Chinchillas poop lots, and it’s normally dry and solid. But do chinchillas get diarrhea? Is it caused by the same issues? How do you fix it—and is it serious?
Can chinchillas get diarrhea? They can, and it’s immediately obvious as chinchilla poop should be hard, not runny, smushy, soft or sticky. Diarrhea is caused by a lack of fiber, excess water in the diet, dietary changes, parasites like giardia, stress, stomach bugs and/or a lack of ‘good’ stomach bacteria. For a chinchilla soft poop/diarrhea can only be fixed by addressing the individual cause, e.g. by correcting a low fiber diet or preventing stress. Talk to a vet about curing diarrhea for more help.
If your chinchilla has soft poop, you should read the guide below. It explains everything: from what causes diarrhea in chinchillas, to how to spot its various symptoms, and how to fix it.
Can Chinchillas Get Diarrhea?
Chinchillas can get diarrhea just like we can. They’re a kind of mammal, as we are; all mammals share the same kind organs like stomachs, small and large intestines, and so on. So, the same bacterial infection that might cause diarrhea in a person could also cause diarrhea in a chinchilla.
But stomach bugs aren’t the only cause of diarrhea. Diarrhea in people can be caused by poor diet, lack of fiber, too much water in the diet, and even stress. These things can all cause soft stool or diarrhea in chinchillas, too.
How Serious Is Diarrhea in Chinchillas?
Our experiences with diarrhea are that it’s annoying and painful, but not life-threatening. But for a chinchilla runny poop can be much more serious.
The prognosis (likely outcome) of diarrhea depends on what’s causing it. If left untreated, diarrhea can eventually cause your pet to pass away by making it lose weight. It can also form part of a wider issue, such as stress, which can gradually wear down your pet’s health. As such, you have to identify the cause and seek treatment for your pet as soon as possible.
What Causes Diarrhea in Chinchillas?
Without deeper analysis of your chinchilla’s living conditions, it’s impossible to say what’s causing its soft droppings/diarrhea. As such, this page can’t give you all the answers. That being said, there are several common causes—it’s likely that one of these is causing your chinchilla’s digestive problems. So, go through the list below and try to figure out what’s wrong.
1) The Wrong Food
There are two ways in which the wrong food can cause diarrhea. The first is if it contains too much water. The second is if it doesn’t contain enough fiber.
Your pet is best fed a dry diet of hay alone. Because it’s so used to a dry diet, if it eats foods with lots of water in, it can’t easily process it all. That’s because chinchillas conserve water, only urinating irregularly, and not expelling much water when they do. So, instead of being excreted through pee, the water is instead excreted through poop. This makes the stool looser.
The problem of too little fiber often occurs alongside the problem of excess water. Hay has so much fiber in it that when a chinchilla is fed almost anything else, it doesn’t get enough. Fiber has two effects: first, it actively absorbs water. This alone is enough for it to make the stool harder. But it also makes digestion last longer, as the gut has to work harder to process it. If the digestive matter doesn’t have any fiber in it, the gut can digest it much quicker, giving itself less time to absorb any water in it (as water is absorbed through the intestinal lining). As you can imagine, if this lack of fiber is combined with watery foods, it makes the stool much looser.
Chinchillas only need to eat fresh hay and hay pellets. So, if you are feeding your chinchilla foods it doesn’t need like nuts and seeds, vegetables or fruit then switch back to a hay-only diet. This may completely fix your chinchilla’s diarrhea.
Another way in which food can cause diarrhea is if you recently changed your chinchilla’s diet. Because chinchillas have such little variety in their diet, sudden changes can cause diarrhea, too. If you recently changed your chinchilla from one hay to another, or if you switched from an inappropriate diet to a hay-based one, there’s a good chance that this change is behind your pet’s issue. If that’s the case, its poops should go back to normal soon.
2) Parasites (Particularly Giardia)
Giardia is a kind of tiny parasite that lives in the gut. It can be caught from unfiltered water, even tap water in some places. Each parasite is so small that they can’t be seen with the naked eye.
