Helping you care for your chinnie


Chinchillas can go into shock. This can be caused by just having a big fright and leaving the chinchilla alone and unhindered will normally solve the problem. Symptoms of this kind of shock are normally that the chinchilla will appear paralysed or unwilling to move. It will recover by itself. More dangerous types of shock can be caused by injury or illness. The other symptoms of the cause will then also be present. If a chinchilla goes into shock because of this it means it is already very sick and must be taken to a vet ASAP.

Shock kills more chinchillas than the actual injury itself. To understand this we must know what shock causes in the body, what causes the different types of shock and what we can do to treat it.
The biggest threat shock poses is that it  “shuts down” the body. Typical signs common in most cases are:

  • Increased heart rate and lower blood pressure. You can physically feel the heart beat by putting your hand on the left side of their chest. If it is feint I hold the chinnie against my ear. The ear is sensitive to both sound and movement, you feel it. Because the blood pressure drops, the heart works harder.
  • Shock shuts down any organs not needed to stay alive at that moment. The chinnie will stop urinating and often stop pooping or it will be obviously less.
  • A symptom you can’t see is hypoxemia. This is a lack of oxygen in the blood. It will cause breathing to become a lot faster but shallow. The lack of oxygen influences the whole body, every single cell needs oxygen.
  • Seizures and muscle tremors are signs that occur as a result of shock, caused by the lack of oxygen and how it influences the brain and central nervous system.
  • Chinchillas don’t sweat and a typical sign of shock is cool, clammy skin. If the shock is not caused by heat stroke, the chinnie will feel cold but not clammy. What I did observe is that the  fur tends to look more oily very quickly.

The cause of shock can give different symptoms but these are all sure signs of shock. Basically your chinnie will go totally lethargic, can lose consciousness or will sit in a hunched up position, ears flat against the head and will shiver as if from cold.

What shock does to the body

It is extremely complicated but can be explained as follows. Shock has 4 stages the body go through. It is a continuous process and the stages  flow into each other. The 4 stages are:


The first thing that happens is hypoxia, a lack of oxygen in the blood. This prevents the body from turning sugar into energy. This influences the whole body because it prevents or slow down the whole metabolism on cellular level. It is like a battery running flat, the body just loses more and more energy.


The body now tries to reverse this process. This is where the heart rate increases. The body releases epinephrine (adrenalin) for this. Breathing becomes faster to try and rid the body of the build up of carbon monoxide. A hormone is released to prevent the kidneys and gastrointestinal tract from losing fluids. It redirect blood to the vital organs, the heart, lungs and brain. This is what causes the chinnie to stop urinating an defecating. There is more but you can’t see it. The body will try to restore the PH and reverse the effects on the cells.


This is where the corrective measures starts to fail. Chemical changes start to take place, like the build up of sodium and leakage of potassium from cells but you can’t see this. Basically the muscles start to relax, involuntary urination and defecation takes place, the veins relax, blood becomes thicker because fluid and protein starts leaking into surrounding tissue. The blood becomes like sludge and blood flow slows down. The release of histamine is a measure to combat disease but at this stage in shock, it just helps thicken the blood and cause more loss of fluid from the arteries. Bacteria can now enter the blood stream, making matters a lot worse.


This is the final stage. Vital organs have now failed and the shock can’t be reversed. The brain and cells will start dying and death is imminent. Basically everything just shuts down. When shock progressed to stage 4, no drugs, oxygen or treatment can save the chinnie. It already lost consciousness and don’t feel any pain. When this happens, it is a matter of only a few minutes and they are dead.

Types of shock

Hypovolemic shock

This is the most common type of shock. It is caused when the volume of blood that circulates in the body is too low. Typical examples include the following.
Blood loss, like a bleeding wound or internal bleeding. If a female gave birth and then just die it is often from hypovolemic shock caused by internal bleeding you can’t see. It can be a burst artery, ruptured  uterus, etc. She will just go quiet, lie down and die.
Diarrhea. The loss of fluids from the body affects the while body. There is just not enough fluids to go around.

Cardiogenic shock

This is heart problems. The heart doesn’t pump effectively. It can be caused by damage to the heart muscle or a birth defect. This can happen even with the best breeding chinchillas. They get a heart attack and die.

Obstructive shock

There are a few causes but basically this is when normal blood flow is disrupted. It can be fluid in the heart sack, fluid in the lungs, build up of fat in the arteries, etc.

Disruptive shock

This is also common and of concern for chinchilla owners. It is the impaired utilization of oxygen, leading to the loss of energy production on cellular level. Basically the body can’t use the oxygen and starves. There are different causes.

