Chinchilla Fleas: Myths, Facts & Treatments

Fleas are a nightmare pest: not only do they suck blood, but they’re so tough to get rid of. At least you can take solace that chinchillas can’t get fleas… Right?

As it happens, chinchillas can get fleas just like other pets.

New owner, don't know where to start? Or do you need a handy chinchilla reference guide? Check out our Chinchilla Care 101 eBook, or get what you need from our online store!

Fleas are a nightmare pest: not only do they suck blood, but they’re so tough to get rid of. At least you can take solace that chinchillas can’t get fleas… Right?

Can chinchillas get fleas? They can, but only if you have other pets in your home. Otherwise, as chinchillas live indoors in cages, they can’t catch them. Signs of fleas in chinchilla fur include black/brown fleas, small black/brown dots of feces, and small white eggs. Your chinchilla will scratch frequently. If your chinchilla has fleas, consult a vet for treatment options.

There are a surprising number of untrue myths about chinchilla fleas that the post below clears up. Our guide also covers how to treat fleas safely.

Can Chinchillas Get Fleas?

Contrary to what many owners will tell you, chinchillas can get fleas, although it is admittedly rare. There are also lots of myths about how chinchilla fur repels, chokes/suffocates or otherwise prevents fleas and other infestations, but these aren’t true. While your pet won’t get a species-specific infestation of ‘chinchilla fleas’, it can get infestations of regular fleas.

This guide first looks at why chinchilla fleas are so rare, and what signs and symptoms you should look out for. Then, it addresses how to get rid of fleas for good!

Is Chinchilla Fur Too Thick for Fleas? (Chinchilla Fur Fleas)

chinchilla fur
Image courtesy of © Salix / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0 & GFDL

One myth you’ll hear frequently is that chinchillas can’t get fleas because their fur is too thick. There are differing opinions on why this is so important, but some owners say that the fleas simply can’t find and access the skin to feed, making the chinchilla a bad choice of host.

It’s true that chinchilla fur is thicker than that of any other animal. In places, it’s difficult for any pest to reach through to the skin. There’s simply too much fur in the way.

But crucially, chinchilla fur isn’t evenly thick over the whole body. It’s thinner on the ears, face, tail, belly, thighs and feet than it is around the chinchilla’s middle. A flea won’t immediately give up if it’s hungry; it will try feeding in lots of places, and eventually it will hit on one where it can.

Chins can also get bald patches from fur slip. This is both cause and symptom: chinchillas get fur slip from rough handling and fighting between chinchillas, but repeated scratching from itchy flea bites also causes more patches. It’s like a vicious cycle where the fur gets easier and easier for a flea to infest.

Plus some chinchillas have thinner fur than others anyway. Chinchillas are bred for traits like fur thickness, but not all chinchillas share these qualities. So even if one chinchilla’s fur were too thick, another’s might not be.

Does Chinchilla Fur Suffocate Fleas?

Other owners say that finding the skin isn’t the issue; rather, the fleas suffocate because the fur is so thick. But there’s a major problem with this idea.

Fur traps air. That’s how it keeps an animal warm: air is kept near the skin, where it gets warmer. The fur does provide a natural barrier that stops air circulation, but that doesn’t mean there’s a vacuum between the fur and the skin! There’s more than enough oxygen for a tiny chinchilla pest like a flea to breathe.

That being said, suffocating a flea isn’t a bad line of thinking. There are several treatment options below that rely on exactly this method of killing them.

Why Are Chinchilla Fleas So Rare?

chinchilla fleasAs is often the case, the myth is much more interesting than the facts. The truth is that chinchillas rarely get fleas because of their living conditions. Experienced owners keep their chinchillas in cages that are kept high up and out of reach of other pets. You may not even let any other pets in your chinchilla’s room, further reducing contact.

Furthermore, you shouldn’t let your chinchilla outside. So it shouldn’t have contact with other neighborhood pets, which is the main way fleas are caught.

It’s like the opposite of ‘Incredible, but true…’ More like ‘boring but true!’ 

It is still possible, though, for a chinchilla to catch fleas. Say, for example, you have another pet that has them; you might let your chinchilla loose around its room every once in a while. It could catch these fleas from clothing, upholstery, the carpet, or your other pet if it’s in the room at the same time (which it shouldn’t be, but not all owners are as careful as they should be).

How Do Chinchillas Catch Fleas?

Infestations spread through points of contact. If one of your pets interacts with a pet that has fleas, it can catch them. The interaction doesn’t even have to be direct.

