Since 2019, we have noticed a huge upswing in heat trauma and deaths in the chinchilla community. Please remember, the ONLY way you can get your chinchillas through a heatwave safe and alive is AIR CONDITIONING!!! Cooling slabs, fans, and ice bottles are ineffective at combating heat. Chinchillas only contain sweat glands on the bottoms of their feet, so it is NOT an effective cooling mechanism and does nothing to lower their body temperature. Their coats are adapted to hold in heat, not release, so the key to health is preventing excess rises in temperature. The ONLY way to do this, and I cannot stress this enough, IS WITH AN AIR CONDITIONER UNIT. Make sure you have a/c and if you don't...get to a store if you want your chin to survive. Have a plan for cooling and set up a thermometer to keep tabs on the temperature throughout the day (We recommend TempStick from Amazon to send alerts to your phone). Make set points through the day to check on the well being of your chins and appropriate working of your a/c. Have a backup plan! With higher temperatures comes excess power usage and an increased likelihood of power outages. Have a generator tested and ready to hook up, or have a gassed up car with working a/c ready to run at all times, and/or other family/friends with a/c that will accept you and the chins on short notice.
If you take precautions, but something terrible happens and your chin starts to overheat...how do you tell? You can tell a chin is in heat stress a few ways. First signs are laying as flat as possible and breathing heavier than normal. Veins in the ears will become obvious and stick out as they try to release heat, light colored animals ears will turn red. Extreme heat trauma will result in seizures...seizures will present with a chinchilla laying on their side or back and either pawing at the air while shaking the head back and forth or going into a full stretch with whiskers pushed forward and often twitching. Tremors and shaking to the body is a sign that a seizure has occurred. If you have discovered the animal after heat stroke trauma, they may be going into shock and extremely lethargic with labored breathing.
What do you do if you find your chinchilla in heat stress or trauma? Immediately get them into air conditioning. If you can, do it in your car and get to a veterinarian. If veterinary assistance is applied early on heat stroke victims, the chances of long term neurological damage is greatly reduced. What you should absolutely not ever do under any circumstance is put your chinchilla into a fridge or freezer or pack ice around them. If you do this, you are causing their body to swing violently from a very high temperature to a very low temperature. This can send a chinchilla into shock, cause organ damage and failure, seizures, and long term tissue damage, or even death. It is important to bring the body temperature down slowly. It's similar to how you cannot just feed a starving animal or person a whole meal. You will shock the body, kill them, or make them more sick.
DO NOT give out of cage time during heat waves!!! Even with a/c, the extra exertion can cause heat stroke. It's important to remember that muscles produce heat as a by product of the work they produce (this is why you shiver when you are cold). Remove wheels during high summer months and heat waves and avoid out of cage time, even during the evening and early morning as ambient temperatures do not decrease enough to offer a safe, cool environment for exercise.
Be sure to service your air conditioner and test it BEFORE the heat comes. Servicing the air conditioner will include removing the casing and cleaning the coils with a wire brush and possibly blowing out/vacuuming out the back of the a/c unit. Please be ready for heat with your chinchillas and remember that the temperature you set your a/c to is NOT the temperature of the room. Have a separate thermometer/hydrometer near the chinchilla cage to check the actual room temperature (again, we recommend TempStick on Amazon). Your a/c should be set no higher than 68 to maintain a cool enough environment for your chinchillas.