Helping you care for your chinnie


Recognizing health problems in newborn chinchilla kits

As they are born the mom will remove the birth sack that surrounds the kits and stimulate them to start breathing on their own. This happens very fast. She will then clean the kits, eat the placenta and clean herself as well as where she gave birth.
As soon as she got the kit to start breathing, the kit should start moving. After she cleaned the kit, the first instinct of the kit will be to find a teat and start suckling. The quicker this happens, the stronger the kit. Size does play a role but you can’t go on size alone. The behavior of the kit is a better indicator than size.
A kit can be born small and weak or small and strong. A big kit can be born weak. Thumbelina was born tiny and not very strong but she did everything a newborn kit should do. The kits I shared and lost were all born big but they were slow. Crystal’s kit and the 4 kits where the unknown gene showed too late were all big but Thumbelina’s behavior from the start had more purpose. I knew the day those kits were born that there would be trouble. You just still hope for the best.
With bigger litters and even when there are only 2, the fighting amongst the kits can start straight after birth. It is not common in twins and not in all litters. As dangerous as it is (you can lose a kit to a bite on the nose and inhaled blood), this is a sign that they are strong in body and mind. The quads I shared recently did just that. I shared it. Just over 40g (the smallest one) but fighting like a tiger. There is a long explanation for this and I wrote about it before. It goes about milk production and they establish the pecking order. It will influence their growth.
If all this happens, they find a nipple and drink for a while, they passed the first milestone. Even if their eyes are not open yet (rarely), if they are strong it can open in a few days. The main thing is the will to live. If a mom abandons one of the kits and only pays attention to the others, she knows there is a problem.
Depending on the mom and what your cage looks like, she will at some stage take a break away from the kits. In my case, dad takes over and comforts them. They should be busy, right from the first few hours. If they just sit there, you have reason to worry.
This is where people start to intervene. On day one you have no reason to intervene, except if the litter is big and the fighting gets really serious. It will usually be a smaller one with a lot of guts that just won’t let up and the bigger ones will pick on it.
It may sound cruel and it was not necessary in a very long time but I do not intervene. The quads fought for 2 days. The triplet litters that are now all weaning age fought for 2 days. They all survived. This means I will not raise weak kits. A kit will not die of hunger on day one. If the kit doesn’t drink because it doesn’t have the will to drink or the strength to drink, the kit will be dead by tomorrow.
Kits are born with a reserve of nutrients for roughly 3 days. Everyone is so obsessed with weight. Have you noticed how they will first lose weight and start picking up again by day 3, earliest the evening of day 2? They are using up the reserve. If they are born without this reserve, there is something wrong with your food. They will lose a gram or 2, even 3, even when they are getting milk. This is normal.
By day 2 you will be able to see for sure if mom has milk or not. I don’t even worry about this because they always have enough, even for quads. The way to recognize this is that firstly they will be restless. They will not sit quietly and drink for long times. They will suck a bit, stop, look for the teat or another one again and suck a bit. This will continue as they search for milk that is not there. If they sit and drink in peace, there is milk.
It will now quickly get worse. They will start biting the nipples, mom will get angry, they will fight amongst each other and you simply can’t miss it. By the evening of day 2 and especially on day 3 they will just slow down as they run out of energy. If this happens, you should already start feeding them on day 2. If there is no milk and you don’t feed them, they are usually dead by day 4.
The first 3 days are crucial. It shows you that mom has milk, enough milk to keep them happy. It is also crucial for their immune systems. The first few days a mammal’s milk contains colostrum, for how long depends on the species. The colostrum builds their immune system, they inherit it from their mother’s milk. This is above and beyond what they inherit gene wise.
This is also where most people go wrong with hand rearing. They are quick to intervene but if the kit doesn’t get mother’s milk, it doesn’t get that immunity and is far more vulnerable to diseases that will never affect a mom raised kit.
There is a way to fix this. It is not fool proof but it makes a lot of difference. You can buy colostrum from the pharmacy. It comes in capsule form, you can buy a bottle of capsules. The best substitute milk is goats milk. Kitten milk is second best and also works very well. Just mix as they say. All you do extra is add colostrum for a week. You open a capsule and inside there is a fine yellow powder. Just add a pinch of the powder to the milk. You can’t overdose them on colostrum but more is not better, you really just need a pinch. It makes a huge difference.
There is not much else that can go wrong the first 3 days. Either they are born with a problem you can’t fix or mom doesn’t have milk. If there is no milk or a small one gets prevented from drinking you intervene and it is a lot of hard work.
I can’t just let a baby die, I know it is wrong but on day 2 I will intervene. If you do this you must just realize that you are committing yourself to a lifetime with that chinchilla. If you raise a weak kit, it will have problems later but there is nothing that says it can’t lead a good life for a few years with a same sex friend. There is just no way you can breed with such a kit. I have seen the results of this and you do not want to see this. Not here, I don’t do that but I took in babies bred like this.
As a rule rodents have more kits than they will raise. In nature, that is. We changed it by changing their diet. More survive on a good diet than would in nature. Unfortunately, what we also did was take over the role that natural selection plays.
If they survive the first 3 days and do well, their chances of becoming adults doubles. It is no guarantee but it gives you a good indication of what is to come.
I’ll discuss hand feeding with the article that will follow this one. It will cover from day 4 till they are on solids and water only.

