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.