Trimming the whiskers of a chinchilla or any other animal isn’t recommended. But people say that it’s painful, even though whiskers don’t have nerve endings in them, and fret that their pets will die if their whiskers are trimmed. So what’s the truth behind the panic?
Can you trim a chinchilla’s whiskers? You can, but there’s almost never need to. The whiskers don’t have nerves in them, only in their bases, so clipping them won’t hurt—it’s like trimming your own hair. Clipped whiskers make an aggressive chinchilla less aggressive. Clipping whiskers should only be done by experienced owners.
If you’re a novice owner, there’s no need to trim your chinchilla’s whiskers either because of split ends or aggression. We don’t recommend doing so unless you really know what you’re doing, e.g. you’re a breeder or you take chinchillas to shows. The guide below explains why it’s not cruel, but why you shouldn’t do so anyway…
Do You Need to Trim a Chinchilla’s Whiskers?
You can trim a chinchilla’s whiskers, although you likely don’t have any reason to.
Chinchilla whiskers are like those of other animal. They’re long, specialized hairs made of keratin that are thicker than normal hairs. The hair follicle at the base of each whisker has a special cap filled with a small amount of blood which is good at detecting tiny bends in the hair. The base of the whisker is also filled with nerve endings. The scientific term for them is vibrissae, and they help the chinchilla navigate the world.
Chinchillas’ eyesight isn’t good, so they rely on smell and touch to find their way around. That’s why a chinchilla’s whiskers are so long.
The only instance in which you might need to trim a chinchilla’s whiskers is if you’re introducing a chinchilla pair. By trimming the whiskers slightly, you make the chinchilla feel smaller and less territorial. But in no other instance is trimming recommended or necessary for any reason.
Why Trim a Chinchilla’s Whiskers?
Chinchilla whisker trimming isn’t necessary unless you are introducing a pair, or unless a pair are constantly fighting.
Chinchillas are social animals and thrive when living in pairs or groups. But if you put them together without introducing them, the pair will fight. That’s because the dominant chinchilla wants to protect its food, its water, its shelter and its space. It will fight with or bully the smaller chinchilla to maintain those rights.
Whiskers are a key part of this dynamic. That’s why dominant chinchillas chew off the whiskers of subordinate chinchillas. The chinchilla knows how big it is, and whether it’s stronger than the other chinchilla, based on its whisker size.
As such, by trimming the dominant chinchilla’s whiskers until they’re slightly smaller, it won’t be so aggressive. Some owners trim both chinchillas’ whiskers to the same length, while some only trim those of the dominant one. Either way, this will stop the pair from fighting. You aren’t supposed to pluck them or shave them, or trim them too close. Most breeders recommend trimming the whiskers until they’re one or two inches long.
Is It Cruel to Trim a Chinchilla’s Whiskers?
Some owners and breeders feel very strongly that cutting a chinchilla’s whiskers is cruel, even barbaric. That’s because they think the whisker is full of nerves. But to think that is to misunderstand what whiskers are and how they work.
A whisker isn’t filled with nerve endings all the way from the tip to the bottom. Rather, the hair follicle at the base has lots of nerve endings in it. If you didn’t know, nerve endings are what transmit the sensation of touch from the skin to the brain. So, trimming a chinchilla’s whiskers is like having your own hair trimmed. It doesn’t hurt unless you accidentally cut your chinchilla’s cheek, eye or neck.
But that being said, there are still other ways that it might be cruel.
- Chinchillas squirm when handled. That’s because of stress. Your chinchilla will be even more stressed if you try to trim its whiskers.
- You could accidentally hurt your pet with the scissors. The prospect of poking your pet’s eye is particularly dangerous.
- There are anecdotal reports that chinchillas with trimmed whiskers lose their sense of balance (although there are reports of the opposite, too).
- Trimming the whiskers too short (right next to the skin) would mean that the chinchilla can’t find its way around. Nobody does this on purpose for that reason.
- You could accidentally yank on the whisker and pull it out rather than cutting it out. This can happen when the chinchilla squirms. This will hurt a lot, as the hairs are thick and have lots of nerve endings in the base—similar to plucking out one of your own nose hairs (if you ever have).
Overall, then, trimming a chinchilla’s whiskers doesn’t seem any more cruel than brushing it before a show. Nevertheless, you should only do so when there’s a need to do so, i.e. during introductions.
We also don’t recommend trimming your chinchilla’s whiskers unless you’re an experienced owner.
Accidentally Cut Off Chinchilla Whisker
If you accidentally cut off your chinchilla’s whiskers somehow, don’t worry. They will eventually grow back. Quickly check your pet for any other injuries. You may have accidentally cut its cheek or hurt it some other way. But if you haven’t, your pet will be fine.
Next time, don’t play around with your pet in whatever way its whisker accidentally got cut off. It was probably quite dangerous.
How Short Should You Trim a Chinchilla’s Whiskers?
Most owners recommend to leave them a length between an inch and two inches, but it is possible to trim them shorter than that. Some owners even trim them down to stubble. This dramatically changes the chinchilla’s disposition, leaving it far less aggressive.
There are two issues with trimming a chinchilla’s whiskers that short. The first is that it will have trouble finding its way around. It likely won’t bump into things or fall, but only because it’s more insecure in its movement than it used to be.
The second issue is that you could hurt your chinchilla if you trim its whiskers down so short. Some chinchillas refuse to sit still when handled, which will make this job much more difficult.
Do Chinchilla Whiskers Fall Out?
Chinchilla whiskers naturally fall out all the time and it’s nothing to worry about.
For some bizarre reason, there’s a myth that animal whiskers can never grow back. But this makes no sense whatsoever. A chinchilla that can grow new whiskers, or whose whiskers will grow out if cut, would clearly have a huge advantage over ones that don’t have that ability considering how vital they are to the animal’s survival. Them not growing back is the equivalent of an animal that can’t heal cuts or grow new skin
As such, it’s normal for your chinchilla to lose one of its whiskers every once in a while. You’ll find these on the floor of the cage or in the pan underneath the cage, if you have one.
Do Chinchilla Whiskers Grow Back?
If trimmed or chewed, a chinchilla’s whiskers will grow back to full length. Reports vary as to whether this happens in a couple of weeks or a couple of months, but what’s clear is that they will eventually grow back. This presumably depends on how short you trim them.
This is another reason why whisker trimming isn’t as cruel as some people think, as the chinchilla will quickly have its whiskers back anyway.
Should You Trim Chinchilla Whiskers with Split Ends?
People might trim their hair when they notice lots of split ends, but there’s no need to do the same for a chinchilla. Split ends on a chinchilla whisker don’t affect its use in any way. Your chinchilla doesn’t mind them.
Besides, the whiskers will fall out of their own accord eventually. Its better to leave them be rather than trim them yourself.