Helping you care for your chinnie


The “mechanics” of disease

What happens to a chinchilla when it gets sick? Disease follows rules. If we know these rules we can combat it.
A virus is bad news because the only way to prevent it is to immunize against it. We don’t have problems with viral infections in South Africa. There are probably a few but I have never come across one. A virus destroys cells. To combat a virus, you treat the symptoms and give the body the nutrients it needs to fight it naturally. Antibiotics doesn’t kill a virus. Take the common flu virus. The only way to prevent it is to get immunized. If you have it, you treat the symptoms. Once you have it you can get immunized and it will help your body make antibodies to combat it but with some, like HIV and rabies, it is eventually fatal.
There are vaccinations against viruses that targets chinchillas and it was used by fur farmers years ago. Some viruses doesn’t exist anymore, except in a few locations for research, like smallpox. The body doesn’t have a natural defense against it if a chinchilla haven’t been vaccinated. Here it is not a problem so we don’t vaccinate. The “safeguard” against a virus is the way it spreads. It needs a host and it dies if not in a host. It is spread by touch, body fluids etc. It can be airborne but will die soon. If a chinchilla doesn’t come into contact with a host it will not pick up a virus. The flu we get from a virus doesn’t seem to affect them because a virus is also species specific, it will target only certain species. This makes our chinnies quite safe against viral infections.
Parasites works different. They can spread through poop, water, hay, food etc. The parasite itself can spread from one to another or contact with cysts (“eggs”) that can exist in nature for some time, depending on the parasite. Parasites will compete with the body for nutrients, causing a deficiency. Giardia for example causes a Vit B deficiency. Some parasites will attack and destroy cells but usually the biggest problems are what it takes from the body and the waste products it produces. The poop is toxic. This is what causes the symptoms. As the parasites increase in numbers, they take more nutrients and produce more toxins. They starve the chinchilla and poisons it.
Bacteria is our most common problem. There are bacteria that destroys cells but in most cases it is the waste products that causes the problems. The poop of the bacteria makes your chinchilla sick. Bacteria multiplies extremely fast and so does the toxin it produces.
Fungal infections like ringworm uses the chinchilla as a place to grow, multiply and make “seeds”. Fungal infections are mostly just an irritation but if untreated it can kill a chinchilla. The one blessing with fungal infections that affects the skin is that you have a bit of time to treat it.
Medicine kills bacteria and parasites fairly quickly. Baytril by mouth will kill the bacteria in less than 4 hours, a lot faster when injected. So why are they still sick for days? It takes time for the body to get rid of the waste products. It must “filter” it out. If there was cell damage it must be repaired and if there was a nutritional deficiency it must be rectified and the balance restored. This takes time.
It depends on how much damage was caused and how much toxin is in the body. The easiest way to explain it is to see the liver as a swimming pool filter. The filter will purify the water but if there is too much dirt the filter gets clogged. With the liver, it just can’t cope. It doesn’t remove the toxins and it keeps poisoning the cells or it just packs up. If the liver packs up, the chinnie will not survive.
What can we do? All we can do is to eliminate stress and to make sure we give the chinnie the fluids and nutrients it needs to keep the body going while it repairs the damage. As long as the chinnie eats and drinks, there is hope. If they stop eating and you can’t force feed them there is only one option. They must get the fluid and nutrients IV (Intravenously). They must be put on a drip. I can also tell you, once a chinnie lost the will to live, very few will pull through.
Basically you first kill the organism that caused the damage and then you keep the chinnie going while the body repairs itself. In my experience the turning point is 3-4 days from when treatment was started. The sooner you identify it the quicker. It is not always in time. I wrote about Leo a few months ago. He had giardia and nearly died. Of the whole group I took in he was the one of 2 to survive.
The damage was severe but the medicine killed the giardia. There was just too much damage and even on a diet I adapted and hand fed, he died about 2 months later of liver failure. The other boy made a full recovery but died 4 months after Leo, also liver failure.
The secret to all this is the immune system. With a strong immune system they fight it a lot better and if you catch it in time they recover from most diseases. With a weak immune system so much damage is caused before you see the first signs and symptoms that something just gives in, even after they recovered. The only way to build a good immune system is to feed the parents the food they need to help the baby develop it.
A few diseases are fatal but in my experience it was always infection a mommy picked up after giving birth. By the time you see it it is too late. With all the others I encountered I had success. The one thing you can’t fix is fatty liver disease. It is a death sentence but it is not a disease in the true sense of the word, it is a condition. Just like malo is a condition.
Understanding the “mechanics” of disease saves a lot of lives.

Where did the disease originate?

