Chinchilla Fungal Infections
(above) Trichophyton mentagrophytes,
a causative agent of ringworm infections
One of the most common afflictions of the chinchilla is a skin fungus commonly known as ringworm, also found on dogs, cats, and many other animals including humans. Ringworm is very contagious and fairly hard to erradicate. Ringworm is more common in animals with a poor diet, nutritional deficiencies like iodine deficiency, or a weak immune system. Stressed and recently weaned animals are also more susceptible. Ringworm is very common in the environment in general. Housecats commonly carry it, and track it indoors. People also track it inside on the soles of their shoes. Ringworm is more likely to appear in humid conditions.
If you have chinchillas long enough, or have enough of them, it is likely that you will eventually encounter skin fungus. The best thing breeders can do is to catch it early and treat it immediately. Fungus usually first appears as a bald spot around the nose or eyes, then commonly spreads to the front feet, genitals, or to the body next. Fungus causes uncomfortable red itchy spots, and a loss of fur in the afflicted area. Treat the infected area regularly with an antifungal cream, and add a non-toxic fungal powder to the dust bath. Topical iodine and betadine also work well, but they have to be diluted and used with caution, because they can burn the skin. Wipe the cage down with white vinegar, replace the shavings often, and remove items made of wood. After the animal no longer has fungus, replace any wood items with new wood items (shelves, chew blocks, toys, etc... ). Use caution when treating the animal, because ringworm is contagious to humans too. Cut and recently shaved skin is infected easily. When handling an infected animal, wear disposalbe gloves or gloves you can wash. Wash all exposed clothing as soon as you are done treating the chinchilla. Add white vinegar to the washing machine's pre-soak cycle to help kill spores on clothing, and then dry the clothing well in a machine dryer.
For pregnant women who want to avoid antifungal creams and powders, and for people seeking to find a more natural way to treat ringworm on the chinchilla, there is some indication that virgin unrefined coconut oil is effective against fungus. It is even more effective combined with turmeric powder, a few drops of tea tree oil, and a few drops of lavender. Chinchillas have thin and sensitive skin, and some cannot tolerate more than just plain unrefined coconut oil. For these animals (especially lighter skinned animals like pink whites), the turmeric, tea tree oil, and lavender are too irritating and can cause some irritation or scalding. Lastly, turmeric, although effective combined with unrefined coconut oil, can stain clothing and the chinchilla a yellow color, although the staining on the chinchilla will wear off with time.
Humidity should be controlled in an environment with a significant number of chinchillas. Aside from higher humidity environmental conditions, the chinchillas themselves will add to the humidity levels in the room or facility. Skin fungus flourishes more easily when humidity levels are above 30-45%. A dehumidifier can be important to help maintain lower humidity levels, thus making it harder for skin fungus to survive.
Ringworm spores are hard to kill and can live for a long time in the environment. Sunlight helps to destroy both active fungus and spores. After wiping down a cage, for example, with white vinegar, let the cage sit in the direct sunlight for a few hours.
Ozone is also very effective for eliminating skin fungus on animals and equipment. However, caution should be taken to avoid inhalation of ozone by humans or chinchillas. Ozone, when inhaled, can damage the lungs. Ozone should be used outside, or in a very well ventilated area.
Some animals seem to be more susceptible to fungus than others. Baby animals of all species tend to be vulnerable, especially at the time of weaning. Also, some chinchillas can have the fungus systemically, in which case a topical medication is not as effective. In systemic cases, an internal medication or supplement is indicated.
If more than an isolated case of ringworm occurs, it is important to re-evaluate the diet of the animal/herd for possible deficiencies, and consider adding probiotics to the diet. Good ventilation with a high volume of fresh air exchange, keeping humidity levels down, and maintaining a healthy diet & strong immune system are all helpful preventive measures!