Bath dust and eye irritations

The only way to be sure it is the bath dust is off course if the eye irritation only happens when they bath.
Over the years I tried many different bath dusts and we eventually settled on playpen sand that was very fine and silica free. It was not the best because it made the chinnies yellow and it didn’t absorb too well. It kept them clean but they had to bath often and a lot longer. We made it “softer” by adding baby powder and talc. I later found out that although this is common practice, it can cause eye irritations and respiratory problems. I never experienced any that was related to the dust.
We later found a source of sepiolite, which is all we now use. We changed it a bit from the first batch we tested. It is now 100% pure sepiolite but crushed in a specific way.
In the past I wrote about the difference between sepiolite and pumice. Sepiolite is natural clay and pumice is fine porous glass. They both have excellent absorbency and do not discolor the chinnies, it brings out the natural color. I prefer sepiolite because it is cheaper and we have a supplier. The main reason however is that I believe it is softer. This is personal opinion.
Have you ever watched a chinchilla closely when they take a dust bath? Look at the eyes and nostrils. You will notice they close their eyes when they roll in the dust. What many people probably don’t notice is how they close their nostrils as well. They only do this while they roll in the dust. When they sit in it the eyes are open and so are the nostrils. Their bodies are equipped to handle this, ours are too.
I leave the dust in the cages, i only sift out the poops and replace it about every 10 days. I’ve been doing this for a long time. The few cases of eye irritations I came across here were (that was trustworthy) were all hay related. I have no personal experience with eye irritations caused by bath dust. I used pumice very briefly many years ago but it was too difficult to get hold of.
I have however spoken to quite a few people all over the world and there are definite cases where the dust proved to be the source of irritation. In most cases changing the dust solved the problem. In most cases, changing to sepiolite fixed it but there are cases where changing from sepiolite to something else fixed it. I know of very few.
What tends to be a bigger problem is the texture, how fine or coarse it is. We use a mixture of extremely fine powder and sand, all sepiolite. The fine dust penetrates to the skin and the coarser sand acts as a brush on the fur. It is too soft to cause damage to the fur and it effectively removes loose fur. For me it means that it can’t be that it is too fine or too coarse. Since our dust is both it must be something else.
One thing I did pick up was that additives to dust caused problems. If it is perfumed or have another substance in it, it causes problems. There are no other answers. Nobody did any other research that I could find. Some problems occur when people use Blue Cloud, others stop when they switch to Blue Cloud.
Here, all the problems I hear of now are caused by sand that is not supposed to be used for chinchillas. People even use building sand. The only 2 I know that is widely used is pumice and sepiolite. If one gives problems, try the other.
It can off course be any dust. It can be that the dust blocks tear ducts. It can be that the eyes are over sensitive, there can be many causes. Since I don’t get it I don’t have experience with it. If changing the dust doesn’t work, it is something else.
What happens with eye irritations is that the lens of the eye can get scratched. A blocked tear duct will do it all the time, till it goes open. A scratch or little fleck of dust in the eye causes the eye to tear and it makes the eye release protein to fix the irritation. The yellow stuff you wash out of the corners of your eyes in the morning is protein.
People with contact lenses uses eye drops to remove protein from the eyes and contact lenses. It is not medicated, like antibiotic drops. It just removes protein and moisturizes the eyes. This is also what I used in the past for eye irritations and it cleared up in a few days. I just removed the source, which was wood shavings. In cases where it was hay, it also worked.
All I can say is to experiment with dust but stick to natural dust without any additives. The well known brands all have great support. I don’t know all of them. I can tell you more about it if I know what it is made of. I will just check for other causes too. Eyes that are sensitive from exposure to hay dust or anything else will act up when they bath but can also act up at any time.
I don’t have the answers, I doubt anyone does. I just systematically tested everything and was able to pinpoint wood shavings in my case. Other people were able to pinpoint hay and when they changed hay it went away. In most cases where nothing else was left, changing the dust worked.
Here, switching to sepiolite worked for many people but also switching to some of the imported brands worked. The best known imported brand here is also sepiolite, just a bit too coarse for me.
It can be a lengthy process of elimination. If sterile dust causes the problem it might be a small genetic thing, like over active tear ducts but I can’t be sure. I would just systematically eliminate everything till I find what causes it.
The eye drops for contact lenses works great to manage it because it doesn’t medicate, it just cleans. The brand names in South Africa are Renu-It and Natural Tears. There are probably more, I use Renu-It myself because I wear contact lenses.
Not boosting sepiolite but my eyes are very sensitive to dust and I work with the sepiolite every day without a problem. It just makes my skin very dry. I wish I had more but I couldn’t find more.

