Choking occurs when the oesophagus is obstructed, and common causes of obstruction in chinchillas include large chunks of food, bedding material, pieces of toys and household items with rough edges. Female chinchillas can also choke when eating their placenta after giving birth. Chinchillas are unable to vomit, so they have no way of clearing their airway on their own. Therefore, choking should be treated as an emergency, as your chinchilla is at risk of dying as a result of asphyxiation. Here's an overview of the symptoms, diagnosis and treatment approach for choking in chinchillas:
Symptoms of chocking in chinchillas include coughing, gasping or taking short, fast breaths and increased salivation. They will be unable to eat or drink and will appear restless. Additionally, the cause of the blockage may protrude from your chinchilla's oesophagus, but this is not always the case.
Diagnosis And Treatment
Your vet will diagnose your chinchilla by observing their symptoms and examining their oesophagus. If there's doubt over the diagnosis, or if your vet needs to determine the size of the object causing the obstruction, then an X-ray will be carried out.
Your vet will outline a treatment approach based on the size and position of the obstruction. If the item causing the blockage is relatively small and safe for your chinchilla to swallow, your vet may administer drugs that increase the movement of the muscles in the oesophagus. Stimulating the oesophageal muscles can push the blockage down into the stomach and allow your chinchilla to breathe freely. An obstruction that's high up in the oesophagus may be able to be removed with forceps, while a large obstruction or an item that poses a risk if swallowed may need to be surgically removed.
When your chinchilla is discharged to recover at home, you should provide them with a quiet environment so they can rest. They will need a soft diet, as their oesophagus will likely be sore for a few days. Your vet will provide advice on the types of food your chinchilla can eat and how to prepare their food while they recover. They can also provide advice on creating a safe living environment and steps you can take to avoid future episodes of choking.
If your chinchilla displays any of the signs associated with choking, contact an emergency vet immediately to prevent unnecessary discomfort and minimise the risk of an obstruction being fatal. If your vet does not operate a 24-hour emergency service, they will have a provider they partner with to treat clients outside their normal opening hours, so ensure you have this information in case any type of emergency arises.