For you, a UTI might be painful and annoying, although for your chinchilla UTI (urinary tract infection) can be deadly. But how—and what are the symptoms?
Can chinchillas get UTIs? They can, as they have kidneys, bladders and urethras like us. These organs, the urinary tract, can get infected with bacteria from a dirty cage. Urinary tract infections can be treated with antibiotics. UTIs can cause highly painful swelling and could kill if they progress to sepsis (bacteria in the bloodstream), so vet care is necessary and home remedies like cranberry juice are not an option.
The guide below first explains what UTIs are and how chinchillas catch them. We’ll then look at the various symptoms that are a dead giveaway for UTIs, what the likely prognosis (outcome) of an infection is, and how to cure one. It involves lots of antibiotics, lots of rest, and lots of cleaning on your part! To finish, we’ll address how much treatment is likely to cost.
Can Chinchillas Get UTIs?
Chinchillas can get UTIsjust like we can. They have the same urinary tract as we do: male and female chinchillas have kidneys, bladders and urethras. And the chinchilla’s urinary tract can be infected in the same way that ours can.
What Is a UTI?
A urinary tract infection is a kind of bacterial infection—like pink eye, but in a different part of the body.
What happens is that bacteria gets inside the body and overwhelms the body’s natural defences. Normally, the body’s white blood cells will kill any bacterial ‘invaders’. But if there are too many, the bacteria reproduce faster than the white blood cells can get rid of them. While the body will eventually ramp up its response, in the meantime, the infection thrives.
These bacteria feed on things inside the body. In the case of a UTI, they feed on sugars found in urine. The infection begins in the urethra but can travel upwards towards the bladder and kidneys.
How Do Chinchillas Get UTIs?
UTIs are caused by unsanitary conditions. In the case of your chinchilla, that means your pet’s cage.
The bacteria in feces are typically to blame for UTIs. A chinchilla’s feces is hard and dry, so the bacteria don’t get much of a chance to spread unless the cage is very rarely cleaned. Your chinchilla walks around and perhaps sits on its poop and gets the bacteria on itself.
What makes UTIs more likely is if your chinchilla’s poop is soft. Soft and sticky poop, and worse still diarrhea, allow the bacteria to spread much more easily.
Symptoms of UTIs in Chinchillas
Urinary tract infections have many symptoms. Some of these symptoms are unique to UTIs, while others can result from other health conditions too. You can expect to see many if not all of these, but for a cast-iron diagnosis, talk to a vet.
The first symptoms—pain-related behaviors, not urinating or hardly urinating, dribbling urine and blood in the urine—are all early-stage symptoms of UTIs. If you treat the condition as soon as you notice these symptoms, your chinchilla will make a full recovery. Later symptoms like hair loss, redness and swelling around the genitals and lethargy indicate that the condition is progressing and becoming serious. If these later symptoms happen, complications like sepsis may occur, and your chinchilla could pass away.
The chief symptom of a UTI is that it’s painful. The swelling that occurs during a UTI causes this pain, as well as a kind of itching. While chinchillas try to avoid showing that they’re in pain—an evolutionary adaptation to stop predators figuring out which of the herd is most vulnerable—you can still see the following signs:
- Hunched posture
- Ears held down
- Rubbing the belly against things, like platforms/ledges in the cage
- Stretching during urination
Don’t be surprised if you spot the symptoms below, but not these signs of pain. What’s likely happening is that your chinchilla is trying to hide its illness. They do that all the time, and it’s one of the leading reasons why chinchillas die suddenly.
Not Urinating/Producing Hardly Any Urine
If you’ve ever had a UTI, you’ll be familiar with this symptom. Your chinchilla can’t easily urinate so will strain whenever it does. It may produce only small amounts of urine, or no urine at all.
The problem is that the bladder has become swollen, so the outlet from the bladder that leads to the urethra becomes blocked. This is something you can’t see, as the bladder is, of course, internal. But it’s an important symptom that demonstrates how serious a UTI is, so it’s worth knowing about. You can tell your chinchilla is struggling to urinate because it will have to try for a long time, and it will stretch as it does.
One of the side-effects of bacterial infections is inflammation. Unlike what you might assume, this swelling isn’t directly caused by the bacteria. Instead, the body sends more blood to an infected area so that more white blood cells can access it, and thereby kill more bacteria. This helps get rid of infection, but can also backfire (as is the case with pneumonia). Either way, your chinchilla’s bladder will swell up far beyond its normal size. This makes it painful to pee and your chin has to strain to do so.
Dribbling Urine/Urine in Fur
Because your chinchilla can’t fully control its bladder, some urine may also dribble out unexpectedly. This can also result in urine and staining in your pet’s fur.
