It’s a myth that chinchillas can’t catch parasitical bugs. But ticks are nowhere near as common as others, so what about them? And what effects might they have?
Can chinchillas get ticks? They can, but it’s very rare to spot ticks on chinchillas. That’s because ticks spread outside, and chinchillas should live indoors. If another pet brings ticks home, they could theoretically pass to your chinchilla, but this is highly unlikely. If your pet gets chinchilla ticks, try to remove it, and talk to a vet about treatment.
The guide below covers everything, from what ticks are and how they spread to how to kill ticks on a chinchilla, and lots more. So, if you need a quick answer to all your questions, read on…
What Are Ticks?
Ticks don’t look like other pests. When they haven’t fed, they’re flat with round-shaped rears and small heads. They wait outdoors until an animal or person passes by, and quickly clamber onto them. They then burrow their heads into the host’s skin and feed on its blood. They will stay attached like this for 3-7 days, which isn’t how other pests feed.
What makes ticks look different is that they have a special adaptation where their bodies expand as they feed. This means they can feed on more blood.
While no pest should be welcome, ticks are particularly bad because they can spread diseases like Lyme disease. But as we’ll see in a moment, ticks on chinchillas aren’t a common problem.
How Do Ticks Spread?
Ticks don’t like doing hard work to find a host. Instead, they sit still on long blades of grass and wait for an animal to pass by. This can take a while, but ticks are hardy and survive for long periods without a host.
Once the tick is finished feeding, it will head somewhere to digest its meal. It will prefer somewhere safe and secure where it won’t be disturbed. Once its meal is fully digested, it will need to find a new host, so it will repeat the process again. If the tick hid in your home, that means it could spread back to your pets, even the same pet it was on before. But if not, it will wait outside.
Can Chinchillas Catch Ticks?
First things first, there’s no such thing as ‘chinchilla ticks’, i.e. ticks that solely or mostly use chinchillas as hosts. If you did notice your chinchilla catch ticks, they would be general ticks, not a species-specific kind.
It’s theoretically possible for a chinchilla to catch ticks. If you put a hungry tick in the cage with your pet, it could burrow through its fur and use your chinchilla as a host.
That being said, there have been hardly any reports of ticks on chinchillas. If you ask almost any owner, they’ll tell you it’s never been a problem. The rest of this guide explores why that might be the case.
Is Chinchilla Fur Too Thick for Ticks to Get Through?
Perhaps the most common explanation given is that a chinchilla’s fur is too thick for a pest to crawl through. Try as it might, a tick can’t access the skin because there’s too much fur in the way.
But this isn’t true. A chinchilla’s fur isn’t uniformly thick around its body: the hair on its belly, its face, its feet, its thighs, its ears and its tail is thinner and/or shorter than on the rest of its body. A tick doesn’t discriminate where it feeds, so this isn’t a problem for it.
Plus, chinchilla pests are determined. They’re attracted to the scent of skin, meaning they won’t get ‘lost’ in your pet’s fur. So, while thick fur does act as a barrier, it isn’t an impenetrable barrier.
Does Chinchilla Fur Suffocate Ticks?
Another explanation is that a chinchilla’s fur is so thick, it actually chokes any would-be pest to death. But to think this is to fundamentally misunderstand a) the purpose of fur and how it works, and b) the pests themselves.
Fur works by trapping air within itself and against the skin. The air then warms up and provides a protective layer against the cold outside. It’s like how the air trapped underneath your blanket warms up when you’re in bed.
While it’s true that air cannot freely circulate between the skin and the outside air, that doesn’t mean there’s an airless vacuum within the fur itself. As pests hardly need any air at all, they won’t use up all of the oxygen in this air before they’re done feeding.
Plus, insects don’t breathe like we do. They don’t have lungs and a single airway they breathe through. Instead, they have holes in their exoskeleton that they ‘breathe’ air through. These holes are called ‘spiracles’, and they send air throughout the body. This helps them breathe in low-oxygen conditions.
Ticks are especially noted for needing precious little air. They can survive underwater for long periods, so they can most definitely survive in chinchilla fur.
Why Can’t Chinchillas Get Ticks?
The real reason that chinchillas can’t catch ticks is access. Ticks spread outdoors, which is why your dog might get them when you take it for a walk in long grass. Once the tick is done feeding, it will release its latch and crawl off to find another animal to feed on.
