Chinchillas have beautiful, dark eyes that compliment their big ears and tiny paws. These lovely eyes are usually problem-free but occasionally you may run into an issue with them which will warrant a visit to your exotics vet. It is important to familiarize yourself with some of the more common eye problems chinchillas can get so you are better prepared to spot a problem as soon as possible.
Types of Eye Problems in Chinchillas
- Corneal Ulcers - Sometimes chinchilla's eyes get scratched or irritated by hay, hair, dust, or even after a struggle with another chinchilla. These scratches or irritations can cause a defect on the the clear surface of the eye called the cornea. This defect is known as a corneal ulcer. An ulcer is painful and may cause a bit of cloudiness or redness to the eye. Your chinchilla may paw at the hurt eye, keep their eye closed, or even rub it on the ground.
- Eye Infections - If your chinchilla's eye gets irritated for some reason or exposed to excessive amounts of bacteria or fungal spores it can get infected. Bacterial and fungal infections can affect one or both of your chinchilla's eyes and they need to be treated with the appropriate antibacterial or antifungal medications. Your chinchilla may have hair loss around their eye, redness (conjunctivitis), discharge, swelling, and even keep their eye shut if it hurts.
- Overgrown Teeth - Chinchilla teeth don't technically have roots but the part of the incisors (the front teeth) above the gumline that would normally be considered roots in other species can grow too long. The teeth grow into the nasal-lacrimal duct beneath the eye and cause your chinchilla's eye to tear excessively. Normal nasal-lacrimal ducts flow through the nose and allow drainage from the eye but if that duct is blocked or clogged, excessive drainage will occur from the eye like a clogged pipe.
- Tumors - Sometimes tumors will develop behind the eyes of chinchillas. These tumors can cause an eye to bulge, swell, and be very uncomfortable. Sometimes radiographs (x-rays) will show a suspected tumor on the skull and your vet may want to send the radiographs off to be read by a radiologist to confirm it. If nothing shows up on an x-ray an MRI may be recommended if your vet still suspects a tumor.
Treating Eye Problems in Chinchillas
Most eye problems will require special eye medication but occasionally surgery may need to be performed. Treatment will vary based on the type of eye problem and the severity of the issue.
Corneal ulcers are usually treated with special eye ointments from your vet. Some of these ointments are antibiotics and some are made specifically to heal ulcers. If the ulcer is really bad or hasn't healed after the use of some medications your vet may obtain some of your chinchilla's blood, centrifuge it to cause it to separate into different parts, and use the serum that is produced as eye drops to help the ulcer heal. If the ulcer still hasn't healed after all of this, a procedure called a grid keratotomy may need to be performed on the eye to encourage healing. This procedure is done under anesthesia and is basically drawing a tic-tac-toe board on the cornea itself with a sharp object, such as a needle, to encourage the body to heal a bunch of small squares instead of one large ulcer.
If your chinchilla has an eye infection, eye ointments or drops will also be used but other tests may need to be performed if those medications don't work. This test is called a culture and uses a cotton swab to gather debris from the eye to see what type of bacteria or fungus is growing there. The results will allow your vet to pick the correct treatment for your chinchilla.
Overgrown teeth and tumors that affect the eyes will typically require surgery to treat the problem. Tumors unfortunately may not be able to be removed completely but teeth can be extracted. Medications to treat various symptoms including pain, pressure, and infections are often used as well.
What to Do if You Suspect an Eye Problem
If you think something is wrong with your chinchilla you should make an appointment with your exotics vet as soon as possible. Chinchillas often stop eating and develop life threatening ileus if they do not feel well or are in pain. Catching an eye issue before it causes other problems is important to your chinchilla's overall well being and eye health.