Chinchillas are loving, docile animals. But affectionate pets can turn nasty and even dangerous sometimes: biting, scratching and more. So what about chinchillas?
Are chinchillas dangerous? They aren’t. Their scratches are like insignificant but painful paper cuts, and while their bites do hurt, they can’t do significant damage. At worst they could give you a bite that gets infected. You can catch things from handling chinchilla poop or pee, or touching your pet’s cage when it’s dirty, but you should wash your hands after handling or cleaning your pet’s cage anyway.
The guide below first looks at whether chinchillas are dangerous and aggressive, before looking at how they can defend themselves (biting). We’ll assess how dangerous a chinchilla bite is: both how deep it can be and how likely it is to get infected, and whether a chin could be dangerous to a child.
Are Chinchillas Dangerous?
Chinchillas are probably the least dangerous pets it’s possible to keep. They have gentle natures, and the ‘weapons’ they possess aren’t anywhere near dangerous. A bite from a chinchilla can hurt, but a) it’s incredibly rare for a happy to chinchilla bite, and b) even if your chinchilla does bite you, that bite won’t be dangerous, just painful. They aren’t even a danger towards children.
If anything, it’s the person that’s the danger to the chinchilla. It’s easy to accidentally mistreat chinchillas, or even accidentally break their bones. This is something you’ll be familiar with if you’re an experienced owner, but as a new owner, you may not know.
Are Chinchillas Aggressive?
Chinchillas are docile and skittish by nature. They prefer to avoid confrontation, and will only seem aggressive when they feel like they need to defend themselves. Your chinchilla won’t seek you out to bite or scratch you, or your child. It’s only if you handle it incorrectly or mistreat it, or if it doesn’t like people, that it will feel the need to be defensive.
Do Chinchillas Bite You?
Your chinchilla’s teeth are its primary weapons. It has long, sharp incisors that it keeps trimmed by gnawing on things. It uses these teeth to break through plant roots, gnaw on tough foods, and to defend itself.
Other animals have long canines (fang teeth) that they use to attack other animals. Chinchillas don’t have any canines, not even small ones. Instead, it’s their incisors (front teeth) that are long and sharp.
Your pet will do everything it can to avoid the need of biting. That’s because it’s so small that if it went head to head with an animal your size, it would easily be beaten—and probably eaten. Instead, it will try:
- Running away and hiding
- Making loud noises
- Standing on its hind legs to look bigger
- Spraying urine at you
It’s highly unusual for a chinchilla to bite without trying these things first, but it can happen. Sometimes that’s true of adopted chinchillas that were mistreated in the past. So, if you tried to handle one of these chinchillas, it would nip at you to tell you to go away.
What won’t ever happen is for your chinchilla to seek you out to bite you. Chinchillas aren’t aggressive by nature because they’re prey animals. It’s only if the chinchilla feels the need to defend itself, rightly or wrongly, that it will bite.
Do Chinchilla Bites Hurt?
Chinchilla bites can hurt. They don’t cause large bites overall, like other pets do, such as dogs. The only teeth they bite you with are their front four teeth, their incisors: two on the top and two on the bottom. And these teeth are thin, making the bite even smaller.
But there are two things that make chinchilla bites hurt, and hurt badly. The first is that a chinchilla’s teeth are flat. They don’t have sharp points to them. A sharp tooth punctures skin easily and cleanly, but a flat incisor doesn’t. This makes the edges of the bite wound rougher, longer and more painful. This applies whether the bite breaks the skin or not.
Second, a chinchilla’s teeth may not be wide from side to side, but they’re long from top to bottom. A bite wound can therefore be much deeper than you might expect. The deeper the wound, the more painful it is: a surface-level bite will cause sharp pain, but a deeper one will cause a duller, throbbing ache on top of that sharp pain.
How much the bite hurts depends on how intent the chinchilla was on hurting you. If it gave you a warning nip, the bite may not even have broken the skin. But a chinchilla that was particularly defensive, and felt the need to bite you seriously, can hurt you.
It also depends on where the bite occurred. Some parts of the body have more nerve endings in them, meaning that any damage there will hurt more. The hands and fingers have lots of nerve endings, while the arm or elbow have fewer. So, a bite to the fingers hurts a lot.
Do Chinchilla Bites Get Infected?
Even though they hurt, chinchilla bites aren’t serious. But they can become serious if you don’t treat them properly and stop them from getting infected.
Infection occurs when bacteria enters a wound. That’s partly what makes bites such an effective form of defense: not only are they an instant way of fighting back, but your chinchilla’s mouth is full of bacteria. It’s therefore highly likely that the wound will get infected if you don’t wash it.
You don’t need to do anything unusual, or even see a doctor to get the wound cleaned (unless, of course, it’s very serious). You have to wash the wound and, if necessary, flush it out with saline solution. This gets rid of any bits and pieces that may have been left behind in the wound and could trigger an infection. It is also a mild antiseptic, so kills bacteria it comes into contact with. If you don’t use saline, you can use another antiseptic solution that’s safe to put on skin.
You then need to keep the wound dressed correctly with a band-aid or bandage. This stops bacteria from entering the wound. Change the dressing each day and monitor for signs of infection like swelling, redness and pus. If you spot any of these signs, talk to your doctor about antibiotics.
My Chinchilla Is Biting Me, But It Doesn’t Hurt…
It’s perfectly normal for a chinchilla to nibble and gnaw on things. This isn’t like a full-on painful bite, but more like a nibble. It’s a similar feeling to biting your nails, if you’ve ever done that.
