Chinchillas rarely blink, so for your pet to keep one or both of its eyes closed is unusual unless it’s sleeping. But as there’s more than one cause of this potential problem, you may not know why it’s doing so.
Why are my chinchillas eyes closed? Your pet could be asleep or resting; it could also have an eye health problem. Conjunctivitis, physical damage to the cornea, cataracts, clogged tear ducts, inflammation, infection and wet eye from malocclusion can all affect a chinchilla’s eyes. Most eye health problems require antibiotics which are administered through drops.
While you can make a good guess, it’s best for a vet to diagnose the issue. That’s because if you make a mistake, your chinchilla could go blind or lose its eyesight.
Why Are My Chinchilla’s Eyes Closed?
There are many reasons why a chinchilla might close its eyes. Mostly, the cause is benign: the obvious reason why your chinchilla might have its eyes closed is that it’s asleep or resting.
But if your chinchilla keeps its eyes closed and displays other symptoms of ill health, it may have a health issue you need to treat. The problem could be physical damage like a scratch or an infection. Scratches can have many sources: they can be from wood/substrate, fighting or play fighting, or they may be accidentally self-inflicted. Eye problems in chinchillas are a serious issue, and can occur even if you care for your pet perfectly.
There are many different specific issues that affect a chinchilla’s eyes. Because some of them are detailed and medical in nature, they can be difficult to understand. Below is a table outlining the various issues in regular terms; afterwards, each issue is explored in depth using medical terms. This should allow you to fully understand what’s wrong with your chinchilla’s eyes.
|Wet eye because of tooth overgrowth (chinchilla eyes watery)||The eyes continually water and the fluid doesn’t drain away. This can happen because your pet’s teeth are overgrown, and block the tear duct.||Runny eye, wet fur around the eye, and eventual baldness around the eye. Teeth too long or don’t form a proper ‘bite’.||Severe, because fluid encourages infection, and because malocclusion is a serious problem, too.||Tooth trimming, antibiotics if infection is present. No treatment exists to fix the tooth/bone affecting the tear duct, however.|
|Pink eye (chinchilla eye infection)||This is the same as the issue that affects people. Bacteria naturally present in a chinchilla’s eye grow infect a sore or cut.||Runny, red and swollen eye, white goop around the eye.||Severe: infection can lead to blindness and loss of the eye if not treated.||Cleaning of the eye. Repeated application of antibiotic or saline eye drops.|
|Scratch to the eye||The outer layer of the eye is called the cornea, and it protects the sensitive pupil and lens underneath. Scratches to it are painful and can get infected.||Small scratch to the eye which may not be visible. In case of infection, symptoms similar to pink eye.||Severe: infection can lead to blindness and loss of the eye if not treated.||Allow to heal. Antibiotic or saline eye drops in cases of infection. If an ulcer is present, surgery may be needed.|
|Cataracts (chinchilla cloudy eye)||A cataract is when the lens of the eye becomes clouded and gets in the way of vision.||Cloudy white-blue spot in the center of the eye. Varies in size from small to large.||Not severe as it doesn’t lead to complications, although your chinchilla’s sight will be worse.||No treatment available.|
|Lens luxation||This is when the lens moves out of position. It can affect other parts of the eye like the retina, and detach them too.||The lens is not in its normal place. Can cause significant pain.||Severe: causes pain and blindness.||Surgery necessary to correct issue; removal of eye may be recommended.|
|Chinchilla blocked tear ducts||The tear ducts drain fluid from the eye into the nasal cavity. These can become blocked, like happens with wet eye because of tooth overgrowth. But other causes like too much eye goop and ageing can cause this issue too.||Runny eye, wet fur around the eye, and eventual baldness around the eye.||Somewhat severe, because fluid encourages infection.||Cleaning of the eye, repeated application of antibiotic or saline eye drops.|
|Eye poking out||This is the opposite problem: the eye pokes out of its socket. It may look like the other eye is closed too frequently, because this eye can’t be closed at all. Caused by pressure in the eye socket.||Eye poking out.||Severe, as this can lead to loss of the eye and infection.||Surgery either to remove a tumor (if there is one underneath) or to remove the eye.|
|Eyelashes poking the eye||Some of your chinchilla’s eyelashes may point inwards instead of out. These can cause irritation (although they’re soft enough that they normally don’t).||Redness and irritation around the eye. Your chinchilla may rub at its eye to try and fix the problem.||Not severe unless irritation is obvious.||None.|
|Eyeball swelling||Different structures of the eye can get infected and swollen, not just the conjunctiva (which conjunctivitis affects).||Runny, red and swollen eye, white goop around the eye.||Severe, can occur if conjunctivitis is left untreated.||Repeated application of antibiotic or saline eye drops.|
Symptoms of Eye Problems in Chinchillas (Symptom Checker)
The symptoms of these eye issues are mostly easy to understand. A runny eye, for example, is easy to spot. But you may not know the difference between a dislocated lens and a cataract. Below are the most common symptoms, their descriptions, and explanations of what they are.
