Chinchillas are usually hardy and healthy animals, but as prey animals in their natural habitats they are very good at hiding pain and ailments. They can be ill for a while before symptoms become obvious. It is for this reason that it is important to spend time with your chinchilla and learn to recognise what behaviour is normal for them. This way, if your chinchilla does fall ill you will be able to recognise the symptoms and act upon them sooner rather than later.
The following healthcare information are guidelines based on my own experiences and also suggestions of things to look out for that I have been given by other breeders following their own experiences. It does not constitute as medical advice.
Remember, if you have any doubts or concerns over your chinchilla's health then see a vet!
You can find out where your nearest vet is by typing your postcode or location into the searchbox on the Any UK Vet website, but you will need to make further enquiries to see if they have any experience in examining chinchillas.
Your chinchillas eyes should be clear, bright and dry. When a chinchilla is feeling out of sorts its eyes tend to appear duller. Dampness around the eye is usually an indication of a problem, whether it be a foreign body in the eye causing irritation, a blocked tear duct or something else. It is also an identifier of possible teeth problems, as the roots of the teeth can overgrow close to the eye socket, causing pressure and pain. If your chinchilla is suffering any eye problems, see a vet.
A chinchilla's ears are quite easy to examine due to their size. If one of their ears weeps or the chinchilla paws at their ear a lot it indicates a problem. When a chinchilla is feeling warm it is most evidently shown by its ears becoming red, whereas usually they are pale and more pink. Chinchillas physically cannot sweat, so they lose heat from their bodies from the ears without fur, mainly their feet and ears.
A chinchillas nose should be clean and dry. It should not be damp, red, irritated or inflamed. There should not be patches of fur missing from around the nose.
Mouth issues are closely related to teeth issues. The mouth should be clean and dry. The chinchilla should not have a damp chin or be drooling, nor should it be pawing at its mouth. These are not good signs.
A chinchilla's top teeth should sit in front of their lower teeth. Their teeth should be a yellow or yellowy-orange colour. White or clear teeth are a sign of lack of calcium and vitamin A. Very young kits have white teeth but they yellow out - you should not expect to see an older chin with white teeth. Looking from the front, the edge of the teeth should be straight across the bottom, and not slant sideways at an odd angle. They should not be overgrowing and curving backwards to form the beginnings of a loop. From the side, the teeth should look chisel-like. It you note any teeth problems see a vet as soon as possible!
People don't always realise, but chinchillas poo constantly. They have no control over their bowels - they can run along or sit in your lap and think nothing of dotting their paths with little droppings. Thankfully, chin poo is dry, firm and doesn't smell. Chinchilla droppings are also a really good indicator of the chinchilla's general health and digestion. They are usually dark brown, but the colour can vary between brown-black and greenish-brown depending on what they have been fed. Droppings should be plump, oval or rounded and solid.
Squishy droppings that stick to the chinchilla's backside and the shelves in their cage are a sign of diarrhoea. This can usually be remidies by feeding the chinchillas charcoal - either charcoal nuts as available from pet shops or very burnt toast.
Hard and narrow or in more serious cases pointy and brittle droppings that are difficult for the chinchilla to pass indicate constipation. If the case is not too serious giving the chinchilla liquorice root to chew can help ease the problem as it is a natural laxative. If the constipation is more serious it will indicate problems within the gut. The chinchilla will need to see a vet and may be given probiotics to help rebalance the good bacteria in it's gut. Chinchillas usually pass their droppings twice, just like rabbits do to help further digest their food and maintain a healthy levels of helpful bacteria within their gut.
Droppings covered in mucus are signs of more serious problems. See a vet.
The fur should be smooth and clean and should not look uneven. The whiskers should not be split or bent and there should not be patches of fur missing, revealing, red, scabby or irritated looking skin. These are signs of a fungus infection which may be infectious.
Check around the back and hips for uneven, choppy looking fur that may have been chewed. Some chinchillas fur chew because the trait has been passed to them genetically. Some chinchillas fur chew because they don't have enough fibre in their diet - they should be given hay to eat and to help wear their teeth down with. For others it is related to stress - some do so out of boredom or discontent with their enviroment e.g. loud noises have upset them.
I have tried to write this healthcare section a few times, but I can not word a lot of what I wish to say better than others have already done. For further information on subjects such as spotting and preventing fur fungus or ringworm, or removing a fur ring from a male chinchilla, please visit these UK breeders sites where you can read some very good articles on aspects of chinchilla health: