Toxoplasmosis in Chinchillas: Causes, Symptoms & Cure

Toxoplasmosis is a common health condition in other pets—but what about chinchillas? Can chins catch toxoplasmosis, and if so, how serious is it?

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Toxoplasmosis is a common health condition in other pets—but what about chinchillas? Can chins catch toxoplasmosis, and if so, how serious is it?

Can chinchillas get toxoplasmosis? Cases have been documented in journals, but it’s exceptionally unlikely for your chin to develop the condition. That’s because your chinchilla would need direct contact with Toxoplasmosa gondii, the parasite that causes toxoplasmosis. The primary way in which it spreads is through cat feces or mice/rats. Symptoms include signs of pain (hunched posture, teeth grinding, etc.), fluid in the lungs and lesions on the liver. Unlike in other animals, toxoplasmosis has quick onset in chinchillas and is fatal so will require veterinary care.

The guide below first looks at what toxoplasmosis is, what causes it, and whether chinchillas can catch it. We’ll also detail how common it is, what the symptoms of toxoplasmosis are, and how to cure it. In short, everything you need to know.

Note: if you think your chinchilla has toxoplasmosis or any other health condition, take it to a vet as soon as possible. This guide is for informational purposes only, and is not intended to replace medical care.

What Causes Toxoplasmosis?

A microscopic close-up of the Toxoplasma gondii parasite. Image courtesy of the CDC.

Toxoplasmosis is a condition caused by a kind of parasite. The Toxoplasma gondii parasite is one of the world’s most common, and can affect most warm blooded animals, but is typically found in cats. As these are parasites and not bacteria, they reproduce sexually, but can only do so in animals of the cat family.

When it affects people, toxoplasmosis isn’t typically serious. It isn’t typically serious in cats either, but in chinchillas, it can be fatal. It causes a number of symptoms, but these aren’t obvious, and as the condition has quick onset they can easily be missed. That being said, because chinchillas are kept in cages and away from other pets/animals, it’s highly unlikely that your pet has toxoplasmosis.

Can Chinchillas Get Toxoplasmosis?

It is possible for chinchillas to get toxoplasmosis. It is most common in ranches, where many chinchillas are kept in close quarters, and aren’t as closely monitored as pet chinchillas. It’s therefore more likely that a cat, mouse or other small animal could spread the parasite to them. It can then spread quickly between all the chinchillas in a ranch.

Cases of this happening have been documented in scientific studies. The one linked here details a case in which toxoplasmosis killed 44 animals in a herd of 56. It’s thought they caught the parasite from a wild mouse that was caught in a trap in the room the chinchillas lived in. The presence of Toxoplasma gondii was identified both in the mouse and in the chinchillas that passed away.

However, if you keep your chinchilla in a cage in a room where there are no mice, and you don’t have any other household pets/don’t let them in the same room as your chinchilla, it’s practically impossible for them to develop toxoplasmosis. You should therefore ensure that the vet performs thorough testing to identify the condition.

How Do Chinchillas Get Toxoplasmosis?

Since toxoplasmosis is spread by a parasite, direct contact with a carrier is required. It’s typically spread through feces, as the majority of Toxoplasma gondii parasites live in the gut. They spend most of their time as ‘cysts’, which are small but inactive/dormant parasites that don’t reproduce. They only reproduce for a limited time, but when they do, they lay millions of eggs. Then, when the cat goes to the toilet, the eggs are spread.

The chinchilla doesn’t have to come in direct contact with this feces for it to catch these parasites, though. If a rat or mouse that had contact with the feces then has contact with the chinchillas, it can pass that way. It’s also possible for you to spread the parasite from one animal to another on your hands.

Needless to say, this is an unlikely chain of events. But cases have been documented, which is why we felt that this guide was necessary.

How Common is Toxoplasmosis in Chinchillas?

Toxoplasmosis is almost unheard of in chinchillas. It’s far more common in other pets than it is in chins. While the exact numbers aren’t known, it’s thought that between 20-80% of household cats harbor these parasites; the rate varies by area. Close to 100% of feral cats carry them. But in chinchillas, you could ask every owner you know and they would tell you they’ve never heard of a case.

