If your chinchilla has hurt itself, your first instinct is probably to panic! But what should you do? How do you manage your pet’s wounds to maximize its chance of a complete recovery, and what can go wrong if you don’t?
What do you do if your chinchilla has wounds? Take it to the vet. The vet will clean the wound and rinse/flush it with saline to prevent infection. They may also administer antibiotics and/or set any broken bones, depending on the wound. You should then manage the wound at home by administering antibiotics as per the vet’s orders, changing bandages or plasters, and removing platforms from the cage to prevent the chinchilla overexerting itself and opening the wound again. If you don’t treat a wound that becomes infected, your chinchilla could die.
The guide below first describes what kind of wounds chinchillas can get, from bite and scratch wounds to lost toes and broken bones. It will then describe the role of the vet in identifying the problem, diagnosing an infection, and recommending management guidelines. Finally, it will detail these guidelines on how to treat a chinchilla’s wounds at home.
Note: if your chinchilla is sick or injured, take it to the vet as soon as possible. This guide is for informational purposes only, like a dictionary or an encyclopedia; it’s not intended to replace a vet’s care or diagnosis. The idea is that you read it so that you know what to do if your chinchilla has wounds in the future!
What Wounds Can Chinchillas Get?
Chinchillas can develop a variety of wounds. Some of these are from the chinchilla’s environment (its cage). Others are from the chinchilla’s cage mates. Others are a combination of both. The list below addresses first the most common kinds of wound, then the least common.
1) Bite and Scratch Wounds
A chinchilla can get these wounds from being attacked by another chinchilla. Chinchillas that are friends can fall out with each other and get into serious fights, even to the point that they kill each other. They will use their teeth as their primary weapons. These cause deceptively deep wounds; they may be much deeper than they look like.
Chinchillas can also get puncture wounds like these from being attacked by other pets. You shouldn’t let your chinchilla loose around other pets at any time; you should also not let other pets in your chinchilla’s room for the same reason.
2) Abscesses and Ulcers
An abscess is a collection of pus under the skin. They are caused by bacterial infections. Bacteria enters the body, but sometimes, it can’t easily escape from under the skin; if that happens, it collects in a large bubble.
Chinchillas can get abscesses or ulcers anywhere on the body, but they’re more common in some places than others. They frequently occur alongside malocclusion, because the overgrown teeth cut into your chinchilla’s gums. These cuts are easily infected by bacteria in the mouth. They can also form on the feet from standing too long on solid surfaces (e.g. naked cage bars or solid wood). This is a condition known as bumblefoot.
3) Broken Bones and Dislocations
Chinchillas have skeletons just like we do, but because they’re so small, their bones are flexible and weak. As such, fighting can also cause broken bones. Chins can also break bones when they get their toes or feet trapped in something, such as an exercise wheel with slats, in the bars of the cage, or just by falling awkwardly. A fracture is where a bone cracks or snaps, while a dislocation is where a bone pops out from a joint, the same as in people.
As in people, these fractures and dislocations range in severity. Severe breaks can poke through the skin/fur. Less severe hairline fractures aren’t obvious from the outside, but will only become so when you observe your chinchilla’s behavior. If it has a hairline fracture in its foot, for example, it won’t put as much weight on that foot as it is in pain.
The break may be anywhere in the chinchilla’s body, as chinchillas have bones throughout their bodies like we do. Breaks commonly occur in the feet (e.g. if they get caught in something), the ribcage and in the tail.
If your chinchilla gets in a serious fight, its cage mate might bite off its toes or its fingers. While the term amputation is normally used in the context of surgery, it can also describe limb or digit loss that occurs due to trauma. These wounds are particularly serious, but they can heal if treated correctly. Losing a toe or part of the ear is the most common form of amputation.
What to Do If Your Chinchilla Has Wounds
If your chinchilla has any kind of wound, you ought to treat it. It’s your job to keep your pet safe, and leaving your chinchilla’s wound to heal on its own doesn’t do that. That’s because it will likely cause your chinchilla pain, and could get infected and kill it.
There are several steps to successfully managing your chinchilla’s wound. The first is to take any immediately necessary steps, e.g. preventing bleeding, which could cause serious complications before your chinchilla sees a vet. The second step, unsurprisingly, is to get to a vet as soon as possible. Once the vet has done what they need to do, you then have to manage your pet’s wound at home. The vet will tell you how to do this, and you should follow their advice.
Initial Wound Management
While your first thought should be to get your chinchilla to the vet, there may be certain steps that are necessary before you can. This is only typically necessary if the wound is very severe, as in most cases, you can take your chinchilla to/arrange a visit from an emergency vet who you can see in plenty of time.
If your chinchilla is bleeding severely, try to apply pressure above the wound to prevent blood loss. You can also hold the wound above the chinchilla’s heart, which again would slow blood loss.
Note: These techniques should only be used in the meantime while you get your chinchilla to the vet. They aren’t intended to replace a vet’s care, but to help the chinchilla survive. If your chinchilla is severely injured, take it to the vet immediately rather than reading this guide.
