Fur fungus is the common, if somewhat erroneous, term used by many breeders for ringworm.

Chinchillas are highly susceptible to ringworm, a fungal infection of the skin and fur, due to their thick pelts which absorb ambient humidity, thus providing an ideal growing environment for ringworm spores to flourish. There is currently an epidemic sweeping through many UK “herds” at present.

There are various different strains of ringworm, tinea canis being the most likely culprit.

Symptoms are characterised by loss of fur in patches, especially around the eyes, nose and ears. The underlying skin may look reddened, flaky and may be covered in crusts and/or scabs.

This condition is obviously itchy and uncomfortable for the chins, and is also highly contagious, so prompt diagnosis and treatment is required. However, it is possible to miss some patches of ringworm on a chinchillas’ body, simply because their fur is so dense that bald areas can be hard to spot!! Therefore, breeders need to be vigilant when checking their entire herds for any problems. It also seems to target animals whose immune systems may be slightly compromised in some way, i.e. they may be slightly, stressed, run-down, or young or old. The good news is that is does appear to be self-limiting and will run it’s course through a herd, and the affected chinchillas, once treated, then seem to gain some sort of resistance.

Ringworm is spread by contact mainly, (although spores may become airborne) via other infected people, animals and pets. This is another good reason why good quarantine procedures need to be carried out!!

Treatment is varied, but focuses around antifungal preparations. The common “breeders home-treatment” consists of adding about a tablespoon of athletes foot powder to the chinchilla’s sandbaths, so they self-medicate. It is also routinely used as a “preventative” by many breeders, but I have my reservations about the wisdom of using this, as my chinchillas have displayed breathing abnormalities when the powder has been added to their sandbaths, so I no longer add it as a prophylactic. Even with anti-fungal powder added to sandbaths, a cure is not guaranteed if the infection is virulent. Topical, over-the-counter anti-fungal sprays and creams (with active ingredients such as ketoclomazole, mycoclomazole, clotazmole etc) have been used with some success, but they can be messy and difficult to apply. Thought must also be given to the fact that the chinchillas are liable to groom off anything that is applied to their bodies, and these types of human medication can be harmful to them if ingested.

My advice is to take any affected chinchillas to the vets, ask them to culture some samples to establish what you are dealing with (as not every type of ringworm fluoresces under a Wood’s Lamp). Then commence treatment with whatever preparation the vet then recommends and prescribes.

Malaseb shampoo appears to be very affective and the whole chinchilla need not be shampooed and can just be “spot-treated” which is ideal, as they are very hard to completely dry off after becoming wet. Two applications a week are required, and improvement has been reported even after just one application.

It is also VERY important to use an anti-fungal disinfectant, in order to thoroughly clean cages, sandbaths, feed bowls and any other equipment to reduce the risk of further contamination and spread of infection. I routinely use Defence-7, Virkon S or Vanodine V18 anyway, which are all designed for use with livestock and are also effectively anti-fungal.

Treatment needs to be thorough, and systematic. It may be several weeks/months before a large herd of chinchillas are free of symptoms. They then need to be all symptom-free for AT LEAST a month (preferably two) before any of them are sold or taken to shows. Full quarantine procedures need to be imposed until the herd is in the clear.

With quick diagnosis and appropriate treatment, infection may be limited, minor and may not become widespread and out of control within a herd.

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