Chinchillas are generally pretty healthy animals, but at the same time, they are also very fragile. Their skeletal systems are fragile, and their immune system can easily be compromised. The animal cannot get wet, and it must be kept at cooler temperatures to prevent heat stroke. Chinchillas just aren't for everyone.
If you plan on keeping a pet chinchilla, you want to be very careful about its health. They generally do not show any signs of illness until the last minute, so it is very important to keep an eye on activity level, appetite, and other basic behaviors to decide whether or not your chinchilla is getting sick.
If you notice any signs of illness, it is vital to get your chinchilla to a vet as soon as possible. In the case of Giardia, there isn't a safe way to treat it at home, so you want to make sure that you have a vet that is knowledgeable with chinchillas in case you start to notice the signs. The sooner your chinchilla is diagnosed and gets treatment, the better the prognosis will be.
Giardia is a flagellate protozoan with a whip-like tail and a sucker-like mouth. The parasite attaches itself to the surface of the intestines. In most cases, chinchillas already have the parasite in their bodies at low numbers, but they don't always show signs, and it doesn't always cause any problems, until stress, contaminated food, illness, or something else lowers the immune system and triggers the parasite to go to work, so to speak.
Basically, chinchillas contract the illness via a fecal-oral contamination, such as by feeding themselves with dirty hands. In some cases, humans can transfer parasite eggs to their chinchilla, by feeding their chinchilla without washing their hands first. If a person has the parasite on his/her hands, feeds the chinchilla, the parasite is now on the food or treats that the chinchilla eats, which is why it's always important to wash your hands before and after feeding your chinchilla(s).
If you live in the Sierra Nevada area, be aware that the entire water system is contaminated with Giardia, and the Rocky Mountain water system is quickly being contaminated, so you'll want to make sure that you offer bottled water or cooled-boiled water.
Just remember that you can contract Giardia, but it takes higher numbers of the parasite to affect you, so if you think there's any slight chance the water may be contaminated, you want to take measures to offer your pet clean, healthy water.
Causes of Giardia
All chinchillas have some amount of the Giardia parasite already existing within the body, but when the chinchilla gets stressed out, live in a poorly kept cage, or fed dirty water or food, the parasite can become a problem.
Or, Giardia can be a secondary problem caused by another problem.
Signs of Giardia
- Decreased activity
- Increased appetite
The most common of these signs that you'll notice is diarrhea or constipation. If you notice that your chinchilla is experiencing either of these symptoms for several days in a row, you'll want to get a fecal sample, and have your vet test it.
The diarrhea will typically be large wet pellets covered in mucous. The pellets will be squishy, and the chinchilla will more than likely have it smeared on perches, houses, ramps, levels, and any flat surfaces in the cage.
A vet will need to diagnose your chinchilla with having a Giardia outbreak, and once confirmed, he may prescribe Flagyl, Albendazole, or Fenbendazole.
- You'll want to make sure that your chinchilla is getting plenty of fluids, in order to prevent dehydration caused by diarrhea.
- Find a high energy food or supplement, to boost activity.
- And, most importantly, make sure to clean the cage with a good disinfectant; try making a diluted clorox mix (about 20% clorox and 80% water). You'll also want to throw away any wood houses, perches, etc that the chinchilla may have had diarrhea on, but it would be safe to clean plastic and ceramic bowls, hides, and toys.
Always provide fresh water. If you let the water sit over long periods of time, it can easily start to grow mold or algae in the water bottle. It may be a good idea to use bottled, filtered, or boiled water to help prevent your chinchilla from developing Giardia.
Make sure that you change the food daily.
Keep the enclosure clean with regular bedding changes, as well as cleaning the hides, cage, perches, etc.
Tips for Caring for Chinchillas
Disclaimer: Please be aware that the advice in this article should in no way replace that of a licensed veterinarian. If you have any questions or concerns, you should consult a veterinarian.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
Dallas W Thompson from Bakersfield, CA on August 08, 2010:
Bottled, distilled and municipal water all needs to be filtered to eliminate the possibility of Giardia, T. gondii and many more "bad" bugs...