Chinchillas are members of the rodent family that have been traditionally farmed for their exceptionally soft and thick fur, but are now often kept as pets. These nocturnal animals are somewhat shy but are quiet, odor-free, and friendly if they are socialized while still young.
After their fur, the next thing you are likely to notice about a chinchilla is its large, dark, beautiful eyes. 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. Like most animals, chinchillas can get eye infections or small scratches on their eyes, both of which cause watery eyes and pain. And as with many rodents, it is possible for your chinchilla's teeth to grow so long that they interfere with proper tear drainage. Any of these conditions require veterinary attention to relieve your pet's pain and restore its good health.
What Are Eye Problems?
Chinchillas are fairly easy to care for and not exceptionally prone to diseases, but like any animal, they can occasionally suffer from ailments, including problems with their eyes. Bacterial infections are a common cause of eye issues in rodents, particularly if their cage is not kept clean. Fungi can also cause eye infections. Trauma to the eye from rough play, a sharp object in the cage, or a mishap can leave a scratch on the chinchilla's cornea. And overgrown teeth are a common cause of weepy eyes in rodents.
Symptoms of Eye Problems in Chinchillas
Like many small animals, chinchillas can hide signs of illness quite well. This is a defensive mechanism that in the wild would help prevent them from being targeted by a predator. You should examine your pet daily, looking for any signs of illness, including problems with its eyes. Some symptoms to look out for include:
Eye ailments generally hurt, and you are likely to see signs of pain in your pet chinchilla should it develop an eye problem. You might notice it pawing or rubbing at its eyes, or rubbing its face along the side or bottom of its cage. Often, you'll see watery or goopy discharge coming from one or both eyes, and the skin around the eye might look slightly swollen or reddened. The eye itself might look cloudy, or you might actually be able to see a scratch or injury on the surface of the eyeball. Usually, just one eye will be affected, but occasionally, you'll see signs of trouble in both eyes.
Causes of Eye Problems
There are several causes of eye problems in pet rodents in general, including chinchillas. These are the three most common problems your chinchilla is likely to experience:
- Corneal Ulcers: Sometimes chinchillas' 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 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 its eye closed, or even rub its face on the ground.
- Eye Infections: If your chinchilla's eye is exposed to excessive amounts of bacteria or fungal spores, it can become 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 its eye, redness (conjunctivitis), discharge, swelling, and probably will squint or keep the eye closed.
- 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. Like other rodents, chinchillas' teeth continue to grow unless kept under control by regular grinding and chewing. Overgrown teeth can grow into the nasal-lacrimal (tear) duct beneath the eye and cause your chinchilla's eye to water excessively. Normal nasal-lacrimal ducts extend from the eye out through the nose, allowing tears to drain naturally. But if the duct is blocked or damaged, tears will spill out of the eye instead of draining through the nose.
Diagnosing Eye Problems in Chinchillas
Your exotics veterinarian may diagnose your pet's problem just by physical examination, including a close examination of the animal's teeth and eyes. Occasionally, a swab of eye secretions might be sent to the veterinary lab for culture. This test is performed to determine what specific bacteria might be causing a suspected infection.
Most eye problems will resolve with 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 medicated eye ointments prescribed by your vet. Some of these ointments are antibiotics and some are made specifically to heal ulcers and relieve pain. If the ulcer refuses to heal, however, a procedure called a grid keratotomy may necessary to encourage healing. This procedure is done under anesthesia and involves the use of a needle to make small scratches on the eye. These scratches encourage healing by uncovering healthy tissue underneath the ulcerated tissue.
If your chinchilla has an eye infection, your vet will prescribe antibiotic eye ointments or drops. If the infection doesn't clear up, however, your vet might order a culture and sensitivity test, which determines not just the specific bacteria causing the infection, but also which antibiotics will kill that particular bacteria. These results 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.
Prognosis for Chinchillas With Eye Problems
With treatment, your chinchilla should be feeling and acting better within a few days to a week or so.
How to Prevent Eye Problems
You can't always prevent your chinchilla from developing eye problems, but you can greatly reduce the chances of these health issues by keeping your pet's cage clean, changing bedding frequently, and taking care to remove anything sharp or dusty that might irritate your chinchilla's eyes.
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 ileus if they do not feel well or are in pain. This means that their intestines stop moving digested food through their system normally, causing painful gas.
Catching an eye issue before it causes other problems is important to your chinchilla's overall well-being and eye health.
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