Chinchilla & Degu Health
Due to the density of their fur, chinchillas are pretty immune to fleas and other skin parasites. They are, however, prone to dietary deficiencies and fungal skin problems if not fed or housed correctly.
The chinchillas fur is a good indicator of its condition. A dull coat may be due to zinc deficiency. ‘Cotton fur’ where the coat takes on a cotton-like appearance and the fibres are weak and wavy, occurs where the diet is too high in protein.
Males kept with females, and less commonly males housed together, may suffer from ‘fur ring’ where fur gets wrapped in a band around the penis, usually during mating. A male that is ready for breeding or has just mated may have enlarged or swollen testicles. This is quite normal unless they are also hard and painful in which case he will need to be examined by a vet.
Malocclusion of the teeth is the most common problem that brings chinchilla owners to the vet. The reasons for it occurring are often a mixture of hereditary factors and diet. Signs to watch for are weight loss and drooling. Watery eyes can also be a sign of dental problems.
The chinchilla illustrated has naturally yellow teeth of the right length. The teeth are not maloccluded, it is just that the jaw is so flexible that the teeth appear to be out because of the way the chin’s head is being held.
Fits can be caused by eating cold foods leading to colic; excess exercise; calcium or vitamin B complex deficiency or infection. A chinchilla that has had a fit should be checked out by a vet to determine the cause and proper treatment.
Degus are prone to diabetes, fatty liver, cataracts and mouth problems. Their teeth are naturally yellow. An adult degu with white teeth has a serious health problem. Most health problems in degus can be prevented by correct diet and hygiene. They should not be kept in cages with a wire mesh base because this can lead to foot injury and infection or pododermatitis.
Degus shed their tail if caught by the tail by a predator. This is painful and the tail does not grow back. Never hold your degu by the tail.
Degus are prone to mouth infections, but these can be prevented by keeping the water bottle scrupulously clean. If infections occur despite this, try adding a very small amount of Grapefruit Seed Extract, such as Citricidal, to the drinking water. Colloidal silver and aloe vera are a good healing combination for sore mouths.
Unless you have ready homes for the degu babies it is better not to breed at all. Related animals should never be bred from as degues are already too inbred, having been bred originally from a pool of only 10 originally imported animals. Baby degus should be separated into male and female at 6 weeks to prevent the females being impregnated by their brothers. Young animals should not be bred from, females should be 6 months old
Pregnancy lasts 3 months and the male helps look after the babies which are born fully furred and with their eyes open. Average litter size is 5 but larger litters are not uncommon. Although there is a risk of post partum mating, the female is normally not fertile again until the litter is weaned at around 5 weeks. The young remain in the nest for the first few days after birth before venturing out on their own.
When several females litter at the same time, the babies stay in the same nest and are suckled communally. Degu females have 4 teats. Degus pair for life and male degus pine for their female. The decision to keep a breeding pair means you have to consider the risk of the female having too many babies in close succession versus the upset of taking the male away. One alternative is to have the male neutered.