Giardia causes a condition called ‘giardiasis’, which is where the tiny parasites attach themselves to the lining of the small intestine. There, they interfere with the gut’s absorption of carbohydrates and fats. Through interfering with the absorption of nutrients, and through the body’s desire to flush the parasites away, giardiasis causes diarrhea.
While getting rid of as many parasites as possible might be good for the body, it’s good for the parasites, too. They spread through contact with feces, so it’s in the giardia parasite’s interest for it and its eggs to be flushed out in poop. This is therefore one case in which diarrhea is transmissible between chinchillas, while for other causes (e.g. stress) it’s not.
Giardia can be identified by giving your vet a stool sample from your chinchilla that they then examine. The vet may try a fecal flotation test, which is where the poop is put in liquid. This is a routine test that diagnoses parasites. The poop is mixed in with the liquid, causing any parasites or their eggs to float to the surface. They can then be examined more closely with a microscope. This may not work with giardia as they are only inconsistently pooped out.
Other kinds of gastrointestinal parasite can cause the same problems, although these aren’t as commonly seen. Coccidia or regular worms can affect chinchillas, too, and cause diarrhea.
While stress isn’t a specific health condition of its own, it will cause severe symptoms in chinchillas constantly exposed to it. One such symptom is diarrhea.
The link between stress and diarrhea has been known for decades. When the body enters fight-or-flight mode, many things happen: the heart beats faster, thoughts run quickly, and muscles become tense. One of the unintended side-effects of the muscles tensing up is intestinal cramping, which causes food to pass more quickly through the gut. If the food is only partially digested, it can come out in the form of diarrhea.
This reaction was first studied in 1949, in an experiment that definitely wouldn’t be allowed today. Scientists recreated stressful situations: specifically ‘pain’, ‘compression of the head’, and ‘discussion of life situations productive of emotional conflict’. That doesn’t sound too bad—but these ‘discussions’ actually involved telling the test subjects that they had colon cancer! They were later told that they didn’t, but ethical considerations in experiments today mean this would never be done in modern studies. The scientists found that each of these situations made the digestive process speed up.
We also know that chinchillas (and many other mammals) can experience stress in the same way that we can. They produce the same hormones from the same glands in the same situations that we do, and their bodies respond in the same way: heart rate increases, tension and so on. You can see these changes expressed in your pet’s behavior, both in the short and long term. Short term signs of stress include alarm barking and running away; long term signs include fur barbering, cage bar chewing and diarrhea.
4) Can Chinchillas Get Stomach Bugs?
While stomach bugs are the most common cause of diarrhea in people, they aren’t in chinchillas. That’s because most pet chinchillas eat a highly controlled diet. Hay is the perfect food for avoiding stomach bugs: it won’t rot if it stays dry. While that doesn’t mean it’s completely bacteria-free, it does mean stomach bugs are less likely.
What could cause a stomach bug is if you feed your pet an inappropriate diet. Say, for example, that you feed your chinchilla fruit like bananas or apples. If you were to prepare these foods on a dirty kitchen surface, you could give your chinchilla a stomach bug—the same kind you would get. You could also hypothetically have these bacteria on your hands as you feed your pet treats.
5) Other Causes of Diarrhea in Chinchillas
While dietary problems, parasites and stress are the most common causes, they aren’t the only ones.
One such infrequent cause is an imbalance of gut bacteria. Bacteria in the gut are necessary to break down food, so a lack of bacteria, the wrong kind of bacteria, or the wrong kind of bacteria can cause diarrhea. If the food isn’t broken down properly, it may be loose; and if the food contained lots of ‘bad bacteria’, the gut will want to flush it out, meaning it doesn’t absorb as much water from the food as it should. This imbalance can be caused by a stomach bug as mentioned above, but it can also be caused by taking antibiotics. Antibiotics kill bacteria in the body, including gut bacteria, and it can take a while to build back up.
