How Long Can a Chinchilla Go Without a Dust Bath?

Chinchillas don’t bathe in water, they bathe in dust. But is bathing necessary? Or is it just to keep your chinchilla’s fur clean and comfortable?

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Chinchillas don’t bathe in water, they bathe in dust. But is bathing necessary? Or is it just to keep your chinchilla’s fur clean and comfortable?

What happens if you don’t give a chinchilla a dust bath? Its fur will get greasy and dirty, and could get damp. Dirty fur alone won’t kill a chinchilla, but will make it uncomfortable and stressed. Two or three dust baths a week are recommended, but you can give dust baths every day if your chinchilla needs them.

So, if you run out of chinchilla dust, don’t worry. Your pet will be just fine. The guide below explores why chinchillas bathe in dust even if they don’t need to, plus how often you should give your chinchilla a bath.

What Happens If You Don’t Give a Chinchilla a Dust Bath?

Chinchilla natural habitat.
Image courtesy of Jaime E. Jimenez.

If your chinchilla doesn’t batheits fur will get oilier and dirtier. You can feel this change when you handle your pet. This will make your chinchilla uncomfortable and unhappy, but it won’t die.

Wild chinchillas bathe in dust to keep their fur clean. They roll around in the fine dusts and dirt they find in the foothills of the Andes. The Central Volcanic Zone of the Andean Volcanic Belt runs right through what used to be prime chinchilla territory. This means there’s lots of fine dust for them to roll around in.

Dust works by absorbing any oil or moisture in the fur. When the chinchilla rolls around in the dust, the dust picks up the oil, and the force of the rolling then dislodges it.

If you’re familiar with this idea, there’s good reason. It’s the same way that talc/talcum powder works. Some people also use cornflour for the same purpose. Using products like these isn’t as good as bathing, but it’s better than doing nothing. It’s also preferable for chinchillas because they have trouble getting their fur dry once it’s wet.

How Often Does a Chinchilla Need a Dust Bath?

Most owners give their chinchillas dust baths two or three times a week. But this is something that other owners disagree with. Some owners bathe their chinchillas four times a week, others only once. Some breeders supposedly never bathe their chinchillas (although we don’t recommend that).

There are all sorts of reasons why one approach or the other may be better for your pet. The list below explores all the things that affect bathing frequency, and how often you might want to bathe your chinchilla instead…

1) Eye Irritation After a Dust Bath

Chinchillas have no control over where dust flies when they bathe. Some can easily get in their eyes. When it does, because it’s so fine, it can get stuck.

This causes irritation, redness and even slight swelling. It can also cause a runny eye. These are all serious problems: your chinchilla’s wet fur around its eye could cause a bacterial infection, and it could lose its eye. This is seen when chinchillas have to bathe more frequently than usual.

Frequency: once a week.

2) Thicker or Thinner Fur

Not all chinchillas have the same fur density. While all pet chinchillas are of the same species, they have since been bred for thicker fur. As such, some will have much thicker fur than others, which means they will get oilier quicker.

Frequency: once to three times a week, depending on thickness of fur.

3) Very Dirty or Oily Fur

Chinchilla fur is easy to get dirty and wet. Whether an accident happens when your chinchilla is in its play pen, or it spills water on its chest from its water bottle, dirty fur can get matted and clumpy. In severe cases, it could even make ringworm possible.

If your chinchilla got its fur dirty or wet somehow, throw your bathing schedule out the window! You should give your pet a dust bath as soon as possible. You can revert back to your schedule afterwards.

Frequency: immediately, then back to normal.

4) Bumblefoot or Other Open Wounds

A chinchilla’s feet are drier than the rest of its body as it is, but bumblefoot is where the skin got so dry that the skin cracked. You may experience something similar with dry and cracked skin on your hands during winter. Dusting when a chinchilla has bumblefoot makes the feet even drier, and the condition worse.

Chinchillas can also have open wounds elsewhere around the body. The same applies when this is the case.

Frequency: not until the wound has healed.

5) Fleas and Mites

Contrary to popular belief, chinchillas can have parasites in their fur. They typically affect the areas where fur is thinnest, like the thighs and tail.

Either way, dusting combats fleas and mites. They come loose from the fur during bathing. Therefore, daily bathing is an effective treatment for them.

Frequency: daily until fleas are gone, or until your chinchilla displays negative symptoms of frequent bathing.

6) If You Have Asthma

While chinchillas are largely hypoallergenic, you can still be allergic to their bathing dust, hay and urine. Bathing dust can trigger asthma attacks, so people with asthma have to wear a mask and even goggles when they bathe their pet.

Alternatively, you could consider bathing it slightly less often, say once a week. This would mean your allergies are triggered less frequently, but your chinchilla will still be comfortable in its fur coat.

Frequency: once a week.

7) Chinchilla Won’t Take Dust Baths

Sometimes, no matter what you try, your chinchilla might not want to take a bath. Normally they enjoy bathing and look forward to it, but if yours doesn’t, don’t worry. Just try again in a few days’ time.

The only problem is if your chinchilla never wants to bathe again! If that’s the case, there may be something wrong with its health. Talk to a vet about the issue. If your pet’s fur gets too dirty, you may need to bathe it in water according to special guidelines.

Frequency: try every few days, and consider changing to a different kind of dust.

8) If You’re Taking Your Chins to a Show

Chinchilla shows are like pageants, but for chins. Many breeders actively breed chinchillas solely for shows. Before a show, a breeder might dust their chin daily to keep their fur in tip-top condition. They may do this for up to six months before a show!

Frequency: every day.

9) Baby Kits’ First Dust Bath

Another reason your schedule might go out the window is if you’re caring for baby kits. There is no rule as to when kits first bathe; rather, it’s when they feel like it. You put the dust bath down and let the whole family bathe if they want to. Eventually the kits will follow their mother’s lead and dust, too, but until then you have to be patient.

This isn’t a problem because a kit’s fur is thinner than that of an adult.

Frequency: as and when.

10) If The Humidity Is High

Chinchillas should ideally be kept at lower than 50% humidity. The higher the humidity, the damper their fur can get between dust baths.

If your chinchilla has to stay somewhere with high humidity for a while, you can mitigate the effects with more frequent dust baths. This will stop moisture from getting caught in your chin’s fur. That being said, humidity will still mean your chinchilla can overheat at lower temperatures, so you should move your chinchilla somewhere more appropriate as soon as possible.

Frequency: every day.

How Long Can a Chinchilla Go Without a Dust Bath?

Despite your best intentions, there may be times when dusting isn’t possible. Perhaps you ran out unexpectedly; or maybe the dust got wet or peed on. If that’s the case, don’t worry.

Dusting is largely for looks and comfort. It’s akin to washing your hair. If you go without washing your hair for a while, it might feel uncomfortably greasy. But you’re not going to get sick and die.

The same applies to chinchillas. A chinchilla could live its whole life without taking a dust bath. But it would likely be extremely uncomfortable and greasy; it would also be stressed, as dust bathing is a natural behavior that it wants to express. That’s why we recommend bathing at least once a week.

You can see this sometimes in chinchillas that are for sale, or are handed in to rescues. They can have very greasy fur that looks as if it’s never been washed. Provided these chinchillas don’t have underlying health problems, they’ll make a full recovery.

Below, you can find our chinchilla quiz, new posts for further reading, and a signup for our Chinchilla Newsletter!

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New owner, don't know where to start? Or do you need a handy chinchilla reference guide? Check out our Chinchilla Care 101 eBook, or get what you need from our online store!