If your chinchilla died suddenly, it’s a shock, and it’s sad. What makes the shock worse is that chinchillas can die for what seems like no reason.
Why do chinchillas die unexpectedly? Sudden death in chinchillas is caused by heart attacks, strokes, sudden physical trauma, or environmental issues like excess heat, cold or moisture. To figure out how a chinchilla died, ask a vet to perform a ‘necropsy’ (like an autopsy). Chinchillas cannot die of fright or a broken heart.
Try not to feel helpless. If you can figure out why your chinchilla died unexpectedly, you can improve the way you care for your pets, and avoid the problem recurring in the future.
Why Did My Chinchilla Randomly Die?
Sudden death in chinchillas is sad, but not unusual. Chinchillas are kept as farm and lab animals as well as as pets, and the professional trade recognizes an issue known as ‘shock syndrome‘; this is when a chinchilla dies suddenly, having displayed no symptoms of ill health.
The reasons behind this issue aren’t clear. Owners speculate that their pets try to ‘hide’ signs of pain and ill health, although how much a chinchilla understands that it’s ill and why it would do this isn’t known.
What Can Chinchillas Die From?
There are many health conditions, both chronic and acute, which affect chinchillas. The most common are:
- Gastrointestinal stasis, the scientific term for constipation.
- Gastroenteritis, infection of the gut or sudden shift in gut bacteria composition caused by diet/antibiotics.
- Malocclusion, where the teeth don’t form a proper ‘bite’.
However, these conditions can be spotted by an experienced and attentive owner before they become too serious. As such, they can only kill suddenly if you aren’t observing your pet or taking it to the vet. There are other reasons why chinchillas might die; these are less common, but are more likely to occur suddenly or randomly.
Can Physical Trauma Kill Chinchillas?
Physical trauma can cause sudden death in chinchillas. Accidents happen suddenly, and can leave your pet in lots of pain, experiencing an infection, or worse.
The easiest way for physical trauma to kill a chinchilla is through infection. An infection of a wound is where bacteria get into an opening or cut in the skin and reproduce. This is made more likely by dirty surroundings, but can happen when natural bacteria from the skin/fur get into a wound too. If the infection gets into the blood stream, it causes a condition called ‘septicemia‘. This is where the bacteria infects the internal organs, and this can kill in a matter of hours.
Your chinchilla could also die because of an accident. It could hurt itself when playing, or break its leg when running on a wheel or in the bars of a cage. Depending on the severity of the accident, and how long before it receives medical attention, these things can kill. Handling can cause accidents, too, e.g. if you squeeze your pet too hard and hurt its internal organs.
You could also accidentally hurt your chinchilla by sitting on it or standing on it. But it’s likely that you would notice if you did any of these things.
Can Chinchillas Die of Heart Attacks and Strokes?
Heart attacks occur because of heart failure. Heart failure is a chronic condition that affects animals with poor circulatory health. Diet can also make heart failure worse. If heart failure goes unnoticed, it can result in a sudden heart attack.
Strokes are another kind of circulatory issue. A stroke is where a blood vessel in the brain bursts, causing brain damage. Because of the nature of a stroke, it can result in paralysis of one side or of one limb followed by death. If you miss the initial onset of stroke, it may appear that your pet has died suddenly.
Can Chinchillas Die from Cold?
Chinchillas are adapted to high-altitude desert and semi-desert habitats. These exposed areas can become very cold, which is why chinchillas have developed such a thick coat. The coat traps warm air and keeps the cold outside air away. This means that chinchillas will survive in normal winter temperatures in the U.S. and Europe.
However, prolonged exposure to freezing temperatures will negatively affect your pet’s health. This shouldn’t be a problem if your chinchilla is kept indoors (as it should be) in a room that’s at room temperature; but if your chinchilla were kept outside, next to a wide open window, or kept in an unheated room like the garage then this could kill your pet.
This could also explain the suddenness of your pet’s death. A one-night cold snap could easily kill a pet, even one that’s adapted to cold weather.
Can Chinchillas Die from Getting Wet?
Chinchilla fur is dense, so holds onto water for a long time. Because the fur is the chinchilla’s main tool of temperature regulation, this cools the chinchilla down far too much, and it can’t warm back up.
So, if your chinchilla were to get wet and stay wet in a cold room for a whole day, then it could die of hypothermia. You can prevent this by drying your pet, first with a towel, and then with a blow dryer set on a cool setting. Getting your chinchilla wet isn’t a death sentence for your pet unless you neglect it for a long period of time.
Can Chinchillas Choke?
Chinchillas are susceptible to choking, and if you weren’t there to see it happen, this may have been why your pet died suddenly. They are doubly likely to choke because they can get things stuck either in the windpipe or the esophagus. Other animals can vomit/regurgitate to clear blockages in the esophagus, but rodents, chinchillas included, can’t.
Choking has the same effect on chinchillas as it does on other people. It stops the lungs from receiving oxygen, and without oxygen, the animal will lose consciousness and eventually die. Things stuck in the esophagus can put pressure on the windpipe and cause choking, but as stated above, these things cannot be cleared as chinchillas can’t choke.
This isn’t normally a problem because chinchillas should only eat food like hay. Because of the shape of hay, and the way the chinchilla eats it, it’s difficult to choke on. But if the chinchilla gnaws on and accidentally swallows plastic (for example) then this could cause it to choke.
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Can Chinchillas Die from Stress?
‘Stress’ is a catch-all term in today’s society, but it has a specific meaning. The medical definition of stress is a physical, mental or emotional factor which causes bodily or mental tension. It’s more than a feeling; it’s the result of the body’s adrenal glands producing too much adrenaline. When this adrenaline gets into an animal’s system, it causes the fight-or-flight response.