If the issue is bacterial imbalance, the poop will be slightly mushy rather than fully runny.
Symptoms of Diarrhea in Chinchillas
As in people, diarrhea takes many forms in chinchillas. It can cause anything from slightly softer-than-usual poops to something that’s almost fully liquid.
While there’s one obvious symptom of diarrhea—soft stools—it’s not the only one. You can therefore spot diarrhea even if your chinchilla doesn’t leave behind a big mess.
Soft Poop Instead of Hard Poop
Chinchilla poop is supposed to be completely solid. That’s because chinchillas come from a dry habitat where they have to conserve any water they get. It’s for this reason that chinchilla pee should be deep yellow or even orange, which you may have also noticed.
As such, when your chinchilla goes to the toilet, its poops should be completely solid—more so than that of other pets (or of people!) This means that loose or runny stools can be nothing but a bad sign. There is a scale of ways that the poop can be soft, including:
- Completely runny
- Sticky and squidgy
- Slightly malleable but not sticky
- Fully solid
One thing that does confuse matters, though, is that chinchillas produce a kind of poop called a ‘cecotrope’. Cecotropes are half-digested poops that the chinchilla, as disgusting as it sounds, will poop out and eat again. This is like how other animals bring up their food to eat it again so they can digest it better (like cows do). Chinchillas produce cecotropes at night and eat them straight away, although if they’re interrupted, they might miss one or two. They are slightly larger, and of course softer. So, if your chinchilla is otherwise healthy, then the occasional soft poop may be nothing but a cecotrope.
Chinchilla Poop Light Brown
The poop may also be different in color, although this isn’t always the case. What happens is that because the poop is less dense, as it contains more water, it’s less densely colored too. So, dry and solid poop looks darker brown while soft chinchilla poop looks lighter brown.
The next most common symptom is staining of your chinchilla’s fur. This is where the soft poop gets stuck in the fur and changes its color in patches. The poop may also stick in the fur and cause matted patches to form.
Chinchillas are hygienic, for rodents at least. Most chins will pick one corner of the cage to pee in, and only pee there. That stops the pee from getting in its fur. But they’ll poop any time, anywhere, and because it’s hard and dry this isn’t a problem. They can stand on it or sit on it and it won’t get stuck to their fur or smush under their feet. But when chins have diarrhea, it will get stuck, and chinchillas don’t know to avoid it. These brown patches or areas of matted fur will typically be on your pet’s legs and underside or on its rear.
Diarrhea can also stain fur more directly. If it’s particularly runny, it will get caught in the fur around your chin’s rear end.
Smelly Chinchilla Poop
Chinchilla poop normally doesn’t smell as it’s so dry. It will only smell if it’s left on a soggy surface for too long, in which case it will start breaking down. But soft diarrhea smells far more than regular poop. What makes the smell worse is if your chinchilla has a stomach bug. If it does, the poop will smell worse even than regular diarrhea.
Weight Loss & Diarrhea in Chinchillas
As diarrhea is a digestive issue, it can affect how much energy your chinchilla gets from its food.
The absorption of water, vitamins, minerals, protein, fat and carbohydrate occur in the gut. If your chinchilla’s food rushes through its gut either because of a bacterial infection, or because it doesn’t contain enough fiber, the gut doesn’t get enough time to take in the nutrients in the food. If the chinchilla’s diarrhea is serious and continual, this can lead to dramatic weight loss. Diarrhea can cause gradual weight loss, too. If your chin has infrequent diarrhea—say every few days instead of constantly—this won’t make it lose lots of weight all at once. But the lost calories will add up.
Just as important is that diarrhea can cause vitamin and mineral deficiencies. In particular, diarrhea causes the loss of electrolytes, which are mineral salts. If these aren’t replaced, it has knock-on effects on health, such as lethargy, further diarrhea and pain.
How Do You Treat a Chinchilla With Diarrhea?
