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Basic Wound Management.
Every chinny owner will, at some point, come across a wound on their pet – these can range in severity from superficial wounds such as a scratch, or a cut lip/nose, to the more serious nipped toe (some chins have had their toes nipped clean off by another chinny) to Bumblefoot, or surgical wounds, tumors, and abscesses.
The correct care of such wounds is essential to minimize/prevent the risk of infection and to provide the optimum environment for healing.
Research into wound healing has taken place for many years – the following is based on such research and my personal experience as a chinny owner. However, please bear in mind that wound care is a very complex process and it is not possible to go into all the connotations of wound management/healing in this article.
A wound can be defined as – a cut or break in the continuity of any tissue caused by injury or operation.
There are many different types of wounds. The most common found in chinchilla keeping will be:
- Surgical Wounds
- Traumatic – amputations (e.g., toes), bites, abrasions, bruising
- Chronic Ulcers (such as bumblefoot)
It is important to assess the wound first and foremost to try to establish the underlying cause (so further occurrences may be prevented where possible) and to formulate a treatment plan.
Assessment of the wound should include:
General condition of the animal, clinical signs of infection which include the surrounding skin condition (red, hot, fluctuant [squishy]), pus, lost fur, the wound itself (including colour of the wound, depth, size), any bleeding or fluid loss, position of the wound, and underlying cause.
Once the assessment has been made it should be possible to formulate a treatment plan.
Please note that referral to a qualified veterinarian is essential if the infection is suspected or the owner does not have the experience and confidence to deal with the wound.
Signs of Infection.
It is imperative that wounds are inspected daily for signs of infection which are:
- Localized (around the wound site) redness, swelling.
- Localized heat, pain. (difficult to gauge in a chinchilla because they are good at hiding pain).
- Increased exudate (fluid coming from the wound).
- Friable wound (delicate wound tissue – bleeds easily).
- Odor – wound smells bad.
- A general increase in body temperature (difficult to judge with a chinchilla).
Wound management works on the same principles for animals as humans – research has found that the optimum environment for wound healing is one which is moist and warm. However, this is also the optimum environment for bacterial reproduction – so always check for signs of infection when treating any wound.
Never use cotton wool to clean wounds – the fibers which get left behind in the wound can slow down the wound healing and lead to increased risk of infection (fur should also be clipped away from the edges of wounds and the wound cleaned with saline for the same reason). It is also very painful to remove cotton wool fibers from a wound – Use a lint-free gauze swab.
All wounds should be monitored for changes in appearance, unusual bleeding, or infection – Veterinary advice must be sought if this is noticed.
It is not possible to go into all the variations of wounds and the care which can be given, but some suggestions of wounds and treatment regimes are as follows:
Superficial, small wounds: (e.g., Scrapes, minor cuts, minor bites)
- Cleanse with normal saline (salt water one tablespoon in a cup of boiled, cooled water).
- If the wound is very superficial and is small, then it can be left to heal without any treatment.
- The wound should be monitored daily for signs of infection (as above).
Superficial, large wounds: (e.g., extensive scrapes, bites, unexplained skin lesions).
- Cleanse with sterile water (cooled, boiled water)
- Clip the fur away from the edge of the wound (to prevent it from getting stuck to the wound bed).
- Apply cream to keep the surface of the wound moist (reduces pain and allows the wound to heal faster). An example of a suitable cream is green cream (bunnymail).
- Monitor for infection and refer to vet if concerned.
- Apply ointment/creams as prescribed by your vet.
Simple amputations (e.g., Bitten through toes)
- Check wound for signs of bone protruding from the wound (will be creamy colored and hard). If a bone is present in the wound bed, then a veterinary opinion is essential.
- Cleanse wound with saline
- Monitor daily for signs of infection
- Allow to self-heal or use ointments/creams as prescribed by your vet.
Surgical Wounds: (e.g., After abdominal surgery, castration, removal of a tumor)
- Monitor wounds for signs of infection.
- Monitor for signs of the chinny removing the stitches.
- Monitor for signs of wound edges opening.
- Veterinary opinion if required.
- Provide soft areas in the cage for pressure relief.
- Check for signs of infection.
- Spray areas with Purple Spray if required.
- Veterinary intervention is necessary if the wounds continue to break open, bleed, or become infected.
- Use creams as prescribed by your vet.
Cavity wounds/abscess: (cavity wound is a deep hole).
Always require veterinary intervention however the basic principles are as follows:
- Fur should be clipped away from the wound edges (to prevent the fur from becoming stuck to the wound )
- Flush wound with saline/irrigation fluid supplied by the vet, ensuring that all the fluid comes back out of the cavity. This may require a syringe technique which your vet should teach you.
- If the wound is open, use a suitable gel such as IntraSite (or veterinary prescribed treatment) to keep the wound bed moist.
- Keep the wound entrance open – this will prevent fluid from building up in the wound, causing pain, infection and further abscess.
- Monitor the wound for signs of infection.