Take Your Chinchilla to The Vet
No matter how your chinchilla is injured, you should take it to the vet as soon as possible. The vet will a) determine the problem, b) recommend how to stop it happening again, and c) recommend how to treat it.
There are definitely wounds you can treat on your own at home, provided you have the right tools and materials. However, you could mistakenly misdiagnose what the problem is and thereby let the issue get worse.
Take an infection, for example. You can clean an infection at home, and if you have antibiotics from a previous issue, you may be tempted to use them. But only a vet can administer the right antibiotics. That’s because certain antibiotics kill certain bacteria, and the bacteria infecting your chinchilla’s wound may not be of the same kind as last time.
How Do Vets Check a Chinchilla’s Wounds?
The vet will directly examine the affected area, and will figure out what caused the problem, and how to fix it. It will likely be something from the list above. The vet will check:
- The overall condition of your chinchilla. If your chinchilla is sick in more ways than one, then a more aggressive treatment may be necessary to save its life.
- Whether the wound is infected. If it is, it will need to be treated in a different way (with antibiotics).
- How deep and serious the wound is. The wound may require stitches if it’s particularly deep.
- Whether the wound has been bleeding. If it has, it will need to be cleaned up. How much blood was shed also signifies how serious the wound is.
The vet will assess both how serious the wound is, and what type of wound it is, and recommend one of the treatments below.
How Do Vets Dress a Chinchilla’s Wounds?
If your chinchilla has a deep puncture wound, it has to be dressed. You can’t just leave it open, because if you do, it could get infected. The chinchilla may also nibble at it and make the wound worse.
The first thing the vet will do is shave away a small amount of fur around the wound. This will stop any fur from getting stuck in there. The fur will likely be covered in blood too, so this will help keep your chin’s coat clean. They will then flush the wound with saline solution. There are several reasons why they do this:
- To wash away any blood
- To clear the wound of any debris like bits of claws or teeth, dust and dirt, and so on
- To clean away any bacteria that could infect the wound
Once the wound is cleaned, they will dress it. They may do this either with a cast or with a plaster, depending on the severity and type of wound. To put a plaster in place, they may have to shave the fur around the chinchilla’s wound. This serves the double purpose of also getting rid of matted, bloodied fur, which would hurt your chinchilla if it were left in place.
Do Vets Set Chinchillas’ Broken Bones?
If your chinchilla’s bones are broken, it is possible for the vet to set them back into place, just as they would with a person.
This is only relevant and helpful in certain cases, however. If your chinchilla has a broken rib, then it cannot be set back into place. Rather, it must be left to heal on its own. Setting is only possible and helpful along bones like the leg bones, which can be realigned and set into place by a cast. Talk with your vet about the options your pet has.
Can Chinchillas Die from Wounds?
Chinchillas can easily pass away because of their wounds. Some wounds damage internal organs; others cause dramatic loss of blood. Some limit your chinchilla’s capabilities so much that it can’t take care of itself any more. Only the most serious wounds are guaranteed to be fatal, but even basic scratches and cuts can become infected, and if they do, then these can kill your pet too.
How to Treat a Chinchilla’s Wounds at Home
Just because your vet has checked over your chinchilla, that doesn’t mean your pet is better. There are still things you have to do to help it recover. The rest of this guide focuses on how you can help your chin get better, and have its wounds heal with a minimum of complications.
The three things you have to do are dress and clean the wounds, and check for and manage infection. The rest of this section addresses how to stop a chinchilal wound from getting infected.
How to Flush a Chinchilla’s Wound with Saline
Something else your vet might ask you to do is flush your pet’s wounds with a special saline solution. The point of doing so is to keep the wound clean and remove any debris. This is important when the wound is first treated, but may also be useful later on.
The vet will supply you with the solution you’re supposed to use, and will show you how to use it. Follow their advice precisely. The technique is called ‘irrigation‘, and the point is to achieve a steady flow of fluid over and across the wound to wash it and prevent infection. Don’t squeeze the fluid directly into the wound, but rather across it gently. Ensure that no large amounts of fluid are left inside the wound when you’re done.
Another benefit of doing this is that it keeps the wound moist. Wounds heal quicker if kept moist, although this does also make infections more likely (more on that in a moment). Only do this if your vet advises you to. Otherwise you might unnecessarily stress your chinchilla and cause it pain.
You can also use saline solution that you make at home, as described above. We would recommend using a vet’s saline solution as there is a chance you could make it incorrectly, but many owners do this without a problem.
How to Make Your Own Sterile Saline Solution
Saline solution is salt water. Salt water is a mild but effective antibiotic. You can make it yourself at home if the vet’s solution is too expensive, or if you just like doing things yourself.
To make your own solution, you need sterile water. If you use regular tap water, it might have all sorts of bacteria or even parasites in it. Making sterile water is easy: all you have to do is boil it. Follow these steps to make sterile saline solution:
- Fully clean a pot or pan and allow it to air dry.
- Place one cup of water in a pot or pan with half a tablespoon of regular table salt. If you want more saline solution, use both more water and more salt (e.g. four cups and two tablespoons).
- Bring the water to a boil and maintain the heat for fifteen minutes. Leave the lid on.
