It would be better for every chinchilla owner if they didn’t exist, but they continue existing nonetheless. But while other pets get them frequently, chinchillas don’t seem to. Is that because chinchillas can’t get worms, or what?
Can chinchillas get worms? It’s unlikely, but chinchillas can be infested with roundworms, tapeworms and giardia. Infestations are most commonly seen from chinchillas kept on large ranches or breeding facilities where conditions aren’t optimal. You can deworm a chinchilla with deworming tablets (anthelmintics), but be careful of dosage.
This isn’t a post that makes pleasant reading, although if your chinchilla does have an infestation, this is vital info. Comfort yourself that you didn’t have to research and write it instead!
Can Chinchillas Get Worms?
Chinchillas can get worms, although it’s unusual. There are many kinds of intestinal parasites, like roundworms or tapeworms. But chinchilla owners hardly talk about them. That’s not because the topic is disgusting—it’s because they hardly ever affect our pets.
How often worms infest chinchillas has, perhaps surprisingly, been studied by scientists. A paper in the Canadian Veterinary Journal advises vets on how to deworm small animals, but no reference to chinchillas or similar small pets is made. But on the other hand, a meta-analysis of papers on chinchillas found:
- Specimens infested with Giardia assemblage A and B (which can also affect humans)
- 25% of specimens in one study infested with Hymenolepis worms
The list above poses the question: how common are worms in chinchillas? Varying results mean that they are likely related to husbandry issues; the worse the husbandry and the longer it takes a chinchilla to get treated for worms, the worse the infestation rate will be.
For most chinchilla owners, this means there’s almost no chance their pet will get infested. That’s because of the way that worms and other parasites spread. They spread through contact with infested animals’ feces. As chinchillas a) live in cages, b) live indoors, and c) should never come into contact with another animals’ feces, there’s no way for them to spread to your pets.
Pet Chinchillas vs. Ranch Chinchillas
There is a major difference here between pet chinchillas and farmed chinchillas. Chinchillas that live in herds on ranches are much more likely to develop worms. That’s because an initial infestation from outside the herd can then infest many more members.
This is one reason why you should quarantine a chinchilla before you introduce it to the rest of your pets. You can then pick up on any health issues, worms included, that it has.
Can Chinchillas Get Giardia?
Giardia is a kind of microscopic parasite. There are several different kinds of giardia, including Giardia intestinalis, Giardia lamblia, and Giardia duodenalis. These parasites cause diarrhea, bloating and gas and can infest most household pets.
Giardia can be found on surfaces, in soil, in food or in water contaminated with feces from an infected person or animal. It can therefore spread easily through chinchilla groups.
This is easily the most common intestinal parasite found in chinchillas. The analysis posted above found examples of giardia in breeding populations in both China and Europe. It is also found in wild chinchillas still living in Chile, meaning it isn’t solely spread by contact with household pets or people.
As giardia parasites are microscopic, they cannot be seen in poop. A case can be diagnosed through analysis of feces by a vet. The vet will look for antigens specific to giardia to make the diagnosis.
Can Chinchillas Get Roundworms?
These are the most common kind of intestinal worm, and are also known as nematodes. Larger species look a little like earthworms: long and thin, although they don’t have segmented bodies. They range in size from microscopic to as long as the palm of your hand—disgusting, but true. There are many, many different species.
Roundworms in chinchillas live in the gut and feed on the food that the chinchilla eats, which is how all worms live. They can infest any animal they come into contact with, including pets, and including people.
The analysis above found several roundworm species in chinchillas. One paper on chinchillas in Argentina found:
- Trichostrongylus roundworms. These infest herbivores worldwide; there are also an estimated 5.5 million human cases, but don’t worry, because they’re microscopic and don’t cause health issues.
- Trichuris worms, better known as whipworms. These vary in size, but look more like the familiar worms pet owners will be used to.
- Cryptosporidium worms. These aren’t a kind of bacteria, they’re a parasite. Again, these are microscopic, so you may not notice them unless they cause your chinchilla’s diarrhea.
The study states that none of these worms were present in large enough numbers to kill. But they can nevertheless affect development or cause diarrhea.
Can Chinchillas Get Tapeworms?
Tapeworms are another kind of worm; they don’t look the same, but they do the same thing. They are flat and look like ribbons. Again, they infest pets, but again, it’s next to impossible for them to affect your chinchillas.
These worms are slightly more serious, medically speaking, than roundworms. That’s because they can grow much bigger. The bigger the worm, the more it affects the host animal’s digestive system. While the host still absorbs most of the nutritional content of its food, the worm takes a larger and larger proportion. Over time, this deficiency adds up, and the animal can lose weight.
The analysis above found some instances of Hymenolepis worms, which are a group of tapeworm species. There are several species that live in rodents’ guts, including Hymenolepis asymetrica, Hymenolepis horrida (a fantastic name!), Hymenolepis rymzhanovi and Hymenolepis microstoma.
There are also species that live inside people, which could potentially spread to a pet. One particular species is known as the ‘rat tapeworm’. It spreads when its eggs are ingested by insects, and an animal eats the insect. The eggs can then be passed on in poop to begin the cycle again. Chinchillas can eat insects, although if you don’t manually feed them to your pet, it’s highly unlikely that they would find and eat an infested one.
Can Chinchillas Get Heartworms?
