If your male chinchilla is in pain and is checking its genitals frequently, a hair ring may have formed around its penis. But what is hair ring, and how can you prevent/fix it?
What are chinchilla hair rings? Hair rings are rings of hair that get caught in the foreskin and around the penis, meaning it can’t retract back into the chinchilla’s body. The knotted fur cuts off circulation in the penis and makes peeing difficult. There are hair ring checks that will alert you to this problem. Chinchillas groom themselves to get rid of hair rings, but they can knot so tightly that they’re impossible for your pet to remove, so either you or a vet will need to slide/cut it off of the penis. The complications of hair rings in chinchillas can kill, so you must do this as soon as possible.
The guide below covers every detail you need to know, from what hair rings are to how they form, what symptoms and signs they cause, and how to fix them. We’ll also make recommendations on how to check for hair rings, which you should do on a regular basis.
Note: because hair ring affects the male chinchilla’s penis, the guide below uses words that might make you uncomfortable. There’s nothing you wouldn’t hear about in a Sex. Ed. class, though, and if you suspect your chinchilla is experiencing this condition, then you have to learn more about it. And if you think your chinchilla is sick, take it to the vet immediately—this guide is for informational purposes only, and is not intended to replace the advice and care of a vet.
What Are Hair Rings?
Hair ring is a condition that occurs in male chinchillas. A small amount of hair surrounds the male’s penis, but when hair ring occurs, this hair becomes caught in the chinchilla’s foreskin. This hair can wrap around the head of the penis and tie itself into knots, which can cut off circulation, stop the penis from retracting, and cause exceptional discomfort. This also makes it difficult for the male chinchilla to urinate or mate.
Hair rings typically occur after sexual intercourse. The fur around the penis can get damp, and so is more easily caught in the foreskin. Hair ring can also occur due to dominance humping between two male chinchillas, or even in male chinchillas kept alone, although it’s not as common.
The ring of hair in question can be thin or thick. The more fur became trapped, the thicker the ring will be. But few hairs are needed to form a knot. The thicker the hair ring, of course, the easier it is to spot.
Can Female Chinchillas Get Hair Rings?
Only male chinchillas can develop hair ring. From the outside, the male and females’ genitals look alike. They each have urethras and look similar to each other. However, the problem isn’t with the urethra, it’s with the male chinchilla’s penis; this can be sheathed and unsheathed either for cleaning or for intercourse. Females don’t have an equivalent thing that can be sheated and unsheathed, so can’t get fur caught in or on anything.
Can Hair Rings Kill a Chinchilla?
To begin with, a hair ring is a localized condition. It only affects the penis. However, over time, your chinchilla’s hair ring will have knock-on effects.
The chief of these is urine retention. The hair ring acts almost like a clamp on the chinchilla’s penis, meaning it’s difficult for it to pee. It has to stretch and strain to do so, and may not be able to pee at all. As such, urine will build up in the bladder. Not only is this highly uncomfortable, but it encourages the minerals in the pee to coalesce and form bladder stones. These are like the kidney stones people get, and can get so big that the chinchilla can’t pass them. When it tries, they completely block the urethra; peeing becomes not just difficult but impossible, and the chinchilla can pass away as a result.
It takes time for bladder stones to form. But if your chinchilla already has a small bladder stone, hair ring can make it worse; or start them off, and they get progressively worse. So you should seek to treat hair rings as soon as possible, both for your pet’s comfort and its health.
What Causes Hair Rings in Chinchillas?
Hair ring is a combination of several factors. Without fur being present, it can’t occur, but loose fur isn’t the only thing necessary to make hair rings form.
Sheathing and Unsheathing the Penis
It’s the action of sheathing and unsheathing the penis that makes hair rings develop. If the male chinchilla’s penis were to stay inside its sheath, loose fur couldn’t wrap around it and get stuck.
To understand why this happens, it’s crucial to understand how the chinchilla’s penis is different to other animals’. Outside of the contexts of intercourse and cleaning, the penis is kept inside the body. When the chinchilla is aroused, the penis slides out so that the male is ready for intercourse.
Because it might be damp and sticky, the penis and the area around it can catch fur on it, either from the male or from the other chinchilla. This isn’t a problem until the penis tries to retract.
Have you ever taken damp hairs between your finger and thumb and rolled them together? They become entwined together and can form knots, in the same way that long hair does when you blow dry it. When your chinchilla’s penis tries to retract back into its body, it rolls the hairs together in much the same way, and they can get knotted together. This can stop the penis from retracting fully.
Your Chinchilla Can’t Groom Itself
After intercourse/humping, your chinchilla will examine its penis. It will sit back on its hind legs and look at and touch its penis. If there are any hairs caught, or anything else caught, your chinchilla may also nibble at its penis. This is why people ask why is my chinchilla masturbating—it isn’t, it just looks like it is.
