If your chinchilla will not eat, you’re right to be worried. So, what is anorexia a sign of, and is it always serious? What can you do to help a chinchilla that won’t eat?
Why is my chinchilla not eating? It is ill, likely with a digestive issue (stasis or bloating) or a dental issue (malocclusion). Chinchillas also lose their appetite/develop anorexia when nearing the end of life for any reason, e.g. respiratory infections, physical trauma or old age. Loss of appetite is invariably a bad sign so immediate veterinary care is required, although your chinchilla may pass away even if you attempt to help it.
The guide below looks at each and every reason why your chinchilla won’t eat. For each issue, from stasis to old age, we also describe what can be done to help your pet: to make it regain its appetite, overcome whatever illness or disease it has, or just make it comfortable.
Why Is My Chinchilla Not Eating?
There is no good reason why your chinchilla should stop eating and drinking: it’s an unequivocal bad sign. The problem is that it’s a sign of many different things. As such, you have to figure out what’s wrong with the help of a vet and correct it.
Each section of the guide below explores one of these potential causes. They include descriptions of the issue and what causes it, the main symptoms apart from not eating that you’re likely to notice, and what you have to do to correct it. By the time you’re done reading, you’ll hopefully know what’s wrong and can take steps to restoring your pet to health.
Is It Serious If a Chinchilla Stops Eating & Drinking?
Anorexia is a very serious sign of ill health in chinchillas. While it can be a symptom of many different issues, all of these issues are life-threatening. It can either be related to something that directly affects the gut, like stasis, which can kill a chinchilla quickly; or, it can be a sign that a health problem unrelated to the gut has become so serious that your chinchilla is at the end of its life.
1) Gastrointestinal Stasis
Gastrointestinal stasis is where your chinchilla’s gut stops working. Your chinchilla stops eating and stops pooping. As you can imagine, this is a very dangerous condition that is guaranteed to kill your pet if you don’t try to fix it.
What Causes Gastrointestinal Stasis?
GI stasis, as it’s also known, is caused by a blockage in the gut. Chinchillas gnaw on things because it helps keep their teeth trimmed. While they do accidentally eat some of what they gnaw on, this isn’t typically a problem, as chins prefer to gnaw on things like sticks.
But if you use plastic cage accessories, your chin might chew on them. Plastic cannot be digested or easily passed so it sits in the gut, and more is accumulated over time. When enough builds up, the chinchilla cannot digest anything as the intestine is fully blocked.
Symptoms of Gastrointestinal Stasis
The key symptoms of GI stasis are not eating and not pooping. Your chinchilla’s gut is blocked, so its body stops telling it to eat food. Other symptoms include:
- Bloating of the stomach and gut. As your chinchilla can’t poop, its stomach and gut are filled with partially digested/fermented food. This food is broken down by bacteria, but has nowhere to go, and what’s worse is that the bacteria breaking it down create gas. Your chinchilla’s gut will become firm and painful.
- Signs of pain including teeth grinding and hunched posture.
- Gradually smaller and fewer poops. Your chinchilla will also strain more than it used to to go to the toilet. This straining may cause prolapse.
- Lethargy. This is where the chinchilla becomes less active.
- Dramatic weight loss. As your pet can’t eat, it loses weight quickly.
The sooner you spot these symptoms, the better. That’s because treatment is more likely to be successful if started earlier.
How to Cure Gastrointestinal Stasis
Stasis requires immediate veterinary care. The vet will identify the condition and recommend one of several treatments, including:
- Fluid therapy
- Hand feeding liquid food such as Critical Care
- Providing pain medication and antibiotics if necessary
- Encouraging exercise
- Correcting any issues with diet or husbandry (e.g. switching to a fibrous diet and/or removing plastic accessories from the cage)
Bear in mind that even with immediate and thorough treatment, GI stasis can be lethal. It must therefore be avoided rather than treated.
2) Incorrect Diet
It’s easy to feed your chinchilla the wrong diet by accident. Poor diet can cause nutritional deficiencies, but also has knock-on effects like bloating. These can make your chinchilla pass up on food.
What Is an Incorrect Chinchilla Diet?
Take vegetables for example. While wild chins do eat some plant roots (mostly for their water content), they mostly eat grasses. But what’s more important still is that pet chinchillas are used to eating hay. If you switched yours to a diet of vegetables, they would cause dangerous levels of gas/bloating. This could rupture your pet’s stomach or gut lining. A chinchilla would be more used to vegetables if it was weaned onto them at a young age, but they are nevertheless nutritionally deficient.