New arrival. She's been at it for an hour. When she doesn't bath she just lies in the dust. Leaving it in anyways.

New arrival. She’s been at it for an hour. When she doesn’t bath she just lies in the dust. Leaving it in anyways.

How I approach and treat ringworm

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.

Prevention is better than cure. You just can’t prevent it if you give hay, the spores occurs in nature, just like bacteria and parasites. The best you can do is keep the humidity as low as possible. Where we live it rains a lot so it is impossible. Using an air conditioner to keep the temp down does help because it also dries the air. They just don’t experience the seasons then and it messes with their natural breeding cycle.
I use fans and normal air coolers. It doesn’t dry the air out too much but it helps a bit when humidity is high. I leave the dust baths in the cages permanently and just clean it and replace the dust about every 2 weeks. It keeps the fur dry because when they feel wet or damp, the first thing they do is take a bath. When it rains mine bath quite a few times every day. Ringworm doesn’t grow easily if the fur is dry.
Every time I slipped up there was ringworm. This rainy season I had about 5 or 6, one again today. When it rains I change the hay in the cages more often and sometimes just run out of time to put the dust back. Every time I slipped I got one or 2 with ringworm the next day. Yes, it happens this fast. Still, out of over 30 rescues, all my own chinnies and almost 50 babies this season it is not a lot. I just believe the dust helps and it is my fault when they get it.
It is usually a baby. I had only one adult, an RPA because they have long fur and are a weaker mutation. Oh, and a rescue. I also took in 2 yesterday that had it but it was treated right.
I don’t change the hay and I don’t disinfect the cages. Since I do it once a week I won’t waste my time. You can wash and disinfect all you want, the moment you put in new hay you most likely put back ringworm. If it is so highly infectious, why would only one baby from a litter of 3 get it? Why doesn’t the parents get it, or all the other cages with the same hay from the same bale?
There are preventative measures, like putting powder in the bath dust. I don’t need it and don’t believe in it. It does work though, just not all the powders are as safe as people claim.
When one does get ringworm, I use Kyron Ringworm Ointment. Some Vets recommend it and some say it is dangerous. Anything that will kill a living organism is probably dangerous. I checked all the powders and other stuff. They are all dangerous. The safest one of the lot is F10. Only problem is it doesn’t always work. The Kyron does.
I prefer Kyron because I’ve been using it right from the start, on recommendation of a Vet. I never lost a chinnie that got ringworm, not even a baby. They all recovered and all grew up. A lot are still here, years later. When the safety was questioned by a Vet I phoned them and spoke to their lab. For it to be dangerous there must be continuous use for an extended period of time and they must actually eat a lot of it.
The recommended way is to apply it only twice, a week apart. I don’t apply it twice, only once and it still works, every time. The others you have to apply a few times a day for days on end. Then often it still doesn’t work. There are some good powders but it is not so good when they inhale it for extended periods so I don’t use powders.
Chinchillas are not impressed when you smear ointment all over them. Do it twice a day for a few days and it takes time to earn their trust again. The “apply once” option is much better for me. Since it is so effective I don’t worry about the rest.
I get ringworm too. i got it from rescues I took in a few years ago. They were imported from eastern Europe and released from quarantine with the ringworm. Not one of mine got it from them, only me, hahaha. Right on my chest, where I held them when I treated them. So I just tested all the stuff on myself, the human stuff (it didn’t work), F 10 (it didn’t work) and Kyron, only one application. Gone in a few days. It comes back a month or 2 later because the one I got is systemic and I have a very low immune system. Perfect for testing stuff on yourself, hahaha.
Many people will be lucky and never encounter it. Many will and will just keep quiet. They phone me. Not one of mine ever got it twice. The babies from babies I bred doesn’t get it. Babies from chinnies I bought over the years get it but seldom. They develop herd immunity and babies inherit it from parents.
If you breed mutations, especially the recessive mutations, your risk is higher. If they are on rubbish food, stressed or sick from something else, they get it easier. Even a pregnant girl will get it easier. It all goes about the ideal conditions and the immune system. Yor cages can be spotless and you will get it or your cages can be as dirty as a pig sty and you won’t get it.
It’s the weather.


After I applied the ointment. In 2 weeks the fur will start growing back. If it is so highly contagious, why is he the only one? Because it's the weather, been raining for days. The humidity causes it. No humidity, no ringworm. The spores are still everywhere, they just won't grow.