This means your chinchilla shouldn’t ever catch these ticks, as it won’t go outdoors. Experienced owners never let their chinchillas outside because:
- Of the risk of ticks and other pests
- Of the risk that the chinchilla will run away
- Of the risk of predators or pets attacking the chinchilla
If you or one of your other pets does bring a tick into the home, it’s unlikely to then spread to your chinchillas. Ticks will climb a foot or two feet up surfaces like grass or wood, but can’t climb smooth metal. They also can’t fly, jump, or drop from a height onto a new host. So, can chinchillas get ticks from dogs? It’s unlikely.
As such, there’s no need to worry about ticks unless you let your chinchilla outside. And if there are ticks in your home, they almost definitely won’t target and feed on your chinchilla.
How to Treat Ticks on Chinchillas
The only scenario in which your chinchilla might catch ticks is if the house you live in has lots and lots of them in it. This could be the case if you have a dozen dogs as pets as well as chinchillas. That’s why there have been very rare reports of ticks on chinchillas.
If by some random chance your chinchilla caught a tick, you should try to get rid of it, and prevent them from coming back. Here’s how to do just that.
Handle and Groom Your Chinchilla Regularly
The first step to correcting any chinchilla health problem, parasites or otherwise, is regular care and attention. Through handling your chinchilla you can spot or physically feel any lumps or bumps, and notice any symptoms of ill health. You can then figure out what’s wrong and take steps to right it.
Most owners don’t bother grooming their chinchillas, and it isn’t strictly necessary. Chinchillas keep their own fur clean by barbering it and taking regular dust baths. They can also groom each other, if you keep a pair or a group. But it won’t hurt your pet for you to groom it every once in a while.
Most brushes aren’t capable of properly grooming chinchilla fur. Only a flea comb or a chinchilla show grooming brush will do. But this should show up any chinchilla ticks or other pests in your pet’s fur.
Physically Remove the Tick
The CDC recommend removing a tick as soon as you find it. That’s because ticks can carry disease. The best way to remove one is using a pair of fine-pointed tweezers. Here’s how the CDC recommend you do it:
- Use fine-tipped tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin’s surface as possible.
- Pull upward with steady, even pressure. Don’t twist or jerk the tick; this can cause the mouth-parts to break off and remain in the skin. If this happens, remove the mouth-parts with tweezers. If you are unable to remove the mouth easily with clean tweezers, leave it alone and let the skin heal.
- After removing the tick, thoroughly clean the bite area and your hands with rubbing alcohol or soap and water.
- Never crush a tick with your fingers. Dispose of a live tick by putting it in alcohol, placing it in a sealed bag/container, wrapping it tightly in tape, or flushing it down the toilet.
This is easier said then done as your chinchilla may not like being handled. Only attempt this if you can get your chinchilla to sit still without forcing it or making it too stressed.
Talk To a Vet
If you can’t get the tick out, get a vet to do it for you. It’s best to go for this option if you aren’t certain you’ll pull the tick’s head out along with its body. Vets have lots of experience of pulling out ticks from various pets.
At the same time, it’s worth doing a general checkup. A chinchilla that lives in an environment where it can get ticks may have other things wrong with it.
Get the Tick Tested
You could also get the tick tested for Lyme disease, or one of the many other diseases ticks carry. This will tell you if your chinchilla’s health is at risk.
Some vet clinics will test ticks for you, but most won’t. Some services allow you to send the tick to them in the mail. You can order tick tests online too.
Prevention: Keep Your Chinchilla’s Cage Clean & Inaccessible
To prevent ticks on chinchillas, spot clean your chinchilla’s cage each day. This will prevent all pests. Many infestations of pests make use of the surrounding bedding and cage, too, so cleaning regularly helps a) keep pest levels under control, and b) prevent re-infestation.
If you’re specifically worried about ticks, keeping your chinchilla’s cage somewhere they can’t reach will mean they simply can’t get to them. This will guarantee that your chinchillas will stay tick-free.
Also, if you have dogs as well as chinchillas, regularly check them for ticks. They take between three to seven days to drop off on their own, which is more than enough time to spot one. If you always spot them, they will never have a chance to spread to your other pets. Not allowing your dogs into your chinchilla’s room is another way of stopping the spread of ticks.