Quarantine is a period of isolation, the purpose of which is to prevent transmissible diseases passing on. You’re supposed to quarantine new chinchillas you adopt… But how, and why?
How do you quarantine a chinchilla? Keep it in a separate cage in a separate room for at least a month. Take it to the vet at least once after you adopt it to check for health issues, and monitor it continually. Its quarantine cage should be set up like a permanent cage. If you don’t quarantine, your other chinchillas could die from transmissible diseases.
The guide below explores precisely how to quarantine chinchillas, plus when and why. This is a surprisingly controversial topic among breeders and owners for reasons we’ll explore below.
Why Do You Need to Quarantine a Chinchilla?
You’ll already be familiar with the idea of quarantine. It’s performed with chinchillas for the same reason as any other animal: to ensure that it’s healthy, and won’t pass on diseases or parasites to other animals.
There are lots of health issues that chinchillas experience which can be passed on. These include:
- Infections. Eye infections like conjunctivitis are notoriously easy to spread.
- Fur parasites. While uncommon, chinchillas can get lice and fleas.
- Gastrointestinal parasites, or in other words, worms.
- Bugs that cause diarrhea.
Because of these conditions, it makes sense to quarantine chinchillas at certain times. The idea is that the long period of quarantine will give the health issue the chance to appear, run through its natural course, and go away again. But when is quarantine necessary, and when is it overkill? And can it do more harm than good?
When to Quarantine a Chinchilla
There are two main times you should quarantine your chinchillas. The first is when you get a new one, and the second is when one is seriously ill with something that’s catching. The sections below explain why this is so important.
1) When You Get a New Chinchilla
All new additions to your chinchilla’s household should be quarantined: no exceptions. The new chinchilla could be sick or carrying parasites, and it’s far easier to treat these conditions in one chinchilla than in all your chinchillas.
This may seem unlikely, but it’s true. Unfortunately, many pet stores and even many breeders have lower standards than they’re thought to have. Their animals can be kept in sub-par and crowded conditions which makes transmitting bugs easy.
Besides that, all new additions need time to befriend other chinchillas. If you paired or grouped them up straight away, the chinchillas would fight, and could even kill each other. So first you quarantine the new arrival, then you introduce it in a special way. Housing it alone lets it get used to its new cage, the new house it lives in, and its new owner too… All very important.
2) When a Chinchilla Is Sick
The second circumstance is if one of your chinchillas is sick with something that’s catching. Isolating it in its own cage, even if that cage is in the same room, will stop the bug from spreading.
This doesn’t apply to every health issue. Some, like malocclusion, can’t be transmitted from one chinchilla to the other. There’s therefore no point in isolating the poorly chinchilla. But for chronic cases of diarrhea, for example, it may be.
Do Separated Chinchillas Get Lonely?
This is why many owners struggle with the idea of quarantining their pet chinchillas. It’s thought that chinchillas mate for life, although this isn’t strictly true. While they do form obvious couples, these couples can break up slowly or suddenly. A chinchilla can have more than one partner at once. Maybe they’re more like people than we realize!
Either way, two paired-up chinchillas won’t be heartbroken if you split them up for a while. They will likely be sad, but not depressed.
As such, there is no downside important enough to consider not quarantining chinchillas when necessary.
What Health Conditions Can Chinchillas Pass On?
The key health issues that chinchillas get, like malocclusion, aren’t transmissible. But there are lots of things that are. Here’s a long list of the various health conditions you need to quarantine for, even if you aren’t sure your chinchilla has them:
- Giardia. Giardia is a kind of microscopic parasite that lives in the gut. It’s passed on through feces.
- Ringworm. This isn’t a worm, but a fungus that can transmit from one pet or person to another very easily. General fungal fur infections can be passed on too if the conditions are right.
Gastrointestinal issues like parasites and tummy bugs are particularly aggressive. Some owners and breeders report the devastating effects of losing over half their ‘herd’ to GI problems that spread rapidly from one chinchilla to another which became apparent even after quarantine was over.
But besides health, you also have to think of behavior. It takes time to fully assess what a new chinchilla is like: is it sociable? Does it like people? Is it very protective of its space, as many females are? You can take the initial period of quarantine to gauge how well your new chinchilla will get along with your existing ones.
