Excessive scratching at ears and chewing of paws

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Well-known member
May 10, 2011
Central Coast, CA
Hello, long time lurker, but it's been many years since I've posted.
My 12 year old chinchilla, Sprocket, seems to be scratching at her ears excessively and chewing at her paws excessively tonight and I'm not sure what to make of it. I also noticed her scratching at the corner of her ears, but didn't see anything there. I'm worried.
I had just gotten home from visiting my parents (I took her with me, she has her own travel cage at their place. It's a multi-pet household, but she lived there for 3 years in her full-sized cage while I was overseas for work). I noticed when I got her settled back into her home cage that she was scratching at her ears excessively. She also chewed off a bit of the lava rock ledges in her cage and started rolling in them. I gave her a bath because I figured that's what she was looking for (even though she'd gotten one Friday evening.) She keeps rolling in the leftover dust that she's shaken off. I've seen her drink a fair amount of water, but she's only nibbled a few pellets since being home as far as I've seen. I'm not sure how much she ate before I got on the road back to my place (only a 40 minute drive). She seems quieter than normal this evening, and I don't know if I'm being overly worried or if maybe her normal evening has gone a bit out of whack because of the travel.

I cut out all treats/herbs about 3 weeks ago after I had to take her to the emergency vet for gas, and followed up the next day with the normal vet. She'd been the most energetic I've seen her in a long time since cutting out treats and just sticking to pellets and hay. However, since then, I've been on high alert.

What could be causing the excessive scratching, and should I be worried?

Many thanks in advance.
There is a few possibilities, but a vet check wouldn't be a bad idea.

Could it just be dry skin, was it overly dry at the house while you were visiting? Or giving extra dust baths?

Another possibility is allergy or skin irritation. Any new animals or people using any new products (lotions, soap, etc) or hand sanitizer and handling your chin? Or any new toys, treats, or anything like that? Or any new/different cleaners, like household cleaners to clean the room or cage or laundry soap on any fleece items.

Do any of the animals in the house have any skin issue like ringworm? Or parisites like fleas or mites? Although fleas can't live long term on chins they can still get them where the fur is thin like on the ears and paws. They can also get ear mites from other animals as well if they were in contact with them or thing they were on.
Thank you for the response Amethyst.
A vet visit certainly happened. I'd planned on calling the vet when they opened, but I ended up taking her to the emergency vet - her poos were small, the quantity was lacking, and she just didn't seem herself, trigging an emergency vet visit. They transferred her to her normal vet once they opened and it's been a pretty stressful day.

The vet put her under anesthesia, checked her teeth, did a thorough mouth inspection, and did some bloodwork. The vet said her teeth looked good, only a couple of small spots that needed work, but we're still waiting for the bloodwork to come back (it will be tomorrow). She's not going for food on her own yet, but she is responding to being fed critical care and poos starting to look better. She is still pawing at her mouth, which the vet is finding a bit unusual. It's like how a chin paws at their mouth after eating a rose hip with the little hairs. Like something is still irritating her.

As for dry skin, the outer portions of her ears are dry, but not out of the ordinary.

The allergy is not being ruled out due to how she's been acting, but I've been trying to figure out what was out of the ordinary in her cage. My parents use the same laundry detergent as I do. I'd brought food, hay, pine shavings, hidey holes, and toys from home. The only thing I can think of is a woven timothy hay mat, but she's been eating her loose timothy hay just fine.

Not to my knowledge (or my parents') do the other animals have ringworm. Fleas, most likely. Ear mites, no, not that we've seen.
Thanks. Bloodwork was consistent with an ulcer. She's home now, alert and cheeky, with meds. She's still not going for food on her own, so she's being handfed. But she's bouncing around her cage and occasionally nibbling on apple sticks.