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Handling chinchillas is difficult because they’re fragile. Holding them around their middles can hurt or break a chinchilla’s ribs. So, most breeders and highly experienced owners prefer to pick chinchillas up by the tail.

You can hold a chinchilla by its tail if you’re careful. Place your hand firmly around the base of the tail, and ideally, support your pet’s rear legs at the same time. This prevents pressure on the tail muscles. Don’t hold your chinchilla’s tail more than once inch out from the base. This could break the bones in the tail or strain your pet’s tail ligaments.

If you’re not careful your chinchilla can lose fur on its tail. This is known as fur slip, but this can be prevented with good handling technique.


Do Chinchillas Have Tails?

Chinchillas are a kind of rodent, and rodents have tails. But these tails can vary in appearance and length, depending on the rodent in question. Some hardly have a tail at all.

Chinchillas do have tails. These tails are long, bushy and beautiful. The length of the tail depends on the species of chinchilla. While scientists are unsure whether to designate them as different species, different subspecies, or merely subtypes, they are definitely different. These are ‘long-tailed chinchillas’ and ‘short-tailed chinchillas’. Captive chinchillas are a genetic combination of both kinds.

chinchilla tail
Image courtesy Guerin Nicolas, CC by SA 3.0.

A chinchilla’s tail looks unique. It has long fur, longer than the fur on its back. The fur gets progressively longer as you move towards the tail’s tip. The color may also change, from a lighter gray to a darker gray as you move along.

Like many rodents’ tails, the chinchilla’s tail is curved towards the end. So, when your pet is sat down, its tail will stick out directly behind it. But the tip of the tail will curve to point at your pet’s back. This is normal.

All chinchillas have tails. It’s not possible for a chinchilla to lose its entire tail unless it’s cut off, or your pet is attacked. However, it is possible for your pet’s tail to become injured, e.g. broken or sprained. This will make it appear shorter.

How Long Is a Chinchilla’s Tail?

The tail of a long-tailed chinchilla is around a third the size of its body. The tail of your chinchilla may be slightly longer or shorter than this. Size varies based on each individual specimen. This equates to about 5in or 13cm, but sizes of between 3 and 6in are common too.

Short-tailed chinchillas, obviously, have shorter tails. Their tails aren’t significantly shorter. A short-tailed chinchilla’s tail is around 4 inches in length, which is 10cm.

If your chinchilla hurts its tail, it may appear shorter. For example, if the tail has a kink in it from where it was broken, this makes it look shorter. But if you were to lay the tail out to measure it properly, it would be the same length.


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Can You Hold a Chinchilla by The Tail?

If you’re familiar with other rodent pets, you may know that holding them by their tails is a bad thing. Doing so can hurt a rodent, and even sever its spine. However, you see owners and people at shows holding chinchillas by their tails all the time.

Holding a chinchilla by its tail is fine, provided that you do so in a certain way. The tail must be grasped right at the base, not any further up, and definitely not near the tip. Doing so can break the tail. Almost all serious owners pick up their chinchillas by the tail in this correct way.

 

There are reasons why you might think this is bad practise. But there are also other reasons why you should consider holding your chinchilla by its tail. Here’s a table to explain the pros and cons:

Pros Cons
A chinchilla’s ribs are delicate and easily broken. Holding your chinchilla by its midriff even gently can break its ribs and puncture its lungs. If you’re inexperienced with this form of handling, you could hurt your pet’s tail. It’s best to learn from an expert before doing it yourself.
Many chinchillas don’t like being held from underneath. They will try to bite you if you do so, so by-the-tail is the only way you can handle them. Some chinchillas scream when you hold them like this. Even if it doesn’t hurt, it’s disconcerting to be held upside down.
Doing this can calm a chinchilla down. Most chinchillas won’t try to bite or scratch you while you’re holding their tail. Holding animals by their tails can be painful. There’s no scientific evidence specifically saying that this isn’t painful for chinchillas.
It’s easy to catch and pick up a chinchilla by its tail, even if it doesn’t want you to. This is better than catching your chinchilla’s middle, which can break its ribs.  
There are many breeders and experienced owners who can show you how to do this. If you follow their lead, you will learn how to pick up your chinchilla without hurting it.  

To be clear, you don’t need to hold your chinchilla this way every time you handle it. This is just the best way to pick them up. You can handle your chinchilla by holding it loosely from underneath, which is more comfortable both for you and your pet.

What Happens If You Pull a Chinchilla’s Tail?

can you hold a chinchilla by the tail
Image courtesy Indenture, CC by SA 2.0.

While you can pick up your chinchilla this way, that doesn’t mean its tail is invulnerable. You can still easily hurt your pet if you pull its tail or pick it up wrong.

 

 

You can easily break your chinchilla’s tail, for example. If you hold it nearer the tip than the base, the bones in the tail could break. This will leave a kink behind in your pet’s tail where it heals. This is painful for your pet and stressful for the owner.

