If your female chinchilla is sick, there are a host of health issues that can be to blame. But are there any health issues that solely affect females? What are they?
Are there health conditions that only affect female chinchillas? There are, and they relate to the female’s reproductive system, the way females give birth, or the way females raise their offspring. Bacterial mastitis is where the female’s nipples become infected during breastfeeding, while agalactia is the inability to produce milk. Miscarriage and dystocia are problems with giving birth, while a retained fetus is where offspring remains inside the uterus after birth fails. Metritis and pyometra are infections of the uterus (womb). If your female chinchilla is unwell for any reason, whether due to its reproductive system or otherwise, take it to the vet.
On top of all these issues, your female chinchilla can also get sick with conditions that affect any chinchilla, including respiratory infection and malocclusion. Issues can also occur alongside each other. The guide below explains what these issues are in depth, detailing what causes each of them, the symptoms you can expect to see, and how each is cured.
Note: this guide is not intended to replace the healthcare advice of a vet. If you suspect your chinchilla has any health issue, whether one described in the list below or not, you should take it to the vet as soon as possible. The point of the article below is to learn more about these conditions when your chinchilla’s health isn’t at risk.
Are There Health Conditions That Only Affect Female Chinchillas?
There are a couple of health issues that occur in females, but not in males. There aren’t as many as there are in people (and vice versa, there aren’t as many that affect males that don’t affect females). But there are some.
The two most common are bacterial mastitis and agalactia. As you may have guessed, these are related to the female raising her kits. Bacterial mastitis is where the female’s nipples/breast tissue become infected, usually in the context of feeding her young (although not necessary). Agalactia is where the female is unable to produce milk at all.
Chinchillas can also experience miscarriage, retained fetuses, dystocia, metritis and pyometra. These are all issues related directly to giving birth which is, of course, only something that females experience.
Let’s explore what each of these issues is in more depth.
What Is Bacterial Mastitis?
Bacterial mastitis is a condition where the breast tissue gets infected. It typically occurs when the female has young to feed, but it can occur outside of this context, too. This condition is characterized by the mammary glands becoming swollen, firm, discolored and painful. Bacterial mastitis has several known-on effects: it makes the affected female lethargic, gives her a temperature, makes her uninterested in eating, and makes her uninterested in her pups.
What Causes Bacterial Mastitis in Chinchillas?
Bacterial mastitis is caused by bacteria infecting the female’s breast tissue. This most commonly occurs in the context of breastfeeding: bacteria from her offspring’s mouth enters her body through cracking in the skin of the nipple. The infection becomes progressively worse until the symptoms described above are apparent.
How Do You Cure Bacterial Mastitis in Chinchillas?
As is the case with all health conditions, you should take your chinchilla to see a vet. The vet can identify what the problem is: bacterial mastitis or something else. They can then recommend whatever cure is relevant.
The cure for any kind of infection, be it bacterial mastitis, bumblefoot or sepsis, is for your chinchilla to take antibiotics. You administer these either by injection or through squirting the antibiotics into your chinchilla’s mouth. The vet will administer the first of these, but you will be expected to give your chinchilla the rest. Follow your vet’s guidance on how to do this.
In the meantime, you may have to hand-feed the chinchilla kits yourself. This isn’t a problem as chinchillas can be raised perfectly fine being hand-fed milk. Take a small dropper or syringe, the same kind as you find in children’s medicine (the plastic ones without a needle). Drip the milk slowly onto the kit’s lips rather than squirting it directly into its mouth, allowing it to eat/drink at its own pace. Use either goat’s milk or kitten milk solution.
What Is Agalactia?
Agalactia is the failure of the female to produce milk. This could be due to an issue with her teats, her breast tissue, or because of a problem with her young.
What Causes Agalactia in Chinchillas?
Agalactia is a general term that may have many different underlying causes.
- The chinchilla was bred at too young an age. Chinchillas begin showing interest in breeding before they have fully weaned. If the female is bred at too young an age, not only can birth be difficult, but she may not produce enough milk.
- The female is in general poor condition. Whether because she has an underlying disease, had a difficult pregnancy, or isn’t eating the right food, her health stops her from producing enough or any milk.
- The female’s teats are damaged. This could be because of bacterial mastitis as described above, physical trauma, or something else.
