Chinchillas are good at hiding health conditions and pain. But do they display body language signs that show they’re feeling sick or are hurt? And if so, what are they?
How can you tell when a chinchilla is in pain? Symptoms of pain include lethargy, not eating, teeth grinding, holding the ears down or flicking them back, drooling and pawing at the mouth, sitting in a hunched posture, splaying or clenching the paws/front legs, not wanting to be held, getting aggressive, tilting the head, stretching and pressing the belly against things, and making repetitive squeaking or even screaming noises. These symptoms typically appear in conjunction with one another. If your chinchilla is in pain, take it to the vet to find out why, and do what your vet recommends.
The guide below explores each of these symptoms in a list. The list describes what each symptom looks like, and explains what health conditions it’s related to. The guide rounds off with guidelines on what to do if your chinchilla is in pain.
How Can You Tell When Your Chinchilla Is In Pain?
Chinchillas will attempt to hide symptoms of pain. This is something they learned to do in the wild, where weak individuals in a herd will be picked off by predators. As such, it can be difficult to tell when a chinchilla is in pain.
Despite that, there are many signs of pain that your pet might display. These are listed below. Some are associated with certain conditions or pain in certain places; others are more general. But all warrant further investigation and a vet’s visit, especially if you see them in combination with each other. Some of these telltale signs are surprisingly similar to the signs of pain that people display, like not having energy, changes in body language, and feeling vulnerable—so you’ll easily recognize them. Others are more specific to chinchillas. So, read the list below and see if there’s any sign you recognize.
The first item in this list is lethargy, a universal sign of pain and illness. Lethargy is where the chinchilla doesn’t seem to have the energy to do anything, from eating to exercising, even if you give it a treat or a new toy. If you’ve ever had the flu or something similar that seems to sap your energy, you’ll know how this feels.
Because chinchillas sleep so much, this can be difficult to notice. Chins sleep for about 12 hours a day, spread out through both the day and night. But if your chin’s sleeping habits change and it seems to sleep much more than it did before, it may be ‘lethargic’. Lethargy progresses until the chinchilla barely moves at all, even if you prod and poke it; if an illness gets to this point, it’s likely that your chinchilla will pass.
2) Not Eating
Not eating can be related to lethargy. It acts as part of a vicious cycle: the chinchilla is sick and in pain, so can’t do anything, including eating; it then literally doesn’t have the energy to do anything because it’s not eating anything. This can therefore be related to any number of medical conditions that all require a vet’s care.
However, not eating can also be a sign of something specific. That something is malocclusion, a condition where your chinchilla’s teeth have grown too long. This is one of the most common conditions that chinchillas suffer from, and it has several specific signs that give it away. One of these is that your chin eats less.
The problem is that malocclusion makes your chinchilla’s mouth hurt. The sharp edges of your pet’s teeth cut into its gums. If you’ve ever had mouth ulcers, you’ll understand a similar kind of pain. As it hurts to eat and drink, you may snack less, or restrict yourself to certain foods. It’s this that your chinchilla is doing. On top of that, malocclusion means that the teeth don’t meet perfectly in the middle, which makes chewing/eating difficult, exacerbating the problem.
If you’re not sure whether your chin is eating less or not, weigh your pet’s food each morning. Chins eat about 25g of hay per day, plus a tablespoon or two of pellets. If yours is eating much less than this, it may be avoiding eating. Also look for mushed-up pellets on the floor of the cage; these have been half eaten and spat back out.
3) Tooth Grinding
Your chinchilla communicates through making noises with its teeth. If it chatters its teeth, that’s a sign that your pet is happy. But if it grinds its teeth together, this indicates that it’s stressed or in pain. This is naturally associated with dental issues, but can be a sign of other health problems that cause pain as well.
4) Ear Flicking
Ear flicking is another specific sign of malocclusion. As your chinchilla gnaws on its food, its teeth hurt, sending shooting pains through its jaw. One or both of its ears will flick backwards when it chews. If only one ear flicks back, that is the side worst affected by the malocclusion.
5) Drooling and Pawing at The Mouth
This is the final symptom that specifically relates to malocclusion. Drooling may occur because your chinchilla can’t fully close its mouth, due to its teeth being longer than they should be. You may notice anything from small amounts of spit around your chinchilla’s mouth, to a full-on wet chest and belly from drool dripping down. Chinchillas never drool or slobber unless they have malocclusion, and if your chin’s fur gets wet, this can lead to further problems unrelated to malocclusion.
Your chinchilla may also paw at its mouth. This is a generic sign of pain that any animal might show; you might touch your lips, gums and jaw when you have an ulcer, for example.
The other pain symptoms below aren’t specific to malocclusion like the last few were, but they may still occur if your chin’s teeth grow too long.
6) Ears Held Back
This is another ear-related symptom. But rather than the ears flicking, here they are held downwards/backwards. If you’ve ever watched your chinchilla when it’s sleepy, you will have seen something similar. Normally the chin would only hold them like this before and while it’s sleeping, but when it’s in pain, it may hold the ears back permanently.
7) Hunched Posture
Holding the ears back is often seen in conjunction with a hunched posture. This is where your chinchilla seems to ‘hunker down’, as many owners call it; the back looks slightly raised and arched, while the paws are tucked in and the head is kept down. The ears will also be held back.
This is similar to how you might sit/lie if you’re in pain. When you have a stomach ache, for example, you might lie on your side with your knees tucked in and your arms around your middle. This is similar, in kind if not in appearance, to what your chinchilla is doing.
8) Not Wanting to Be Held
If your chinchilla is in pain, it won’t want you to handle it or pick it up. It may react defensively.