You could also easily damage your chinchilla’s tail, but not as severely. A sprain is also possible. This is where the ligaments of a joint, e.g. the one at the base of the tail, are wrenched or twisted in such a way as to damage them. This causes intense swelling and pain.

More general damage can also occur if you pull your chinchilla’s tail. You could accidentally pull some fur out, and cause a condition known as fur slip. This can cause an infection unless treated.


Why Is My Chinchilla Losing Hair on Its Tail?

Fur slip is a condition which can affect chinchillas if you grab onto their tails. This is where small patches of fur are seemingly pulled out of your pet’s tail. This condition can also affect other parts of the body, but it commonly occurs on and around the tail.

This is an evolutionary adaptation similar to other animals that can let go of their tails when attacked. If a predator grabs your chinchilla’s tail, its fur will fall out quickly and easily. This results in tiny thin or bald patches on the tail.

In captivity, this can easily happen when you handle your pet. Chinchillas don’t much like being handled, so will try to get away from you. This can result in fur slip. Alternatively, this may be caused by another chinchilla in your pet’s enclosure.

This isn’t a condition which causes serious complications. It won’t result in an open wound, for example, or your pet’s tail breaking. These issues can occur at the same time, but not as a result of fur slip.

Does Chinchilla Tail Hair Grow Back?

Chinchilla hair does grow back, provided your pet is healthy. It takes around six months for hair lost due to fur slip to grow back. However, there may be many reasons why chinchillas get alopecia, i.e. the general symptom of hair loss. Potential causes include:

  • Normal shedding pattern. Some chinchillas can lose hair in patches when they shed, rather than generally across their bodies.
  • Behavioral changes. A dominant cagemate can pull out a submissive chinchilla’s fur in patches.
  • Parasites, i.e. fleas and mites. These are uncommon because of the chinchilla’s thick fur, but are still possible causes.
  • Bacterial infection, e.g. dermatophytosis or bacterial pyoderma.
  • Physical trauma, i.e. fur slip, excessive barbering or bite wounds
  • Tumors (cutaneous lymphoma, trichofolliculoma and mast cell tumors)
  • Nutritional deficiencies, especially of protein and fiber

An additional risk factor is poor husbandry. A lack of dust baths, proper ventilation and sanitation can all make this issue worse. So, depending on the issue, the fur on your pet’s tail may not grow back.

To figure out what the problem is, take your chinchilla to the vet. Pick a vet who specializes in smaller animals for best results.


Do Chinchillas Lose Their Tails?

angry chinchilla
Image courtesy Micah Sittig, CC by 2.0.

Chinchillas don’t purposefully lose their tails in the same way that some animals do. Other animals can detach their tails when attacked. Rather than risk dying, if the animal is grabbed by the tail, it will use force to detach its tail entirely.

What’s interesting is that then, the tail will keep wiggling to distract the predator. This is a unique and interesting adaptation that some animals have evolved. It helps them escape once they detach their tails.

Unfortunately, chinchillas can’t do this. However, any animal can lose any body part if it’s attacked. If another animal bit your chinchilla’s tail, it could bite it off. Or, if something fell on your pet’s tail, the same could happen. But this is highly unlikely unless you don’t care for and safeguard your chinchilla properly.

How Can Chinchillas Lose Their Tails?

In captivity, there is no reason that with good care your chinchilla could lose its tail. They don’t magically drop off for no reason. The only way in which a chinchilla could lose its tail is through severe trauma.

Handling a chinchilla by its tail isn’t enough to ‘pull’ the tail off. This would require extraordinary force, and even then, the tail wouldn’t snap off. It would only be broken.

What could cause a tail to fall off is severe trauma. If something heavy were to fall on your pet’s tail, it could crush it. At the point of impact, the bone could be broken and the muscles damaged. This could cause part or all of the tail to fall off.

Alternatively, your pet could lose its tail when it’s attacked by another animal. In the wild, chinchillas have predators that can attack them like most other animals. In captivity, other pets could attack your chinchilla if you aren’t careful.

Can Chinchillas Regrow Their Tails?

The same animals that can purposefully lose their tails can also regrow them. Certain species use regenerative tissue, like most animals have for nails/claws. They can then regrow tails or even limbs over several months.

Chinchillas can’t do this either. There are no mammals that can do this, and chinchillas are mammals like people are. So, if your pet loses its tail, it won’t grow back.

However, this doesn’t have to be a life threatening condition. If you keep the wound clean, it should heal eventually. Your chinchilla can still live a happy and healthy life provided it doesn’t get an infection of its wound.

If your chinchilla does lose its tail, take it to the vet. They will administer antibiotics to prevent infection of the area, which could cause sepsis. Follow your vet’s advice to the letter to prevent further damage being done.


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