- The female had too many kits. Chinchillas are used to small litter sizes of one or two. If she has too many kits, the female won’t be able to produce milk for them all.
The cause of agalactia may or may not be clear. It may be because of one of these reasons, some of them, or all of them.
How Do You Cure Agalactia in Chinchillas?
Again, the first step in curing any health condition is to take your chinchilla to the vet. They can identify what the issue is and recommend the relevant fix.
The first thing the vet will do is manually check that the female is producing milk. It will be immediately obvious if doing so is difficult or painful for her. If the female isn’t comfortable producing milk within 72 hours of having offspring, the vet will administer oxytocin. This is a hormone related to pregnancy and childbirth that stimulates milk production, so if anything will work, it’s this. If suckling her young remains painful and difficult for her, you must either give the young to a compatible female or hand rear them.
What Is Miscarriage?
Miscarriage/abortion can occur in chinchillas. This is where the young is lost before it’s fully developed. It can either be caused directly by owner action, or by ill health in the female chinchilla. Since male chinchillas can’t become pregnant, this isn’t an issue that affects them.
What Causes Miscarriage/Abortion in Chinchillas?
Miscarriage can occur spontaneously at any point of pregnancy. It can be caused by:
- Improper handling. If you pick up your female by its belly, or press down on its belly, it will miscarry.
- Nutritional deficiencies. If the female doesn’t get enough nutrients in its diet, the fetuses won’t either, which can cause miscarriage too.
- Lack of blood flow to the fetus. The fetus is connected to the mother through the umbilical cord. Through the umbilical cord the mother provides the offspring with oxygen and nutrients. If this gets cut off, the fetus can quickly die (in the same way that ‘grown up’ animals pass away if they don’t get oxygen).
- Genetic problems in the offspring. A genetic issue can mean that the offspring isn’t viable; if that’s the case, it may be naturally miscarried. This is made worse since chinchillas come from limited original breeding stock.
- Health issues. Health issues can affect the offspring as well as the mother.
- No obvious reason. Sometimes chinchillas develop health issues for no reason, and it’s possible for them to miscarry for what seems like no reason, too. In truth, the cause will be one of the issues above, it just wasn’t obvious.
The cause may also be a number of these issues all presenting at once. So, for example, nutritional deficiencies make it more likely that a chinchilla gets sick. If the mother has both nutritional deficiencies and some kind of illness like a respiratory infection, it may not be strong enough to carry the offspring to term, and so miscarries. Or, it may be capable of dealing with being sick, but improper handling may make miscarriage more likely.
How Can You Avoid Miscarriage in Chinchillas?
You must ensure that your female chinchilla is kept in fully suitable conditions, and that the care you directly provide is exemplary.
Not only should you take steps to prevent miscarriage in your chinchillas, but you should provide medical care for the female, too. Complications can occur after miscarriage, including infection, retained fetuses, and more. The vet can gently flush the female’s reproductive tract to prevent both of these issues. Ensure also that she is eating correctly and behaving normally, as miscarriage can be caused by underlying health issues.
What Is Dystocia?
Dystocia is the medical term for difficulty giving birth. This is exceptionally rare in chinchillas.
It’s caused either by the chinchilla being too young to easily birth a kit, or by the kit being misplaced in the uterus (like a breech birth). As is the case for most of these conditions, dystocia can also be caused by general poor condition i.e. nutritional deficiencies, low weight, and so on. This can make uterine contractions end too early, meaning the offspring gets stuck.
Symptoms of Dystocia in Chinchillas
When dystocia occurs, the female will continue trying to give birth for an extended period of time. She will appear in distress and pain. These symptoms will not go away until the issue is resolved.
How to Fix Dystocia in Chinchillas
If your chinchilla has been trying to birth its kits for longer than four hours, it needs veterinary assistance. Vets can administer a special medicine that makes uterine contractions stronger, or restarts them if they’ve stopped. They may also need to flush the uterus out to get rid of the placenta if it doesn’t come out.
What Are Retained Fetuses?
A retained fetus is a fetus that isn’t born when it should be. This is distinct to the idea of the kit being born late; rather, in this case, the fetus has passed away but hasn’t yet/won’t miscarry.
When a fetus passes away shortly before birth, it is typically delivered alongside any still-living young. And if the fetus passes away early during pregnancy, it is normally reabsorbed into the female’s body.
