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Diarrhea in Chinchillas

By: Dr. Lani Steinohrt

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Veterinary care is aimed towards determining the cause of the diarrhea so appropriate treatment can be initiated. Many cases of diarrhea are short lived, but unless the cause of the diarrhea is elucidated, serious consequences may occur. Diagnostic testing includes a thorough history and physical examination by a veterinarian experienced in chinchilla care, who will recommend specific tests depending on the severity of the diarrhea and the condition your pet.

The veterinarian may recommend any combination of the following tests:

  • Examination of the pet's feces by flotation, direct smear and grams staining. The fecal floatation and direct smear may identify parasitic or bacterial causes of diarrhea. The gram stain will determine if your pet has abnormal types of bacteria living in the intestinal tract.

  • Fecal culture and sensitivity. This test is performed if abnormal bacteria are seen on the gram stain. Cultures identify the bacteria that may be causing the diarrhea, and the sensitivity identifies the antibiotics that will destroy the "bad" bacteria.

  • A complete blood count (CBC). The number of circulating red and white blood cells may help differentiate between infectious and non-infectious causes of diarrhea. This also helps to determine how much of the chinchilla's system is affected by the infectious agent. The number of red blood cells may be low if the chinchilla is losing blood through its gastrointestinal tract, or if other concurrent diseases are present.

  • Serum chemistry panel. This detects electrolyte abnormalities and gives evidence of other systemic involvement such as malfunctioning kidneys or liver.

  • Radiographs (X-rays). This gives an overall two-dimensional look at the pet's internal organs. Abnormal gas patterns of the intestines, tumors, and size and shape of the liver and kidneys may be noted.

  • Barium studies or contrast studies. The chinchilla swallows a special dye, and then serial x-rays are taken over a period of time. This study looks for tumors or foreign bodies, and can identify ulcerations or thickening of the intestinal tract. This study also helps determine if ingested material is passing through the intestinal tract at the appropriate rate.

  • Abdominal ultrasound. This allows visualization of the abdominal organs for evidence of masses, abnormal organ densities, intestinal wall thickening and foreign bodies. If any masses are found, a small needle is safely guided with the aide of the ultrasound probe into the mass, and a sample is obtained for evaluation under the microscope. A specialist usually performs this test.

    Therapy

    Diarrhea is a symptom that can be caused by many different diseases or problems. The diagnostic tests described above should elucidate the cause of diarrhea so that proper therapy can be instituted. Pending the results of the diagnostic test, the therapy is directed toward preventing further consequences such as dehydration, loss of appetite and spread of disease to other parts of the body.

  • Dietary modification. This may be necessary if the diarrhea is the result of inadequate amounts of fiber. The ration of pellets is reduced and the amount of timothy or grass hay is gradually increased. Unlike the treatment of some diarrhea in cats or dogs, withholding food from a chinchilla for a period of 12 or 24 hours should NOT be instituted

  • Fluid therapy. Many pets that have diarrhea become dehydrated and require fluid therapy. The route the fluid is given, under the skin, through the vein or orally, is dependent on the severity of the diarrhea and the health status of your pet. Fluid therapy is an important part of supportive therapy that is used until a definitive diagnosis is found.

  • Motility drugs that change the rate the ingested food are passed through the intestinal tract are not usually used unless the diarrhea is caused by a hairball. Make sure your veterinarian is familiar with treating chinchillas.

  • Antibiotics aimed at the infectious cause of diarrhea are based on the results of the grams stain and/or culture and susceptibility. Many antibiotics that are commonly used in other species can cause a fatal gastroenteritis in chinchillas. Your chinchilla should not be PLACEd on any antibiotic that begins with the letters P, L, A, C or E. There may be exceptions to this rule. For instance chloramphenicol and enrofloxacin can be used safely. Penicillins, lincomycin (and other antibiotics that end with "mycin"), amoxicillin, cephalosporins and erythromycin should not be used. Be sure your veterinarian is experienced in treating chinchillas.

  • Deworming is performed is there is positive identification of diarrhea-causing parasites.

  • Forced feeding. It is imperative for your chinchilla to continue eating during his time of convalescence. Syringe feeding of ground pellets or formulated critical care foods for herbivores may be necessary until your pet begins eating on his own.

  • Administration of a commercial product containing Lactobacillus bacteria is often an adjunct to the therapy for diarrhea. These "good" bacteria may help provide a better environment in the intestinal tract for normal bacteria to thrive.

    Follow-up Care

    Optimal treatment for your pet requires a combination of home and professional veterinary care. Follow-up can be critical, especially if your pet does not improve rapidly.

  • Administer all prescribed medication as directed. Alert your veterinarian if you are experiencing problems treating your pet.

  • Notify your veterinarian immediately if the diarrhea worsens or if new symptoms arise. New symptoms such as lethargy, decreased appetite, and hiding may be an indication that the pet is worsening.

  • Keep the home environment as stress free as possible for optimum healing.

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