Heart worms are the worst kind of worms. They don’t infest the intestine, but the heart. They commonly kill other pets, although they haven’t yet been documented in chinchillas at the time of writing. The analysis posted above doesn’t include any reference to heart worms.
Nevertheless, if you are aware of a case of heart worms e.g. in another family pet, it’s best to keep your chinchillas separated from them.
Can Chinchillas Get Worms from a Cat?
If your chinchilla were to somehow catch worms, it would likely be from another animal in your household. One hypothetical scenario is if you allowed your chinchilla to free roam around the house and it found the cat litter tray.
But if your chinchilla is kept in its cage and never comes into contact with your pet cat, there’s no possibility of the worms spreading from one pet to the other. The only potential vector is you, for example if you picked up your cat’s feces and then touched your chinchilla. Needless to say, this isn’t likely!
What’s definitely impossible is for your chinchilla to catch worms from a neighborhood cat. Worms don’t travel in search of hosts; they wait for the host to come to them. So for your chinchilla to catch worms from a cat you don’t own, the chinchilla would have to go outside, or you would have to let the cat in. Once you understand how worms pass from one animal to another, it becomes easy to see why chinchillas rarely get infested.
How to Diagnose Worms in a Chinchilla
Worms are diagnosed from stool samples. When an infested animal goes to the toilet, included with the poop are some of the worms and/or their eggs. Then, when another animal comes into contact with it, it may get infested too.
As such, this is something you can look for at home. If your chinchilla’s poops look unusual for any reason, it’s worth investigating, as there could be a general problem with its diet or health.
Look specifically for diarrhea. Chinchillas shouldn’t ever have diarrhea. It indicates something wrong with their gut health, either diet or parasites. You can also look for worms and their eggs.
If you do suspect a case of worms, take several fecal samples in a jar or tub to the vet. The vet can then examine them more closely. The ‘fresher’ the sample, the better.
Can Worms Kill a Chinchilla?
Worms may not seem like a big problem: definitely better off gone, but they aren’t going to kill your pet.
That’s actually not true. Worms can have a significant effect on a chinchilla’s health and development. That’s because they take some of the chinchilla’s nutrients and calories each time it eats. If the infestation is big enough, they can take a significant percentage, and leave your chinchilla a) losing weight and b) deficient in certain nutrients.
Over time, this effect can add up. Chronic weight loss causes knock-on problems due to a weak immune system, and as the worms multiply, it gets worse. What this means is that if the weight loss doesn’t kill your chinchilla, something like a respiratory infection or an eye infection might instead.
This means that upon disgnosis, you have to take immediate action.
How to Deworm a Chinchilla
If your chinchilla somehow got worms, there are options available to you. Like with other pets, there are dewormers you can use on chinchillas. But there are lots of other things you’ll have to do, too, to ensure the infestation doesn’t recur or get worse.
Step 1: Quarantine the Chinchilla
Your chinchilla should be kept in a clean cage on its own. This will stop it spreading the parasites to any other chinchillas in its group.
You can keep the cage near the other chinchillas’ cage so that they aren’t too unhappy at being separated.
Step 2: Clean the Cage
Take this chance to clean the chinchilla’s cage thoroughly. Use bleach or something similarly strong that will kill parasites and their eggs. Do this using the deep clean method described in our guide. You will have to:
- Empty the cage, including any bedding, and clean any cage accessory you want to keep
- Wipe the inside and the outside of the cage down with bleach
- Wash the cage accessories with soap and water
This will kill any worms left in your chinchilla’s cage. Remember, they spread through feces, so there will likely be some grown worms and their eggs there somewhere.
You could consider placing your chinchilla in a new clean cage if you have one, or can buy one.
Step 3: Deworming Tablets (Anthelmintics and Chinchillas)
Treating chinchillas with deworming tablets (anthelmics) is a touchy topic. That’s because some owners have reported that their chinchillas have died after taking them. This may have been due to incorrect dosages, side effects, or improper care from the owners—it’s impossible to say.
What we do know, we know from scientific research. A paper in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medicine Association found that chinchillas react badly to certain medications, but not others. The paper states:
- A dose of thiabendazole of 100mg/kg was effective in treating worms, but toxic to the chinchilla.
- A dose of trichlorphon of 100mg/kg was effective and not toxic.
- A dose of niclosamide of 200mg/kg was somewhat effective: it killed many, but not all, worms in a hymenolepis infestation. It was not toxic.
Bear in mind that this research is from 1966, so your vet may not have come across it before. It’s worth getting advice for your vet on what course of treatment to follow nevertheless.
How to Prevent Worms in Chinchillas
Good husbandry is key to stopping your chinchilla get worms. To reiterate, cases of worms in chinchillas are almost never seen. But it’s worth following these guidelines anyway.
- Don’t let your chinchilla free roam the house if you have other pets. This will stop it coming into contact with their feces in any way.
- Don’t let your chinchilla outside. This achieves the same thing but with regard to neighborhood pets or wild animals.
- Monitor your chinchilla’s diet and digestive ‘habits’. A chinchilla’s poop can tell you if it’s ill even if the issue isn’t worms.
- Quarantine any new chinchillas you buy. While it’s quarantined, you can spot any infestations or infections the new chinchilla may have.
- Separate any chinchillas that you identify as having worms and have them treated as soon as possible.
These basic rules are good ones to follow whether or not you are worried about your chinchilla getting worms. As always, if you’re ever unsure about diagnosis, dosage, or anything else to do with worms in chinchillas, talk to a vet and heed their advice.
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