The time before your chinchilla gives birth is exciting. But before the baby chinchillas arrive, you must take proper care of the female. If you don’t, miscarriage or poor health could occur.
How do you care for a pregnant chinchilla? First, check that it’s pregnant by monitoring weight gain and your pet’s behavior. Consult a vet if you’re unsure. Then, assess its diet and make necessary corrections (e.g. feeding alfalfa). Only handle if absolutely necessary, and consistently check your pet’s teeth to ensure it’s getting enough calcium. Prepare a nesting box and clean the cage shortly before birth.
If at any point there is a problem, you must consult a vet. The guide below will teach you how to care for a pregnant chinchilla properly, but nothing can ever take the place of a vet’s advice.
Caring for a Pregnant Chinchilla
Chinchillas require special care whether they’re pregnant or not. You have to handle chinchillas in a special way, for example, and bathe them with dust rather than water. These care guidelines apply to pregnant chinchillas, too.
But when a chinchilla is pregnant, there are several additional things you have to do. The purpose of these things is to protect the health of the female and its unborn kits. Here is a brief table describing what you need to do:
|Check that the female is pregnant||As chinchillas are so fluffy, it’s difficult to tell when they’re pregnant. Check for weight gain, monitor the female’s behavior and consult a vet.||Straight away|
|Assess the female’s diet||Your chinchilla’s diet is paramount when it’s pregnant. Consider changing to alfalfa for its higher fat and protein content. Avoid fresh vegetables.||Straight away|
|Learn how to handle a pregnant chinchilla||Incorrect handling can cause miscarriage. So, avoid picking your pet up by its tail or putting any pressure on its belly during handling.||Straight away|
|Calcium teeth checks||A lack of calcium can cause spontaneous miscarriage. So, check your chinchilla’s teeth: they should be orange or orange-red, not yellow or white.||Once a week|
|Separate the mother and father||The father is not a danger to the kits. But the parents will mate immediately after birth to have another litter, which isn’t ideal for you as an owner.||A week before birth|
|Prepare a nesting box||A nesting box keeps mother and kits warm and clean. Place it in the cage in the week leading up to the birth, so the mother can get used to it.||A week before birth|
|Clean your pet’s cage||Your pet’s cage must be clean before the kits arrive. Otherwise, both the mother and the kits could catch infections.||The day/night before birth|
|Monitor the birth of the kits||By monitoring what happens when the kit/s are born, you can react to any issues immediately||During birth|
The tips above should help your chinchilla through its pregnancy. But if anything goes wrong, e.g. if you’re unable to properly prepare a nesting box or check your pet’s teeth, consult a vet or reputable breeder. They can help you by demonstrating what to do, or providing medical care. Remember, while you can do the above things yourself, nothing should take the place of veterinary advice.
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1) How to Tell When a Chinchilla Is Pregnant
There are no obvious signs that a female chinchilla has become pregnant. In some cases, the first time that owners realize a chinchilla is female is when it gives birth. This is unfortunate, as it leaves you less time to prepare. Before this point, the best you can do is guess.
Has the Chinchilla Been Housed Alone?
If the chinchilla has lived alone all of its life, then there’s no way that it can be pregnant. Chinchillas mate like any other mammal, and a male and female are needed to produce offspring. Only if the chinchilla has been housed with cage-mates can it be pregnant.
Is the Chinchilla Housed with a Same-Sex Cage Mate?
One frequent source of confusion arises when two chinchillas of the same sex are housed with each other. The previous owner or even the pet shop owner you got them from may have told you they are both male, or both female.
However, it’s possible that somebody inexperienced with chinchillas can mis-sex them. This means thinking a male chinchilla is female, or a female chinchilla is male. So, if your chinchilla is living with a supposedly ‘same sex’ cage mate, check to see what sex your chinchillas are. If one is a male and one is a female, and they have been housed together for a while, the female is likely to be pregnant.
Check for Weight Gain
Weight gain is the most obvious sign of pregnancy, as it cannot be hidden.
Ideally, you should already be monitoring your chinchilla’s weight. Doing so lets you tell if your pet is losing or gaining weight unexpectedly. This allows you to make suitable changes to your pet’s diet before they become necessary to make.
