Any problem with your chinchilla’s diet, gut or digestion is serious. But none are more serious than gastrointestinal stasis.
What is gastrointestinal stasis? It’s when the gut and stomach completely shut down. This makes a chinchilla stop eating and stop pooping. It’s associated with rapid weight loss, small poops or no poops at all, bloating and lethargy. Gastrointestinal stasis can have quick onset and is fatal if not treated. Even with vet care your chinchilla may pass away.
If you think your chinchilla has gastrointestinal stasis, you must take it to a vet immediately. It’s a condition that can get very bad, very quickly. The guide below is informational and is intended so you can learn more about the condition when your chinchilla’s life isn’t in danger.
What Is Gastrointestinal Stasis in Chinchillas?
The term ‘gastrointestinal stasis’ doesn’t sound like a life-threatening condition, but it is. If you’re good with long words, you can probably guess that gastrointestinal stasis (or ‘GI’ for short) means that the gut stops working. Whether because of a lack of food or a blockage, your chinchilla stopped pooping.
So far, so normal: that sounds a lot like regular constipation, which isn’t convenient, but isn’t so dangerous either. So what’s the issue with a GI stasis chinchilla?
Constipation vs. Gastrointestinal Stasis in Chinchillas
Constipation means that an animal struggles to pass its poop, but still digests its food and gets nutrients from it.
The difference between constipation and gastrointestinal stasis is that stasis implies complete shutdown. With GI, the chinchilla stops eating and pooping entirely. It rapidly loses weight because it isn’t digesting or even eating food any more. Without veterinary care, it will likely pass away.
Constipation is also a more serious issue for chinchillas than for other animals. That’s because chinchillas eat ‘cecotropes’, which are their own partially digested feces. This is necessary because they have such a high fiber diet, they need to re-digest the food. As disgusting as that sounds, it’s a necessary part of the digestive process, and without it your chinchilla won’t get the nutrients it needs from its food.
This means that gastrointestinal stasis isn’t a disease that your chinchilla can catch. It’s more akin to something like Type 2 diabetes, or obesity: a diet- or gut-related problem that can develop over time. Bad GI stasis may also be accompanied by enteritis, which is inflammation of the gut, and in serious cases the rest of the digestive system.
Causes of Gastrointestinal Stasis in Chinchillas
The primary cause of stasis is a blockage, scientifically called an ‘impaction’. This blockage will be made of indigestible material, e.g. plastic or cork. The problem is that chinchillas need to gnaw on things to keep their teeth healthy, and if you put unsuitable materials in your pet’s cage, it will gnaw on them. When it does, it will accidentally ingest some, and over time these fragments will build up.
When the chinchilla eats enough of this material, it forms a solid mass called an ileus. This mass is large enough that it can’t be passed, and as such no food the chinchilla eats can get past it. If it can, only a little does.
GI can also be caused by inappropriate diet. Chinchillas should eat around 90% fresh hay/hay pellets. If they do eat snacks, they should only eat safe snacks like rosehips, not vegetables, and not anything processed/human food. If you feed it the wrong foods, aside from stasis, it could also experience diabetes or overweight.
The key to a good diet is fiber. Hay contains lots of the stuff, and it’s essential a) to keep the gut moving and b) to feed the gut bacteria with the right kinds of energy. If these conditions aren’t met, stasis can result.
Symptoms of Gastrointestinal Stasis in Chinchillas
Because GI is so dangerous, you have to know how to spot it. But that’s not always possible because:
- Chinchillas are good at hiding symptoms of ill health
- Gastrointestinal stasis can set in overnight, or it can be caused subtly over time
- New owners can easily make mistakes with chinchilla food or suitable cage accessories
But despite that, what does GI stasis look like in chinchillas? The sections below address the symptoms you’re likely to see. These are characteristic of late-stage GI stasis, where a gradual impaction has grown enough to begin having a significant effect. Ideally you would want to spot the condition before it reaches this point.
1) Chinchilla Not Pooping/Chinchilla Poop Small
The main symptom of gastrointestinal stasis is that the chinchilla stops defecating.
What you’ll notice first is that your chinchilla’s poops get smaller, and it struggles to pass each of them. You may miss this happening if you have a pair of chinchillas, as there will still be normal poops mixed in from your other pet. But sometimes, very small poops may be covered in yellowish or white mucus which makes them more noticeable.
Eventually, your chinchilla will stop trying and won’t pass any whatsoever. If you regularly spot clean your chinchilla’s cage, you’ll notice this as soon as it happens.
2) Chinchilla Not Eating
Because it can’t pass any food, your chinchilla stops eating altogether. This is the true meaning of stasis: it refers to both ‘ends’. Nothing goes in, and nothing comes out. The gut is in complete lock-down. Your chinchilla won’t eat its hay, even if you offer it another kind, and it won’t eat its favorite snacks.
Again, this starts out slowly before getting worse. Your chinchilla will eat less and less as it struggles more and more to pass its food. When it can’t pass its food at all, it won’t eat any food at all, either.
3) Bloated Chinchilla
There are two causes of bloat during gastrointestinal stasis. The first is the solid mass of material itself, the ileus. The blockage can occur anywhere in the chinchilla’s gut, so its exact location can differ, but wherever it is it will make your chinchilla’s belly bloated.
The second cause is bacteria. Bacteria are a natural part of the ecosystem of the gut. They help break down food, and in doing so, make gas. Normally, this gas is passed without a problem (apart from the smell).