Say for example that you handle your chinchilla three times a week at a set time. Chinchillas are creatures of habit, so will normally look forward to this. But if your pet is injured or ill, it won’t want you to pick it up anymore. It may stay in its hide, or even move away from you to avoid you. It doesn’t want to be picked up because you might accidentally touch it where it hurts; besides that, it’s more vulnerable than usual as it’s sick or hurt.
This isn’t anything personal, as your chinchilla will avoid contact with anybody when it’s in pain, not just you. It doesn’t mean that your chinchilla thinks you’re responsible for it being hurt (unless you did hurt it). Rather than pushing your chinchilla to do something it doesn’t want to do, just avoid handling it unless necessary; that means you shouldn’t schedule play time, but if you need to take your pet to the vet, you may have to force the issue.
Aggression is what will happen if you keep trying to handle your chinchilla when it doesn’t want to be handled. Your chin feels cornered, like it has to defend itself, so may bite you if you keep trying to grab it.
And generally speaking, being in pain can make anybody cranky. That’s as true of chinchillas as it is of people. So even if you aren’t trying to handle your chin, it won’t be its usual self. Again, don’t take this personally, as the issue will be corrected once you fix whatever’s causing your chinchilla pain.
10) Head Tilt
Head tilt occurs when your chinchilla has a problem with its inner ear. An infection can affect your chinchilla’s ear, and thereby affect its balance, which makes it tilt its head to one side. This is also known as wry neck or torticollis. This isn’t, strictly speaking, a specific symptom of pain; but ear infections are painful, so a chinchilla that does this would be experiencing severe pain.
11) Abnormal Stance or Gait (Walking Movements)
Chinchillas can also be in pain because of physical trauma rather than illness. If that’s the case, your chinchilla will walk with a limp or a shuffle. It may also stand differently to usual, putting more weight on one particular foot, or on its front legs/back legs. This is similar to how you might walk with a limp when you hurt your foot.
12) Splayed Paws/Clenched Paws
Because your chinchilla’s posture changes, this has knock-on effects. If your chin transfers its weight to its front paws, the way they look will change. You will notice:
- Your chinchillas toes are stretched and splayed outwards. It’s like the difference between holding your hand out with the fingers together, versus what your hand looks like when you spread your fingers as wide as you can.
- Your chinchilla’s front legs are tensed. That’s because they have to support more of your pet’s body weight.
Conversely, if your chinchilla transfers its weight to its back legs, the front paws will look different in yet another way. The toes will be held tightly together, curled up like it’s cupping something.
13) Stretching and Belly Pressing
This is a symptom that’s unique to the condition of bloating. In chinchillas, bloating is a serious condition that arises from eating foods that the chin struggles to digest. The foods ferment instead of getting digested, which leads to lots of gas. This is similar to the reaction lactose intolerant people have to dairy foods. But because chinchillas struggle to pass gas, the gas can build up and rupture your pet’s stomach or gut lining, which is fatal.
Even if this doesn’t happen, bloating is very painful for your pet. It will do two things to try and alleviate this pain:
- Press its belly against things
Your chinchilla is trying to force the gas along its gut, but these measures aren’t typically successful. You will need to take your chinchilla to the vet, and/or feed it simethicone from a dripper.
Last but certainly not least, chinchillas in pain will make certain noises to communicate the fact. If your chinchilla is squeaking or whimpering, it may indicate pain; if it does so in combination with the other signs above, then it’s highly likely.
Chinchillas can also scream, which is a noise you may never have heard before. This is a noise that chinchillas reserve for when they are in extreme pain or are extremely frightened, e.g. if caught by a predator. The noise is much louder than the chinchilla’s regular calls, is high pitched, and is distressing and grating to hear.
How to Stop a Chinchilla Being in Pain
If your chin is in pain, you should do what you can to fix the problem. But there are many causes of pain, so that’s easier said than done.
Take Your Chinchilla to The Vet
Whenever your chinchilla has a health problem, your first port of call should always be a knowledgeable vet. There is a lot you can learn on LoveMyChinchilla.com, but we don’t recommend relying entirely on any resource, be that our own or another site. An exotics vet, or at least a knowledgeable regular vet, can check your chinchilla over and identify whatever the problem is; they can then prescribe things like antibiotics, or make recommendations to improve your pet’s care.
Because your chinchilla is in pain, it may not be easy to take it to the vet, but you should do so as soon as possible. Encourage your chinchilla into a travel carrier and take it to the vet in your car.
Correct Unsuitable Care Conditions
Most ill health and pain is caused by keeping the chinchilla in the wrong conditions. You should therefore asses the care that you’re providing for your pet. Here is a brief checklist that you can start with:
- Chinchillas should eat hay and hay pellets, not fruits and vegetables. Fruits and vegetables can cause bloating and gastrointestinal stasis.
- Chinchillas should be kept at temperatures lower than 70 degrees Fahrenheit/21 degrees Centigrade. Higher than this and a chinchilla can suffer heat stroke; high temperatures also impact health generally, so could cause pain.
- Chinchillas need chew toys. If they don’t have any, they develop malocclusion.
If you’re unsure as to what you’re doing wrong, if anything, talk to your vet. If they know about chinchillas, they could ask you questions about your chinchilla’s cage, toys and food to figure out what’s wrong.
Do They Make Painkillers for Chinchillas?
Chinchillas can take painkillers, but you should only use those prescribed by your chinchilla’s vet. The most common is Metacam, which is in the same family as many other painkillers (NSAIDs, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs). Metacam is often prescribed by vets for pets, including chinchillas. A typical dosage is 0.05ml oral suspension per 100g of body weight every 24 hours; so, for an average chinchilla, that equates to 0.3ml per day.
We would recommend against using any over-the-counter drugs. That’s because you could easily get the dosage wrong without your vet’s advice. Chinchillas only need very small amounts of painkiller, due to being much smaller than we are.