Most pets groom themselves, but do chinchillas? And if they do, what do they do—lick themselves, bathe, or what? And do they groom each other?
Do chinchillas groom themselves? They do to an extent, but nowhere near as much as other pets like cats do. Chins will bite at their own fur, for a few seconds at a time, to keep it clean. They also take dust baths which keep fur from getting greasy or forming matted patches. Grooming is not to be confused with barbering, which is where a chinchilla chews its fur or the fur of its cage mate. This causes bald patches and indicates stress/fighting. The only way in which you need to groom your pet is by giving it dust baths.
The guide below first looks at whether chinchillas really groom themselves and each other. We’ll then address how chinchillas wash, and what you need to do to groom your pet chinchilla (if anything). We’ll finish by touching on the differences between grooming and barbering, how to tell them apart, and why barbering is so bad anyway.
Do Chinchillas Groom Themselves?
Chinchillas do groom themselves. They do so by nibbling at their fur for a few seconds at a time. It will look like your chin is burying its head in its own fur. This is normal behavior and does not necessarily indicate underlying issues like parasites or ringworm. It will do so in any place it can reach: its belly, its legs, its tail and so on.
Grooming can become a problem if your chinchilla progresses from nibbling its fur for a few seconds to chewing it for extended periods of time, which is a sign of stress. This is known as ‘fur barbering’, and will eventually cause bald patches.
Do Chinchillas Groom Each Other?
Chinchillas will also groom one another if they live in pairs or groups. This looks the same as regular grooming except it’s done to another chinchilla.
Even though chinchillas can groom themselves, this serves a vital function. Chinchillas are social animals and live in pairs or groups in the wild. When chinchillas were less endangered, they could be seen in groups of a hundred or more. Like other animals that formed social groups, chinchillas may fight for dominance, form friendship bonds, form mating pairs, forage together and more. Grooming is a way to reinforce positive bonds between chinchillas.
Conversely, the chin may begin chewing its cage-mate’s fur, which is a dominance issue; it can be followed on by excessive aggression to the point that the pair have to be separated. While this is bad, it is just another form of communication.
Do Chinchillas Lick Themselves Like Cats?
What you won’t see is your chin licking itself with its tongue. There are several reasons why:
- Cats have special rough tongues that pick up fur when grooming. Chinchillas don’t.
- Chinchillas come from a dry part of the world where they have to conserve water. Using lots of saliva to ‘bathe’ wouldn’t make sense in that habitat.
- Because chinchilla fur is so thick, if it gets damp, it takes a long time to get dry. This causes temperature regulation issues and eventually fungal infection.
If your chinchilla is licking itself, especially to the point that its fur gets wet, you should take it to the vet. Chins shouldn’t slobber, and if they do, it’s a sign that they have dental issues (malocclusion). The likely explanation of this behavior is that the chinchilla is trying to a) get rid of the saliva and b) ease the pain in its teeth somehow.
How Do Chinchillas Clean Themselves?
This form of grooming isn’t enough to keep your chinchillas completely clean. That’s because they have such thick fur that it gets greasy, dirty and damp easily. These are issues that basic grooming can’t fix. As such, chinchillas need to take dust baths. This is something you have to help it to do.
Again, this is related to the chinchilla’s natural habitat and its unique adaptations. There is precious little standing water on the mountain sides that chinchillas adapted to; plus, if they did bathe in water, they would die of hypothermia/exposure as they couldn’t get dry. So, instead, they learned to roll around in volcanic dust, which there’s plenty of in the Andes Mountains. This dust works like talcum powder, stopping grease from forming and dirt from sticking to the fur. It also prevents moisture building up.
As a chinchilla owner, it’s your job to accurately recreate the natural conditions your chinchilla would live in. That’s why you need to give your pet a diet that reflects its nutritional needs, and why your chin needs platforms in its cage (which simulate the rocks it jumps to and from in the wild). It’s also why you need to give your chin a dust bath once or twice a week.
Your chinchilla knows how to bathe itself, so there’s nothing you need to do. Your chin will roll around in the dust and get itself entirely covered in the stuff. Because the dust is made from finely ground minerals, it can be irritating if it gets in your eyes or if you breathe it in, so be aware of that. Your chin will ‘bathe’ in this way for ten minutes or so, which is all it needs.
Do Chinchillas Need to Be Groomed?
Most owners don’t bother grooming their chinchillas in any way shape or form. That’s because dust baths keep the fur clean enough on their own. If you offer frequent dust baths and keep your chinchilla’s cage clean, your pet’s fur shouldn’t smell or get stained, let alone form matted patches.
That being said, there are certain circumstances in which it’s necessary to groom your chinchilla:
- If your chinchilla has diarrhea or incontinence. Your chinchilla’s fur can get dirty from pee or soft poop, in which case it has to be washed and/or brushed out.
- If your chinchilla has matted fur. Matted fur forms when fur gets so dirty or greasy that the individual hairs stick together. These can never be untangled, so have to be pulled out with fingers or a brush.
- If your chinchilla has stained fur. Poop or pee can stain fur, which can be corrected, among other ways, by bathing in water.
- If you’re taking your chinchilla to a chinchilla show. Arguably the most important quality for a show chinchilla to have is clean, thick fur.
- If your chinchilla is priming (shedding). Grooming in this instance isn’t strictly necessary as the fur will fall out on its own, but you can if you want.
Regular combs and brushes aren’t effective on chinchilla fur. That’s because the teeth are too far apart. Using a regular brush on a chinchilla is comparable to using your fingers to comb your hair; it’s better than nothing, but it’s not as effective as normal brushing. As such, you need a special brush or comb with teeth that are very close together. You could use a flea comb, for example, or a special chinchilla show brush.
Grooming vs. Barbering
Grooming is beneficial behavior, while ‘fur barbering’ is a sign of stress, and can even cause bald patches. You therefore need to learn to tell the difference.
Fur barbering is also known as ‘fur chewing’, which is an accurate representation of what you can expect to see. The chinchilla will nibble at its fur, but for an extended amount of time. It will also use both its front teeth and its molars, which are further inside its mouth. Because it is nibbling/chewing for a longer period of time, the chinchilla will also get its fur wet.
Fur chewing will also cause noticeable bald patches. These occur because of a phenomenon known as fur slip, which is where a chinchilla’s fur comes loose easily when it is tugged at. These bald patches will start off small but get bigger the more the chinchilla chews its fur.
If you suspect your chinchilla may be fur chewing rather than just grooming, observe it for a while. Fur chewing is caused by stress of one kind or another, so check to see if there’s anything making your pet stressed, such as:
- Loud noises
- Quick movements and bright lights
- Other pets
- Incorrect temperature or humidity
- Fighting between cage mates
Then, correct whatever’s causing the stress. Unfortunately, chinchillas that fur chew can’t ever be fully trained out of the behavior; so, even if you prevent fur chewing for a while, any form of stress in the future will initiate the behavior again. All you can do is care for your chinchilla as best you can to prevent it as much as possible.