Abscesses are caused by infection and often are predisposed by injury. Such injuries occur when the young bite the mother while nursing. Sharp projections in the cage (especially newly constructed ones) and fighting are other causes. Filthy pens or pens that not disinfected routinely often harbor pus-producing organisms.
Antibiotic therapy for 3 – 5 days will often eliminate the infections. If lancing is necessary, it should be done by a veterinarian, or at least you should be coached by a veterinarian. If the animal becomes ill (off feed), seek professional help. The front teeth of the young should be examined for irregularities and if present, corrective measures instituted. Sharp projections in the cage should be sought and removed if present. The cage and utensils should be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected.
Prevention consists of removing the predisposing factors mentioned previously.
- Collar to prevent chewing
- Seek medical attention immediately
The majority of broken bones occur in the legs, most often in the hind legs. A broken bone may be the result of a fall on a hard surface, being struck by a falling object when an animal escapes from its pen or a limb may be caught in a narrow opening and twisted. Wire bottom pens, one inch by one-half inch mesh, often allow the hock of chinchilla to go through and be caught, and a broken leg results in the struggle to get free. Improper or rough handling, such as catching or holding by the legs, can result in broken bones.
Place the animal in an isolation pen in quiet surroundings and seek professional help. The animal should be collared to prevent chewing the broken bone. The collar should be fashioned from stiff cardboard made in two halves taped together. The difference between the inner and outer radius should be about one and one-half inches.
Examining the door catches routinely to avoid escapes. It is suggested that 1″ x ½” mesh be avoided for the booms of pens. Learn how to retrain chinchillas properly.
Broken or Frozen Tails
A broken tail is usually caused by rough handling or closing the door on it, and a frozen tail is caused by housing during very cold weather in unheated quarters. Neither injury is considered serious.
Treatment – Breaks
House the animal alone. If no displacement has occurred, put a collar on the animal and do nothing else. Avoid handling by the tail for at least four weeks. If displacement has occurred contact your local veterinarian.
Treatment – Freezing
Usually, the tail falls off with no unfavorable results. If the chinchilla tends to chew its tail, apply a collar. It is very seldom necessary to isolate these animals. Antibiotics may be used to prevent secondary infection.
Torn Ears and Head Injuries
Place the animals in separate cages and watch them closely. The torn areas should be clipped of fur, washed with soap and water and rinsed with a mild disinfectant. In some cases, it may be necessary to give penicillin. Sever injuries should be attended to by a veterinarian. Uneventful healing usually occurs if the above measures are carefully carried out. The pens and utensils must be kept clean. If infection occurs, bathing two or three times daily with warm salty water will cleanse and hence assist healing of the wound.
When introducing strange animals to the breeding herd, patience and caution must be exercised. The new animal should be allowed to get used to his new quarters before coming in contact with other animals.
Some mechanical means of closing the male out of the female pen should be available and used at the first sign of fighting. If fighting again occurs separate them. Usually, two or three instances of this teaches the lesson. However, a vicious male may be put in a separate pen for several months and then tried again.
Vicious fighting is not necessary and should not be tolerated.
This is usually caused by jumping to the floor from a high cage during an escape attempt where the animal us alone or when you are attempting to catch it. As a rule, only the front teeth (incisors) are broken. Sometimes the teeth become caught in the wire mesh and are broken in the struggle to be free.
If only one tooth is broken, file down the sharp points. If two or more are broken, clip them off evenly and file smooth. Put the animal on a soft diet until normal mastication can be resumed. It may be necessary to isolate the animal.
Excessively high temperatures, poor ventilation, insufficient water and often direct exposure to the sunlight.
If the animal is unconscious and has a high temperature, place it in a cool place and lower the chinchilla’s temperature to normal but not below (99-101°F). When it revives, give it a few drops of cool, slightly salted water. If the temperature becomes sub-normal, the treatment should be reversed, and attempts made to conserve body heat and restore the temperature to normal.
Proper housing and air-conditioning.
A ring of hair behind the glans of the penis following mating.
Isolate and put a collar on the animal. Remove the fur, apply vaseline and massage the penis very gently in an attempt to reduce the swelling. Apply an antibiotic ointment three or four times daily.
Males that are in polygamous breeding set-up should be examined at any sign of irritation.
Usually projection of wire or splinters of wood in the eye. This is seen most frequently when new cages and nest boxes have been built recently.
Isolate, and if the injury is severe or the foreign body is still present, seek veterinary assistance. If the injury is moderate and there is no foreign body present, an antibiotic ointment should be put in the eye twice daily until recovery occurs.
Check for and remove any harmful projections in the pen.
I hope that this proves of interest and is helpful.
Please note ALL bite wounds should be referred for veterinary intervention. Bite wounds may look superficial at the surface but may be fatal if left untreated – there is a serious risk of abscessation, deep tissue trauma, infection, and rapid deterioration and death due to severe shock. ALL chins with bite injuries must be treated for shock and taken for immediate veterinary advice.
T. J. Pridham, D.V.M., circa 1969