Fruits are unsuitable, too. They contain far too much water and too much fructose. Chinchillas need around 10% to 15% of their diet to be water, by weight. Fruits and vegetables range from 90 to 99% water. Such high amounts can cause diarrhea. And while chins do need some sugars in their diet, as they provide useful instant energy, they don’t need as much as they’ll find in fruits. Other foods like nuts and seeds are too high in other things like fat and/or overall calories.
Symptoms of an Incorrect Chinchilla Diet
Chinchillas will eat almost anything you give them. They’re foragers and enjoy variety, even if they don’t need it. Rather, what might cause your chinchilla to go off its food are the symptoms an incorrect diet will cause.
As stated above, the key issue is bloating. A chinchilla’s gut bacteria specialize in breaking down fibrous foods like hay; while vegetables are more fibrous than meat, they are still nowhere near as fibrous as a chinchilla’s optimal diet. Furthermore, a chinchilla’s gut enzymes specialize in high-fiber foods too. As such, when a chinchilla eats unsuitable foods, these foods ferment rather than get digested. When fermentation happens, gas is the result. Making this problem even worse is the fact that chinchillas struggle to pass gas.
The upshot of all this is that your chinchilla will be in lots of pain, so it might not want to eat.
What Is a Correct Chinchilla Diet?
Pet chinchillas should be kept on a diet of pellets and fresh hay. This diet is high in fiber, so is tailored to your chin’s digestive system. While people need to eat a variety of foods, chinchillas don’t, so your pet will thrive on hay and hay alone.
3) Dental Problems
Probably the most common reason why chinchillas stop eating is malocclusion. Malocclusion is a dental problem where the teeth become misaligned and/or grow too long.
As stated above, chinchillas have special teeth that grow continually throughout their lives. All rodents have this adaptation, as it helps them to burrow and defend themselves. However, it does have a downside: if the chinchilla has nothing to gnaw on and to grind its teeth down on, they get too long.
There are two issues that occur in malocclusion. The first is that the front teeth become misaligned. This is literally what ‘malocclusion’ means—the teeth don’t come together correctly. This means that the chinchilla struggles to break down its food, so will either eat less, or not at all.
The second issue is that the teeth become too long. This makes eating even more difficult and more painful. The long, misaligned teeth can cut into your chinchilla’s gums and cause painful abscesses, too.
What Causes Malocclusion in Chinchillas?
Chinchillas in the wild don’t get malocclusion. That’s because they can always find something they can gnaw on. It’s only if the owner of a pet chinchilla doesn’t provide their pet with chew toys that it becomes a problem.
Symptoms of Malocclusion in Chinchillas
The most obvious sign of malocclusion is that the teeth are too long and are misaligned. You can see this by looking at them.
Other symptoms relate to how your chinchilla eats. Your chinchilla will eat less, or nothing at all. The first sign that most owners notice is that the chinchilla struggles to eat its pellets. The chinchilla will partially chew them, but spit them out, and they stay on the floor of the cage. If you watch your chinchilla eating, you can tell that its dental issues are causing it pain because one or both of its ears flick as it chews.
How to Cure Malocclusion in Chinchillas
Malocclusion can be partly fixed by taking your chinchilla to the vet. The vet can trim or grind the teeth down to a healthy state. You can then maintain the teeth at this length by giving your chinchilla chew toys like apple wood sticks.
Unfortunately, malocclusion cannot always be fixed. That’s because the teeth don’t just grow longer; they can grow upwards into the jaw, too. The ‘roots’ of the upper teeth can grow towards the eye socket and put pressure on the tear glands, which is painful for your pet, and cannot be fixed. This also makes your pet’s eyes water, which can precipitate eye infections.
4) General Illness
While malocclusion is the most common disease that causes anorexia, other illnesses can too. Some do so because they affect the mouth or gut, directly discouraging your pet from eating (like gastrointestinal issues). Others are less directly related to the digestive system, but can cause anorexia if they become very serious.
What Illnesses Stop Chinchillas from Eating
There are two kinds of anorexia that your chinchilla could experience when it’s ill. The first is a dampening of the appetite, which is a natural symptom of any kind of illness. It’s the same as when you feel nauseous: you don’t want to eat. The second is what occurs shortly before your chinchilla passes, which is that it completely refuses food. The first is a temporary issue, while the second is a likely sign that your pet will pass away.
Signs Your Chinchilla Is Sick
The signs of sickness depend on what condition is affecting your chinchilla. As such, there are far too many to condense concisely into a list. But these are the most common symptoms you’ll see when your chinchilla isn’t well:
- Lethargy. This is where the chinchilla spends more than a normal amount of time sleeping and inactive. Even if it gets hungry or is somehow in the way, it won’t want to move.