If your chinchilla is doing this, don’t get mad. It’s not angry with you, nor does it feel defensive. Your pet doesn’t have very good eyesight, and all it’s doing is exploring its environment looking for things to nibble on. If you don’t want it to do that to your fingers any more, offer it a chew toy to chew on instead.
Do Chinchillas Scratch You?
Chinchillas don’t have claws they can use to scratch you, at least not like those that predators have. Your chinchilla won’t lash out with its paw and scratch you like a cat will.
Do Chinchilla Scratches Hurt?
Chinchilla scratches are surprisingly painful, but not for the reason you might think.
A chinchilla’s nails aren’t like the claws you see on a cat. If anything, they’re more like our nails. They’re short, square-looking and flat, and they don’t poke out past the toe like a predator’s claws. What would be more accurate would be to compare them to a baby’s nails.
Now, if you’ve had children, you’ll already know where we’re going with this—but for anybody who hasn’t, we’ll explain. Babies have surprisingly sharp ‘claws’, too, because their nails are like tiny little blades! They’re so small and thin compared to an adult’s nails that they can actually cut you, almost like a paper cut. Chinchilla nails do the same thing.
What you won’t see, though, is your chinchilla scratching you like a cat does. Chinchillas plain don’t do that. That’s something aggressive that predators do, which is why they evolved longer, sharper, harder claws. A chinchilla’s paper-cut-nails aren’t any defense at all against a predator or a threat, so they never learned to use them. The most that will happen is that your chin will accidentally dig its claws into your skin when you handle it.
Do Chinchilla Scratches Get Infected?
It’s unlikely that a chinchilla scratch will get infected. That’s because it’s unlikely that one will break the skin. The deeper the cut, and the more that the skin on the surface is ‘roughed up’, the more likely infection becomes. But since your chinchilla’s claws are so small, they likely won’t make you bleed.
Besides that, a chinchilla’s claws aren’t as dirty as its mouth. A scratch therefore won’t be pre-loaded with bacteria like a bite would be.
Can a Chinchilla Hurt a Child?
While we don’t recommend chinchillas as pets for kids, that’s not because they put your child in danger. So long as your child is well-behaved, your chinchilla is no more likely to hurt it than it’s likely to hurt an adult.
The problem is that children can misunderstand and accidentally mistreat chinchillas easily. They require adult supervision and guidance on chinchilla care. Problems that can arise include:
- Cuddling and hugging. Your child will no doubt want to hug and squeeze their pet. But chinchillas don’t like being cuddled closely unless they really trust you. Plus, they have delicate bodies with bones that can be easily broken.
- Picking the chinchilla up before it’s ready. Chinchillas take time to get used to their owners. They aren’t like puppies that have trusting natures. The chinchilla isn’t fully domesticated like other pets, plus they’re prey animals, so can be defensive when picked up for the first few times.
- Moving the chinchilla around quickly while it’s held. Kids can get overexcited easily and run around, wave their arms, and scare the chinchilla they’re holding.
You can teach your child how to handle and care for a chinchilla correctly. But if your child has trouble remaining calm, it might not be a good idea to let them handle a chinchilla. Otherwise, the chinchilla could get defensive and bite or scratch them.
Can a Chinchilla KILL a Child?
There’s no way that a chinchilla could kill a child. For starters, chins aren’t aggressive; that means that when they bite, they bite once, in self defense. But even if the chinchilla does bite your child, its bite won’t be anywhere near big enough to cause life-threatening harm.
If you’re concerned about buying a chinchilla if you have a child, talk to an experienced breeder. They may allow you and your child to spend time with one to see how you get on. You’ll see first hand how gentle and calm these creatures are when they’re treated and cared for correctly.
Can You Catch Anything From Chinchillas?
It is possible to catch things from a chinchilla. They can carry bacteria, viruses and fungal infections, each of which you can catch. But you can avoid catching anything from your pet through the application of basic hygiene standards.
What Can You Catch From a Chinchilla?
You can catch gastrointestinal issues from your chinchilla. Chins can develop gut problems just like we can, which give them diarrhea. If you were to touch your chinchilla’s poop and not wash your hands afterwards, you could catch whatever gave your chinchilla gut issues.
Similarly, chinchillas can catch colds and flu. While some kinds of cold and flu only affect other animals, not people, some can be passed from animal to man, or vice versa. Chins can have ringworm, which is a fungal infection, and can be passed from pet to person.
Besides thinking what you can catch from your chinchilla, though, you should also think about what diseases you can pass to your pet. Chinchillas can get conjunctivitis, better known as pinkeye. You can pass this on to your pet, and while it’s annoying for you, it can make your chinchilla lose its eye. Your chinchilla can also catch the herpes simplex virus, so you shouldn’t handle your pet when you have a cold sore.
How Do You Catch Things From a Chinchilla?
Close contact is what makes viruses, bacteria and fungal infections pass from animal to man (or from man to animal). In plain English, that means handling your chinchilla. If you pick up your chinchilla and don’t wash your hands afterwards, you may pick up a bug too. If you touch your face or eat food with your hands, you can then catch whatever your chinchilla has.
The same applies in reverse. You should wash your hands before handling your pet, so that you don’t pass anything on to it. And if you have more than one chinchilla, you should wash your hands after handling one and before handling another for the same reasons.
You should wash your hands before and after handling any pet, regardless of whether you’re sick or not. It’s just good practise.
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