This happens because your chinchilla strains when it pees. Inflammation occurs all along your chinchilla’s urinary tract, so not just its bladder, but its urethra and the pipes that connect everything together too. As such, there may be urine trapped between your chinchilla’s bladder and urethra. This could come out unexpectedly because of movement, changes in body temperature, or some other unrelated reason. Or, it could be that the bladder is so full that even though your chinchilla can’t manually squeeze the urine out, the pressure from the unusually large amount of pee is gradually pushing it out instead. The end result is dribbling rather than proper urination.
Because your chinchilla isn’t expecting this to happen, it can have the knock-on effect of getting the fur around your chinchilla’s genitals wet. The penis on a male chinchilla will also be wet inside its sheath, which it wouldn’t be if your pet were healthy.
Blood in Chinchilla Urine
UTIs can cause blood in a chinchilla’s urine. That’s because the bacteria attack the lining of the organs and cause inflammation and irritation, which allows some blood into the pee.
Bear in mind, though, that chinchilla urine isn’t supposed to be clear or light yellow like a person’s. Chinchillas have adapted to conserve water because they come from a dry habitat, so their urine doesn’t have as much pure water in it as ours does. Your chinchilla’s urine is therefore supposed to be a deep yellow or orange color, which can be mistaken for blood especially once it dries.
As such, watch your pet for a while to see if it urinates. Then look at what its urine looks like as soon as it goes to the toilet. The urine should be one uniform color, and not have patches, strings or bits of red in it. Bear in mind that your chinchilla’s urine can change color from one day to the next depending on how hydrated it is.
Later Symptoms: Redness, Swelling and Hair Loss Around the Genitals
Slight swelling around the genitals is a normal enough side effect of a UTI. That’s because the urethra, which is part of the genitals, becomes inflamed. But you may also notice a spreading of the swelling, plus redness and clear irritation. There may also be slight hair loss. This results from a combination of factors:
- The infection can become more severe, leading to worse swelling of the urethra
- Your chinchilla tries to relieve the pain of the UTI by inspecting its genitals
- The urine around your chinchilla’s urethra leads to severe irritation (like nappy rash)
Even if this isn’t specifically related to urinary tract infection, it’s not a good sign. It could be to a hair ring, for example.
Later Symptoms: Tiredness & Lethargy
Lethargy is a general symptom that is associated with many different health conditions. It’s where your chinchilla moves slowly, sleeps much more than usual, and hardly has the energy to feed or play. It’s not to be confused with the frequent sleeps that all chinchillas take throughout the day, which are normal. Signs of lethargy include:
- Your chinchilla not having the energy to eat, move or do anything
- Your chinchilla not finding playtime fun or wanting to be handled
- Your chinchilla not playing with its cage mate
Lethargy often occurs alongside loss of appetite. Loss of appetite can occur independent of lethargy, but lethargy compounds the issue, as your chinchilla can hardly get up to get food. Because lethargy is a symptom of many health conditions, it doesn’t necessarily mean your chinchilla has a UTI. But whatever the cause, your chinchilla will need veterinary assistance.
Can a Chinchilla Die from a UTI? (Prognosis)
UTIs are a form of infection, and chinchillas can die from infection.
The problem is that if your chinchilla’s body can’t fully fight off the infection, it will continue to spread. This could be because your chinchilla is weak as a result of a poor diet, is sick for some other reason at the same time, or just that the UTI is caused by a particularly strong and aggressive kind of bacteria.
Whatever the case, the bacteria can get into the bloodstream. Once they do, they travel around the body and can infect other organs. If organs like the liver, heart and lungs become infected, your chinchilla can die. Having bacteria in the bloodstream is known as sepsis and can kill very quickly.
If treatment is sought, the likely outcome of a UTI is good. There are antibiotics that will kill any kind of UTI-causing bacteria, so as long as you seek treatment for your chinchilla as soon as possible, it should be fine.
UTI Or Kidney Stones/Bladder Stones
One complication is if the condition isn’t really a UTI.
Bladder stones are common in chinchillas, and while kidney stones are much less frequent, they can occur. The problem is that they have the exact same symptoms as a UTI. So, a chinchilla with a bladder stone will clearly be in pain, will struggle to pee, will have blood in its pee, and will eventually become lethargic.
The problem is that if you give a chinchilla antibiotics, it will do nothing to fix the bladder stone. Complicating matters further, a bladder stone can damage the lining of the bladder or urethra (which it will eventually reach as your chinchilla passes it, slowly). When it does so, it allows infection to more easily take hold. Depending on the severity of the condition, a chinchilla with a bladder stone may recover or it may have to be put to sleep.
How to Get Rid of a UTI
If your chinchilla displays any signs of ill health—those above or otherwise—you need to talk to a vet. You can then take steps to correct whatever’s wrong.
