patients do.

Weight Monitoring

Many of the pets we see become overweight as they mature. They have an easy and comfortable life with food available every day and often not enough exercise.

If you feel that your little darling is overweight (or if the vet tells you this!) you are welcome to make an appointment for a ‘Weight Consultation’ with one of our veterinarians.

The vet may also discuss this and recommend a weight loss diet during a health check or consultation and give you advice on the right combination of foodstuff for weight loss for your pet as well as how to encourage exercise.

The vet will set a target weight & a time span to lose this weight over.

Losing weight too fast is not healthy, and as these animals are much smaller than us, we may plan for them to lose a few grams per week.

Once the diet plan has been set we will then be happy to make free “weight monitoring” checks for you to follow up, usually every month or two months, and these will be with one of our British Vet nurses or our Australian trained Vet Assistants.

It can be very rewarding to see a little chubby chinchilla regaining a slim healthy shape and becoming more active and flexible!

Enrichment

Have you ever found your chinchilla chewing and scratching furniture?

To us these may be perceived as “bad habits” but the truth is that these are just the natural behaviours of chinchillas.

Chinchillas are social animals and in the wild they spend a lot of time grooming each other, searching for food and exploring. However, our pet chinchillas are usually not able to express all these natural behaviours in our household, so what we see are those ‘bad habits”. Chinchillas may over groom due to stress and chew the fur off the sides of their bodies.  As they are social animals they do like companionship.

As they are prey to many animals (i.e. in the wild they will be killed and eaten) they are always alert and aware of their surroundings. Letting them express these natural behaviours is important to reduce the stress of our chinchillas and to help their health, especially the bones and muscles, gut function, as well as their mental health.

The living environment of the chinchilla should be enriched to stimulate the expression of the natural behaviours without causing much trouble.

The cage should have several layers so they can bounce around and exercise properly.

Being exposed in open area, without anywhere to hide, can be extremely stressful for a chinchilla. A box serves as a hiding place for a chinchilla to rest and escape from potential danger so they will feel more secure and comfortable. Please place at least one box for each chinchilla in your cage.

Chinchillas in the wild chew sticks, so chewing is part of their natural instinct. In our home environment, we can encourage this behaviour simply by providing our chinchillas with chewable toys this will also help keep the teeth healthy

Allowing your chinchilla out of their cage to run around on a daily basis will help maintain their health. Building a playground of tunnels for them or just letting them out of the cage for exercise can make a great difference to our pet’s happiness. We prefer that you give you chinchilla 2 hours of exercise every day.

Foraging: making them work for food. In the wild, chinchillas need to search for their food.

We can mimic this by:

  • Stuffing hay inside the cardboard roll from inside a toilet /kitchen paper roll.
  • Poking bits of vegetables or treats through the bars of the cage high up so your chinchilla needs to stretch up.
  • Scattering pellets around the floor when your chinchilla is let out to roam.
  • Using an old cardboard box and filling it with  hay so the chinchilla can dig through it. You can add some pellets or a little treat in here for them to find. This is called a forage box.

Providing an enriched environment for your chinchillas is lots of fun for both you and your pets!

Learn more about your pet

You can download our PDF documents for more information.

Cushings Syndrome

Guinea Pig – Feeding

Anaesthesia

Cat – Moving House

Exotic – Critical Care

Cat & Dog – Bereavement

Remember, you can contact us anytime!