After I applied the ointment. In 2 weeks the fur will start growing back. If it is so highly contagious, why is he the only one? Because it’s the weather, been raining for days. The humidity causes it. No humidity, no ringworm. The spores are still everywhere, they just won’t grow.


Eye infection or eye irritation?

This question keeps popping up. I’ll share some personal experience and what I see with others.
In 8 years I encountered eye infection in my chinnies twice. This includes all the rescues that retired here. The first time was with a Homo Ebony male I bought before I knew better. He was bred from 2 mutations. The eye infection came so suddenly and so aggressive that he was fine the morning but by the evening his eye was swollen shut. I noticed it at lunch time and put him on Baytril and applied medicated eye drops. The next morning he died. I spoke to my Vet and she confirmed the treatment was correct. He just didn’t have the immune system to fight it.
The other one was a Std grey boy I took in. He arrived with a bad eye infection he probably had for a few days already. I put him on Baytril, opened the eye to clean it and then just kept cleaning it with Octin eye drops. The eye was already dead. I just had to stop more damage. He made a full recovery and have been living a happy life for 3 years. Having just one eye doesn’t stop him from being happy.
I helped quite a few people with it over the years and in every case where it was a Std or Hetero Beige the chinnie survived. One lost sight in the eye but all the others made full recoveries.
Eye irritations are far more common. When I still used pine shavings a few of my Beige chinnies got it often. None of the others, just the Beige. I switched to hay and it was gone. I still got it in winter, when the hay was a bit old. For the past few years I get fresh hay and it stopped, except in 2 of my Beige chinnies. They get it in early Spring. Except this year.
The other thing I changed was the bath dust. Years ago we struggled to get good bath dust and we used corn flour and baby powder to make the clay dust “softer”. A Vet recommended it and since I was still very stupid I didn’t question it. Baby powder won’t do anything because it is just talcum but corn flour can cause eye irritation. Since we now only use pure sepiolite we have no problems, not even with the change of seasons.
I researched it a bit. Most eye irritations are caused by the dust hay makes as it gets older. The hay degenerates into dust. This is long before you can smell or see it. I have heard of chinnies getting irritated eyes from specific bath dust but after using sepiolite for almost a year I had not one case in over 100 chinnies. Even the 2 who used to get it never got it again.
The problem is that you don’t know if it is an irritation or an infection. Eye infections are very serious but eye irritations are not. When the eye gets irritated it produces protein. Your eyes does it too. The “sleep” you wash out of your eyes in the morning is protein your eyes produced during the night. With chinnies it can make the eyes glue shut. An irritation looks worse than it is but if untreated it will become serious and can turn into an infection.
Eye infections are treated with antibiotic drops, in South Africa it is Octin. I use the same drops I use for my contact lenses for eye irritations. I do not use medicated drops. In SA we use Renu-It or Natural Tears. It washes out the protein, it doesn’t fight infection. Using medicated eye drops when not necessary can cause bacteria to get resistant to it, just like with antibiotics. I only use medicine if nothing else will help.
Often the eye is already glued shut when you see it, it can happen very fast. Forcing the eye open can cause permanent damage. Just put a few drops of Renu-It n the eyelid and wait a minute or 2. It will soften the protein and you can gently pull the eyelids apart without causing damage. Then you can rinse out the eye. Because it is not medicated you can’t overdose them, you just clean out the goo. Repeat this a few times a day and pretty soon everything will be normal. It is also normal for an irritated eye to lose the fur around it. It almost looks like ringworm, there is just no dandruff-like flakes. Once the eye is fixed the fur grows back very fast.
It is better to rather be safe than sorry but if it is a recurring condition it is caused by something in the cage, either hay or dust. I advised people to change the brand of bath dust and it solved the problem, same with hay. If you are not sure it is off course better to see a Vet but if it has been going on for a week or longer it is not an infection, just an irritation. The chinnie’s eye balls are very close to the brain and infection will rapidly spread to the brain. If not treated well in time, this is fatal. Even when treated in time, eye infection is still very often fatal because by the time it is noticed it has already spread too far.
Eye infections are not common here and is usually caused by a bite or another injury. You just don’t always see it. With our dry and dusty winters eye irritations are more common than we think. The one thing that makes it worse is that hay is stored to be used in winter and early spring, when it is not harvested. By switching from Teff to Eragrostis as the seasons change you eliminate this. Alfalfa (lucerne) is not a grass and doesn’t degenerate the same way. The dust you see in lucerne is from the leaves and flowers and it doesn’t cut like hay does. In winter when I’m not sure how fresh the hay is I use lucerne as bedding.
The biggest secret is to pay attention. You will then know your chinnies and will notice if anything is wrong long before it becomes a danger.