- One shut eye, squinting or frequent blinking.
- Runny eye. This is regular eye fluid (tears). The reason why the eye is running is that the tear duct is blocked, so they can’t drain away.
- Matted fur around the eye. Instead of draining into the nasal cavity, eye fluid pools in the fur around the eye. If there’s enough, the fur can become darkened and matted with fluid. This fur should be dry at all times.
- Chinchilla hair loss around eye. Known as ‘alopecia’, this is because of frequent and long-lasting irritation. The chinchilla may rub its eye frequently enough that a patch around it becomes bald, revealing the pink and irritated skin underneath.
- Irritation and redness of the eye.
- Swelling of the eye. Swelling (inflammation) occurs because of infection. The body sends more blood to the area because blood contains cells that fight off bacterial infections.
- Goop/discharge around the eye. Infections produce a slimy white fluid. This is made of blood cells and dead bacteria. It’s a sign that the body is fighting the infection.
- Crusty flakes around the eye.
- Repeated pawing at or scratching at the eye. As you would if you had something in your eye, so too does your chinchilla paw at its eye if it hurts.
While these symptoms do indicate ill health, don’t rely on them alone. Diagnosing these issues yourself is a bad idea, because serious complications can occur if you’re wrong. As such, you should consult a vet if there’s a chance that your chinchilla has eye problems.
Eye Problems in Chinchillas
Problems with your pet’s eye health cause it to close its eyes. The reasons for this are:
- Discomfort. The act of blinking or closing the eyes covers them in a small amount of water (tears) which can ease irritation.
- Sensitivity to light.
- Swelling. Many eye problems are accompanied by swelling, which makes the surrounding tissue bigger. This keeps the eyes half shut or completely shut at all times.
As in people, there are many different eye problems that affect chinchillas. Some of these are more serious than others. They are described below, alongside their symptoms and relative treatments.
1) Epiphora Caused by Malocclusion
This is one of the most common causes of eye issues in chinchillas. Epiphora is the medical term for ‘wet eye’, which is where the eye continually weeps. This fluid wets the fur around your pet’s eye or eyes, and can cause alopecia/loss of hair around the eyes too. This occurs because of dental disease.
A chinchilla’s teeth continually grow. The chinchilla keeps them sharp and in shape by gnawing on things, which is why you should give your pet chew toys. If the teeth are allowed to grow too long, and point in the wrong directions, this is known as ‘malocclusion’.
This issue has several negative effects. It can be physically painful for your pet; it also prevents it eating. But it can also cause epiphora, and even subsequent infection of the eye. That’s because of the continual bone and tooth growth which go unchecked in malocclusion. This growth blocks the nasolacrimal tear duct and stops it from draining.
Severity: Not severe in itself, but can facilitate infection and discomfort. Is a sign of a significant condition (malocclusion).
Symptoms: Runny eye, wet fur around the eye, irritation, alopecia around the eye. Concurrent malocclusion.
Treatment: There is no treatment that can reopen the nasolacrimal duct if it is blocked because of malocclusion. A vet can determine whether the issue is caused by malocclusion or not; they will also prescribe antibiotics if necessary.
2) Conjunctivitis/Pink Eye
Chinchillas can get conjunctivitis, and it affects them the same way as it affects other animals. Conjunctivitis is where a bacterial infection affects the eye, or more specifically the conjunctiva, which is the tissue which lines the inside of the eyelids. It can be caused by:
- Excessive dust bathing
- Inadequate cage ventilation
- Tear duct obstruction
- Unhygienic environment
A paper on the subject published in the Journal of Small Animal Practice states that there are many different bacteria which cause conjunctivitis in chinchillas. The most common is Pseudomonas aeruginosa, which accounted for 50% of cases in the study. It may be so common a cause because this bacterium lives in the eye, although this has not been conclusively proven.
This bacteria can also cause respiratory infection. The vet will take a swab of your pet’s eye to figure out which bacteria are affecting it, before prescribing antibiotics.
Severity: Infection can cause blindness or loss of the eye.
Symptoms: Runny eye, sneezing, white discharge from eye, grabbing at the nose.
