Chinchillas: Hand-Rearing Kits, Fostering & Rotating, Reviving Dead Kits

Occasionally a female chin has difficulty in feeding are large litter, or her milk is very slow to come in. This may mean that her kits become very hungry and desperate and if her milk is inadequate some or all of the kits may starve.

However, happily most healthy females cope very well with most moderate-sized litters.

Happy, well-fed kits will suckle well, have tails that curl upwards – and full-feeling bellies. Kits that are not getting enough milk will have hollow-feeling bellies, tails that do no curl upwards. They will also fight each other, and frantically run around the cage in a desperate search for milk, they will also not be gaining any weight.

Here are some suggestions on what things an owner can do to help.

Rotate-Feeding

This is only an option if the dam is producing milk. On occasions when triplets (or more) are born, the larger, stronger kits feed well, but the smaller kits (runts?) do not get a look-in and are fought off by the larger kits.

This is where rotating them is very useful. I remove the larger well-fed kits for up to two hours at a time, allowing the weaker kit/s to suckle undisturbed. The larger kits are placed in a secure, warm box with a soft towel to snuggle into, whilst the smaller kits take their turn with mum, unmolested.

The kits need to be rotated very 2 hours or so during the day and at least 2 or 3 times at night for the first fortnight (always remembering to return the larger kits when the smaller ones have had their allocated time with mum).

After the first fortnight, you can gradually cut down on the nightly rotations. Then over the next few weeks (until they are weaned around eight weeks old), you can gradually reduce the daily rotations.

If the kits are not fighting, then the weaker kits can be left in with the dam all the time and only the stronger kits are removed. If there is continual fighting, then the weaker kits need to be removed when the stronger kits are returned, for their own safety. This is when you may need to hand-feed the weaker kits with some additional feeds yourself, a few times a day, in order for them to thrive.

The Pros:

  • The dam does all the cleaning and looking-after of the kits for you.
  • There is no equipment to sterilize and prepare.
  • There is no milk formula to make up.

The Cons:

  • You still may have to hand-feed the kits yourself a couple of times a day.
  • Rotation only works if the dam has milk.
  • You still have to get up during the night.
  • Not much good if you have to work full-time.

Reviving Seemingly Stillborn Kits

Many people (including myself) have come across the odd kit that appears to have been born dead. It may not be breathing and appear to be rather chilled and lifeless. Usually, our first reaction is to pick up the poor kit – examine it for signs of life – and when we find none – give it up for dead. However, if the kit has only recently been born – you can try to revive it. Here are some tips:

  • You need to keep the kit warm and stimulate it’s breathing and blood circulation.
  • The easiest way to do this is to rub the kits (fairly vigorously) in a soft towel – starting with its head down to help drain any birth fluids from its lungs.
  • You can also try gently swinging the kit – with a straight arm – to try to clear its lungs of fluids – but DONT shake the poor thing.
  • If it is chilled – some breeders recommend immersing the kit (not it’s head though) in warm water – to raise its body temperature.
  • I have found the towel method is better – as you also need to get the kits circulation going as soon a possible.
  • Keep going – don’t give up after 5 minutes. Alternate between the warm water and firm but gentle toweling if you wish.
  • DO NOT try breathing into its nose or mouth – we have much much bigger lungs than a tiny kit – and you will only do damage.
    As a last resort, you can try blowing at its nose from a distance of a few inches.
  • DO NOT try to feed it any brandy either!!

Many breeders have successfully revived kits that have appeared to be stillborn – and it is always worth giving it a try.

Fostering

I have had 100% success when fostering – with an age gap gap of no more than 4 weeks between the foster mothers own kits and the orphan/s – (but you ideally want them as close to the same age as possible). I always try to use females that have only had only ONE kit of their own, at a push, two, as I find older kits can gang-up and bully smaller orphans, (but if mum has adequate milk and the kits are all of a similar age, then she should be able to rear three kits in total with few problems).

I remove the females own kit/s into a small box, and put the orphan/s in with them. They are then left for an hour or two, for their scents to intermingle. Some soiled bedding can be added to the box to assist with this.