  • Septic shock. This is basically shock caused by bacteria like E Coli, Klebsiella, streptococci, etc. The bacteria excretes a toxin that poisons the body. When the liver can no longer filter the toxin from the blood stream it prevents the cells from using oxygen. Certain fungi, like mold in hay can also cause the same. This is the shock a very sick chinnie will get from a bacterial infection and often with sepsis in the uterus after a female gave birth, this is the first symptoms you see.
  • Anaphylactic shock. Basically an allergic reaction to a foreign drug, allergen, antigen or protein in the blood. It causes the release of histamine which in turn causes loss of fluids from the arteries, slow blood flow etc as described under compensatory shock. Probably the best example is a person that is allergic to bee stings. Poisoning will fall in this category.
  • Neurogenic shock. This is caused by a high spinal cord injury and must not be confused with spinal shock. With a spinal injury that causes neurogenic shock it is usually permanent damage. Spinal shock, like a fall or bump where nothing got broken leads to recoverable loss of function.
  • Endocrine shock. This is hormonal shock and includes adrenal insufficiency and hormone deficiencies. It is usually a result of glands which manufacture the hormones that malfunctions. You will not see this.

Heat stroke

It deserves a special mention. It  is not a form of shock, it is a cause of shock. When you look at the effects of heat stroke on the body of a chinchilla you will realize that the types of shock it causes overlaps. Proteins are released, it prevents oxygen from being used by the cells, resulting in the chain reaction this causes. It can differ but it is pretty much a mixture of hypovolemic shock and anaphylactic shock. Off course symptoms overlaps, it is just an easy way to describe it. It follows the normal stages of shock but is caused by heat, an external factor, where the others are all internal factors. Since heat stroke is just a cause of shock it will be discussed in detail elsewhere.

Treating shock

Get the chinchilla to the Vet ASAP. You have a chance if it is stage 1 shock because they can recover by themselves. Basically all you can do is to give fluids and nutrition. Glucose is often given and  it can make a difference if the cells still convert it to energy. Since you do not know if the chinnie will recover or if it will go to stage 2, you can’t take a chance.
The Vet will give fluids intravenously, they will put up a drip. In mild cases they might just inject fluid (normal saline or ringers lactate) under the skin. To prevent hypovolemic shock from diarrhea or blood loss, they will replace fluids.

The only way to prevent or successfully treat shock is to treat the cause. If it is a bleeding wound, diarrhea, bacteria or even heat the bleeding must be stopped, the diarrhea must be stopped by treating the cause, the bacteria must be killed and the body functions sustained till the toxins are filtered out or the chinnie must be cooled down.

There is a cause for every type of shock. The Vet will identify it, manage the shock and treat the cause. With poisoning an antidote like Vit K will be administered. Different types of medication is used for different types of shock but fluid replacement is essential and the cause must be neutralized.

What is not discussed in everything I read about shock is the long term treatment. I believe it is extremely important. The body loses a lot of nutrients. In rescues I treat for disease and mild shock I will  put them on a soft diet of easily digestible food like baby porridge and pureed butternut for 2 weeks. They have free access to normal food and hay, I just boost them a bit. I do not use glucose because in my opinion, if they need glucose, they need a Vet. There is enough natural sugar in the baby food and glucose can mask more serious symptoms till it is too late.

Shock often affects the central nervous system. To restore it they need Vit B 12. I will boost Vit B12 by adding whole wheat to the diet, giving it freely for 2 weeks. I will also feed 2 Goji Berries twice a day. The immune system takes a huge knock when shock occurs and Goji berries is a natural way to restore it.

Shock kills. Injuries might look superficial but if the chinchilla goes into shock most will not survive.
Sources: I used the Wikipedia layout because it is complete but combined a lot of what I know, read elsewhere and learned from experience with it and explained it is simple terms. It’s basically the same layout with my explanations. The words used in the good articles has no meaning for us normal people, hahaha. I converted it to English.


I described all the different types of shock and what it does. Because chinchillas are so susceptible to shock from stress I will do it alone.

Shock caused by stress is also known as acute stress reaction, acute stress disorder, psychological shock or mental shock. It is not caused by the injury, it is caused by the event. Often chinchillas with minor or even no injuries will just die. It happens often with males that have been attacked by females and any chinchilla attacked by another. Because males tend to run away from females instead of fighting, it happens more to them. It also often happens when a young female is paired with an older male who will force her to mate and hurt her in the process.

Chinchillas are extremely sensitive to stress and emotional shock. It often seems as if they just go sit in a ball, switch off and them just die. This is what happens in their bodies.
Mental shock is caused by specific physiological actions in the sympathetic nervous system. All the nerves in the body is connected to the brain and the whole central nervous system is affected by this. It is influenced by the release of adrenalin from the medulla of the adrenal glands. In humans this is described as the “fight or flight” reaction. In chinchillas, it will usually be the one who flights, gets chased and either injured or just extremely traumatized.

This triggers immediate physical reactions in the body. Heart rate will increase, breathing will become fast and the arteries will constrict, meaning they get narrower. This hinders effective blood flow and blood pressure drops. The heart works even harder to compensate for this and the lungs work harder to try and provide more oxygen.

On the brain stem there is a nucleus called the locus ceruleus. It sends out the neurons that makes your nerves react, sending the message to the receptors on the muscles, causing movement. In a relaxed state it doesn’t send out a lot of messages, to put it simply. When exited or frightened, it works at full speed, sending out a lot of messages. When you get so scared that you start shaking, it is because of an “overload” of messages sent through the nerves. This is an extremely complex function but it is basically what happens.