If you are already noting your pet’s weight, check to see if it has been increasing regularly over the past month or two. If it has, it may be pregnant.
And if you haven’t been monitoring your pet’s weight, now is a good time to start. Place your pet in a bowl or sealed tub (with air holes) and weigh it on the kitchen scales.
Be careful when handling a potentially pregnant female: don’t lift it by its tail, and don’t lift it by its abdomen. This makes handling it difficult, but if you do either of these things, miscarriage may occur. There are more guidelines on this point below.
Check Your Chinchilla’s Behavior
Pregnancy is a time of great change. A pregnant animal’s body is put under great stress, as it has to reallocate resources from preserving itself to developing its offspring. In addition, new hormones course through its body. This causes changes in behavior in your chinchilla which may be noticeable. So:
- A female which was once friendly with you may now be aggressive
- A female which was once not afraid of you may now spray urine when you approach (a sign that it feels threatened)
- A female which was once unfriendly may now want to spend time with you
- A female which is friendly or unfriendly right now may be the opposite in five minutes’ time
Your chinchilla will also start to eat more food. This is because it needs more energy to support the growth of its young. It is quite literally eating for two (or more, depending on the size of its litter).
As the kits move towards full term, the mother will begin to laze around more. This is because the kit/s make her heavier, and because her body is under stress when creating new life. This is especially the case in the days before birth. Spend time with or near your pet to try and spot these behavioral changes.
Consult a Veterinarian
If you have your suspicions, but you still aren’t certain that your chinchilla is pregnant, talk to a vet. The vet can X-ray your chinchilla’s abdomen to check whether any kits are forming inside. X-rays pick up on bone, so if the kits are developed enough, they will be visible.
You should consult a vet even if you’re certain already that your chinchilla is pregnant. That’s because:
- The vet can advise you on how best to care for your pet
- It’s useful to have the contact details of an emergency vet, in case something goes wrong with your chinchilla’s pregnancy
So, arrange this as soon as possible.
2) Assess Your Chinchilla’s Diet
Diet is important for a chinchilla in any of its life stages. But it’s especially important for a chinchilla which is pregnant. The nutrients it gets from its food are what it uses to nourish its young in the womb. If it doesn’t get enough energy from its food, or the food doesn’t contain the right minerals and vitamins, the young may not reach its full potential size. It could even be miscarried or still born.
So, as soon as you notice that your chinchilla is pregnant, fully assess its diet to make sure it’s getting everything it needs.
What Should a Pregnant Chinchilla Eat?
A pregnant chinchilla should be fed a diet of fresh hay or chinchilla hay pellets, which is the diet it should already be consuming. Hay provides everything that a chinchilla needs.
The only caveat is that pregnant chinchillas need to eat more food. As such, you should ensure that your chinchilla has access to unlimited hay. Your pet will not become overweight by eating too much hay, whether it’s pregnant or not.
You should consider feeding a higher protein-and-fat content hay. This will assist the female in developing the kits. Alfalfa has a high level of both protein and fat compared to other kinds of hay.
Avoid Fresh Vegetables During Pregnancy
Fresh vegetables are a key part of your pet’s diet. They provide a small amount of variety, which can make up for anything your chinchilla’s hay doesn’t have.
Unfortunately, vegetables have a side effect which can cause complications in chinchilla pregnancy. Vegetables cause gas and bloating. In excess, gas and bloating can cause miscarriage in chinchillas.
So, how much fresh vegetable should you feed to a pregnant chinchilla?
Should You Give a Pregnant Chinchilla Supplements?
Supplements can contain all the vitamins and minerals that somebody, or in this case a chinchilla, needs. But there are good reasons to avoid them rather than taking them.
Chinchillas should ideally get every nutrient they need from their food, and will drink water if the food is dry. This is all a chinchilla needs to survive. As such, you can ensure the health of your chinchilla and its unborn kit or kits solely through its food.
In addition, supplementation can be harmful to a chinchilla’s health. If you give your pet calcium supplements, for example, the calcium can build up in its kidney and bladder. There, it will form kidney/bladder stones. These cause pain and, when passed, can cause infections too.
