EYE INFECTION OR EYE IRRITATION?

This question keeps popping up. I’ll share some personal experience and what I see with others.
In 8 years I encountered eye infection in my chinnies twice. This includes all the rescues that retired here. The first time was with a Homo Ebony male I bought before I knew better. He was bred from 2 mutations. The eye infection came so suddenly and so aggressive that he was fine the morning but by the evening his eye was swollen shut. I noticed it at lunch time and put him on Baytril and applied medicated eye drops. The next morning he died. I spoke to my Vet and she confirmed the treatment was correct. He just didn’t have the immune system to fight it.
The other one was a Std grey boy I took in. He arrived with a bad eye infection he probably had for a few days already. I put him on Baytril, opened the eye to clean it and then just kept cleaning it with Octin eye drops. The eye was already dead. I just had to stop more damage. He made a full recovery and have been living a happy life for 3 years. Having just one eye doesn’t stop him from being happy.
I helped quite a few people with it over the years and in every case where it was a Std or Hetero Beige the chinnie survived. One lost sight in the eye but all the others made full recoveries.
Eye irritations are far more common. When I still used pine shavings a few of my Beige chinnies got it often. None of the others, just the Beige. I switched to hay and it was gone. I still got it in winter, when the hay was a bit old. For the past few years I get fresh hay and it stopped, except in 2 of my Beige chinnies. They get it in early Spring. Except this year.
The other thing I changed was the bath dust. Years ago we struggled to get good bath dust and we used corn flour and baby powder to make the clay dust “softer”. A Vet recommended it and since I was still very stupid I didn’t question it. Baby powder won’t do anything because it is just talcum but corn flour can cause eye irritation. Since we now only use pure sepiolite we have no problems, not even with the change of seasons.
I researched it a bit. Most eye irritations are caused by the dust hay makes as it gets older. The hay degenerates into dust. This is long before you can smell or see it. I have heard of chinnies getting irritated eyes from specific bath dust but after using sepiolite for almost a year I had not one case in over 100 chinnies. Even the 2 who used to get it never got it again.
The problem is that you don’t know if it is an irritation or an infection. Eye infections are very serious but eye irritations are not. When the eye gets irritated it produces protein. Your eyes does it too. The “sleep” you wash out of your eyes in the morning is protein your eyes produced during the night. With chinnies it can make the eyes glue shut. An irritation looks worse than it is but if untreated it will become serious and can turn into an infection.
Eye infections are treated with antibiotic drops, in South Africa it is Octin. I use the same drops I use for my contact lenses for eye irritations. I do not use medicated drops. In SA we use Renu-It or Natural Tears. It washes out the protein, it doesn’t fight infection. Using medicated eye drops when not necessary can cause bacteria to get resistant to it, just like with antibiotics. I only use medicine if nothing else will help.
Often the eye is already glued shut when you see it, it can happen very fast. Forcing the eye open can cause permanent damage. Just put a few drops of Renu-It n the eyelid and wait a minute or 2. It will soften the protein and you can gently pull the eyelids apart without causing damage. Then you can rinse out the eye. Because it is not medicated you can’t overdose them, you just clean out the goo. Repeat this a few times a day and pretty soon everything will be normal. It is also normal for an irritated eye to lose the fur around it. It almost looks like ringworm, there is just no dandruff-like flakes. Once the eye is fixed the fur grows back very fast.
It is better to rather be safe than sorry but if it is a recurring condition it is caused by something in the cage, either hay or dust. I advised people to change the brand of bath dust and it solved the problem, same with hay. If you are not sure it is off course better to see a Vet but if it has been going on for a week or longer it is not an infection, just an irritation. The chinnie’s eye balls are very close to the brain and infection will rapidly spread to the brain. If not treated well in time, this is fatal. Even when treated in time, eye infection is still very often fatal because by the time it is noticed it has already spread too far.
Eye infections are not common here and is usually caused by a bite or another injury. You just don’t always see it. With our dry and dusty winters eye irritations are more common than we think. The one thing that makes it worse is that hay is stored to be used in winter and early spring, when it is not harvested. By switching from Teff to Eragrostis as the seasons change you eliminate this. Alfalfa (lucerne) is not a grass and doesn’t degenerate the same way. The dust you see in lucerne is from the leaves and flowers and it doesn’t cut like hay does. In winter when I’m not sure how fresh the hay is I use lucerne as bedding.
The biggest secret is to pay attention. You will then know your chinnies and will notice if anything is wrong long before it becomes a danger.

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Disclaimer
The views expressed in the posts and comments of this blog do not necessarily reflect the Chinchilla Breeders Association of South Africa (CBASA). They should be understood as the personal opinions of the author. No information on this blog will be understood as official. CBASA uses the main CBASA Web site (www.cbasa.org) to express the official opinions and activities of the Association.