Seeing any pet vomit or regurgitate is stressful and upsetting. But as a chinchilla owner, you’ll notice your chinchillas haven’t ever brought up any food. Could it be because their diet is so simple, or because they can’t?
Do chinchillas vomit? It’s physically impossible for them to vomit or regurgitate. Their throats, stomachs and diaphragms lack the capability. This is a major problem as it makes chinchillas more likely to choke on food. If you see vomit in a chinchilla cage, it has to be something else like mushed-up food, cecotropes or wet pellets.
The guide below first looks at the fascinating reasons why chinchillas can’t vomit. And if you’ve found something in your chinchilla’s cage that looks like vomit, the rest of the guide explains what it might be.
Do Chinchillas Vomit?
Chinchillas cannot vomit. It doesn’t matter if they eat something completely rotten by accident, or whether they have gastrointestinal disease or parasites. It’s biologically impossible for them to do so, so if you think you see something that looks like chinchilla vomit in your pet’s cage, it must be something else.
Chinchillas aren’t alone in this respect. There are lots of animals that can’t vomit, including rats, rabbits and guinea pigs. Even some larger animals like horses and quail can’t vomit.
Do Chinchillas Get Fur Balls?
One common reason why pets gag and vomit is fur balls. Hairballs form when an animal grooms itself and the fur gets accumulates in its gut. The gut can’t dissolve or break the hair down, and it can’t pass, so ‘the only way is up’!
Chinchillas likely do get hairballs. Owners are divided, with some saying its a myth, and others saying it happens infrequently.
At the very least, they don’t get them anywhere near as often as cats do. That’s likely because of the way that chinchillas groom themselves. Cats have wide, rough tongues that pick up lots of loose fur which is then ingested. But chinchillas only have tiny tongues and don’t lick themselves in the same way.
Either way, these hairballs aren’t passed by being brought up. They’re passed as poops. So your chinchilla can’t be gagging, retching or vomiting them up even if it does get them.
Why Can’t Chinchillas Vomit?
According to Smithsonian Magazine, no rodent can bring its food back up. The reason why rat poison works so well is that rats can’t vomit poisoned bait back up. Remarkably, this effect has even been demonstrated when rodents are fed vomit-inducing chemicals (emetics) that trigger the reflex 100% of the time in other animals.
While this has been known for a long time (as it has implications for pest control and scientific research), it was only recently that scientists figured out why. Apparently, a rodent’s anatomy isn’t set up to vomit. The diaphragm, which is what pushes on the stomach to make it bring up food in other animals, isn’t strong enough to do so; and the stomach isn’t structured in a way where food can go up rather than down, unlike ours.
Scientists also checked their muscle and brain activity to check for signs of nausea. But they found less nerve, mouth, throat and shoulder activity when the rodents were given these emetics. They think this may be because their brains don’t tell them to vomit even if they’ve eaten bad food. This may give them a slight advantage, because many rodents eat waste food or rotten food.
This means that chinchillas and other rodents don’t have gag reflexes, can’t pass hairballs, and can’t regurgitate bad food.
Vomiting & The Chinchilla Diet
What may also be relevant here is the chinchilla’s diet. Chinchillas have a high-fiber diet almost exclusively of grasses/hay. It’s highly unlikely that any of the food a chinchilla eats will have gone bad, and if any has, there’s plenty of other food for it to eat instead. This means it should almost never get sick from what it eats, reducing the need for vomiting.
Can Chinchillas Regurgitate?
Not many people know the difference between vomiting and regurgitation. Vomiting is bringing food up from the stomach, while regurgitating is bringing food up before it’s digested.
Again, chinchillas can’t do this. Regurgitation relies on the muscles of the throat essentially working backwards. Chinchillas can’t do this, so they can’t regurgitate. But it is possible that they spit out foods in other ways…
Can Chinchillas Spit Food Back Up?
If you do notice clumped-up, wet food in your chinchilla’s cage, then it’s possible that it spat the food up. This doesn’t mean vomiting or regurgitation; rather, it literally means that the chinchilla started chewing the food but then had to spit it out again.
This can occur if the chinchilla has a problem with its mouth. Chinchillas’ teeth grow continually throughout their lives. They can develop sharp edges that cut into the gums and cause sores. It’s possible that your chinchilla poked one of these sores in its mouth and had to stop eating.
If you do notice something like this, you should check on your pet as soon as possible.
So… What’s In My Chinchilla’s Cage?
If you see something that looks like vomit in your chinchilla’s cage, it simply can’t be. It has to be something else. There are a few options, but none of them look exactly like vomit, so they should be easy enough to identify.
Here’s a brief list of what else might have made a mess of your chinchilla’s cage…
1) Mushed Up Food
Chinchillas can chew food and not swallow it, as described above. This would look quite similar to vomit, as it’s food that has been chewed.
This is something chinchillas are notorious for. They pick up a piece of food, nibble at it, and throw it away. They’ll then go back to their bowl or hay rack and get some more fresh food.
Meanwhile, the food they throw away gets trampled on, peed on and pooped on. If you don’t clean out the cage for a long time, it can get mushy and dirty, so could look a little like vomit.
2) Dirty Chinchilla Pellets
The ‘vomit’ might be food, but not vomited-up food. Chinchilla pellets can expand and get mushy if they’re wet. If your chinchilla has a food bowl you put its pellets in, sometimes it might pee in there by mistake. If it does, the pellets will expand in size and could look a little like vomit.
Chinchillas are one of many animals that have to re-digest their food. Some animals will ‘chew the cud’, which is where they bring the food back up into the mouth to chew it again. Delicious!
Other animals re-digest food through a process called hindgut fermentation. Food passes through the esophagus and stomach into the small intestine, then into the colon. The food is then forced back into the cecum, a small pouch at the end of the large intestine. Here, bacteria break it down further. It’s then passed (pooped!) and… Eaten again. Delicious!
This is what chinchillas do. The end result is something called a cecotrope. The chinchilla eats the cecotrope and digests it again to get as much nutrition from it as possible. This is necessary because the hay they eat is so high in fiber and difficult to digest.
Cecotropes don’t look like normal poops. They’re softer and wetter, and smell more strongly. They don’t look a lot like vomit, but if you didn’t know what they were, you would think they’re partly digested food just like vomit is. You probably won’t ever see any as chinchillas ‘produce’ them at night and eat them straight away.
3) Another Animal’s Vomit
If you’re absolutely positively sure that the thing you’re seeing is vomit, it would have to be from another animal. If you have other pets, then one of them could have been in your chinchilla’s room. Or, a wild animal could have gotten in somehow, vomited, and left.
If that sounds unlikely, well, it is. But if it can’t be anything but vomit, that’s what has to have happened.
What to Do If Your ‘Chinchilla Vomited’
If you spot what looks like vomit in your chinchilla’s cage, you have to try and figure out what it is. Begin by examining the thing itself. You should clean it up, whatever it is, so do just that. While it may not sound especially fun, you should prod and poke it, maybe even smell it, to see if you can identify it.
If you can’t identify it on your own, bag it up or put it in a tub. You can then take it to the vet and ask them what it is.
You should also monitor your pet and it’s health for a while after you find the mysterious ‘vomit’. This will tell you whether your pet seems sick, and whether it needs a vet’s help. If you aren’t sure, take it to the vet anyway for a full checkup.