3) Handling a Pregnant Chinchilla
Pregnancy can be spontaneously miscarried through improper handling. As such, it’s vitally important that you follow the below handling guide if you suspect or know that your pet is pregnant.
Never pick up or hold a pregnant chinchilla by its tail. This is standard handling practise for chinchillas, but should not be done if the chinchilla is expecting. Doing so puts pressure on the chinchilla’s uterus, and can cause miscarriage.
Instead of picking your pet up, avoid handling where possible. So, regular handling to spend time with your pet as you may have done before is not an option. You should also avoid handling for dust baths and the like.
The only time you should consider handling your pet is if you need to weigh it. Try to coax your chinchilla into a carrier if you need to move it from place to place.
When handling a pregnant chinchilla, don’t hold it around the middle or put any pressure on its abdomen. This is where the uterus is, which is what the babies are inside. Pressing the uterus can cause physical injury and miscarriage.
4) Keeping a Pregnant Chinchilla Clean
Chinchillas take dust baths to stay clean. The dust/sand used will wick the fur of any oils and bacteria. To get the dust/sand all over their bodies, chinchillas will roll vigorously in it, which spreads it around. Chinchillas cannot bathe in water when pregnant or otherwise as they should not get their fur wet.
Pregnant chinchillas can continue taking dust baths without issue. The female knows not to be too vigorous in bathing.
The only caveat is that the dust bath must be removed, if present in the cage, before birth begins. The fine dust/sand could irritate the mother’s vaginal area during birth.
5) Check Your Female’s Teeth
While the female is pregnant, you must periodically check its teeth to assess its health. Specifically, you are looking at the color of your pet’s teeth.
A chinchilla’s teeth are supposed to be a deep orange color, bordering on red. To a novice owner, this color may look alarming, but this is how they’re supposed to be. A deep orange color is indicative of high calcium levels in the diet, which is ideal. By contrast, pale yellow or white teeth are a bad sign. This indicates that the chinchilla isn’t getting enough calcium.
You are looking at your pet’s teeth to see what their color tells you, because low calcium levels are seriously detrimental to unborn kits. If your female isn’t getting enough calcium, switch it to alfalfa hay and/or provide cuttlebone.
6) Separating the Father and Mother
Before your chinchilla gives birth, you must separate her from the father of the kits. Unlike other species, the father of the kits stays with the female after mating and until birth.
The reason why you must separate them is that the male wants to mate again. Chinchilla females are capable of becoming pregnant as soon as they give birth, or even from mating the day before birth. This is an evolutionary adaptation which allows them to have lots of young.
However, this is not a good idea as it puts stress on the female’s body. She may lose too much weight through milk production if she has repeated litters, for example. Issues like infection become more likely.
To separate the male, place him in a cage of his own. This cage must have everything that your pet needs, and be of the right size. You should set it up as if it’s a permanent home.
When to Reintroduce Mother and Father Chinchilla
The issue is that the female is in heat before and after giving birth. This ensures the continued production of litters, as described above. Some sources state that the female is in heat for 13 days after birth; others say only 4 days. As such, waiting 13 days should be enough to prevent mating, and a week is likely a good compromise.
You also must be aware that chinchilla females become in heat when they wean their young. This can occur as soon as four weeks after birth, up to around six weeks. So, if you reintroduced the male and female before then, you would have to separate them again if you don’t want any more young.
The core problem is that if you put a male and a female together, they will eventually mate. There is no sign which warns you in advance when the female is in heat. The only solution is to neuter the male.
If you do plan on putting the pair back together, you must reintroduce them. To do this, place each chinchilla in its own cage and put the cages two inches apart. This allows the pair to smell each other without fighting. The pair may react badly at first, e.g. by spraying or bouncing off the walls. But when the pair begin sitting near each other, separated only by the gap between the cages, this signifies that they want to spend time together. You can then put them back in the same cage.