This grooming is normally enough to get rid of hair rings before they cause significant discomfort. However, your chinchilla may be unable to get rid of any hair ring that’s forming because:
- Its teeth are crooked (malocclusion) meaning that it can’t nibble at the loose fur effectively
- Your chinchilla is sick in some other way, meaning it can’t be bothered to clean itself effectively (lethargy)
- The hair ring is too tight or inaccessible for the chinchilla to get at
This won’t stop your pet from trying, but it’s likely to be unsuccessful. It’s typically when the owner notices the chinchilla grooming its penis constantly that they notice there’s a problem.
What Are The Signs & Symptoms of Hair Rings in Chinchillas?
There are several signs of hair ring in chinchillas that you can see. You don’t need a vet’s help to diagnose it as many of these signs are unique to hair ring, meaning it’s not easily confused with other conditions. Vets can, of course, diagnose it too by looking for these same signs.
Penis Not Retracting
The core issue with hair rings is that they stop the penis from fully retracting. The hair forms a knot under the foreskin, which makes the penis swell and become discolored. This swelling stops the penis from going back into its sheath.
You can therefore see much more of the penis than you usually can. Males have a small penile cone that’s visible at all times. But when it has a hair ring, the surprisingly long penis remains outside of the body. It is unmistakably a penis, and the fact that it can’t retract clearly causes the chinchilla discomfort. It has a section at the base, which is what the penis retracts into, and a slightly thinner section running from the base to the top.
Visible Hair On Or Around the Penis
You may also be able to see the hair ring wrapped around this latter section. The color of the fur depends on where the fur came from. If your chinchilla is black velvet, then the fur will likely be black velvet too. If your chinchilla developed a hair ring from the fur of its cage mate, then it may be a different color (whatever color the other chinchilla is).
If the chinchilla has light colored fur, then it may be slightly darker and discolored when wrapped around the penis.
Discoloration & Swelling
The penis can become discolored because of the hair ring around it.
There are two different causes of this discoloration. The first is that the blood inside the penis cannot drain correctly, so it may appear pink or even red (the tighter the hair ring, the darker it will be). During arousal, blood moves to the penis so that it becomes larger and comes out of its sheath, but if a hair ring forms then this blood can’t easily drain back into the body. It will, just slowly. The second way in which the penis can become discolored is if circulation is cut off.
Clear Signs of Pain
Hair rings are painful, and chinchillas can display body language that shows they’re in pain. They’re generally good at hiding signs of ill health, but you can spot them if you’re observant enough. Potential signs include:
- Ears held backwards. Rather than standing up and away from the head, the ears are held downwards and backwards. Chinchillas also do this when they’re sleepy, though.
- Hunched posture/standing or sitting abnormally. Your chinchilla will arch its back high and keep its front paws close by its body. It may also put more weight on one side or another of its body as sitting is uncomfortable, since its penis can’t retract.
- Aggression. Your chinchilla may not want you to pick it up or even be around it. So, it will be defensive if you try.
- Not eating. When chinchillas are sick, unhappy or in pain, they can go off their food.
- Lethargy. When any health condition becomes serious, the chinchilla in question will become listless and stop moving, even if they’re hungry or in the way.
You may notice one of these signs or all of them at once. Or, you may not notice any of them; as stated above, chinchillas are good at hiding signs that they’re ill or in pain.
Excessive Grooming (Why Is My Chinchilla Touching Its Genitals?)
Since its hair ring causes so much discomfort, your chinchilla will try to get rid of it. It will do so by grooming itself, and will keep doing so either until it gets rid of the hair ring, or until you get rid of it for your pet. This is as described above: your chinchilla will sit back on its hind legs and grab or nibble at its penis. This looks like masturbation, but it’s not. Your pet will do this far more than normal if it has a hair ring.
Difficulty Mating & Urinating
If you are breeding chinchillas, then you will notice that the male with the hair ring stops being able to mate. This occurs because the condition is very painful, so the chinchilla isn’t in the mood to mate; it’s far too painful for it to even try.
The same applies to urination. Because the hair ring wraps around the penis, your chinchilla has to strain and push to urinate. It may even be unable to urinate at all. This is what causes further complications like bladder stones.
You may notice that your chinchilla strains and can’t get much pee out; alternatively, you may see small amounts of pee dribbling from the penis on a consistent basis. This occurs because the bladder is full and the pressure of the pee makes small amounts dribble out. Despite this, your chinchilla still can’t pee properly. This can also make the fur around the penis damp or wet.
How to Prevent Hair Rings
There is no way to entirely prevent hair rings. They can occur even in solitary chinchillas, and they are a natural if bad consequence of your male chinchilla’s anatomy. What you can do, though, is spot hair rings when they first occur rather than leaving them to become worse and worse. There are simple checks you can perform to do this.