1) Talk To a Vet
It’s vital that you get your chinchilla’s UTI diagnosed by a medical professional. If you don’t, there could be another condition or some underlying condition that you’re not aware of. If that’s the case, then treatment of the UTI would be pointless.
Something else to be aware of is that you shouldn’t treat the UTI with antibiotics you may already have. Each antibiotic works on some bacteria but not others, so it could be useless. Plus, your pet will need a certain dosage, which only your vet can figure out for you. If you give too low a dosage, you would slow the condition down, but not stop it completely; the bacteria could even become resistant to the antibiotic, which is very bad.
The vet may perform a urinalysis. This is where a sample of urine is taken and checked in various ways, either to diagnose a UTI or something else. The vet can isolate the specific kind of bacteria causing the UTI so they can administer the correct kind of antibiotics. The urinalysis can also pick up on other conditions that your chinchilla may have.
2) Clean Your Chinchilla’s Cage
Once you’ve talked to the vet and they’ve diagnosed the issue as a UTI, you must clean your chinchilla’s cage. UTIs are caught from unsanitary conditions, so you have to do two things: first complete a thorough deep clean, and then regularly ‘spot clean’ the cage each day. This will prevent bacteria building up. The deep clean should include:
- Removing every cage accessory and cleaning it with soapy water. That includes hides, jumping platforms, wheels, hay racks and so on.
- Removing all dirty bedding. Bedding holds onto bacteria more than anything else, and must be kept clean, whether that means removing soiled bedding or replacing damp fleece lining.
- Wiping down the cage with bleach to completely kill any bacteria. It should then be rinsed with water so it doesn’t smell so strongly.
- Replacing bedding and any cage accessories you took out.
You should do this while your chinchilla is outside the cage. Once the cage is fully cleaned, you can put your pet back. Deep clean your chinchilla’s cage at least once every six months; some owners do so more frequently, even once a month, which may be necessary if your chin seems particularly susceptible to UTIs.
If you don’t do this, there may be little point treating your pet’s UTI. That’s because your chinchilla could catch another one after the initial one has cleared up.
3) Administer Antibiotics
If the condition is a UTI, the vet will have prescribed antibiotics. These antibiotics can either be injected or fed (or a combination of both). If there are injections involved, the vet will do these for you. But if any of the antibiotics are fed, it’s your job to feed them.
This is easy enough to do. You feed your chinchilla from a small dropper directly into its mouth. Give it time enough to swallow each droplet and make sure you feed all of the antibiotic each time. If you aren’t sure how to do this or whether you’ll be capable of it, don’t worry. You can have the vet demonstrate how it’s done.
The course of antibiotics will likely be a couple of weeks or so. Continue with the course even if it seems like your chinchilla is better, until the antibiotics run out. Take your chinchilla to the vet once the course is over for a follow-up to check for any continued signs of infection, or any other forms of ill health.
4) Monitor for Further Symptoms
Once your chinchilla is better, monitor it for further symptoms in the future. If you cleaned your chinchilla’s cage thoroughly there should be no problem with the infection quickly recurring. But your chin may be susceptible to UTIs because of anatomical reasons, like some people are, in which case you want to spot any future cases as soon as possible.
Regular vet visits will help here, too. We recommend taking your chinchilla to the vet twice a year, not just to check for UTIs, but to prevent all other sorts of health issues too.
Can You Give a Chinchilla Cranberry Juice for a UTI?
We recommend entirely against any sort of home remedy for treating UTIs in chinchillas. While cranberry juice does seem to both prevent and treat UTIs, it would be a bad choice for your chinchilla because:
- The UTI could be something other than a UTI. You need to have the UTI diagnosed to rule out anything else, for which cranberry juice would be useless.
- Chinchillas should not have too much liquid in their diets. They drink little water as it is, so adding in extra liquids could give your chinchilla diarrhea (especially as cranberries are acidic, too).
- Cranberry juice, cranberries, and in fact all kinds of fruit contain too much sugar for chinchillas. Chins aren’t supposed to eat pure fructose as it causes diarrhea and bloating.
The same applies to any other kind of home remedy you can think of. Even if cranberry juice didn’t have these side effects, antibiotics are still more effective, so for the sake of your chinchilla’s health you need to use them.
How Much Does UTI Vet Treatment Cost?
The cost of treatment is highly variable with all exotic pets. For a simple UTI that you catch early, you’ll only have to pay for the initial examination and the antibiotics. These might cost $50-100 and $30 respectively. If the UTI is a serious one that necessitates follow-up visits and repeat prescriptions of medication then this cost can balloon to hundreds of dollars. Other extra costs include X-rays to look for bladder stones, urinalysis, and treatment for any other conditionst that become apparent.
We recommend asking local breeder groups about their experiences with vets. You may find some recommendations that are hard to find online. But remember, cheaper may not be better, and you shouldn’t compromise your chinchilla’s health for money.