How serious is it? Very. Diarrhea or soft stools are very dangerous for chinchillas. They can quickly become dehydrated, prolapse their rectum or develop bloat.
What is it? Mushy excrement which is not like the usual dry tic tac shape, size or consistency.
How can I recognize it?
Do chins get it? Diarrhea or soft stools is indicative of digestive parasites, or bad food. Rarely it occurs as a stress response.
How do you treat it? Depending on the cause. The first response is to stop giving anything to eat except for fresh cut, high quality hay. Do not give pellets or treats. In severe cases where it is imperative to firm up the stools quickly, you can give 1 bite size shredded wheat cereal without the frosting. Activated charcoal or a tiny piece of burnt toast can help.
If the poos don't firm up within 24 hours, or if it is reoccurring, a trip to the vet may help rule out parasites. A negative parasite test does NOT necessarily mean your chinnie is parasite free. It just means that the vet did not find any buggies in that particular sample.
How can I avoid this happening? Avoid sugary or high fat treats. Use reverse osmosis water to avoid passing on water borne parasites. Do not suddenly switch pellets. If the feed pellets are of the same brand, the batch may be the issue. Feed only hay until the stool firms up again.
Posts about this condition:
Periodically we receive reports of chinchillas who suddenly exhibit symptoms of loose, watery, or mushy stool with no known obvious cause. If your chinchilla has not experienced a change in environment, change in diet, too many treats, a switch in food, or a new food source, medical intervention may be necessary.
Please keep in mind that a stool sample which is deemed "negative" for parasites does NOT necessarily imply that your pet is free from harmful invaders. All that implies is that the stool sample tested reveals no obvious parasites. Because chinchillas tend to be extraordinarily sensitive animals, a conservative approach may actually lead to its demise.
Regretfully, we had to learn this lesson the hard way.
By experience we have learned that mushy stool or reoccurring loose stool requires an aggressive treatment. Home remedies like offering shredded wheat cereal may firm the stools temporarily, but ultimately only masks the symptoms and can actually exacerbate the problem when a lethal number of harmful bacteria grow in the chinchillas' digestive system.
Years ago, in a fit of desperation, our local vet prescribed a wide spectrum antibiotic to treat some chins who were wasting away and did not respond to more homeopathic measures. This last-ditch treatment actually halted the death toll and cured the sick chins.
In recent years we have seen similar outbreaks in chinchillas both in our herd and those not associated with us. On rare occasion, fecal tests have revealed coccidia, cryptosporidium, and clostridium; all waterborne parasites. Albon and Panacur became the prescription of choice and once again quickly relieved the symptoms, even though the majority of the chins showing symptoms tested negative for infection.
If you are already using reverse osmosis water, please keep in mind that washing the water bottle in tap is still enough exposure to pass on to your chinnies. Certain parasites that are usually relatively harmless to healthy humans can cause illness in chins. You can boil your water bottle to sanitize it, but some parasites are resistant to even the harshest chemicals such as bleach!
As an added precaution against waterborne parasites, we have started using a UV-C sanitizing wand to kill harmful bacteria that may have gotten through the city filtration system. Sunshine is also another germ fighting resource excellent for helping to disinfect cages and accessories. But for instances of obvious loose stool, we do not hesitate to administer our treatment of choice. Please share with your local vet the information we have gleaned about the administration of Albon and Panacur as treatment for loose stool/diarrhea that has no obvious cause.