It is a bit of a personal issue because breeders gets accused of spreading disease or selling sick chinchillas. I had my fair share of this but not for years now.
Last year at some stage I wrote 2 articles. The one was about why adult chinchillas die and the other was about why and at what ages baby and adolescent chinnies die and why. It was the most viewed and shared articles ever. I have this thing about disease. It was part of my work my whole career. My medical knowledge is restricted to what we know in South Africa as an Ops Medic. It means I can save a life on a battlefield, put up a drip, put in stitches and keep someone alive till the doctor or ambulance arrives.
It also taught me all the common diseases as well as outbreaks of epidemics like cholera and typhoid. This was just a bonus. I learned this because I had the opportunity. My field of work taught me how disease work, why it works, the rules it follows and in what sequence it happens. You can apply this to every disease in any animal on earth.
The secret lies in the incubation period. This gives you a time line from the moment of exposure to the first symptoms. Every single disease have this and you can find the incubation period for every disease. That would be an awful lot of very boring stuff.
The meaning this have to me is that if someone takes a chinchilla from me and it gets sick a week later I can determine if I gave them a sick chinchilla or not. Ringworm is a tricky one because the spores occur naturally and stress can cause it. It also affects them extremely fast. There will be nothing today but by tomorrow there will be a bald spot in the fur. This means that if someone takes a baby from me and it had ringworm, you will see it within 2 days of taking it because the most stress occurs on the day you take it. If they get ringworm a week or 2 later, it didn’t come from the breeder. Here it is caused by the weather anyways.
All the other diseases are easy. I won’t go into fancy names. When a chinchilla gets sick it happens like this. On day one it will start going a bit more quiet. On day 2 it will be worse, they will eat less and move less. The ears will hang and they will become lethargic. On day 3 there will be full blown signs and symptoms, like diarrhea or a nasal discharge. This differs and some diseases are more aggressive, they will cause symptoms faster.
Chinchillas do not walk around with a disease causing bacteria for weeks, they get sick fast. You just don’t notice it immediately. The immune system protects them from a lot of bacteria that exists naturally but the ones that cause disease will cause it fast. There will be a source, like food, water, hay or treats. Even environment. Or you are the source with bacteria.
A virus can stay dormant for a long time and then suddenly flare up, so can parasites. We don’t have problems with viruses and not one of my own chinchillas ever showed signs of parasites. Not even the rescues except one specific group on one occasion. I am not even concerned about parasites.
Because the incubation period for all the known bacterial infections that targets chinchillas are known, all it takes is 5 minutes to determine where the disease originated. It is easy to blame the breeder and often the breeder is at fault. It is just usually some other mistake, like weak genes, bad food etc. With disease you can prove it.
The laws of nature, the biology of all organisms gives us all the answers we need. People don’t know this so they blame the breeder.

Chinchilla Ringworm : busting some myths

With this weather I get more and more questions. Just a few basics.
Ringworm is a fungus, a tiny plant. It spreads with spores, tiny seeds. Mushrooms and ferns works the same. So does athletes foot and other fungal infections. Even Anthrax, which everyone is so scared of, spreads with spores. Some useless info, Anthrax also occurs naturally in certain areas. It is common in South Africa. So why don’t we all die? Because just like ringworm, it follows rules. I can’t tell you what because I don’t want to create terrorists, hahaha.
The spores occur naturally in hay and in nature itself. It is not specific to South Africa, it is like this all over the world where humidity gets high at times, like here now.
Cats can carry it without showing it. Any animal with fur can carry it. If conditions are not right, it won’t grow.
It is not contagious in the original sense of the word. It is not the ringworm fungus that gives it to you, it is the spores (seeds) it makes. A virus is contagious, it spreads from one host to another. Without a host, it dies. You can kill ringworm but the spores will still be there.
You can get ringworm. You can get it even when your chinnies don’t. You handle the hay. If you have a weak immune system and your chinnie has a string one, they stay dry and you are moist, you can get it and they probably won’t.
You can pass it to your chinnies and they can pass it to you. If there is ringworm there are spores. By the time the ringworm shows, you have already been exposed. You don’t pass the ringworm, you pass the spores.
Chinnies build up immunity against it and they pass it to their offspring. If they had it once, chances are small they will get it again but they can. Not one of mine ever got it twice. Not one of the offspring of parents who had it before, got it. The ones who got it were all from parents I didn’t breed. The adults who got it came from friends. They won’t get it again and I am very sure their kits won’t either.
In extreme humidity like now, even immunity might not be enough. If conditions are so ideal, it can happen again. It just seems not to. If they got it again, all my chinnies would have it, every single one.
Mutations are more at risk but in these conditions any chinnie will get it or can get it. The weaker the mutation, the easier they get it. It goes about building immunity with good food and breeding the mutations stronger instead of weaker. Even with this, the Std gene plays a role.
Ringworm is often a sign of something else. Chinchillas that are sick will get it easier. Pregnant or lactating mommies will get it easier because the immune system is lower. Babies gets it easier because they either didn’t inherit it or the mother was on a bad diet that didn’t allow for it to develop optimally.
I got it a few years ago, from imported rescues I took in. They came out of quarantine with it. My immune system is very weak because of an accident I was in. Every time it rains, I get ringworm. I do not infect my chinnies, they would all get it if I do. I handle every single one every day.
Ringworm can be systemic, it becomes part of your body. This is what happened to me. Even though I get it every time it rains, my chinnies don’t. It rains a lot where I live, every year. It only happened twice, a few months ago when we had non-stop rain for weeks and now that we have it again. Not every time it rains, just with me.
Washing cages and sterilizing it kills the ringworm, it doesn’t always kill the spores. They are hardy. You wash them away. To kill the spores you need an aggressive decontaminant like chlorine, which you can’t use.
The moment you put in fresh hay, you probably put the spores back. In countries where it is a huge problem, like the UK, they prevent it with powder in the dust. Since we get it so rarely, I don’t do it. I just treat the few who gets it.
Sun light kills ringworm, the fungus. It doesn’t kill the spores. Sun light prevents it because it removes moisture. Drying your hay will prevent it, not by killing the spores, by removing moisture from the hay.
The best way to prevent ringworm is to keep humidity down. In normal weather conditions, good ventilation is enough. The best way to lower humidity is with wind. My fans blow between the cages so there is no draft on the cages.
Ringworm is the most misunderstood of all skin conditions that commonly affects chinchillas. It carries a stigma in this country that keeps people from talking about it. It leaves people uninformed and makes both prevention and treatment difficult. There are more myths about ringworm than fairy tales.
Ringworm is as much part of the rainy season as mud is. You just learn to walk around it. If you do step in the mud you just wash it off. It doesn’t mean there is no more mud, it means you just don’t play in the rain. Even if you do, you don’t have ti stay dirty, you take a shower.
I lost my fear for ringworm a long time ago. More chinchillas will die long before they are old from unhealthy treats than from ringworm. It takes a lot of ringworm for a long time to kill a chinchilla.