Treatment: Cleaning (lavaging) of the eye with saline eye drops for chinchillas. Antibiotic eyedrops, e.g. Optimyxin, applied for ten days. No sand baths until full recovery.
3) Scratched Cornea
The cornea is the protective outer layer of the eye. It sits on top of the lens, iris and pupil and prevents significant damage to these vital parts of the eye when it is scratched or hit. This causes pain that makes your pet close its eyes or blink more than usual. When the eyelid involuntarily twitches closed, this is called blepharospasm.
Unfortunately, this still results in something called ‘corneal abrasion’. This causes significant discomfort, red eyes and watering. Chinchillas are susceptible to this issue because of their prominent, rounded eyes, and particularly large corneas compared to other species. They also have shallow eye sockets (orbits) which further compounds the problem.
When the cornea is damaged, it is also more susceptible to infection. Corneal scratches lead to a specific kind of infection called keratitis. This is inflammation and infection of the cornea itself. Regular conjunctivitis can also ensue.
If this issue is not treated, it can result in chronic ulceration. Ulcers are painful, especially on the eye, and continued infection will have severe consequences.
Severity: Subsequent infection can cause blindness or loss of the eye.
Symptoms: Small visible scratch in some cases. Ulcer if the issue is chronic.
Treatment: Application of ophthalmic (eye) antibiotics. If chronic ulcers are present, corneal debridement (removal of the whole cornea) or grid keratotomy (scratching the ulcer to divide it into small parts, which helps it heal quicker) may be necessary.
4) Chinchilla Cataracts
A cataract is a clouding of the lens of the eye. Because light passes through the lens into the eye, clouding of the lens reduces vision. Known symptoms of cataracts include faded colors, blurry vision and halos around light. This isn’t as serious as the other conditions in this list as it doesn’t cause complications; but at the same time, cataracts disproportionately affect chinchillas because they have very large lenses compared to other species.
Chinchillas get cortical cataracts, which are like those that affect people. They are characterized by white, wedge-like cloudy areas that move from the outside of the lens inwards. They have spoke-like lines that reach from the outside in. They specifically affect the lens cortex, which is the part of the lens that surrounds the central nucleus.
There are two main causes of cataracts: genetics and old age. Dietary deficiency can also be a cause, although only deficiencies before birth (i.e. in the mother) cause this issue consistently.
There’s also a condition known as diabetogenic cataracts. These are cataracts caused by diabetes. So, when the vet diagnoses your chinchilla with cataracts, they may also check it for diabetes.
Severity: Can cause poor vision, but nothing worse like loss of the eye. Chinchillas have poor eyesight anyway, so rely on their other senses.
Symptoms: White area in center of eye.
Treatment: No treatment if dietary deficiency can be ruled out.
5) Lens Luxation
Lens luxation is where the lens becomes detached or ‘dislocated’. It then moves to a different location in the eye: either to the front or to the back. This occurs rapidly and affects both eyes rather than one, although not necessarily at the exact same time. Onset in the other eye typically occurs a month or two months afterwards.
If the lens moves towards the front, it can trap fluid in the window of the eye, which causes blue coloration not unlike a cataract. It can also increase the pressure inside the eye.
If the lens moves towards the back of the eye instead, it can damage sensitive tissue. It can, in turn, detach the retina and cause further vision problems. It is painful and can cause blindness. The ultimate cause is genetic.
Severity: Causes blindness and pain.
Symptoms: Blue coloration of the lens, preceded by irritation and redness which can be mistaken for conjunctivitis.
Treatment: Surgical removal of the lens if possible.
6) Clogged Tear Duct
The tear ducts carry fluid away from the eye so that it can be drained into the nose. There are several reasons why these ducts might become blocked:
- Malocclusion (as noted above)
- Swelling from irritation or infection closes them off
- An excess of goop or flakey ‘sleep dust’ can conglomerate in the opening of the gland
- Growths (polyps) form in the nose and block the duct
- The ducts narrow as your pet ages
When the ducts become blocked, they can’t carry fluid away from the eye any more. This results in the fluid pooling up. This can make irritation and infection worse, and is uncomfortable. So, your chinchilla might close its eye to stop this issue irritating it.
Severity: Not a problem if caught and treated early. Becomes problematic if infection occurs.
Symptoms: Runny eye, wet fur around the eye, irritation, alopecia around the eye.
Treatment: Cleaning of the eye, antibiotics if infection is present.
7) Proptosed Eye (Exophthalmos)
This is where the eyeball protrudes past the eyelid. It’s the opposite problem to those discussed here, as it means the eyelid can’t be shut. But it may appear that your chinchilla is closing its other eye too often because the affected one stays open all the time.