The same applies to your chinchilla. If your chinchilla were to spend time with another of your flea-infested pets, it would catch them too. But fleas can hide in upholstery and carpet, so letting your chinchilla loose around an infested room can mean it catches them too.

Regular dust baths and grooming are enough to catch these one or two fleas, and chinchillas aren’t as easy to feed on as other animals. So this isn’t normally a major problem. But if your chinchilla is sick, has lots of bald patches, and is kept in a dirty cage, then the infestation can get worse. That’s why rescued or surrendered chinchillas so often have fleas.

Can Chinchillas Get Fleas from Cats?

Chinchillas can catch fleas from other household pets. As they don’t go outside, they can’t catch them from wild animals, but if your other pets (cats or dogs) go outside then they could catch them and bring them home. One way they spread is for your cat to interact with a stray cat which has fleas.

There are species- and location-specific kinds of flea that infest wild chinchillas. But these won’t infest your pet, as pet chinchillas are descended from a hundred years of captive chinchillas. Your chinchilla has seen as little of Chile as you have (unless you’ve been there on holiday). This means that your chinchilla can only catch fleas from cats or dogs, or other household pets.

Can Fleas Spread on People?

A surprising number of flea infestations are started by people.

Fleas can live in your clothes, in your belongings, and even in your hair. This is common in households with lots of pets that aren’t treated for fleas, although a house with no pets can get infested too. If you were infested in this way, you could infest your friends’ and neighbors’ houses with fleas just by going there.

It’s also possible to accidentally catch fleas from outside. Wild animals and feral animals can carry fleas. If you interact with one, you could catch them too. You can even get them from going somewhere that a wild animal with fleas has been not long before.

Symptoms of Fleas in Chinchilla Fur

There are many symptoms and a few signs of flea infestation. To spot these, all you have to do is observe your pet for a while.

Fleas, Flea Eggs & Flea Feces

can chinchillas get fleasThese are the three signs of fleas in fur that you can find. Fleas themselves are large enough to see. They’re about the size of the head of a pin. You can just about make out their body shape and their legs if you look closely enough. If you catch one in a flea comb, you will see it wriggling around.

Flea feces is even smaller, and it’s darker. It crumbles into fine dust if rubbed. You’ll notice it in among your chinchilla’s fur like dandruff flakes would be. Flea eggs are small, round and white.

You can search for these signs either with your fingers or with a flea comb. A flea comb is best as it catches things so you can get a good look at them; if you pick up a flea with your thumb and forefinger, the moment you open them, the flea will jump away. But you can at least poke through your chinchilla’s fur to search for them.

Why Is My Chinchilla Scratching?

A small amount of scratching is perfectly normal. But if one of your chinchillas is constantly scratching itself, the cause may be fleas.

Check to see where it’s scratching. If you can access the spot on the skin it’s trying to scratch, check if it’s red, lumpy and inflamed. This shows that it’s the location of a flea bite.

Flea bites itch because fleas (and other pests) use special saliva to numb the site when they bite. This stops the host from immediately scratching them away. But once the natural anesthetic wears off, the body recognizes it as a foreign substance and tries to fight it away. This causes inflammation and subsequent itching.

Bald Spots in Chinchilla Fur

Constant scratching causes bald spots in chinchilla fur. Chinchillas have a unique adaptation called ‘fur slip’, which is where their fur releases easily if pulled on or grabbed. If your chinchilla is constantly tugging at, biting and scratching its fur, it will cause bald spots that go all the way to the skin.

How to Get Rid of Chinchilla Fleas

You should try to get rid of these fleas as soon as possible. They won’t kill your chinchilla, but they can contribute towards ill-health. That’s because your pet will lose vital nutrients like iron when the fleas feed. A large infestation can have a surprisingly large effect.

Besides that, your chinchilla will thank you for your help. So, here are some tips on how (and how not!) to kill fleas in chinchilla fur…

Can You Use Flea Collars on Chinchillas?

Flea collars aren’t a good choice for getting rid of fleas. That’s because they can be poisonous to your pets. Cat flea collars, for example, can be poisonous to dogs. And your pet might have an allergy to one of the specific chemicals a brand uses. We recommend you steer clear of them. Spot-on treatments also shouldn’t be used without a vet’s recommendation for the same reason.

Bug bombs are another popular choice. You place these in the middle of a room and they give off a kind of chemical smoke that fumigates your house. These aren’t as effective as a pest controller, and you should remove your chinchillas from the house if you choose to use one.

Grooming Chinchillas With a Flea Comb

Chinchillas are notoriously difficult to groom. Their fur is so thick that regular brushes and combs have no effect on it. It’s comparable to trying to comb your hair with only your fingers: it has a slight effect, but you’ll never fully pick out any knots.