Ringworm. Yesterday there was nothing. This morning I became suspicious and this afternoon it was obvious.

Ringworm. Yesterday there was nothing. This morning I became suspicious and this afternoon it was obvious.

Can I make my chinchilla sick?

Yes and no. In most cases by far the answer is no. Over the past year I wrote a lot about disease. It goes about the organism, which bacteria, parasite, virus, rickettsia or fungus.
Many are species specific. The flu that makes us sick is a virus. It targets humans. Very few viruses target more than one species. Swine flu and mad cow disease are examples. Rickettsia is like a cross between a virus and a bacteria. Tick bite fever is a rickettsia.
The biggest problem is bacteria. Many are not species specific. E Coli, staphilococcus, salmonella, a bunch of others will make any mammal sick. It then depends on how it spreads. The same with parasites. They follow rules. I explained it a hundred times.
The flu you have can’t make your chinnie sick. The virus doesn’t work on them. The diarrhea you have can make your chinnie sick because it is bacteria. For this to happen you must wipe your bum, not wash your hands, handle your chinnie and they must touch the bacteria. They must then eat it with their dirty hands when they pick up food. Or you must put in food or hay with dirty hands. It don’t just happen.
Don’t tell me a breeze causes Upper Respiratory Tract infection (URI). It doesn’t. All it does is to create the right conditions for the bacteria to multiply. The bacteria is already there. It needs snot to grow and live in, then it can multiply and become a problem. It is already there, it is everywhere. All a cold breeze and high humidity does is cause the respiratory tract, the channels in the nose to make more snot. Have you noticed how you get a runny nose when a cold breeze hits you? Do you get flu every time? No, most times you blow your nose and that is it.
These micro organisms are part of nature, they are everywhere. They follow rules and need specific conditions to make them a problem. Then it also go about immune system. In ideal conditions a strong immune system is often not enough.
I have a very low immune system, because of an accident years ago. I get pneumonia about 4 times a year, except this year. I got ringworm from rescues I treated. I got swine flu and pretty much everything that goes around. I also take care of my chinnies, 150 of them.
For the past almost 7 years there was not ONE case of URI, diarrhea, constipation, bloat or anything else. Yet I get most of it. There was a few cases of ringworm, the last with an imported chinnie, not one of mine, except a boy that was born a bit small. I have ringworm. I get it every time it rains, ever since I got it from the rescues. There are no new cases, not even with all the rain, just me. My chinnies don’t even catch what the rescues I take in have because I know the rules.
The problem with disease is that people look at the symptoms instead of the organism. Study the organism, then you will know what it can do. Nature set rules for everything. Know the rules and you can beat it. Don’t thumb suck or say what everyone else say. Off course you can make your chinnie sick, your chinnie can also make you sick. The chances are just a million times better that you will make your family members sick and they you.
Your chances of getting sick by just going to a shop is much higher than the chances of you making your chinchilla sick. The chances of you picking up something like ringworm or giardia from your chinchilla or even your cat is much bigger than you giving them some disease.
Why doesn’t it happen? Because even diseases follow rules. If you don’t know the rules, you can’t comment on the game.