Malocclusion is a disease that all Chinchilla Owners should be aware of. The reason being that if your animal is affected, it will suffer a long agonizing death, unless you act promptly. There is no cure for this genetic disease. Everyone should be aware, that once diagnosed, the animal, at some point, will have to be put to sleep.
As chinchillas are members of the rodent family their teeth (and roots) continue to grow constantly, they can grow 2-3inches per year. If the alignment of the teeth does not grow parallel, malocclusion can occur. Malocclusion is when the teeth begin to grow in a spiral shape into the chinchilla, they overlap when they meet. This is an incurable disease with agonizing effects leading to death. Watery eyes and drooling are the most common symptoms; watery eyes occur when the roots of the upper molars rub on the back of the eyes, this causes the animal considerable pain and irritation.
The most obvious symptoms of Chinchilla Malocclusion are drooling, watery eyes and continued weight loss. Drooling occurs when the animal is unable to swallow properly. You may also notice that the animal does not eat its pellets properly, leaving most of them half eaten or chewing in a pile under its cage. Watery eyes occur when the roots of the upper molars rub on the back of the eyes, this causes the animal considerable pain and irritation.
Nobody is completely sure of the causes of Malocclusion but the preferred explanation is that the condition is a genetic one. Although it is worth mentioning that occasionally foodstuff, such as hay and cuttlefish, can become wedged between the teeth causing them to Malocclude. When this happens and is diagnosed, a Veterinary should be able to remove the offending particles and then grind the teeth down, leaving you with an animal that should recover to live its life normally. The genetic condition is thought to be recessive in much the same way as for coats colors, Violet and Charcoal etc..
|Watery eye or eyes, pawing through food, loss of appetite, weight loss, lumps under jaw line, drooling.
|Genetic makeup, sharp object trapped in between teeth, such as splinter from a log, broken teeth, too little or no gnawing materials, and calcium deficiency.
|No treatment. The animal will have a shortened life with discomfort leading to immense pain. Chin will have to be put down.
|Do NOT breed from a chin with or carrying malocclusion, give cuttlefish as an alternative to wood.
Here are some examples of how Malocclusion is carried through lines of Chinchillas…..
- Standard with Malocclusion mated to Standard without Malocclusion will breed only Standards carrying Malocclusion.
- Standard with Malocclusion mated to Standard with Malocclusion will breed only Standards with Malocclusion.
- Standard with Malocclusion mated to Standard carrying Malocclusion will breed 50 percent Standards with Malocclusion and 50 percent carrying Malocclusion.
- Standard carrying Malocclusion mated to Standard without Malocclusion will breed 50 percent Standard carrying Malocclusion and 50 percent Standard without Malocclusion. But Beware! You cannot tell which is which just by looking at them!
- Standard carrying Malocclusion mated to Standard carrying Malocclusion will breed 50 percent Standard carrying Malocclusion, 25 percent Standard without Malocclusion and 25 percent with Malocclusion. Again Beware! You cannot tell which is which just by looking at them!
In the above examples, numbered 1 to 3 an animal with Malocclusion has been used to predict the offspring which can be born. This is only an example, as no breeder will breed with an animal that has Malocclusion. The interesting examples here, being 4 and 5, as it is from these types of matings that Malocclusion can be passed on. The appearance (Phenotype) of the animals is the same, being Standard Grey in color. The genetic constitution (Genotype) is however different, with some animals carrying Malocclusion, some with the disease already and some without Malocclusion. Only time will tell the difference between each one. This can sometimes mean that years elapse before one of the parents Malocclude or you get a phone with the news that one of the offspring you may have sold several years earlier has Malocclusion. It is only then, that you will find out that you have Malocclusion in this line of your animals!
Here below is a photograph, of a Chinchilla skull, that was destroyed, due to it having Malocclusion. You can clearly see on the top jaw of the animal, that the roots of the teeth have grown through into the eye sockets, causing rubbing against the back of the eyes, which then causes the eyes to water. On the bottom jaw, it is also possible to see, that where the jawline should be smooth, all the teeth roots have grown out of the bottom of the jaw. Also, if you look into the mouth and at the teeth, where the teeth have become so out of line, the front teeth have grown to twice the size that they should be, leaving them sticking out into the lips and roof of the animal’s mouth, causing the animal to suffer.
When examining this skull, I found that every tooth in this animal had maloccluded. From the first diagnosis of Malocclusion, the animal whose skull is pictured here deteriorated to this state within two months.
What To Do
If you suspect that one of your animals has Malocclusion then do not panic. Contact an experienced breeder who can help either deny or confirm Malocclusion. If you are still unsure, then take the animal to a knowledgeable Vet. If your Chinchilla definitely has Malocclusion then you know it is going to have a shortened lifespan. If this particular animal is inbreeding, then it will have to be removed and placed in a cage by itself, whilst you decide what you are going to do with it. If you bought the animal, then look up in your records and find the breeders name and telephone number. Give them a call and explain what has happened to the animal. This will enable the breeder to alter his breeding program, which should prevent further Maloccluders from being born. Some of the more reputable breeders may even offer to replace your animal for you, especially if you have purchased it within the previous twelve months. If you have purchased the Maloccluding Chinchilla from a Pet Shop then inform them also and ask for the breeders’ name and telephone number. However, if the Pet Shop will not give you this information, then there is very little that you can do. Other than not to purchase any further Chinchillas from them and advise your friends to do the same!
Luck Vs Untruthful
Any breeder who tells you that they have never had any Chinchillas Malocclude, are either extemely lucky, or are not being forthcoming with the truth. Every breeder that I know of, has at some time has this unfortunate experience. If any of my own animals Malocclude, I usually have them put to sleep straight away and would advise everyone to do the same. Occasionally people find it hard to have their pet destroyed and wish to wait whilst they come to terms with the disease. If you decide to do this, then weigh the animal as soon as possible. Then weigh it at weekly intervals. As soon as you notice that your pet is losing weight on a regular basis, after having already been diagnosed as having Malocclusion, you should realise that he is not eating enough food. You will then know for sure that it is time to have the animal destroyed before the disease gets so bad that your pet starves to death.
I personally, recommend the following. If you intend to purchase any Chinchillas, then please do not buy from a Pet Shop, unless they provide you with a pedigree for the animal, giving the breeders name and telephone number and check the breeder out yourself! Or unless the Pet Shop itself breeds the animals and can show you the parents before you purchase an animal from them. (Again check their living conditions, you do not want to support breeders who are not treating their pets properly!) I prefer to rescue rather than purchase from breeders. It’s a personal preference from my many years of seeing these beautiful creatures crammed into small cages and bred time after time for the sole purpose of turning a profit. The term puppy-mill doesn’t just apply to puppies.