The reason why is that chinchillas live in cages. Toxoplasmosis is caused by direct contact with the parasite Toxoplasma gondii. Unless a cat or a mouse gets into your chinchilla’s cage, your pet won’t develop the condition, unless you somehow get the parasites on your hands. It’s akin to how you can’t catch malaria if you don’t live somewhere with mosquitos, or how you can’t catch rabies from an animal in a country in which rabies is exterminated.

Symptoms of Toxoplasmosis in Chinchillas

A chinchilla with a hunched posture and its ears held back.

Not as much is known about the symptoms of toxoplasmosis as other, more common, conditions. That’s because a) the condition is rare, and b) the condition seems to have very quick onset. What we do know is that it spreads throughout the body, and microscopic parasites can be found in the brain, lungs, spleen and liver. Because Toxoplasma gondii attacks various parts of the chinchilla’s body, symptoms are varied too. Here is a list detailing what you can expect to see:

  • Toxoplasmosis is lethal in chinchillas. You may not notice any signs of the condition until your chinchilla has passed.
  • Toxoplasmosis likely causes pain. That’s because in the scientific study linked above, the researchers reported seeing chinchillas in a hunched position with their ears back, which can be a sign of pain.
  • Fluid collects in the lungs
  • Lesions appear on the liver which are visible in a necropsy. These lesions are where liver cells start to die, which will eventually kill your pet.

These symptoms aren’t specific to toxoplasmosis. That means there are other health issues that cause, for example, hunched posture or fluid in the lungs. If you notice these symptoms, it’s likely to be something other than toxoplasmosis such as respiratory infection; but whatever the likely cause, you should talk to a vet to identify it for sure.

How to Cure Toxoplasmosis in Chinchillas

The current treatment for toxoplasmosis is antibiotics. These are given to cats that develop the condition, so while there aren’t guidelines specifically for treating it in chinchillas, your vet will likely recommend them here too. These antibiotics can be administered either by mouth or by injection, so talk to your vet about the options you have.

It seems that toxoplasmosis has very quick onset, so it would be best for your vet to administer the antibiotics there and then. Show them studies which suggest that this is the case, as the vet may be used to toxoplasmosis infestations in other pets, which aren’t so serious.

Get a Second Opinion

chinchilla vet
Talking to a vet is your only option.

If your chinchilla’s vet has diagnosed toxoplasmosis in your pet, it may be worth getting a second opinion. That’s because it’s so rare in chinchillas while it’s common in other pets. Your vet, if they’re inexperienced with chinchillas, may not know this.

One thing you can do is ask your vet how they identified the condition as toxoplasmosis. If they looked at a slide of your chinchilla’s feces to look for eggs, that’s not a conclusive diagnosis as chinchillas can have different kinds of parasite that have similar-looking eggs.

Prevention is Better Than Cure

Toxoplasmosis only occurs in chins kept under very specific circumstances. You can therefore entirely prevent it by taking basic steps:

  • Don’t allow other pets in the room your chinchillas live in. Not allowing your cat in the same room as your chins means no direct contact, either with the cat or its feces.
  • Take steps to prevent rodent infestations. Rats and mice spread Toxoplasmosa gondii, so deal with an infestation by laying traps as soon as possible. Check the traps regularly so the rodents aren’t left in there. Don’t let your chinchillas loose in a room with rodent traps.
  • Wash your hands before and after you handle a chinchilla (or any pet). This should be something you do regardless of infestations like these.
  • Separate the sick chinchilla from other chinchillas. It is spread through direct contact, so eliminate direct contact between your pets.
  • Completely clean the cages your pets live in with bleach. This will sterilize them and stop the infestation spreading, at least for the time being.

While you shouldn’t overly worry, since toxoplasmosis is very rare in chins, it’s best to follow these guidelines anyway. These care guidelines, such as keeping other pets out of your chinchilla’s room, apply whether or not toxoplasmosis is a likely issue.

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New owner, don't know where to start? Or do you need a handy chinchilla reference guide? Check out our Chinchilla Care 101 eBook, or get what you need from our online store!