How to Quarantine a Chinchilla (in Two Steps)
Quarantining isn’t difficult. You have to put the chinchilla in a cage on its own for a while. This means there are only two questions you need to answer: how is this new cage set up, and how long you have to wait before reintroducing a quarantined chinchilla.
Step 1: Prepare the New Cage
The quarantine cage should be set up as if it’s a permanent home for your pet. Your chinchilla should have everything it needs in there, including:
- A hide
- A hay rack
- A food bowl
- A water bottle
- Fleece lining
- A litter tray (if your chinchilla is trained to use one)
- Chew toys
Your chinchilla will need to stay in this cage for a while. If it’s a new chinchilla from a pet store or breeder, it may actually need to stay there permanently, as introductions may not go to plan.
So, begin by setting up this quarantine cage somewhere in your home. Ideally, you should keep it in a separate room to your existing chinchilla cage. This will stop the chinchillas from seeing each other and getting excited or angry at each other. Pick a suitable room like a basement or a quiet bedroom: somewhere that’s cool, with no direct sunlight, and that doesn’t get too humid or too loud.
Step 2: Wait
Once quarantine begins, owners and breeders recommend two weeks to a month of quarantine. This should give time:
- For you to spot any health conditions that the chinchilla has
- For any health condition to go away
- For you to treat anything you have to treat
You don’t have to completely isolate yourself from the chinchilla. You can spend time with it and play with it, as you no doubt want to.
Once the period of quarantine is over, you can introduce the chinchilla to the rest of your group. You do this by placing the new chinchilla’s cage near the existing cage, at a distance of around four inches away. This lets the chinchillas smell each other, but stops them from fighting. Eventually, they get used to each other, and you can put them in the same cage.
Note: Not all introductions go well. Your chinchillas may fight fiercely, in which case they can’t be introduced. You should be prepared for this eventuality, i.e. keeping the ‘quarantine cage’ in case it’s needed permanently.
How Long to Quarantine a Chinchilla
The precise length of quarantine is something of disagreement and debate. Some owners are steadfast that only a month is enough, while many owners find this to be overkill, and that two weeks does well enough. Others think 8-12 weeks is necessary.
We think that you can likely gauge how healthy your new chinchilla is a) from a vet checkup, and b) from observation, so one month will likely be fine in most cases.
Shorter quarantine times are safer when you adopt from a knowledgeable, reputable breeder. Many breeders are well known in the chinchilla-owning or -showing community and have reputations to uphold. As such, they treat their chinchillas well and pass on useful advice (e.g. on quarantine!) They are far more reliable than general pet stores, which are typically staffed by younger people inexperienced with exotic pets (no offense meant). Chinchillas from pet stores are therefore more likely to be ill.
The same applies to rescues. Large rescues are well known and live and die on their reputation, so typically uphold good quarantining and hygiene practises. Whether your breeder or rescue meets this standard is something you can gauge when you visit them.
Chinchilla Quarantine Tips
There’s only one problem with quarantine, and that’s you. If the chinchillas are kept in separate cages in separate rooms, the only way for a parasite or intestinal bug to pass between them is if you pass it on. This can and does happen.
Do you wash your hands after you handle your chinchillas? Since they’re such clean animals, you may not think to. But if you don’t, and then you handle your other chinchilla, you could pass on something like a louse or some germs in dried saliva on your hands. While this is unlikely to be an issue, it could potentially happen. Here are some tips on preventing breaking quarantine.
- Wash your hands after handling a chinchilla. Easy and effective.
- Handle your current chinchilla, then your new chinchilla, in that order, if you must handle them. This would mean that nothing can pass from the new to the old chinchilla; only the other way round. If your old chinchilla is healthy, that’s not a problem.
- Change your clothes between handling chinchillas. This is a tip that more approaches true quarantine, where it’s physically impossible for anything to travel between one area/patient and another. It’s recommended to completely ensure isolation.
This might all seem like overkill, but it’s the responsible thing to do. It’s not overly dramatic to say that it could be the difference between life and death for your current chinchillas.