Diabetes is common in people, but less so in animals. Diabetes in chinchillas is unheard of among owners, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible—absence of evidence is not evidence of absence!
Can chinchillas get diabetes? They can get Type 2 diabetes but it’s exceptionally rare. Type 1 diabetes hasn’t been documented. As in people, a chinchilla’s pancreas can stop producing insulin, so they can’t process glucose. Chinchillas are susceptible to diabetes only when fed fatty, sugary treats and they become obese. A chinchilla could never become obese or diabetic on a normal hay diet.
The few documented cases show that it’s possible for a chinchilla to survive diabetes, so long as the condition is caught early enough. So, to learn about the symptoms of diabetes in chinchillas and how to treat them through diet, read our guide below!
Could a Chinchilla Develop Diabetes?
Chinchillas can develop diabetes, as many animals can. According to the MSD Veterinary Manual, cases have been described in medical literature, meaning it is proven to happen. It can happen because chinchillas have all the same organs and mechanisms that diabetes affects, including:
- A pancreas that should produce insulin
- Insulin that helps the body process glucose
- Fatty tissues that can prevent the pancreas from operating properly
- A desire to eat any fatty or sugary treats they come across
But diabetes is rarer in chinchillas than it is in people. The Manual of Exotic Pet Practice states that only one case, in a female chinchilla, has been reported. But that’s not because the chinchilla is less susceptible; it’s only because the basic chinchilla diet doesn’t include foods that cause diabetes. It’s only if you feed your pet the wrong diet that it could develop diabetes.
But that’s a simplistic answer: there’s more than one kind of diabetes, and there are many different potential causes.
What Is Diabetes?
Diabetes is a disease that occurs when the body’s level of blood glucose is too high. Glucose is a kind of sugar, and is the main source of energy that the body uses. It comes from food.
The reason why diabetes is a problem is that it affects insulin production. Insulin is a hormone made by the pancreas. Its purpose is to take the glucose from food and get it to the body’s cells. If the body doesn’t make enough, as happens during obesity, the glucose can’t get into the body’s cells to serve as tehir power source.
This leaves the glucose in the blood stream. The body tries to get rid of it by putting it in urine, but there will still be too much in the blood. This causes long term health issues.
There are several kinds of diabetes. The first is Type 1 diabetes. This is where the body doesn’t produce any insulin, and this condition is present from birth. It occurs because the immune system attacks the insulin-producing cells of the pancreas. As far as anybody knows, chinchillas can’t have Type 1 diabetes. If a chinchilla had this kind of diabetes, it wouldn’t survive to become an adult.
The second kind is Type 2 diabetes. This is where lifestyle stops the pancreas from producing as much insulin as it should. This can affect chinchillas, but it’s rare. There are other kinds of diabetes (gestational diabetes, monogenic diabetes and cystic fibrosis-related diabetes) but none of those are relevant to chinchillas.
What Causes Diabetes in Chinchillas?
The cause of diabetes in chinchillas is overweight, the cause of which is, in turn, poor diet. As you are the chinchilla’s owner, it’s up to you to provide an adequate diet of hay for your pet.
Additional snacks like nuts, seeds and so on are unsuitable. While chinchillas can self-regulate the amount of hay they eat, they cannot self-regulate snacks. If they’re presented with nuts and seeds, they will eat them, even if eating too many is bad for them.
But besides that, the MSD Veterinary Manual states that chinchillas and other similar rodents have insulin with low biological potency, which means that it’s not as effective. This may be because the chinchilla has never had a diet that could lead it to become overweight, and it has evolved that way.
How Common Is Diabetes in Chinchillas?
Diabetes is practically unheard of in chinchillas. The number that have been recognized in scientific literature is only a handful. That’s because the chinchilla’s diet prevents it from being a relevant condition.
Diabetes is typically caused by a high-fat, high-simple sugar diet. Processed sugar is a kind of simple sugar, while ‘complex sugars’ (like fiber) don’t cause diabetes.
The chinchilla’s diet is hay, which mirrors the wild chinchilla’s diet, which is similar. Hay is mostly fiber and contains only small amounts of fat and protein. Chinchillas don’t need snacks, and can self-regulate its hay intake. So, even if a chinchilla ate more than normal, it wouldn’t gain excess weight let alone develop diabetes.