But during GI, this gas can hardly get past the blockage in the gut. It builds up more and more until your pet’s belly is painfully swollen.
You may also notice that your chinchilla is in pain. Chinchillas are notoriously good at hiding symptoms of ill health and any pain they might feel, but nevertheless, there are ways to spot it. Your pet might become lethargic, hardly moving even when it’s in the way or it isn’t comfortable. Other symptoms of pain include:
- Hunched-over posture
- Teeth grinding
If you think your chinchilla might have GI, or be sick with something else, you should take it to the vet immediately. Even if your pet is perfectly healthy, chinchilla vet checkups don’t cost much, and will give you peace of mind.
In the worst cases of constipation and stasis, your chinchilla could experience a rectal prolapse. This is where it strains so hard to go to the toilet that part of its intestine comes out. This is immediately obvious—you can see it hanging out.
If this happens, there is no treatment to be done at home. You have to take your chinchilla to the vet. While you’re there, you can talk about the general stasis it’s experiencing as well as getting it critical care for its prolapse.
Early Signs of Gastrointestinal Stasis
Unfortunately, there are no direct early signs of stasis, unless you count smaller poops as one. However, there are behaviors that may point to its development.
Gnawing of inappropriate materials is the most obvious. Having indigestible things in the gut is what causes stasis, so it stands to reason that if you notice your pet chewing on these things, stasis might ensue. Plastic is the worst for this, as so many toys and cage accessories for chinchillas are made from it, but you should never have plastic in your pet’s cage—no exceptions.
New Chinchilla Not Eating or Drinking: Stasis?
If you’ve only just adopted your chinchilla and it’s neither eating nor drinking, the problem is likely one of stress. Stressed chinchillas eat and drink less; sometimes not at all. It’s unlikely that you got a pet straight from a shop or from a breeder and it already has gastrointestinal stasis.
That being said, new chinchillas should be taken for a checkup as a matter of course. This will tell you about any existing problems you need to be aware of. It will also get you on the books of a vet, which can save time if something bad really does happen. So, take your chinchilla to the vet no matter what the reason it’s not eating.
How to Treat Gastrointestinal Stasis in Chinchillas
The first thing you should know is that GI stasis cannot always be successfully treated. Once stasis begins, it’s hard to get your chinchilla’s gut active again. It can be done, but it will require lots of effort, and you must be prepared that your chinchilla may pass away.
See a Vet Immediately
Gastrointestinal stasis is not a condition that you can treat without a vet’s help. Even with vet care your chinchilla might not make it. Your chinchilla will be diagnosed various meds, such as Simethicone (for gas), Cisapride (which stimulates the gut), Reglan (to encourage the appetite) and Metacam (to get rid of inflammation).
A wide range of medications are necessary because each of the symptoms on its own (lack of gut motility, gas, lack of appetite) is enough to kill your chinchilla. So, treatment of all is required. Follow your vet’s advice on administering these medications.
Cuddlebug Chinchillas, a family-run chinchilla breeding member of the Empress Breeders’ Association, have had experiences with constipated chinchillas/stasis. Their guide to the subject is comprehensive and accurate. They recommend applying a warm compress (like warm dried rice in a sock) to the area to reduce bloating, 2-3 times a day.
You will also have to follow a strict schedule when administering your chinchilla’s medication. The exact times at which they are given may vary depending on what the vet tells you, but an example might be:
- 6am: Admininster Cisapride and Reglan by injection, and Metacam and Simethicone by mouth. Subcutaneous fluid injections may also be necessary. Force feed your chinchilla a small amount of Critical Care according to the vet’s guidance. Tummy rubs and exercise may also help, followed by 15 minutes of a warm compress.
- 8am: Simethicone + Critical Care + tummy rubs. 15 minutes of warm compress.
- 10am: Simethicone + Critical Care + tummy rubs. 15 minutes of warm compress.
- 12pm: Simethicone + Critical Care + tummy rubs. 15 minutes of warm compress.
- 2pm: Admininster Cisapride and Simethicone. Force feed your chinchilla a small amount of Critical Care according to the vet’s guidance. Tummy rubs and exercise may also help. 15 minutes of warm compress.
- 4pm: Simethicone + Critical Care + tummy rubs. 15 minutes of warm compress.
- 6pm: Subcutaneous fluid + Simethicone + Reglan + Critical Care + tummy rubs. 15 minutes of warm compress.
- 8pm: Simethicone + Critical Care + tummy rubs. 15 minutes of warm compress.
- 10pm: Cisapride + Simethicone + Critical Care + tummy rubs. 15 minutes of warm compress.
If this differs to what your vet tells you, go with your vet’s opinion.
Over time, this course of treatment can stimulate your pet’s gut to begin working again. The food you are force feeding has to be digested; the Simethicone makes gas less painful and easier to pass. With the gut working, the ileus may be slightly broken down (as it can be formed partly of digestible materials, too).
Gastrointestinal Stasis in Chinchillas: Prognosis
The prognosis (likely outcome) for stasis isn’t good. Even with the best treatment there is a good chance your pet could pass away. You must be prepared for this eventuality.
If the treatment does work, you can expect your chinchilla to gradually get back to normal. This won’t happen overnight; it will take between a week and three weeks. You must continue treatment exactly as your vet describes throughout this time.
As your chinchilla’s digestive system begins working properly again, you won’t need to force feed it as much. It will start eating on its own. Consult your vet throughout the process for their invaluable advice—that’s your best chance.