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Neutering a Chinchilla

This article is written assuming that you’ve considered all options, which include a same sex pair, a single chinchilla, etc. Neutering a chinchilla is not a common practice, as it is in dogs and cats. The easiest way to avoid a problem is not to have the surgery. If you feel the best choice for you is neutering your chinchilla, there are several things that you need to be aware of and prepared for.

Pre Surgery

The very first thing you should do is find an experienced veterinarian. Go in and personally interview the veterinarian, politely asking questions as outlined below. Explain that you are concerned about the surgery and only want the best for your animals. Remember to be polite, you don't want the vet to feel interrogated.

I was told that a vet had successfully done chinchilla neuters by his staff on two separate occasions; then after the surgery the vet himself told me that he had only done guinea pigs and not chinchillas. Over two thousand dollars and five months of hand feeding, medication, and daily subcutaneous fluids later, my chinchilla recovered from the surgery. Preparation and knowledge are your best defenses against being in my situation.

While looking for a veterinarian that you are comfortable with and trust to do the procedure, ask how he or she performs the surgery in detail. If the vet is hesitant to answer your questions and go over this with you, keep looking for another veterinarian.

You’ll want to find out the policy for timing of the surgery. Cats and dogs are often dropped off in the morning and picked up in the evening, with the surgery somewhere in between. This is extremely stressful for a chinchilla, especially if he will be exposed to barking and other noises in a busy hospital. Good recovery situations are a quiet, dimly lit area with no dogs or cats in the immediate vicinity, and close observation while at the office. Stress can be harmful on its own. Combined with a surgery, it’s very dangerous and potentially fatal. Stress will wear down an immune system, making secondary infections extremely hard to recover from if they occur. It can also cause GI upset, leading to enteritis, stasis, parasitic infection, and other problems. The less stress he has, the better your chinchilla will recover from the surgery. An experienced exotic veterinarian will be aware of this and take all possible steps to ensure a smooth surgery and recovery. For example, my vet has a dedicated, sound proof exotic ward with lights able to be dimmed at night within the hospital itself.

Ask what sedative will be used. Isoflurane or Sevoflurane are acceptable gas anesthesia and they must be given via a mask only. Intravenous drugs for pre-anesthesia sedation are difficult to impossible to administer and not recommended for small and exotic animals. A heat source such as a heating pad or a circulatory hot water blanket (there is a lower chance of heat injury using a water blanket) set at the proper temperature should also be used, as sedation causes the body temperature to drop.

There are two possible ways of performing this procedure. Ask which method will be used. Closed castration involves only small incisions to remove the testicles and partially tie off the inguinal canal, which leads into the abdomen. Open castration involves an incision into the scrotal area to remove the testicles and partially closing the inguinal canal with internal sutures. After removing the testicles and securing the inguinal canal, the incision is closed with external sutures. You may be surprised to learn that I prefer open castration to a closed castration. It is more invasive, but I feel it is more accurate. The inguinal canal is very important and it must be closed, but not completely. An important blood vessel to the abdomen goes through it, leaving a chance for infection even in a perfect surgery. If infection develops in the scrotal area, it can be carried into the abdomen via the inguinal route, and cause peritonitis (abdominal infection.). Additionally, it is possible that the abdominal contents could fall into the scrotal area, causing a hernia.

Find out if your chinchilla will be given pain medication. Mine needed it and literally dragged his scrotal area along the bottom of the cage in an effort to relieve the pain. Not all veterinarians will use pain medication during/after surgery. However, its use is advocated by many experienced exotic veterinarians. Elizabeth Hillyer, DVM and Katherine Quesenberry, DVM, in their book Ferrets, Rabbits and Rodents - Clinical Medicine and Surgery (publisher W.B. Saunders Company) mention its use.

"In pet practice as in research, the outcomes of procedures can be markedly affected by the level of stress in a particular animal, and there is ample evidence indicating that pain is a very important contributor to level of stress. For this reason, do not hesitate to provide analgesia for surgery or after trauma in these small species, just as you would in dogs and cats in the same situations."