A flea comb, though, is just fine enough. Use it as you would on any other pet, by running it through your pet’s fur. Keep an eye out for the signs described above.

This won’t get rid of all of the fleas and their eggs. But it is effective at stopping infestations from getting any larger. That’s better than nothing.

Does Chinchilla Dust Kill Fleas? (Chinchilla Dust Fleas)

You may already know that chinchilla dust is an effective pest treatment. That’s not because it kills the pests, but rather it dislodges them and reduces the size of the infestation. Here’s what happens:

  • The chinchilla rolls around actively in the dust, sending dust, fur and fleas flying
  • The dust clings to the fur and skin, making it difficult for the fleas to keep hold

It is also possible that the dust chokes the fleas, although if this is true isn’t certain. Insects don’t breathe like other animals: with lungs, a windpipe and so on. Instead, they have holes all over their body that carry air through their exoskeleton. It’s possible that the microscopic dust could block up these holes.

Most owners give their chinchillas two or three times per week. You can give your pet a dust bath every day, or leave the dust bath in its cage for 72 hours. Either way, this will help.

If you do want your infested chinchilla to bathe, don’t reuse the dust, either with the same chinchilla or another. You normally can, but because this dust has fleas and/or eggs in it, you shouldn’t.

Thorough Vacuum & Cage Cleaning (Chinchilla Cage Fleas)

Fleas don’t just live in fur. They live in furnishings and around your home, too. This means that even if you completely de-flea your pet, there could be more waiting to hatch and re-infest your pet. Eggs and pupae can wait for years until conditions are right to begin a new infestation.

One way of tackling this issue is by thoroughly cleaning your home. Start by vacuum cleaning. This will physically suck up lots of fleas and their eggs. Again, this won’t completely get rid of an infestation, but you should do all you can to reduce their numbers anyway. If it’s an option, you should also consider using soap on the carpet/wet vacuuming.

A deep clean of your chinchilla’s cage is also recommended. This is where you take everything out, clean it, wipe down the cage with bleach, and then replace everything. Put your chinchilla somewhere safe like in a play pen or a dust bath while you work.

Last Resort: Water Bath with Dawn/Dish Soap

Another myth about chinchillas is that they can’t have water baths. Water won’t kill them unless they’re left wet and damp for a long time, as this stops them from regulating their body temperature correctly. If you dry your chinchilla properly, a water bath won’t hurt it. To bathe your chinchilla in water, follow these steps:

  1. Keep the water at body temperature. If you’ve ever given a baby a bath, you want a similar temperature to that! Too hot or too cold could make your chinchilla sick, or even kill it.
  2. Put a small amount of unscented dish soap in the water. This will kill the fleas without resorting to harsh chemicals.
  3. Avoid getting the soap in your chinchilla’s eyes, for obvious reasons.
  4. Go through your chinchilla’s fur with a flea comb while it’s bathing. 
  5. Don’t leave your pet in the water for too long. If it cools, your chinchilla will get too cold. 3-5 minutes is fine.
  6. Gently towel dry your chinchilla. Then, blow dry its fur on a cool setting. NEVER use a hot setting as chinchillas are very prone to overheating and can die as a result.
  7. Give your chinchilla a dust bath to finish. This ensures that its fur is entirely dry.

Some owners recommend doing this every week, as the fleas in your chinchilla’s cage and the room around it could re-infest it as more eggs hatch.

Below, you can find our chinchilla quiz, new posts for further reading, and a signup for our Chinchilla Newsletter!

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The Big Chinchilla Quiz

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Let's say your chinchilla escapes from its cage. One of the ways you might think to recapture it is to throw a towel on it—right? It's like using a net to capture a wild animal.

But is it a good idea?

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Where should you put a chinchilla's hay rack?

3 / 10

Are carrots suitable for chinchillas?

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Are chinchillas the best pets in the world?

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Where should you put your chinchilla's exercise wheel?

6 / 10

Can you feed a chinchilla without a hay rack or a food bowl? Like, just put your chinchilla's hay and pellets on the floor of the cage? Or on a platform?

7 / 10

Are our pet chinchillas descended from long-tailed chinchillas or short-tailed chinchillas?

8 / 10

Can you use treats to make a chinchilla like you?

9 / 10

Why shouldn't chinchillas eat sunflower seeds?

10 / 10

Do chinchillas ever throw their poop?

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New owner, don't know where to start? Or do you need a handy chinchilla reference guide? Check out our Chinchilla Care 101 eBook, or get what you need from our online store!