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Old 02-03-2009, 04:19 PM United States
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Default Merck Veterinary Manual - Chinchillas - Gastrointestinal Diseases

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Malocclusion (Slobbers):
Tooth abnormalities are common in chinchillas and may be observed by the time they are 6 mo old. Malocclusion caused by a nutritional mineral imbalance may also be noted in primiparous females. Clinically, malocclusion leads to unthriftiness, rough hair coat, anorexia, and weight loss. Frequently, excess salivation results in inflammation and alopecia of the skin on the chin and ventral neck. Uncorrected cases may develop periodontitis, alveolar periostitis, or secondary bacterial infections. Overgrown teeth or roots can penetrate the mandible or hard palate, demonstrated by mucopurulent draining tracts or ocular and nasal discharge. Mastication becomes increasingly difficult and severe malnutrition may lead to hypoglycemia and ultimately seizures, paralysis, coma, and death. The oral cavity should be thoroughly examined by otoscope or small speculum, sedating the animal if necessary. Brown spots on the lingual surfaces are indicative of tooth decay; the normally orange incisors may fade with dental disease. Premolar and molar teeth may be loose, broken, or sharply pointed. Sometimes feed or foreign bodies are impacted between the teeth and the underlying oral mucosa. Radiography is a helpful tool for checking tooth position and overgrowth of the roots, which are normally not embedded in bone. Computed tomography provides even earlier detection of pathologic changes. Malocclusion is a chronic condition requiring monthly prophylactic care. Treatment involves trimming and filing teeth, removing food or foreign body impactions, and cleaning any mucosal ulcerations. Because chinchilla teeth grow constantly, appropriate materials (eg, pumice stones, chew blocks) to gnaw are required. A commercial pelleted diet should provide adequate nutrition. If the diet is marginal, it should be supplemented with Vitamin C, dicalcium phosphate, and trace minerals. Teeth and body weight should be frequently monitored to avoid further problems. While individual chinchillas with malocclusion can be managed by careful observation and dental prophylaxis, they should not be bred.

Chinchillas with GI disorders often have similar clinical signs that may represent any of several nutritional, bacterial, protozoal, parasitic, or stress-induced etiologies. Clinically, infected animals may die acutely without symptoms or in chronic cases of gastroenteritis, exhibit a range of signs including lethargy, anorexia, rough hair coat, perineal staining, hunched posture, listlessness, dull eyes, dehydration, weight loss, pain on abdominal palpation, flatulence, fever or hypothermia, and diarrhea or constipation. Fecal consistency ranges from hemorrhagic to mucoid, and abdominal straining can lead to rectal prolapse. Treatment of diarrhea is similar for most causes. Dietary roughage should be increased and grains and concentrates decreased. This can be accomplished by providing hay in addition to a commercial pelleted diet. Feeding Lactobacillus spp , in the form of yogurt with active cultures, may help reestablish normal bacterial flora within the digestive tract. Supportive care is important, and hydration must be maintained by oral or parenteral fluids. Antibiotics should be used cautiously, because they may further disrupt the bacterial flora of the GI tract and exacerbate the diarrhea. Albendazole and fenbendazole are preferable to metronidazole in treating protozoal infections.
Sudden dietary changes and administration of inappropriate antibiotics (eg, erythromycin, clindamycin, lincomycin, cephalosporins, penicillin, ampicillin, or amoxicillin) can alter a chinchilla’s normal gram-positive flora, allowing overgrowth of various gram-negative coliforms and clostridial bacteria. Enterotoxemia is most commonly caused by infection with Clostridium perfringens . Clinical signs range from diarrhea to emaciation, lethargy, dehydration, and death. Grossly, both spleen and liver are enlarged. Diagnosis is based on serology and identification of the toxin in gastric contents. Vaccinating with clostridial toxoid may reduce morbidity and mortality in colony outbreaks. Other bacteria reported to cause gastroenteritis and diarrhea in chinchillas through contaminated environment or feed include Salmonella arizona , S enteritidis , Corynebacterium spp , Yersinia pseudotuberculosis , Y enterocolitica , Escherichia coli , and Proteus spp . Frequently prevalent in otherwise clinically normal chinchillas, protozoa such as Giardia , Trichomonas , and Balantidium spp may cause enteritis, typhlocolitis, and diarrhea under conditions of stress, poor sanitation, or coincidental bacterial enteritis. Fecal wet mounts demonstrate a marked increase in the number of flagellated or ciliated protozoa. Giardia spp can also be detected serologically by an indirect fluorescent antibody test. Other enteric protozoa reported to infect chinchillas include Cryptosporidium spp and Eimeria chinchillae . Trematodes, nematodes, and cestodes have been observed on fecal floats, but have not been associated with enteritis or diarrhea except in cases of severe infestation. Gastroenteritis may result from any rapid changes in the chinchilla’s normal diet. Increased intake of cellulose and fiber (fruits and green vegetables) can led to decreased peristalsis and invasion of the intestinal mucosa by opportunistic bacteria. Diets low in fiber and high in carbohydrates, fats, and protein can affect normal cecal fermentation and motility and result in typhlitis. Feed or drinking water can also be contaminated by bacteria, molds, or chemicals. Vitamin A, B complex, or C deficiency may result in gastroenteritis. Young kits often develop diarrhea secondary to agalactia or use of milk replacers.

More common than diarrhea, constipation typically results from insufficient dietary fiber and roughage. Dehydration, environmental stress, intestinal obstruction, obesity, lack of exercise, trichobezoars, and uterine compression in gravid females may also result in constipation. Chinchillas may strain to defecate and have decreased fecal output. Fecal pellets are thin, short, hard, malodorous, and sometimes stained with blood. Chronic cases may lead to rectal prolapse, intestinal torsion, cecal impaction, or colonic flexure. To provide relief, dietary fiber should be increased by providing alfalfa cubes, adding mineral oil to the feed, and administering soapy, warm-water enemas. Persistent intestinal blockage may be due to intestinal adhesions, tumors, abscesses, impactions, or foreign bodies. These may be palpated abdominally or identified on radiographs using contrast media. Enterotomy and intestinal anastomosis may be required in such cases.

Gastric Tympany (Bloat):
Bloat can result from sudden dietary changes, especially overeating. It has been reported in lactating females 2-3 wk postpartum and may be related to hypocalcemia. Gas production from the bacterial flora in static bowel rapidly accumulates within 2-4 hr. Affected animals are lethargic, dyspneic, and have a painful distended abdomen. They may roll or stretch while attempting to relieve their discomfort. Treatment may require passage of a stomach tube or paracentesis to relieve gas build-up. Lactating females may respond favorably to calcium gluconate administered IV slowly to effect.

Gastric Ulcers:
Gastric ulcers are common in young chinchillas and are frequently caused by feeding coarse, fibrous roughage or moldy feeds. Clinically affected animals may be anorectic or asymptomatic. Lesions may only be noted at necropsy, with gastric mucosal ulcers and erosions covered by thick, black fluid. Prevention includes decreasing dietary roughage and feeding a commercial pelleted diet.
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