The only cases of diabetes in chinchillas occur in chinchillas that aren’t fed the correct diet. So, if you gave your chinchilla fatty treats like nuts or seeds, it could become obese and get diabetes.
But as most chinchilla owners are responsible and care about their pets (as, hopefully, you do too!) this isn’t a common problem.
What Is Hyperthyroidism in Chinchillas?
Hyperthyroidism is a condition that goes hand in hand with Type 2 diabetes. Thyroid hormones contribute to the regulation of sugar metabolism. An overactive hyperthyroid gland make too many of these hormones when an animal is obese.
But in turn, diabetes affects how the thyroid glands function, making them make even more of these hormones. This causes a vicious cycle where hyperthyroidism makes diabetes worse, and diabetes makes hyperhyroidism worse.
Hyperthyroidism is even less frequent than diabetes in chinchillas, although it has been reported. Pathology of Small Mammal Pets states that there was at least one case of a chinchilla with a hyperactive thyroid. Decreasing levels of thyroid hormones were associated with weight loss in this case, as they are in people and other animals.
Chinchilla Diabetes Symptoms
There are several clinical signs of diabetes in chinchillas. These are described in several different specimens. You may not recognize these symptoms as those of diabetes as they aren’t the same as those in people. They are:
- Poor appetite. This may be an evolutionary adaptation to get the chinchilla to lose weight.
- Lethargy. Lethargy is where your chinchilla hardly moves.
- Consistent weight loss. Adult chinchillas shouldn’t lose weight, either suddenly or over time. This is the result of poor appetite.
- Polydipsia and polyuria. Polydipsia means drinking lots of water, while polyuria is going to the toilet more frequently.
- Hyperglycemia. This is where there’s far too much sugar in the blood. This is a sign that there’s not enough insulin, or the chinchilla’s insulin is not working properly.
- Bilateral cataracts. Cataracts are where the eye clouds over so the chinchilla can’t see properly. Bilateral cataracts are where both eyes are affected.
Strictly speaking, obesity is not a symptom of diabetes. It’s the other way round: obesity causes diabetes. That being said, diabetes in chinchillas will not occur without concurrent obesity, so it can be considered a sign of sorts. Diabetes will eventually kill your chinchilla if it is serious enough, and if it isn’t treated.
Getting Your Chinchilla Diagnosed with Diabetes
A vet will easily diagnose your chinchilla with diabetes if it has it. For starters, they will notice that your chinchilla is overweight. But they can also:
- Test your chinchilla’s blood for hyperglycemia (high levels of sugar)
- Test your chinchilla’s urine for sugar (glucosuria)
- Observe your pet for a while to see if it drinks and urinates more frequently than usual
These tests are relatively simple to perform, and will quickly confirm the vet’s initial diagnosis.
Don’t rely on your own diagnosis. It’s far better to have an experienced vet look at your pet instead, even if you follow this guide.
Chinchilla Diabetes Treatment
Once diagnosed, the diabetes will be treated by dietary changes. Treatment involves reducing the level of obesity through encouraging weight loss. As diabetic chinchillas lose weight already, this shouldn’t be too hard once you get your pet’s diet right.
The vet will recommend feeding a diet high in protein, low in fat and high in complex carbohydrates, i.e. hay. You will have to cut out your chinchilla’s snacks as these are likely the cause of its diabetes and obesity. Chinchillas should be given a diet of unlimited hay supplemented with 1-2 tablespoons of pellets per day. Snacks should be limited to rosehips and herbs, although no snacks are necessary.
The vet will also recommend insulin injections, the use of which has been reported in medical literature. The problem with diabetes is that the body doesn’t produce enough insulin, but synthetic and animal-sourced insulin is available. This acts in the same way as the body’s insulin, so it will reduce the effects of the condition.
Can a Chinchilla Survive Diabetes?
Animals of all kinds can survive diabetes if it is caught early enough and its effects are reversed. This necessitates immediate treatment both through changing the diet and administering insulin.
Unfortunately, the case recorded in the Manual of Exotic Pet Practice did not result in the chinchilla recovering. It was treated with between 2 and 12 IU of insulin daily, but it nevertheless was eventually euthanized.
The chinchilla with hyperthyroidism described above did survive, however. Its weight loss made its thyroid gland produce more normal amounts of its hormones over time.
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