- Set the pan aside and allow it to cool down to room temperature.
- Pour directly into a clean jar or bottle.
You can then use this solution to clean your chinchilla’s wounds, large or small. You can either flush the wound as described above, or dab it gently to clean it.
How to Treat a Scratch or Superficial Cut
Scratches and light cuts will heal on their own. However, there are things you can do to make the healing process faster and to minimize the threat of infection.
Rather than fully running the wound under water (which would be ideal), dab it gently with saline solution. Dab the area around the wound with special care; dab the wound directly, but not too much, as this is painful for your pet.
This should be enough to stop the wound from getting deeper or becoming infected. Check the wound each day for signs of infection (which are described in detail below).
How to Stop a Chinchilla Bleeding
If your chinchilla has a minor cut and minor bleeding, treat the wound as you would a wound on a person. Place something that can absorb the blood over the wound and hold it in place. Lint-free cotton pads work well for this purpose. You can then change the pad if it becomes soaked with blood (although if your chinchilla is bleeding that much, you should take it to the vet rather than treat the issue yourself). If you have alginate dressing, you could use that instead.
You can either hold the pad in place, or secure it with a bandage. Other techniques work for chinchillas too, like applying pressure above the wound to stop it from bleeding as much. Be careful if you do this, as chinchillas have delicate bones that can easily be broken, and you would cause more harm than good if you are too rough.
While it may be effective at drying things out, don’t put chinchilla dust on the wound. This would get into the wound and cause irritation, which would prevent proper healing. It would also get stuck in the blood in your chinchilla’s fur.
How to Dress a Deep Chinchilla Bite Wound
Wound management isn’t something you do once. It’s an ongoing process. As such, while the vet will perform the initial dressing of your chinchilla’s wounds, you will have to wash and dress them as they continue healing.
While allowing the wound to ‘breathe’ is optimal for a person, this isn’t necessarily the case for a chinchilla. That’s because your chinchilla’s cage has lots of bacteria in it from poop, pee, old discarded food, and bacteria generally hanging around (even if you clean regularly).
Do so as the vet instructs you. This is likely to be similar to how you dress a person’s wound. The only issue is that you can’t use plasters (band-aids), as they will get stuck in your chinchilla’s fur, unless it has been shaved away.
To clean the wound, take the dressing off carefully. Dab at the wound with an antiseptic solution, either one that the vet prescribed, or one that you bought over the counter. Check for the signs of infection, as they are described below. Then, replace the dressing with a fresh one.
How to Check For Signs of Infection
You have to check your chinchilla’s wound/s every day for signs of infection. Infection makes wounds heal slower, and if it gets worse, can develop into sepsis; that can be life threatening. So, look at the wound every day to see if you can see:
- Swelling. When a wound is infected, the body sends more blood there. This blood contains white blood cells, which kill bacteria. The dilated blood vessels and extra blood in the area make it swell up.
- Redness. Another side effect of this is that the area turns red.
- White fluid. As the body combats the infection, dead white blood cells and dead bacterial cells pile up. They form pus which is expelled from the body. This is a sticky, stinky white fluid.
- Obvious pain. Infection makes wounds more painful.
- The unique bad smell of a wound. Wound-smell is caused by bacterial infections.
If you spot these issues, you should take your pet back to the vet. They will clean the wound again, and will prescribe antibiotics for your pet.
Treating Infected Chinchilla Wounds (Antibiotics)
Antibiotics kill bacteria. But not all antibiotics kill the same bacteria, and not all are administered in the same way.
Some antibiotics are administered by injection. Either the vet can do this for you, or you can do it at home. Others are administered by mouth. The idea of both kinds is to get the antibiotics into the bloodstream, from where they will find the wound. This also prevents the bacteria getting into the blood (sepsis). Antibiotics may not be necessary; talk to your vet to find out if they are.
How to Fix Bumblefoot in Chinchillas
Bumblefoot is a highly problematic and painful medical condition. It can become fatal, as the infection at the root of it is difficult to cure and can precipitate sepsis.
You need to do lots of things to manage bumblefoot at home. You can’t treat the symptoms/wounds in isolation. They are caused by inappropriate cage setup, so only once you have corrected this can the wounds heal. Bumblefoot is caused by standing on solid surfaces for too long: naked cage bars and solid wood provide uneven pressure on your chinchilla’s feet, first making its natural calluses larger, then causing abscesses. As such, before you think about wound management, you must:
- Place soft fleece wrapped around solid wood on the floor of your pet’s cage
- Frequently change the fleece so that your chinchilla isn’t standing on something wet and dirty
Bumblefoot is primarily managed by antibiotics. If you don’t treat the core infection, it will never go away, as it tends to be deep-seated in this condition. Follow whatever antibiotic guidelines your vet recommends.
If you learn one thing from this guide, let it be this: take your chinchilla to the vet as soon as possible if it has obvious wounds. Even if you’re an experienced owner, doing so is a good idea. That’s because the vet can identify other health issues at the same time, as well as teach you a thing or two about your pet’s anatomy and care. The goal should always be to provide the best care possible, and visiting a vet helps achieve that goal.
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