Like other rodents, your chinchilla has teeth that grow continuously throughout his life. Ideally his teeth wear down from chewing and new tooth pushes up through the gums. If he isn't wearing down his teeth properly, serious dental problems can ensue. You can help prevent them by providing the right feed and chewing material.
According to Michigan State University Veterinary Teaching Hospital, your chinchilla's incisors can grow between 2 and 3 inches each year. His molars also constantly grow. Malocclusion occurs when uneven wear causes misalignment of the teeth. This may create spurs that can jab his tongue or cheek, or teeth that grow so long it's not possible for him to chew his food. Your pet can literally starve to death, even though there's plenty of food available for him.
Symptoms of dental problems include diminished appetite and weight loss, loss of fur under the chin and mouth ulcers. The most obvious sign is constant drooling, known as "slobbers." Your pet's fur under his mouth and down his neck is wet all the time because of this condition. He might drop food out of his mouth because of his dental problems. You might also see undigested material in his feces, since your chinchilla can't properly chew his food.
Your vet must clip or file your pet's teeth to correct malocclusion and give him a normal bite. Your chinchilla might require anesthesia for this procedure. After the "floating" of the teeth, your vet will likely ask you to bring your pet back for an examination in about a month's time. That way she can tell whether the teeth are wearing normally or still growing incorrectly. If it's the latter, your chinchilla will need periodic tooth filing until the problem is corrected. If the abnormal growth is not severe, your vet might teach you how to clip your pet's teeth yourself.
In order to continuously wear down his teeth, your chinchilla needs fibrous materials to chew on. Make sure he always has timothy or grass hay available. Don't substitute alfalfa hay, as that is too high in calcium for your pet. Provide wood blocks or other suitable chewing material for him to nosh on. You can put clean tree branches into his cage, but ask your vet if the particular type of tree is safe for your chinchilla. Common types of tree branches that should not be given to chinchillas include cedar, cherry, plum and redwood.
- Small Animal Channel: Chinchilla Dental Care
- Michigan Humane Society: Chinchillas
- St. Francis Animal and Bird Hospital Library: Basic Care of Chinchillas
- Michigan State University Veterinary Teaching Hospital: Caring and Feeding of Your Chinchilla
- Pet Care Veterinary Hospital: Caring For Your Pet Chinchilla
- The Canadian Veterinary Journal: Malocclusions in Guinea Pigs, Chinchillas and Rabbits
Jane Meggitt has been a writer for more than 20 years. In addition to reporting for a major newspaper chain, she has been published in "Horse News," "Suburban Classic," "Hoof Beats," "Equine Journal" and other publications. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English from New York University and an Associate of Arts from the American Academy of Dramatics Arts, New York City.