This problem is rare compared to those above. It can be caused by increased pressure in the eye socket, or in even rarer cases, by a tumor or cyst growing behind the eye.
Severity: Depends on cause, but is painful either way, and can lead to loss of the eye.
Symptoms: Eye bulging from socket. Inability to blink or close eye fully.
Treatment: According to Veterinary Ophthalmology, ventral transpalpebral orbitotomy allows access to the cyst or tumor, and it can be removed. Otherwise, surgical removal of the eye.
8) Trichiasis (Eyelash Problems)
Trichiasis is the medical term for when eyelashes point inwards instead of out. Eyelashes touching, scratching or getting caught around the eyeball can be painful and can cause irritation.
However, in most cases, this issue is benign. According to the American College of Veterinary Ophthalmogists, trichiasis occurs in up to 30% of chinchillas. But in almost all cases, there are no concurrent symptoms like runny eyes or inflammation. As such, it’s unlikely that this is affecting your pet negatively.
Severity: Benign in almost all cases.
Symptoms: Eyelashes pointing inwards. Irritation and inflammation in bad cases.
9) Uveitis (Inflammation of the Middle Layer of the Eyeball)
The uvea is the term that refers collectively to the iris, ciliary body and choroid of the eye. These structures are behind the cornea and pupil, so are only rarely damaged in comparison. Significant trauma and inflammation can affect these areas.
This issue is uncommon in chinchillas. The only documented case in chinchillas was after infection with the human herpes virus.
Severity: Severe. Co-occurred with keretitis, retinitis and inflammation of the brain in the documented case caused by herpes virus.
Symptoms: Swelling of the eyes.
Treatment: There is no cure for human herpes virus 1.
Panophthalmitis is the inflammation of all the coats of the eye, including between the structures of the eye. This is like a full infection compared to the partial infection seen in conjunctivitis. As such, it is serious and requires urgent medical attention.
Severity: Severe, as the infection of your pet’s eye will spread further and become more serious if it is not treated.
Symptoms: Swelling, redness, irritation and weeping (the typical signs of infection).
Treatment: Antibacterial drops.
What to Do If Your Chinchillas Has an Eye Problem
Eye health issues are not something you can diagnose and treat at home. Your pet needs the assistance of a vet. Each of the problems above has a different solution, and if the correct one is not administered quickly, serious complications can result, and you might end up with a blind chinchilla.
The vet may perform several tests to figure out what’s wrong. These include:
- Physical exam. The vet will look at your pet’s eyes and use their experience to guess at what’s wrong.
- Conjunctival swabbing. The vet takes a swab of your chinchilla’s eye. This tells them what kind of bacteria is causing infection/conjunctivitis.
- Antibiotic sensitivity test. This will check whether an antibiotic is effective against the bacteria in question.
- Fluorescin eye staining. The vet puts orange dye on the eyeball and uses a blue light to detect foreign bodies in the eye. Can also detect damage to the cornea like hard-to-notice scratches.
What to do afterwards depends on what the vet tells you. If the vet suggests that your pet needs antibiotics of some kind, follow the instructions that they give you.
How to Fix Eye Problems in Chinchillas
The precise cure depends on the issue. Any kind of bacterial infection, conjunctivitis or otherwise, is treated with antibiotics. These antibiotics come in the form of drops which you drip into your pet’s eye/s.
Follow the instructions that your vet gives to use them. The typical method is:
- Place your chinchilla on its side
- Hold your chinchilla’s head and neck
- Use your thumb to hold open your chinchilla’s eyelids
- Quickly squeeze the drops in
If your vet tells you to do it another way, follow their advice. You may want to allow your pet some play time or give it a treat afterwards so that it doesn’t avoid you the next time you have to give it any drops.
Preventing Eye Problems in Chinchillas
As the above list should make obvious, eye problems which aren’t serious for other pets (or for people) can cause blindness or loss of the eye if left untreated in chinchillas. As such, you must prevent them from occurring again once fixed. There are several things you can do which will help:
- Spend more time with your pet. This helps you spot any issues before they become too serious.
- Check your pet is using the right substrate and bathing dust. Certain wood substrates like non-kiln dried pine can cause irritation, as can the wrong kind of bathing dust.
- Clean your pet’s cage frequently, and with disinfectant. Infection is made more likely if your pet’s cage is dirty.
- Keep your pet’s cage and room dry. Humidity/moisture makes infection more likely, or makes an existing infection worse.
- Frequent vets’ visits. When you suspect something is wrong, the best thing to do is to contact a vet.
Other than that, basic care guidelines apply.