- Difficulty moving. Your pet’s movements may be stiff, it may limp, or it may get out of breath when moving whereas it didn’t before.
- Aggression/defensiveness. When a chinchilla is in pain, it feels vulnerable. As such it may not want you to handle it, or it may bite you if you pick it up.
- Bumps and bulges in the body. Chinchillas can get tumors and abscesses.
Generally speaking, any changes in behavior may mean your chin is sick. Sleeping more or less than normal, eating more or less than normal, fighting with other chinchillas more or less than normal, or any deviation from normal behavior may all indicate ill health.
How to Heal a Sick Chinchilla
If your pet is sick for any reason, you should talk to a vet. The vet can diagnose the precise problem, which means you won’t waste time trying inappropriate home treatments. They also have access to medicines that you can’t access over the counter. As such, while our site and others like it can provide useful information, we always recommend veterinary care.
The precise fix depends on what exactly is wrong. If your chinchilla has an infection, for example, then antibiotics will fix the problem. If your chinchilla has a generic issue that causes pain, painkillers might help your pet get through the recovery process. Or, if the problem is caused by poor husbandry, then correcting the problem might involve moving or cleaning your chinchilla’s cage. Your pet’s vet can tell you exactly what to do.
5) End of Life
Chinchillas don’t need to be ill to stop eating. Anorexia can be a generic sign that your chinchilla is nearing the end of its life, not because it’s ill, but because it’s getting old.
What’s The Average Chinchilla Lifespan?
Pet chinchillas live to a rough average of ten years. How long your pet lives depends partly on luck, and partly on how well you care for it. The oldest known chinchilla lived for more than twenty years. But at the same time, chins commonly die young either because of neglect or unfortunate accidents and ill health.
Whatever the case, anorexia occurs in every end of life context. This is likely an evolutionary adaptation that favored the survival of the group over that of the sick individual. It makes sense: a chinchilla that’s clearly about to die, but still eats, would essentially be wasting resources that could go to healthy chinchillas.
Signs a Chinchilla Is Getting Old
You can tell that a chinchilla is getting old, just like you can tell if a person is getting old. Chinchillas don’t get wrinkly, but they will get:
- Quiet and less energetic. Your pet won’t be as playful as it used to be.
- Thinner and more frail looking. Your chinchilla will lose weight gradually—not until it’s life-threateningly thin, but smaller than it was before.
- Generally more ill. Older chins get sick more easily than younger chins.
It stands to reason that your chinchilla will get thinner because it eats less than it used to. This is a gradual process where it eats slightly less over time. This is separate to the issue of complete anorexia, which occurs shortly before the chinchilla passes away.
How to Help an Old Chinchilla Live Longer
If your pet is approaching the end of its life, there’s little that can be done. Chins that pass from old age are typically cared for well already, so it’s likely that you already have the optimal setup for your pet: a nice big cage at the correct temperature and humidity, a stress-free environment, the correct diet, and so on.
You should always talk to a vet if your chinchilla stops eating, no matter the reason. But if they tell you that the only thing wrong with your pet’s health is that it’s getting on in years, make your pet as comfortable as possible rather than panicking.
What to Do If Your Chinchilla Stops Eating
If your chinchilla stops eating, you must immediately take it to the vet. There are no exceptions, as this is a very serious issue.
How to Tell If a Chinchilla Stops Eating & Drinking
The first thing you should do is make absolutely sure that your chinchilla has stopped eating/drinking. New owners in particular can easily mistake normal behavior for a symptom of ill health, so your chinchilla may, in fact, be fine.
To do this, observe your pet for a while. Chinchillas spend most of their waking hours foraging for food, so it will be obvious if your chinchilla isn’t eating any more.
To be certain, the best way would be to weigh your chinchilla’s food at the beginning and end of every day. If it remains the same weight, your chinchilla hasn’t eaten any of it. However, we don’t recommend doing this because when a chinchilla stops eating, it can pass away very quickly. As such, it’s better to be safe than sorry, and to take your pet to the vet if you suspect any signs of ill health (anorexia or otherwise).
Critical Care for Herbivores
Critical Care is a kind of food prescribed by vets for when animals are sick. There are several different kinds, but in this case, you’ll need the one made for small animals.
The point of Critical Care is that you feed it to an animal that won’t eat unless you make it. It can either be bought/prescribed as a powder that you have to mix with water, or as a ready-to-use liquid feed. You feed it to your pet through a syringe. It isn’t a long-term solution. Rather, it’s supposed to stop your chinchilla wasting away while you help it clear the blockage in its gut.
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