Given my chinchilla's previous experience, I would be most comfortable being sent home with pain medication. Talk with your veterinarian about it and perhaps just have some on hand in the event that it is needed. Some signs of pain include but are not limited to: grinding of teeth, reluctance to eat/drink, abdominal pain causing odd movement or constant position shifting, stiff movement, reluctance to move, tremors, and even vocalization. Metacam, Rimadyl, Buprenorphine, and Torbugesic are commonly used analgesics in rodents. Make sure you are aware of potential side effects and know what to watch for when using these drugs, however. Discuss these with your veterinarian.

Antibiotics are another important topic to cover with your veterinarian. Some will automatically use them to prevent infection, some not until an infection presents itself as a complication. Antibiotics can disturb the natural flora of a chinchilla’s gastrointestinal tract, which can cause added problems. Be sure to avoid antibiotics known to cause problems with rodents and small animals such as Penicillin, Lincomycin, Ampicillin, Amoxicillin (including Clavamox), Cephalosporins, Clindamycin, and Erythromycin. Discuss the pros and cons of using an antibiotic and come to a decision you are both comfortable with.

Post Surgery

Post surgical care is equally important as the surgery itself. Be sure to ask your veterinarian if there are any special precautions you need to take or any medications to give at home.

A one level cage is a good idea, as jumping can dislodge sutures, causing further problems. Clean white t-shirts for bedding would be ideal for post surgical care. These will allow you to watch for any discharge from the site, as well as monitor urine color. Avoid towels with loops, as chinchillas are inclined to chew and possibly ingest these threads. A quiet environment is recommended to reduce stress levels and allow the chinchilla to recuperate fully.

It is not unusual for an animal to be quiet and less active after a surgery, and a chinchilla’s appetite will likely decrease as well. Have pellets and hay on hand, but also be prepared to hand feed your chinchilla if necessary. Watch how much he is eating. If he is not eating pellets and/or hay by the day after surgery, it may be necessary to hand feed due to their need to have constant GI function.

Hand feeding formulas can be made yourself of pulverized pellets and hay, or you can use a commercially available product called Critical Care, made by Oxbow Hay ( I prefer the Critical Care due to ease of preparation, balance of nutrients, and the presence of probiotics in the formula. Probiotics can help to keep the natural balance of a gastrointestinal tract and allow the chinchilla to better digest food and fight off a bacterial infection due to imbalance caused by stress or antibiotics.

Hydration is a very important factor after a surgical procedure. Often rodents will not drink due to complications such as pain or infection, which can make things infinitely worse. Monitor the levels in the water bottle multiple times daily to ensure your chinchilla is indeed drinking. If you notice that he is not drinking, act quickly. Offer him water via a syringe, dribbling a little onto his lips (Do not squirt it into his mouth, as this can cause him to choke and aspirate water into his lungs.). You may also offer Pedialyte as an alternative. Pedialyte contains water and electrolytes and some will drink it more readily than water after a surgical procedure. It can usually be found in the baby section at most grocery stores. Be sure to get the kind without artificial sweeteners, as these can be harmful. Syringe feeding water will not generally be enough, as they need 30-60 CCs daily, but it can help to jump start his willingness to drink on his own. If he will not accept either, take him back to your veterinarian and discuss subcutaneous fluids. This entails an injection of fluid under the skin, allowing the chinchilla to absorb the needed liquid.

Keep an eye on the incisions, be they open or closed. Monitor the area closely for any swelling, heat, discharge, or discoloration. If any of these are noticed, call your veterinarian immediately. Antibiotics would likely be indicated to help treat the infection that has probably developed.

The most important thing you can do is to pay attention to your chinchilla. You’ll need to monitor (or record on paper if you’re able) everything that you can monitor. This includes appetite, hydration, incision status, stool consistency and frequency, urine color and frequency, attitude, and activity level. Your chinchilla’s best defense against complications is an owner who acts quickly and is aware of every detail.

As you can see, the decision to neuter your chinchilla is not one to take lightly. It will take work and diligence on your part to ensure a smooth recovery and a healthy chinchilla. Be aware of all possible complications, and most of all, find an experienced veterinarian that you can trust with your pet’s life.