Q: I have a male, 1-year-old chinchilla with clear ear drainage that I noticed yesterday. He is scratching, but I did not notice any broken skin. What, if any, antibiotic would be safe for Jake, my chinchilla, to ingest? Is there something else I should do?
A: You ask a very good question. Like many of our small mammal pets, chinchillas are prone to severe gastrointestinal upset if the wrong antibiotic is prescribed. Some of the drugs that we use in dogs and cats with little regard to the side effects in these pets can be deadly in small mammal pets due to the difference in physiology and gastrointestinal flora.
If we use the wrong antibiotics for a chinchilla or other small mammal pet, we could kill off a substantial amount of bacterial and fungal organisms, which causes a cascading effect of an overgrowth of improper organisms leading to a “hostile” environment for the “good” organisms. We not only kill off many of the “friendly” bacteria, but we can change the pH and other conditions of the fluid in the gastrointestinal tract and the helpful bacteria and fungal organisms die out and are replaced with organisms that lead to ileus, diarrhea and sometimes even death.
Your veterinarian must examine your chinchilla, because the discharge may represent more than just a bacterial ear infection. We also see fungal ear infections and ectoparasites causing ear irritation that can lead to a discharge. Antibiotics, creams or oral medications will not kill off fungal infections or ectoparasite infestations. Your veterinarian can easily and quickly make the diagnosis in the hospital by examining the discharge under a microscope. Bacterial and fungal organisms along with white blood cells should be easily identified. And if there are ectoparasites, those can usually be seen or at least we can identify their eggs or “nits” under the microscope.
Once a diagnosis is made, the correct treatment can then be instituted. Another reason to visit your veterinarian is to determine where in the ear the discharge comes from. If it is the most outer portion of the ear, this is the least serious area of concern. But if the diseased area is in the middle or inner ear, then treatment needs to be instituted immediately. If disease in these two areas is not addressed as soon as possible, further damage can happen, leading to further disease past the ear into the nerves that lead directly to the brain.
Finally, ear discharge, if it is emanating from the middle or inner ear, may also represent dental disease in chinchillas. The sooner dental disease is diagnosed and treated, the better the chance for a cure of this common malady in pet chinchillas. For these reasons, it is a good idea to get your chinchilla to the veterinarian as soon as possible whenever you see ear discharge like this.