If your chinchilla has diarrhea, you shouldn’t leave it to get better on its own. You should identify the cause and correct it as soon as possible. The step-by-step guide below leads you through this process.
1) Talk To a Vet
Whenever your chinchilla experiences any health problem, you should seek veterinary assistance immediately. While there is lots you can learn about chinchillas through online resources and books, you cannot replace the advice and medical care a vet can provide.
Vets can help in several ways. The first is by identifying what’s causing the problem. The vet could ask you what you feed your pet, for example, and let you know whether it’s an appropriate diet. Or, they could take a stool sample and check it for giardia. Once you know exactly what’s causing your chinchilla’s diarrhea, it’s much easier to fix. And of course, they can also help by providing medical care. If your chinchilla has lost a lot of weight because of its diarrhea, they can give you Critical Care food for sick chinchillas.
To get vet care, take a stool sample from your chinchilla. If your chinchilla lives alone, that isn’t a problem: just find the freshest poop, pop it in a box, and take it to the vet. If your chinchilla has a cage-mate, make sure the poop you’re taking is from the sick chinchilla and not the other one. You could watch your pet until it goes to the toilet to be sure, or if the difference is clear, pick out the mushiest you can see.
2) Assess Your Chinchilla’s Diet
At home, the first thing you should do is check what your chinchilla is eating. If it’s eating nothing but hay and hay pellets, that’s good; otherwise, switch it to that diet as soon as possible.
Timothy hay is the optimal hay to feed your pet. It contains the right amount of fiber, protein, fat and overall energy. Other hays contain excesses of certain nutrients; alfalfa for example has too much calcium to be the cornerstone of your pet’s diet. If your chin isn’t on a timothy hay diet, consider switching it to one.
If your chin is already on an appropriate diet, try cutting out its pellets and giving it solely fresh hay. This would eliminate the pellets as the cause of the diarrhea. You could try purchasing a different brand of pellets at a later date to see if they have the same effect.
Bear in mind, though, that dietary changes can in themselves cause diarrhea or make it worse. The best way to change a chinchilla’s diet is gradually. So, to switch from one hay to another, begin week one by feeding 90% old hay and 10% new hay; then, week two, up the percentage of new hay to 20%. This will lessen the effects that the new hay will have on your pet’s gut, while having a positive effect overall (if the old hay was to blame for your pet’s digestive problems).
3) Assess Your Chinchilla’s Living Conditions
As stress is a frequent cause of diarrhea, you should also try making your chinchilla’s cage more appropriate and/or comfortable. This is a good idea whether or not your chin’s diarrhea is caused by stress. Ideas you could try include:
- Removing other chinchillas from the cage. Are your chinchillas fighting all the time? If so, it’s best you separate them. If they are content with each other, however, there is no need.
- Moving the cage to a more appropriate location. If the cage is somewhere bright and loud, that causes stress. More appropriate rooms include quiet bedrooms and basements. But only do this if you see a distinct long-term need, as moving the cage causes stress in itself.
- Monitoring the temperature and humidity. High temperatures and high humidity cause stress. The temperature shouldn’t be higher than 70 degrees Fahrenheit/21 degrees Centigrade. The humidity shouldn’t be higher than 50%.
- Giving your chinchilla everything it needs. Chinchilla cages need hides to hide in, platforms to jump from, and chew toys to chew (as well as obvious things like food and water). The absence of any of these things makes a chinchilla stressed, so add them to the cage if you haven’t already.
Even if the diarrhea is nothing to do with stress, doing these things won’t hurt your pet. If anything, the added comforts will make your pet’s recovery easier.
4) Probiotics May Help
There’s typically no need to give probiotics to your chinchilla. Mammals develop gut bacteria from early in life, and retain it from then on; if your chinchilla eats the same diet of hay from the moment it stops weaning, there should be no reason for it to lose its gut bacteria.