7) Prepare a Nesting Box
Nesting boxes are small hides that animals can hide in when they give birth. They help the mother and kits in several ways:
- They can be cleaned and replaced shortly before birth
- They keep drafts away from the mother and kits
- They keep the surrounding temperature stable
- They can be made comfortable
A large hide is suitable for this purpose. Line the hide with substrate, ideally fleece. Place the nesting box in the cage in the week leading up to birth so that the female becomes accustomed to it, and knows to use it when the time comes.
8) Cleaning the Cage before Birth
During and soon after birth, both the female and the kits are vulnerable to infection. Infection can kill if it gets into the blood stream, which is a condition known as sepsis. To prevent this potential issue, you must deep clean your chinchilla’s cage before it gives birth.
This involves doing everything you normally would: removing and replacing/washing the substrate, removing any toys and platforms and cleaning them as much as possible, and washing the inside of the cage. Do so with disinfectant if you don’t do so regularly anyway.
You should also take the opportunity to clean the nesting box. This is where the main ‘action’ will occur, so it must be cleaned thoroughly.
9) Monitor the Birth
As far as is possible, you should monitor your chinchilla when it’s giving birth. As detailed below, many things can go wrong, including still birth. While this may seem bad enough on its own, it can also cause or be a sign of another problem that requires urgent attention.
You should have an emergency vet’s phone number to hand in case something bad does happen. You can then call the vet and they can either advise you on what to do, or come to check on your pet and provide medical assistance.
What Can Go Wrong for Pregnant Chinchillas?
Pregnant chinchillas can miscarry, as is the case for any animal which births its young. This means giving birth to the kits before they’re supposed to be born. There are many reasons why this happens:
- Stress. For unclear reasons, stress causes miscarriage in chinchillas.
- Accidents. If the chinchilla falls awkwardly or is hit by accident in the stomach, this can injure the kits and the mother.
- Fighting. Fighting causes both stress and physical injury.
- Developmental issues. If the kits aren’t getting enough nutrients and so are far too small, they may be miscarried.
- Genetic issues. If the kit has a genetic abnormality which kills it, the mother’s body will expel it. The mother’s body may even do so if the kit will survive to term, but not thrive after being born.
Still birth is also possible. This is where the kit is brought to full term, but when it’s born, it doesn’t survive. The kit may either be born alive, but die soon after, or born already having passed away.
How to Tell If a Chinchilla Miscarries
Miscarriage can be difficult to notice. That’s because the miscarried kit may be very small. The mother may also dispose of the miscarriage by eating it, which leaves only clues behind. Plus, the signs of pregnancy are difficult to see too. Signs that your pet may have miscarried include:
- Sudden weight loss. This especially applies if the miscarriage was late term.
- Blood around the cage. Birth is accompanied by a small amount of blood. But depending on what was wrong with the kit, or the reason for the miscarriage, there may be more blood.
- Blood around the mouth. If the female disposed of the miscarriage by consuming it, there may be blood around its mouth.
- No kits brought to term. Chinchillas take around 110-120 days to carry a kit to term (depending on species and nutritional value of food). If your pet still hasn’t given birth long after this, then it must have miscarried.
You may also infer that there’s something wrong from your chinchilla’s behavior. There is no predefined behavior which all chinchilla females display upon miscarriage. But yours may exhibit distress or malaise.
What to Do If Your Chinchilla Miscarries
If you suspect that your chinchilla has miscarried, you must take it to the vet. The vet can check your pet’s health, and perhaps tell what went wrong with its pregnancy. This will help you avoid a similar circumstance in the future. It will also correct any health issues of which miscarriage may be a symptom.
Gently coax your chinchilla from its enclosure into its travel cage/carrier. If possible, do so without picking it up as your pet may be stressed or injured. The vet will try to diagnose the issue by observing and touching your pet. But if necessary, an X-ray may also be performed. This will ascertain for sure whether your chinchilla is still carrying any kits.
If a miscarriage did occur, the vet will flush the chinchilla’s uterus with an antiseptic solution. This is necessary because the placenta or a part of the kit, or a non-fully formed further kit, may still be inside the uterus. If these things are not flushed out, they can mummify and cause an infection.
After this, you have to give your pet time to rest and recuperate. This can be done at home. Ensure that the room your pet is in is quiet and at an appropriate temperature/humidity, and continue to provide a balanced diet.