Recently I lost my Colton, he was a standard male six years old. It was the day my dad died and when I finally got home I hadn't slept in at least 24 hours and I couldn't go in and sleep as I had also just brought home a new chin SweetPea and I just needed to do a little chinnie maintenance before I could rest, and I was exhausted physically and emotionally.
I checked everyone's cages for food, water and made sure everyone had a little treat. I had moved SweetPea into Mr.Pickles cage and poor Mr.Pickles had to sit in one of my smaller cages until I had his new cage ready. All of this would have been so much smoother but I had gotten the call to get to my parents asap and I had just left the breeder when I got the call. So I took SweetPea with me and eventually sent my husband home with her to go take care of the crew at home, so I didn't get a chance to do all this prior to having to go to my parents. You do what you have to do in those times I guess. Some of this is rambling and some of this is stuff I learned.
So I sit down on the floor to work on this new cage for Mr.Pickles and thinking that once this is done I can sleep, for as long as I need I just need to have my chins in order or I won't relax and sleep restfully. My husband is sitting on the couch and I am sitting on the floor next to Colton and MaryBeth's cage. I was at about eye level to them and they were snacking on hay. My husband says "look at that one, double fisting hay" I looked over and it was and always is so cute when they do that. I told him " that's Colton, he always does that" we had a laugh and I went back to preparing Mr.Pickles new cage. I was about done with Mr.Pickles cage and since MaryBeth and Colton are right there I thought I'd reach over and offer a scritchy scratch, it had been a way sucky day and just being with the chins was a happiness.
Colton was laying on his side, I figured he had stuffed himself full of hay and was taking a nap, but I still reached for him. He just rolled over and looked at me. Colton is usually the first to chirp at me, he was a great chin and very vocal although I often could not interpret what he was saying he always tried to let me know what was on his mind. Colton didn't even say anything to me, well this was sort of weird, so I scooped him out of his cage. He was laying in my hand. hmmm? he must of really missed me and isn't he a doll for being so sweet? hmmmm something isn't quite right, although I appreciate his docileness he doesn't act this way. hmmm maybe he is just sleepy and I caught him at the right time for cuddles. hmmm ok something is wrong, what the **** is wrong??? Maybe he is dehydrated? I tried to get some liquid into him, nope well maybe if I use some fruit juice? nope. Maybe his blood sugar is low, so I make a little dried apple nutrical treat, nope but now I have a mess down his chin dammit I can't deal with this, please be ok, maybe he has a hair ring, I turn him over and check, OK NOW something is way wrong this chin would never in a gazillion years allow me to do that and just lay there, I gotta get him to the vet. Call the vet, grab the carrier Imy husband brought sweetpea home him, put Colton in and grab the car keys. Thankfully, my husband just calmly took the keys and said he was driving, I wasn't at that point thinking clearly I was scared and all I could think was go go go, get to the vet. This all happened within an hour or me seeing him layining in his cage and within an hour and a half of us seeing him double fisting his hay.
We get in the car, the vet is in the next town. I don't know where the energy came to handle this but I was so focused on every second on getting him to the vet. We arrive, he is now laying calmy in the bottom of the carrier. They take him in right away and move us into the little rooms where they do appointments and stuff. The gal comes in and is explaining what they are doing and here comes a couple of people and call her to the hallway, she immediately comes in and asking is they can do emergency CPR, of course I want them to. I am thinking maybe he is just stuck as he wasn't making any poops on me during this whole ordeal. A few minutes later they return and Colton was gone. They brought his little body to me in a beautiful deep green blanket and I got to hold him for as long as I needed. Here is where I just lost it ya know, this was just way too much. I didn't want to leave him there but I did want to know why he died, so I had to leave him there and walk out that front door with my empty carrier and a breaking heart. I had lost my dad and now Colton. I was a mess.
The vet called me I forget if it was the next day or the day after I was in such a state everything is hazy. I had told them Colton's situation at home. He was put into breeding and had a new girlfriend MaryBeth, his diet and his history. When Colton was first arrived at the vet they couldn't get his pulse and his heart was very weak, they thought it was a heart issue. I asked for a necropsy and a cremation. A few days after that they called and said his liver had burst and he had bled to death, and they were sending his samples to be analyzed. She also mentioned that it was possible that MaryBeth had been hording food and it was possible he had not had enough food. Colton came home from the breeder at 590 grams and at time of death was 560 grams. He was in great shape and I had read that sometimes when males go into breeding they lose a bit of weight so I had thought this was all "normal" . I immediately beat the **** out of myself, how could I not know MaryBeth was hording food? I am with my chins pretty much all day long and the family is too as they are all currently in the family room. I love having them close. So they are observed throughout the day and officially checked three times a day with emphasis on morning and evening feeding and afternoon light cleaning (knocking poop through the floor and gathering up day old hay) In the evening I handle every chin and it's bathime/playtime/treat time/vitamin time. So I felt really down and a horrible chin mom for not noticing MaryBeth hording food. I called the breeder that I got Colton from and let her know what was going on,
This woman is so wonderful and I knew Colton had been one of her favorites as she had him since he was a kit, she had also shared him with another breeder who I work with and we all loved this boy. These two women offerted me great support and we got to talk a lot and often during this ordeal. I had never lost a chin before and under the circumstances I couldn't really turn to family and say much as we are all also greiving my fathers death. I continued beating myself and going over as much information as I could about liver issues in chinchillas and concluded that I must not keep my cages clean enough and I let my chin starve and being inexperienced I caused his death I should not be allowed to have these wonderful chins and if I had more experience this would have never happened. Yes I was in full blown grief and upset mode!