When some time has elapsed, orphan/s are put in with the female first and allowed to settle and bond with the female, as undisturbed as possible.

If all looks OK, then her own kit/s are returned. Monitor everything closely and ensure that the kits are not squabbling too much (a little barging around at first is normal).

The female’s milk should increase on demand to allow for the extra kit/s, but this may take a day or two, so rotational or supplemental feeding may also be needed until the milk supply compensates.

Just one word of caution though, don’t expect miracles from a foster mother and don’t expect her to rear more than three kits in total (including her own).

Hand-Rearing

I have successfully hand-reared many kits on the evaporated milk formula to date, even though chinchillas are lactose-intolerant. However, if you do get problems (such as the kits getting upset tummies) then try kitten milk instead of evaporated milk.

Here is my method – although other chinnie owners may have other methods that work equally well:

Formula:

  • One part evaporated milk
  • Two parts cooled boiled water
  • One pinch of glucose
  • One drop of abidec vitamins

(Optional: you can also add a pinch of probiotics to the formula if necessary – to maintain a healthy gut flora)

** Some websites appear to recommend using condensed milk!!! This is completely wrong – and only evaporated milk should be used!!!

I keep the evaporated milk in a sterile sealed Tupperware container in the refrigerator – it will keep fresh for 3 days this way. I always make up a fresh formula with each feed (the kits seem to prefer this) and never re-warm a formula for another feed. I also sterilise all the equipment, containers and pipettes between each feed with Milton fluid (according to the instructions) just as you would for a human baby. Make sure you are sterilising everything thoroughly – as milk is an excellent breeding-ground for bacteria.

If your kits do develop diarrhoea you can give them a few drops of paediatric kaolin before each feed – this usually sorts it out quickly – or try diluting the milk a little more until their tummies are back to normal. If all this fails then you may have to try them on kitten milk instead. Diarrhoea can dehydrate kits very quickly – which will make them feel unwell so they wont feel like drinking any fluids – which makes things worse – a kind of “catch 22” situation. So you need to sort out any diarrhoea VERY quickly – i.e within six hours if possible.

Bring the formula up to blood temperature when feeding – I do this by standing the formula in a bowl of warm water to warm up slightly – if you feed the milk too cold it can give them tummy-ache. I also “top & tail” the kits with every feed using a dampened cotton wool ball.

After the first week I make solid food available to the kits – if they wish to try eating it. At two weeks old I have observed kits “tasting” water from mums water bottle – so you can at least offer orphans a water bottle at this age – even if they ignore it.

Make sure you are sitting somewhere comfortable and have everything you need to hand. If you are relaxed and settled the kits seem to sense this and will drink more. Give them as much formula as they will happily drink – once they start pushing the pipette away – then stop – they have had enough.

Avoid getting milk into their noses at all costs. If they start blowing milk-bubbles from the nose – that means they have breathed some milk in – you may have fed the milk too quickly – if this happens – stop feeding them – wipe the milk away from their nose – and return them to their “home” to recover for half an hour before trying again.

  • First two weeks: Every two hours they will need a feed.
  • Two to four weeks: Every three to four hours (depending on the kits appetite and weight-gain).
  • Four to six weeks: Every four to six hours (you can start cutting out the night feeds).
  • Six to eight weeks: Every six hours (four feeds a day). You can also start gradually diluting the formula with more water to start to wean the kits off the milk.
  • By eight weeks: They should be virtually weaned off milk by now, but if they still want a feed or two a day then you can continue until they are ten weeks old.
  • I usually try to wean them by eight to ten weeks – but usually, they decide when to wean themselves!

 

For you-you will need:

  • A loud alarm clock
  • Unlimited cans of Red Bull energy drink
  • The patience of a saint

 

 

Reference & Credit

MLA

“Our Chinchillas Had A Baby Recently- We Think Maybe 1-2 …” Just Answer. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Oct. 2018 <https://www.justanswer.com/veterinary/624lt-chinchillas-baby-recently-think-mayb>.

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