When you now look at what other types of shock cause on cellular level you will realize the same happens here for exactly the same reasons. The cause is just different. It is not blood loss, septic shock, etc. It is mental shock but the same happens. To compare it with the types of shock, it compares best to endocrine shock, a malfunction in the hormones. Instead of a deficiency there is just now an overload of adrenalin.

The effects are the same. There is not enough oxygen in the blood, carbon monoxide builds up, the body can’t make energy from sugar. The more it realizes the problem, the harder everything works. It will follow exactly the 4 stages as described in the piece on shock.

The problem with chinchillas is their sensitive psyche. When you remove yourself from a stressful situation or things calm down, so does your body. The heart rate will normalize, breathing will slow down and the arteries will dilate, opening up. The locus ceruleus will stop sending an overload of messages. This is where the glucose comes in and why humans drink sugar water. It gives a quick boost of sugar to replenish what was lost during shock. You quickly replenish it and the cells makes energy.

In many chinchillas this doesn’t happen. This is why some will die but some will recover. In the ones that die from shock, this process doesn’t switch off. They just don’t relax again and the longer they stay in this state of mental shock, the worse it gets, just like the stages of shock. It is a mental “handicap” chinchillas have. They just seem to give up. You will sometimes find that a chinchilla who got a huge fright will just black out. This is a defense mechanism to slow things down and make the locus ceruleus switch back to normal. When they wake up, they are fine and it is as if nothing happened. They just get up and go.

The symptoms

Numbing, they will not move. They will shiver but this is the nervous system and they can’t control it. They can’t move, except for the shivers.
Detachment. It will be as if they are in another world. Their eyes will be open but they just stare into the distance. They won’t respond to anything, just stare.
The rest of the symptoms are the same as for the other types of shock.

What is often not realized are the long term effects, if they recover. It is the same as with humans. They can become depressed, will go into shock again if faced with the same situation (like putting a male back with the female that attacked him), they will become nervous and experience anxiety. It can lead to behavioral disorders like fur chewing, becoming antisocial or becoming destructive.

In humans muteness is a symptom, you just don’t speak. In chinchillas it can happen too, they just go dead quiet but more often they will make little crying sounds.

What you see in the chinchilla

It often happens at night or when you are not there to prevent it. If the chinchilla was not killed, it will be hiding somewhere or just sit hunched in the nest box or in a corner. It will be cold when you touch it and it will often be visibly shivering or you will feel it trembling when you pick it up. It will shy away from contact or simply not show any reaction, as if you are not there.


If you can’t get them to “snap” out of the state of shock, they die. A Vet will do exactly the same as for any other shock but as long as a chinchilla is in that mental state, no treatment will fix it. The chances are improved with intravenous drugs that will reverse the effects on cellular level but usually it is too late. By the time they are found, the state of shock is too advanced to reverse.

I never lost a chinchilla of my own to this. I have a male that was badly mauled by a female many years ago. I just found him in time and the treatment was successful. It took 3 days on a drip to get him out of it. After that he made a full recovery. I know of many males that were found alive and without serious injury that just died. Many more die than recover.
You can’t break down shock into a few categories. I broke them down to the main causes. There are a lot of causes and many overlap, you can’t put them in a single category. The stages of shock are the same. It is the “process” that happens in the body, no matter what the cause is. It is this process that kills them. The cause is just the trigger.

The intricate, complex and sensitive psyche of the chinchilla is widely misunderstood. They are intelligent, they think, have emotions and react with emotion to situations. Mental shock means they were so traumatized that they can’t cope with this. In humans it would be a “nervous breakdown” and in the long run, PTSD.

To explain things we try to categorize them. They are all interlinked, each have an effect on another. With mental shock it is not the fact that they are frightened out of their minds that kills them, it is what it causes in the body. The effects it has on the body kills them.

I can explain it even more thoroughly than this, in the finest detail. I can tell you how the cells die, what carbon monoxide does to different cells, how it affects the central nervous system and how it kills cells in the brain. I can tell you about acetylcholine, the fluid that enables the transmission of the message from a nerve ending to the receptor on the muscle. I can tell you how it is influenced by by the adrenalin, lack of oxygen, too much carbon monoxide and the effects of not having sugar in energy form and how it messes up the signals, causing the tremors. If you want to know how this causes progressive muscle weakness till the body just doesn’t have enough energy left to keep the vital organs alive, I can explain it in full detail. Then I can tell you how acetylcholinesterase hydrolizes it again, allowing for the messages to be transmitted correctly. If you want to know why atropine is administered for this and what it does to make the acetylcholinesterase to remove the “obstructions” in the acetylcholine, I will gladly explain this too.

If this doesn’t make it clear, I will gladly go into the real nitty gritty detail. Only thing is pretty much nobody will understand it. You also don’t have to. You need to know what happens, how it happens, how you can recognize it and how you can fix it, if it can be fixed. Going into more than this will be showing off my knowledge. I don’t brag but if you need it I can gladly provide the information because I actually know it.