If this continues happening chronically, the animal can experience health issues and even die. However, this doesn’t happen overnight, or because of one sudden shock. It takes months or even years to cumulatively damage the health of your chinchilla.
Can Chinchillas Die of Fright/from Loud Noises?
Another common myth is that chinchillas can die of fright; this simply isn’t true. Chinchillas have sensitive hearing, but they’re not so fragile that a loud noise will kill them. You have to avoid making loud noises around your pet not so that it doesn’t die, but so that it’s comfortable and not stressed.
What could theoretically happen is that a loud noise surprises your chinchilla enough that it jumps and somehow hurts itself. But chinchillas are sure on their feet and capable of leaping five feet upwards or downwards.
Heat Stress in Chinchillas
Heat stress is a different kind of stress, and one that’s far more deadly. Chinchillas’ dense fur keeps them warm, and they can’t sweat or pant like other pets. This means that if a chinchilla gets too hot, it can’t cool itself. Like excess cold, this can kill your pet. Heat stress can occur when:
- It’s a hot day
- Your pet is kept in a room that gets hotter and hotter, e.g. an insulated room with windows
- Your pet overexerts itself through continued playing
Heat stress can kill in minutes, so you must take steps to cool your pet down. Giving it a cool slab of stone to sit on is one method.
Can Chinchillas Die of Loneliness?
No pet or animal can die specifically from loneliness, but it can cause or complicate other issues, which can in turn affect health. Here’s how the cycle works:
- Loneliness causes stress. If an animal isn’t allowed to express natural behaviors, it becomes stressed.
- Stress causes repetitive behaviors. Examples include cage bar chewing, scratching and digging at the floor, and unnatural movements like repeated backflipping.
- Repetitive behaviors affect health. Bar chewing causes the teeth to grow at an incorrect angle. This is known as malocclusion, and can kill a chinchilla.
- Stress affects the body in other ways. It makes an animal depressed, and can affect the internal organs e.g. because of abnormal adrenal responses.
So, strictly speaking, the malocclusion is what killed the chinchilla in this example; but it’s loneliness that caused the malocclusion. Whether this means that loneliness directly ’caused’ the chinchilla’s death is a matter of debate, but what’s clear is that it does have an effect.
One caveat is that this applies especially to social animals. Animals that live alone in the wild don’t need company as pets, either, and so being alone doesn’t affect their health. But because chinchillas live in large groups in the wild, being alone is unnatural for them.
It is possible to keep chinchillas on their own, but only if you spend lots of time with your pet. If you don’t give it a cage mate, and don’t spend any time with it for days and days at a time, it would become lonely and experience the complications described above.
What’s not true is that separating a bonded pair will kill one or both of them. This is a myth stemming from the idea that ‘chinchillas mate for life’, which they don’t. The worst that will happen is that one of the chinchillas will be sad for a few days.
Can Chinchillas Die of a Broken Heart?
The idea of ‘dying of a broken heart’ is one that’s popular in films and songs, but isn’t seen anywhere near as much in real life. There is a condition known as takotsubo cardiomyopathy which affects people; it’s a kind of stress-related heart failure that occurs exclusively in women. But this is extremely rare.
As for whether this affects chinchillas, that’s not known. What is known is that chinchillas can become unhappy when their cage mates die (although just as common is for a chinchilla to carry on as if it never had a cage mate at all—this depends on your pet’s temperament). Depression can cause ill health, so it’s possible that loss of a cage mate could hurt or kill your pet.
And again, it’s a myth that separating a bonded pair will kill one or both of them. Doing so certainly won’t ‘break your chinchilla’s heart’.
Baby Chinchilla Died (Reasons Why & What to Do)
Baby chinchillas are susceptible to many health issues. These can occur through no fault of the owner or mother. Potential problems include:
- The baby died from one of the issues described above. Baby chinchillas can catch infections or get injured like adults can.
- The mother didn’t get enough food/nutrients when pregnant. The mother is eating for two (at least), so if she doesn’t get enough food, neither will her kits. They will then be born underweight.
- The chinchilla had a birth defect. Birth defects affect a chinchilla’s health.
- The chinchilla was the runt of the litter. If there’s more than one chinchilla, the larger ones may bully the smaller ones and stop them from feeding.
- The mother wasn’t producing enough milk. Mothers can provide enough milk for one kit easily, but if they have more than one or two, they can struggle.
If a baby chinchilla dies, take it from the cage. If you don’t, the mother may eat it. You can then dispose of it however you see fit, e.g. by burying it in the yard/garden.
Try to figure out what went wrong. You can consult online guides or talk to a vet to see whether you cared for the mother or kits wrong. Then, apply any necessary changes. Not all health issues can be avoided, though, so there may be nothing you can do.
How to Figure Out Why a Chinchilla Died
If you weren’t aware of a pre-existing health condition, and there are no obvious signs of specific injuries or health issues, you cannot make an accurate guess as to why your pet died. But a vet often can.
Vets have extensive medical knowledge. As such, they can tell a lot from a quick examination and pick up on signs that you missed. Also, a vet can perform a check called a ‘necropsy’. This is like an autopsy, where the vet performs exploratory surgery to see what killed the animal. You can request to have one of these done.
Even if it’s sad, it’s good to learn why your chinchilla passed away. That’s because you can figure out if you were caring for it wrong. Then, if you have another chinchilla, you can improve the care you provide for it.
Bear in mind that the vet may not figure out the cause of your chinchilla’s passing. Sometimes chinchillas pass away for what seems like no reason. If the vet can’t tell you what went wrong, take a look through our guides to see if there was anything wrong with the way that you cared for your pet.