Pseudomonas aeruginosa bacteria are responsible for a number of infections in pet chinchillas. These opportunistic bacteria are ubiquitous and can be found in soil, water, man-made environments, and even on human skin. Your pet chinchilla is not safe from the effects of this bacteria. Here are five things chinchilla owners need to know about pseudomonas aeruginosa infections.
How do chinchillas acquire the bacteria?
Chinchillas acquire the pseudomonas aeruginosa bacteria from their environments. Since these bacteria are ubiquitous in nature, it can be found in your pet's water, in their food or in their bedding. Since the bacteria can also be found on human skin, you may inadvertently infect your pet while cuddling them or caring for them.
They can also get the bacteria from other chinchillas. One study of 67 chinchillas found that 41.8% of the animals were infected with pseudomonas aeruginosa. Your pet may have contracted the bacteria from other animals at the pet store or breeder.
When does the bacteria cause disease?
Not all infected chinchillas will get sick. This is because pseudomonas aeruginosa is an opportunistic pathogen, which means that it takes advantage of hosts with poor immune systems. If your pet's immune system is strong, they'll remain a carrier but won't get ill themselves, but if their immune function decreases, they'll become sick.
Many factors can lead to decreased immune function in chinchillas. For example, stress, poor nutrition, age, or other illnesses can weaken your pet's immune system and give pseudomonas aeruginosa the opportunity it needs.
What are the signs of pseudomonas aeruginosa infections?
Pseudomonas aeruginosa can lead to different types of infections, so the symptoms will vary based on which organ systems are affected. However, there are some signs that are considered typical of these infections. If your pet is sick, you'll notice some or all of the following signs:
· Lack of interest in their food;
· Weight loss;
· Depression or lethargy;
· Ocular ulcers;
· Oral ulcers;
· Pus-filled blisters on the skin;
· Conjunctivitis (red, sore eyes).
If not treated, these infections can kill chinchillas. If you notice any of the previously mentioned symptoms, take your pet to an emergency veterinarian that specializes in exotic pets right away. Your veterinarian will diagnose the infection based on the presence of the bacteria.
How do veterinarians treat these infections?
These infections are treated with antibiotics. Pseudomonas aeruginosa is a multi-drug resistant pathogen, so your veterinarian may need to try multiple drugs before they find one that works. According to NIH, the bacteria are often susceptible to ciprofloxacin, imipenem, or ceftazidime. Gentamicin can also be used, though the bacteria shows less susceptibility to this drug.
Once your pet has recovered, you'll need to carefully disinfect their cage to ensure that they're not re-infected by their environment.
How can you disinfect their cage?
Pseudomonas aeruginosa is resistant to many disinfectants, so mild household cleaners and products like vinegar aren't good choices for cage disinfection. Studies have shown that these bacteria can be killed with 5% hypochlorite bleach. To disinfect with bleach, mix one-part bleach with nine-parts water and wipe all surfaces of your pet's cage, including the bars. Bleach is corrosive, so remember to rinse the cage well with water afterwards.
Not everything can be disinfected with bleach. Wooden houses, fabric cuddle cups, paper bedding and other cage contents need to be thrown out and replaced as there is no way to disinfect them.
Once the cage has been disinfected, it's safe to return your pet to their home.
If you think your chinchilla is suffering from a pseudomonas aeruginosa infection, take them to an emergency vet right away.