When you do all the research that goes into having a pet chinchilla, you will be certain to come across the mention of ringworm in chinchillas on a regular basis. Ringworm is a fungal skin infection that attacks the skin and causes dryness, scaliness, and fur loss.
Even though ringworm in chinchillas can be incredibly frightening, it is entirely possible to treat ringworm at home with a few different remedies and by keeping a close eye on the chinchilla.
In addition to being treatable, it is also a very preventable condition if regular cage maintenance is practiced and dust baths are regularly given. So let's delve in and learn everything there is to know about ringworm in chinchillas, including how to prevent it, how to recognize and treat its symptoms, and more.
How Do Chinchillas Get Ringworm?
So, what is the cause of ringworm in chinchillas? There are several causes of ringworm, but the most common one is coming into contact with either a person who has a fungal infection or with another chinchilla who has ringworm.
Dirty cages and dirty fur are also frequent culprits of ringworm. While a few days of missed cage cleaning generally won’t result in a sick chinchilla, prolonged exposure to a dirty cage and long periods of time without dust baths will create an environment for mold and fungi to grow freely and potentially cause ringworm in chinchillas.
Pellets and Hay
One thing you might not expect is that your chinchilla can catch ringworm from the hay or pellets you feed your chinchillas. These can be infected either during the shipping and handling process or if the soil was infected where the hay was grown. However, ringworm infections caused by these feed issues are incredibly rare.
There is also a link between water and ringworm, though it is less common than some of the other methods of catching ringworm that has previously been discussed. The reason for this is that water can get stuck in a chinchilla’s thick fur and be a breeding ground for retaining moisture which can lead to fungal infections and chinchilla mold.
There is one other factor that may surprise you about chinchillas, which is their level of stress. Humans are good at adapting to stressful situations without sustaining much damage; however, stressful situations can cause a chinchilla’s immune system to weaken, which gives way to a multitude of issues, including chinchillas ringworm. Stress can also cause a crop of other issues like having a fur slip.
If you think your chinchilla may be experiencing ringworm, you need to keep an eye out for the following symptoms:
Fur loss (hair loss) or fur slip or bald patches
Dry, flaky skin
Chinchilla itching/scratching more than usual
Raised and irritated skin
It's important to keep in mind that many of these symptoms can be made worse by stress, so try to keep your chinchilla as stress-free as possible during treatment and recovery. If you notice any of these symptoms getting worse or not going away after treatment and cleaning, we would highly encourage taking your chinchilla to the vet.
Is Ringworm in Chinchillas Contagious?
Certain strains of ringworm are highly contagious in both humans and animals. This is why it's so important to wash your hands thoroughly before handling your chinchilla if you're suffering from any fungal infection. Furthermore, if you have more than one chinchilla at home, you should make sure that an infected chinchilla is not kept in the same cage as the others.
What Precautionary Measures To Take
Another precautionary measure that can be taken is ensuring that anyone else in your household who has a fungal infection is not handling the chinchilla directly. Additionally, making sure any second-hand items are cleaned thoroughly before being placed in the cage can reduce the likelihood of ringworm (though any second-hand items at all are not recommended for a myriad of reasons - including the potential infections, but also the sturdiness and stability of the product, and over quality. We recommend buying all your chinchilla supplies from a reputable source.)
One of the most effective ways to prevent the spread of ringworm is to completely clean the cage with a 10% bleach to water mix to prevent the infestation from growing. You can rest assured that this will kill fungus and any other spores that are left behind that could re-infect your chinchillas and cause the problem to continue.
While you may be worried about the idea of using bleach in your chinchilla's cage, as long as you rinse and dry everything properly, there should be no lasting residue. But if you’re still uncertain, Chlorhexidine is a cleaner commonly used in veterinary spaces and you can trust that it is safe for your chinchillas.
What Is The Difference Between Bacterial Infection and Ringworm?
While visually identical, there are many differences between a bacterial infection and a fungal infection like ringworm. It’s incredibly important to pick these differences up and know when you need to go to the vet.
Bacterial infections can cause the same fur loss and dry skin as ringworm, but where the difference really lies is in the internal symptoms. These symptoms can range from diarrhea to weight loss and ulcers.
Finding out what could be making your chinchilla sick and how to treat it effectively requires paying close attention to their routine and behavior. Your chinchilla's eating habits are a good example - you know how much they eat at a time and when they typically become hungry, so when something is wrong with their health, their eating habits are a good indication.
The most effective treatment for a bacterial infection is to consult a veterinarian who can prescribe antibiotics. If you notice any of these additional symptoms, then it would be worth bringing your chinchilla in for a visit so you can ensure their health is returned to normal as soon as possible.
Now let’s talk about preventing ringworm. While there’s no singular way to prevent ringworm in chinchillas 100% of the time, there are many preventive measures you can take.
Cleaning Cages Regularly
One of the most important is to keep your chinchilla’s cage clean. If you’re finding your chinchilla having any issues with their health, this will greatly improve their condition (along with providing basic first-aid) and nip any fungal infections in the bud.
The other huge benefit to ensuring your chinchilla’s cage is also as clean as it can be is that it gives you a good idea of the timeline of your chinchilla's health. Since your chinchilla spends most of their day in a cage, that’s always going to be the first place that will show any telltale signs such as softer poop and a loss of appetite.
Additionally, as mentioned earlier, it is especially important if you have pet chinchillas to make sure that there is not a cross-contamination between a sick chinchilla and a healthy one. If you’ve noticed that one has come down with ringworm, make sure to move it to a separate cage to prevent a second infection.
There is also another option to prevent cross-contamination in chinchilla dust baths by not reusing dust between a healthy and an infected chinchilla, or by not reusing dust in the dust bath at all. Occasionally, owners of chinchillas like to add Desnex or other anti-fungal powders to their baths to prevent any fungi from growing in the first place.
Keep Your Chinchilla Dry
In addition to the reasons explained above, chinchillas that are wet can also be susceptible to mold and fungal infections, so making sure you keep your chinchilla dry is crucial. In the event that your chinchilla gets wet by accident, it is important to monitor them for any signs of infection they might be showing.
Thoroughly Clean Second-hand Supplies (Or Don't Buy Anything Second-hand)
Second-hand supplies are often sold by chinchilla owners who no longer require certain items. While this can be a great deal, many owners do not know how to properly clean their supplies after use, leaving them vulnerable to infections. In the event that you must purchase a second-hand item, it's important that you clean everything thoroughly before introducing your chinchilla to it.
Treating Chinchilla Ringworm
Despite knowing the causes, symptoms, and preventative measures, if the chinchilla you have has ringworm, what can you do? With ringworm treatment is important that you get rid of any wooden toys that may be inside your chinchilla's cage, as you cannot easily disinfect these items and they will retain any of the ringworm spores. It is also important to separate the chinchilla from its cage mates to not worsen the situation.
As soon as you've completed those two steps, you can begin to treat your chinchilla. Many owners use the Blu-Kote antiseptic dressing. The fast-drying nature of this product and the fact that it is highly visible allow you to see exactly what you are doing and let your chinchilla go back to playing right away without the need to re-apply Chinchillas with ringworm can also benefit from regular dust baths. It has been mentioned above that many chinchilla owners will add antifungal medications like Desenex powder to the dust bath because it helps prevent and treat ringworm in them both. But you will find conflicting opinions about this form of treatment over others
You may be wondering how long it takes for ringworm to clear up and when you can return to your basic care routine. With consistent treatment, ringworm in chinchillas should clear up within 4-6 weeks. A good sign of your chinchilla getting better is when their fur re-grows back fully, which is a good sign that they are getting better.
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