I got the necropsy back and it read pretty much greek to me, I called my girlfriend who had Colton for a period of time and spoke with her about it before I could call and talk to Colton's breeder. I am so glad I did. Her husband is a doctor and she offered him to go over the results, so we can all learn and he can better explain this to me. His name is Marty and he designed those flying saucer wheels we all see and he is just a really super smart guy and so very knowledgeable about chins.
What we learned was Colton's liver did burst and his blood didn't coagulate and he bled to death. It had a bunch of other information in it and Marty disseminated it all for us. Colton didn't die of malnutrution or a dirty cage, all signs point to a hepatoxin. There are a whole lotta different hepatoxins. Here is his initial take on the necropsy
"I read over the autopsy. It looks like it was well done. From experience, I doubt the problem resulted from the relationship with Marybeth. They are generally tougher than that.
The problem was the liver. It failed. The possible reasons for liver failure are listed as 'anorexia, obesity, malnutrition, endocrine or metabolic derangements, hepatotoxins'. I doubt the first 3 would be
involved. The other organs all appeared normal so that leads away from endocrine and medabolic derangements. .. The other possible cause is hepatotoxins. This is possible. Many things can cause damage to the liver.
Some types of mold on hay can do it. Insecticides on hay can do it. If they contact a toxin while they are out playing is a possibility. If the chin has access (chews on) to anything that has adhesives or glues, petroleum products, like any type of plywood, synthetic wood, melamine, the chemicals in those can destroy the liver very rapidly and it will not recover.
There was a case of poisoning in Southern Calif from defective chin food. The mill possibly used some ingredients that had mold. No one was talking about what really happened but one ranch lost 4 to 500 chins because of this problem. So it was a big deal.
Do you have any artificial products in any of your cages that the chins chew on? Shelves, cage walls, etc. If so, it would be good to remove them. Some woods, like cherry, cedar, redwood will kill them. They contain oils that are toxic to the liver. Pine and fir are OK.
Almost any of the hay products can have something wrong with them. If insecticide is used, that will kill them. There have been cases where the farm next door to the hay field was sprayed and enough spray drifted over to cause animal death. Finding safe food products can be like walking through a mine field. Linda uses one type of timothy hay from one source, the mazuri food, alfalfa cubes and a couple other things. We restrict are chin food acqusitions to only reliable sources. ANd then we cross our fingers and hope." ~ Marty
So then I wracked my brain for what he could have gotten ahold of that didn't effect any of my other chins, and I just went in circles trying to figure it out and I wrote him back about this and that, we were all still trying to make heads or tails of this. I did write and tell him I was sad but it was a relief that it was a malnutrition issue and he wrote back.
"Malnourishment only happens in the most squalid of circumstances. That is not you. There is also no guarantee that it was a hepatotoxin. It just seems like a reasonable possibility. As you can see there are some things that we do not get to know. Toxins can be fast ( a few days) or slow (a few
weeks) depending on what they are. If they ingest plastic, that causes problems, intestinal stoppage. Some products might have toxic compounds in them. It is difficult to tell what is in commercial products. Products that are not intended for human consumption do not need much labeling. " ~ Marty
But my quest for figuring out what the **** he ingested was still on, because of course this is still my fault. I then began to guilt trip with, "if only I had watched him better when he was out of his cage during playtime, and I dind't chin proof the room well enough"
Marty sent me another mail. " I had a chance to review chinchilla liver problems and did find a few items that may be helpful for the future. A primary function of the liver is to detoxify or breakdown any toxins that enter the chin. These can be various types of chemical poisons, mycotoxins produced by molds, toxins produced by bacterial infections, purtifaction of foods in the intestinal tract. Another source of problems was rancid oils. One book mentioned that most oil-containing seeds, like flax and sunflower, become rancid very quickly. The rancid oil is pretty toxic to the chin. Chins do not have gall bladders which are central to effective fat metabolish so in general oils and fats are much more of a problem even for a healthy chin. All of the above can result in fatty liver deposits. The mechanism appears to be that the toxins impair the function of the liver, in essence poisoning the liver cells so it is not able to effectively break down fats so the fats build up.
So, oil containing seeds are not a good treat. If they are used, they should be purchased fresh and refrigerated so the oils don't become rancid." ~ Marty
All of us shared and spoke alot about this issue. I beleive the breeders I work with are very solid breeders and take excellent care of their animals. Colton's breeder used flaxseed mixed in their feed and it is possible over time this had contributed to his liver issue. Between the three of us, we don't have other chins that have died of this but maybe Colton was just more susseptable somehow and going into breeding with MaryBeth may have left him vulnerable, in a way that none of us would have ever expected.
So to make a long story longer
the big take away here is to watch out for seeds with oils and keep them refridgerated, try to get your hay from the same place and a reputable place.
I do believe Colton found a great happiness with MaryBeth and his final days I believe were good. When all this happened, it happened very fast. We are all hoping that Mary Beth is pregnant and Colton's line will continue.
Thanks for listening. It's taken me awhile to be able to write about this. Partly because ever time I think about it I cry and partly because I was afraid everyone is going to think I am a horrible chin mom. I think that all came from being in such a crappy state of mind and I think it's important we share these stories and learn from each other, and I am ready to share now.