The only time it might is if you give it a course of antibiotics. Infections like eye infections or bumblefoot require antibiotic treatment, or they can lead to severe complications like blindness or sepsis. Sepsis is where bacteria gets into the bloodstream, from where it can attack the body’s organs. But while the antibiotics do kill the ‘bad’ infection, they can also kill the ‘good’ gut bacteria, affecting digestion. The good bacteria can be at least partially built back up through giving probiotics.
Many owners use acidophilus tablets for this purpose. Chinchillas enjoy their texture.
5) Pet Pectillin
Pet Pectillin is a kind of diarrhea medication manufactured for cats and dogs, but which can be used for smaller animals too. It contains two active ingredients: pectin and kaolin. These sooth the stomach and work to prevent further diarrhea. It’s recommended by owners, but you should consult a vet before using it. Owners recommend doses of 0.3ml, but only give the dosage that the vet tells you to.
It’s perfectly safe for chinchillas to infest. Pectin is a kind of starch that’s found in plants that coats the walls of the intestines. This prevents further irritation. Kaolin is a kind of clay that acts as an ‘adsorbent’ (not ‘absorbent’). Absorbency is where a material swallows up liquid or gas inside itself, while adsorbency is where liquid or gas is accumulated on the surface of a solid, not inside it. In this context, the kaolin makes any bacteria or parasites gather in one place so they’re more easily excreted.
6) Activated Charcoal
Another treatment owners frequently recommend is activated charcoal. But it may not work quite as well as people think.
Activated charcoal certainly has its uses. Like kaolin, it’s an adsorbent. It’s a highly effective treatment for getting rid of poisons that have been ingested. It could therefore work in the same way that kaolin does in treating diarrhea, and many owners certainly think it does; it has been studied and found to be potentially effective. But others aren’t so convinced, such as the Mayo Clinic.
On balance, it’s likely that activated charcoal does have some effect, although how good it is at fixing diarrhea compared to Pet Pectillin/kaolin isn’t clear. If you do want to use it, take a small Ziploc bag and put some pellets in it. Put some activated charcoal in there too and shake it around until they’re covered. You can then feed these to your chinchilla and see if they ahve any effect.
7) Monitor Your Pet
Once you have made the appropriate changes, you should watch over your chinchilla more closely than before. This will tell you whether its condition is getting better or worse.
The first thing you can do is simply watch it. Watching your chinchilla’s behavior will tell you about its mental and physical health. So, for example, if its ears are always down then that means it’s in pain. If it hardly moves, that means it’s lethargic, and is desperately sick. But if it sleeps, forages and eats as normal, that tells you that its health is improving.
You should also begin weighing your pet if you haven’t already. The more information you have at your disposal, the better you can care for your chinchilla. Even in the absence of behavioral changes, weight loss indicates that something is wrong. And if you have a baseline to measure from—a weight that you know is healthy for your pet—then you can adjust your chin’s diet to keep it at that weight.
8) Bathe Your Chinchilla
As a final point, once your chinchilla’s diarrhea is fully treated, it may benefit from you bathing it.
Contrary to popular belief, bathing in water isn’t a death sentence for a chinchilla. So long as you dry it correctly afterwards, it’s fine; it’s just not typically necessary as dust keeps your pet clean without potentially risk its health. But if your chin’s fur has dried and matted poop in it, and/or is stained, dust may not help, so a water bath may be necessary.
In brief, you have to bathe your chinchilla in much cooler water than you would another pet. A temperature that won’t make it overheat (70 degrees Farenheit or 21 degrees Centigrade) feels cool for a bath, but any hotter than that and your chin will go through heat stress and could pass away. Use a gentle shampoo like one made for babies, preferably unscented. Five minutes of bathing is sufficient; unlike with dusting, you’ll have to manually wash your pet’s fur in water.
Once your chin is done bathing, you must dry it as soon as possible and in a precise way. You must first towel dry it until it’s mostly dry. Then, blow dry it with the blow dryer set to a cool setting. But only do this once your chinchilla’s diarrhea is fully treated, otherwise you’ll be wasting your time!