But on occasion, the fetus will not be reabsorbed and will not be delivered. If the fluids in the uterus are drained away and reabsorbed, the retained fetus will go through a mummification process. This can make the mother sick and stressed, prevent future pregnancies, and make her neglect any young she did successfully birth.
What Causes Retained Fetuses in Chinchillas?
Anything that might make an unborn kit pass away can cause a retained fetus. Causative factors include:
- General poor health or nutritional deficiencies
- The mother is too young to give birth and raise young
- The kit had a genetic issue that prevented it from developing
- Seizures, trauma, fever or other major health issues during pregnancy
- Interruption of the blood supply to the fetus during development
Fetuses can be retained for an indefinite amount of time. As such, your chinchilla does not need to have been recently pregnant for this to be an issue. If the fetus is not recovered, it will undergo a mummification process and could make the mother sick.
How to Help a Chinchilla With Retained Fetuses
If your chinchilla has any problems during pregnancy or birth, it requires the assistance of a vet.
The vet will first identify what the problem is. If this problem occurred during birth, then the vet will help the mother continue birthing her kits. An injection of oxytocin can make the mother begin contractions, so this may be administered. If this is unsuccessful, surgery (a Caesarian section/C-section) may be necessary.
If the problem is a retained fetus from a long time ago, the vet may perform an X-ray to check whether the diagnosis is correct. If it is, they will gently flush the female’s reproductive tract.
What Is Metritis?
Metritis is where a placenta or fetus is not delivered correctly, and then subsequently causes bacterial infections and inflammation of the uterus.
Signs of Metritis in Chinchillas
Metritis causes many symptoms. Chinchillas that develop metritis will have difficulty walking; they will also:
- Stop producing milk (agalactia)
- Develop a fever
- Develop swollen and discolored genitals
- Display vaginal discharge, a mixture of mucus and pus which has a foul odor
This health problem therefore has an effect on the kits that survived, as well as the fetus that wasn’t delivered properly. Kits can become nutritionally deficient because of a lack of milk, or develop infections from the discharge the mother’s uterus produces. Like other birth-related issues, metritis more commonly affects chinchillas that are unready to give birth for some reason: whether because they’re too young to breed successfully, they’re sick or nutritionally deficient, or have a genetic issue.
How to Help a Chinchilla with Metritis
This condition must be treated as a matter of urgency. That’s because the bacterial infection in the chinchilla’s uterus can very quickly spread to other organs, which can in turn quickly become fatal.
The vet will administer a kind of medicine that induces uterine contractions. The idea is to flush out the remaining fetus and/or placenta that is causing the issue. They can then fully clean the uterus with disinfectant fluid to get rid of any bacterial infection. They are also likely to administer general antibiotics to ensure that the initial infection doesn’t develop into sepsis.
What Is Pyometra?
Pyometra is a condition where a large amount of pus accumulates in the uterus (the womb). This can occur after one of the other conditions described above, such as metritis or a retained placenta; but it has been observed even in previously healthy chinchillas. As male chinchillas don’t have wombs, this is a condition that only affects females.
Signs of Pyometra in Chinchillas
This condition isn’t necessarily easy to spot. The uterus is, of course, on the inside so the key symptom (production of pus) isn’t immediately obvious. You may see a small amount of vaginal discharge and staining around the genital area. But aside from that, symptoms are generic (general poor condition, lethargy, etc.)
If you don’t keep chinchillas for the purpose of breeding, this condition is highly unlikely to occur. So, if your chinchilla is displaying general symptoms of ill health and it hasn’t been breeding, the problem is probably something else.
If you do keep chinchillas for breeding purposes, then you will notice that this female which presumably was fertile before is now no longer capable of successful breeding.
How to Treat Pyometra in Chinchillas
Unfortunately, there is no quick and easy treatment for pyometra. Vets typically reommend an ovariohysterectomy, which is a complete removal of the ovaries and uterus. This removes the problem but, of course, makes the female infertile. As such, if you are only interested in breeding, this would mean that the female is then of no use in your colony.
Whether the problem is pyometra, dystocia or something else, your first port of call should always be a vet. They can identify what the precise problem is, and help you fix it. You shouldn’t try to treat these problems without a vet’s help, as all of them are serious, and can threaten the life either of the female or of her surviving kits.