The first thing owners do when they get a new pet is give it shots (vaccines). But you don’t with chinchillas. You may think this leaves your pet vulnerable to something like rabies.
It is theoretically possible for a chinchilla to catch rabies. It is passed on through saliva, so if a rabid animal bit your chinchilla, it would catch rabies too. But as pet chinchillas live in cages, this is next to impossible. Chinchillas do not need rabies shots unless bitten by a rabid animal.
Even if your chinchilla does catch rabies somehow, it can get shots after the fact like other pets. So, rabies is categorically something you don’t need to worry about: read on to find out why.
Can Chinchillas Have Rabies?
It is possible for chinchillas to have rabies, although exceptionally uncommon. The only known source which suggests possible infection was published by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. It is a summary of rabies infections in the state between 1992 and 2002.
The source says that there were 36,154 cases of rabies submitted to the State Laboratory Institute for rabies testing, of which 3,893 tested positive. 2,100 raccoons and 1,200 skunks where among those which had caught the virus.
In domesticated animals, the virus was very rarely seen. 4,349 dogs were referred for testing but only 4 were tested positive. 13,094 cats were tested, and 106 positive. This suggests that rabies is far less common than people think.
The source goes on to state that one chinchilla was submitted for testing, and it was tested positive. No other sources have been found which suggest chinchillas are any more susceptible to rabies than this.
Rabies is passed from animal to animal through bites, because the rabies virus lives in saliva. As such, to become infected, an animal has to make contact with a rabid animal and be bitten.
That being said, it’s more likely for wild chinchillas to have rabies. Rabies is present in Chile, particularly in bats, and it’s possible that a rabid bat could bite a wild chinchilla. But your pet chinchilla will not have been captured in the wild; it will have been bred in captivity, so this is not a relevant issue unless you encounter wild chinchillas in their natural habitat.
What Is Rabies?
Rabies is a zoonotic disease caused by a virus. It causes inflammation of the brain, which in turn causes several severe symptoms. These include fever, fear of water, confusion, hypersalivation (drooling), hallucinations and extreme violence. In particular, rabid animals will try to bite other animals as much as possible as if in a rage.
Once this initial stage passes, the animal becomes paralytic (paralyzed) and eventually falls into a coma. The eventual outcome is invariably the death of the animal, so euthanasia is always advised before this stage is reached (provided that a definitive diagnosis is reached).
In some countries, the condition has been wiped out, but in the U.S. it is still present. Countries where it has been eradicated include the United Kingdom and much of western Europe, as well as Australia and Japan. So, if you live in one of these countries, your chinchilla can categorically not catch rabies.
There are several vaccines against rabies. These prevent the condition from occurring in the same way that other vaccines entirely prevent other conditions. These shots can be administered either before or after the initial bite, because rabies takes a long time to become serious. But these shots are not given to chinchillas as a preventative measure as they are given to other pets.
What Are Zoonotic Diseases (And Are There Chinchilla Zoonotic Diseases)?
Zoonotic diseases are conditions which can be passed from an animal to a human. Many kinds of flu, for example, are animal in origin and can be passed to breeders and farmers. Rabies is a serious example of zoonotic disease.
These diseases can take the form of bacteria, viruses and parasites, like ‘regular’ human diseases can. They can transmit from animals to humans because the diseases affect the same physiological structures of our bodies in the same way as they do in other animals.
According to the CDC, the most common vectors (sources of infection) are wild animals like raccoons, skunks, bats and foxes. Domestic animals like cats and dogs, as well as farmed cattle, can catch rabies from these wild animals.
If your chinchilla somehow came into contact with one of these animals, and was then bitten, then it would become rabid too. For obvious reasons, this is entirely unlikely to occur. But it’s still possible for you to be bitten.
According to the U.K. government, all rodents carry other bacteria and viruses which can cause infections in people. Rodent infections that can transmit to humans include leptospirosis, hantavirus, rat bite fever and a type of meningitis called lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus (LCMV). But these conditions are uncommon, and can be prevented with proper handling and bite/scratch care.
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Why Don’t Chinchillas Get Rabies?
As detailed above, rabies is eradicated in several countries (like the U.K.) So, if you live in one of these countries with your pet chinchilla, then this fact protects you both. But there are other reasons besides why chinchillas rarely catch rabies, even if you live in a country where it is common, e.g. in Asia or Africa.
1) Chinchillas Are Domesticated
Rabies is less common in domesticated animals than in wild animals. That’s because animals which live in people’s homes or on farms are better protected from rabid animals.
Another protective factor is that pets of species which have been domesticated a long time are almost never caught from the wild. Chinchillas which are for sale in pet stores are all captive bred, meaning they have never been in a wild environment where they could encounter rabid animals.
2) Chinchillas Are Kept in Cages
Besides that, chinchillas are physically protected from other animals by their enclosures. Even if a rabid animal somehow got into your home, your chinchilla would still be safe in its cage.
This also protects chinchillas kept in pet stores and sanctuaries from potential infection.
Do Chinchillas Need Rabies Shots?
While there are shots an animal can be given that prevent rabies, chinchillas do not need them. That’s because rabies is practically never seen in pet chinchillas.
Other pets are given rabies shots to prevent the chance of rabies infection. Pets which spend lots of time outdoors, especially in rural settings, benefit from these shots. That’s because they could encounter rabid animals when out for a walk, for example. But because chinchillas are caged animals, this is not a relevant issue.
Do chinchillas need to be vaccinated at all? For the same reason, chinchillas are not required to have any shots for you to own them.
If a chinchilla were to catch rabies, then a veterinarian could administer rabies shots. If you are worried that your pet has somehow caught rabies, talk to a vet for further advice on this subject.
Can Chinchillas Give You Rabies?
It is theoretically possible for a chinchilla to give you rabies. For this to occur, the chinchilla itself would have to have rabies. If it then bit you, it would pass the rabies on to you. Rabies is not only passed on by certain specific animals, e.g. foxes or dogs, but by any animal which carries the virus. But as detailed above, it’s entirely unlikely that your pet chinchilla has rabies.
As such, while this is theoretically possible, it’s not something owners should be concerned about.
Say, for example, that you adopt a chinchilla from a rescue center. When you get it home, you try to get it into its new enclosure. But instead of getting to know you, it bites you. If you’ve had pets before, you may wonder whether your chinchilla has rabies, which would explain its biting.
What’s happening is that the chinchilla is frightened. It’s in a new place with people it doesn’t know. If you’ve never owned one before, then you likely don’t know how to handle a chinchilla properly, so you could even be hurting it. This is the much more likely explanation than rabies.
Of course, you should seek veterinary advice all the same. But between the lack of clinical evidence of rabies in chinchillas, and the unlikelihood of a shelter not realizing that the pet has rabies, this is exceptionally unlikely to occur.
How Do You Catch Rabies from Chinchillas?
To catch rabies from a chinchilla, it would have to bite you. The rabies virus lives in the salivary glands. From here, it can be passed on through bites. This applies to all animals which carry the virus, either domestic or wild, chinchillas included.
The only other way to catch rabies would be to encounter the chinchilla’s saliva in some other way. If you touched your eyes or mouth without washing your hands after doing so, then the virus could infect you that way instead. It’s good practice to wash your hands after touching a pet whether it has rabies or not.
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