Basic Steps to Preventing Hair Rings
To make hair rings less likely, keep your chinchilla’s cage clean by spot cleaning it each day. Spot cleaning involves sweeping the floor of the cage to get rid of poop, hay and loose hair. While hair ring isn’t solely caused by loose fur on the cage floor, you may as well sweep it up.
Only housing same-sex chinchilla pairs would also help. Hair rings are typically the result of intercourse, so keeping two male chinchillas together prevents that. Males can still hump each other, but won’t do so as frequently as a male and female pair would.
And if the idea of hair rings makes you feel squeamish, there is one way to avoid ever having to deal with them: only keeping female chinchillas. No males means no hair rings. Females have their own problems as they’re more territorial and are typically less friendly, at least according to most owners, but at least you won’t ever have to deal with chinchilla penises!
How to Check for Hair Ring
Checking for hair ring is as simple as handling your chinchilla. When you handle your chinchilla, make it a part of your everyday routine to give it a once-over, to see if there’s anything abnormal or that’s causing it pain. This takes a matter of seconds.
To check specifically for hair ring, hold your chinchilla with one hand around its chest and one hand under its bottom. Lift its belly to eye level and tilt your head so that you can see its genitals. If you see that its penis can’t retract, that the area is damp, or that there’s something there that’s causing your pet pain, you can then take a closer inspection and/or take your pet to the vet. But if all seems normal, there likely isn’t a problem.
You should also check more closely once every month or so just to make sure your chinchilla is OK. Some owners recommend getting very ‘up close and personal’, so to speak, but this isn’t strictly necessary; it can do more harm than good, as it causes significant stress to a chinchilla for you to do that. Rather, take the time to give your chinchilla a thorough check-over for five minutes or so, to see if it’s experiencing any obvious health issue.
If you don’t want to take matters into your own hands, vets perform checkups for chinchillas. Owners typically take their chins for these checkups once every six months or once every year. The vet performs a full diagnostic check and recommends any necessary fixes.
How to Fix Chinchilla Hair Rings
You can’t leave a hair ring to fester and get worse. It’s unlikely that if your chinchilla couldn’t get rid of it initially, it will get rid of it eventually. And if you leave the hair ring in place, its effects will get worse and worse until they could even kill your pet.
Take Your Pet to a Vet
Unless you’re used to dealing with hair rings—like if you’re an experienced breeder—it’s best to let a vet fix the problem for you. The vet will remove the hair ring by using lubricant. They will gently place some on the chinchilla’s penis before sliding the hair ring away as best they can. They may use a tool to assist in doing so.
The lubricant helps in two ways. First, it allows the hair ring to slide off more easily. This is similar to how you might put butter on your finger if your wedding ring is stuck. Even though the wedding ring is tight, it slides off quite easily if enough butter is applied. The same applies to hair rings.
The second way in which is helps is that it allows the penis to re-sheathe itself. This is vitally important, because if it doesn’t, another hair ring will probably form. Because its penis is causing your chinchilla a lot of pain, and the fact that it’s probably swollen, it may not immediately re-sheathe itself without the help of a lubricant. Regular water-based lubricant is sufficient, although it’s probably best to avoid any that have lots of chemicals in them.
Since doing this can be so painful for your pet, the vet may administer a mild sedative. This will keep the chinchilla calm and relaxed while they work. No surgical operation is required. They may also need fluid therapy and/or antibiotics afterwards if they are to make a full recovery; it’s for this reason that we recommend taking the chinchilla to a vet even if you can get rid of the hair ring yourself, since your chin may need further care.
How to Get Rid of a Hair Ring
While we recommend taking your chinchilla to the vet, especially if you’re a new owner, it is physically possible to fix hair ring at home. Your vet may even show you how to do it so that you can fix the issue by yourself in the future.
You essentially remove the hair ring in the same way that the vet would. You should place some kind of lubrication on the chinchilla’s penis, whether that’s cooking oil or KY jelly. You can then gently ease the hair ring away from the penis. Feel free to use latex gloves if this is something that doesn’t appeal to you.
Dealing with hair rings is what experienced owners say is the worst thing about owning male chinchillas. But they also say that since female chinchillas spray urine and male chinchillas don’t, or at least can’t do so as well, that this is balanced out!
Let Your Chinchilla Rest
Whether you get rid of the hair ring yourself, or you have a vet do so for you, your chinchilla will have to rest afterwards. It’s likely that there will have been complications of the hair ring such as bladder stone formation, infection, or extreme pain. Your chinchilla therefore needs to rest after the operation, even if it isn’t a surgical one.
This means you shouldn’t give your chinchilla too much outside-the-cage playtime, nor should you try to handle your pet. Wait until your chinchilla seems more happy, more active and more willing to play and spend time with you. Observe it from a distance in the meantime so that you can see if it’s still unwell or in pain.