If you want a new pet, and you’re set on a chinchilla, you must have lots of questions. One of the first when considering any pet is whether it stinks or has a strong scent.
How smelly are chinchillas? They rate perhaps 2/10, much less stinky than other pets. They groom themselves and are hygienic, so only smell if they aren’t cared for properly. Neglect like not giving dust baths and not cleaning the chinchilla cage can cause poop, pee or bacteria smells. These issues are easy to fix.
So, chinchillas make a great choice for a new pet. And if your existing pet chinchilla smells bad, don’t worry: our guide below will tell you a) why, and b) how to fix it!
Do Chinchillas Smell Bad?
A chinchilla shouldn’t smell bad. They’re naturally clean animals: they frequently bathe and groom their fur, and the fur of their cage-mates. Their poops are solid and dry, and they only infrequently pee, as they like to conserve water. They eat hay, which is dry, so won’t go bad easily.
You may already be familiar with how bad other small pets smell. But do chinchillas smell like ferrets or rabbits? They don’t: they’re nowhere near as stinky!
The only reason a chinchilla might smell is if you aren’t taking care of it well enough. You see this frequently with rescue chinchillas that were neglected. Rescued or surrendered chinchillas often have problems that never affect other chinchillas, such as lice, ticks, very thin fur and smelly fur.
Do Chinchillas Smell Good?
The general consensus is that chinchillas should be odorless. Their hard poops are dry to the touch, so shouldn’t smell. They keep their fur grease- and fluid-free, so that shouldn’t smell of anything either.
Some owners think their chinchilla smells sweet. This could be due to your chinchilla’s hay, certain kinds of which can smell (and taste!) sweet.
If you were to pick up your chinchilla and hold it up to your nose, you may not notice any smell at all. If your chinchilla recently had a dust bath, it might smell like that; similarly, if it was recently rolling around in its hay, it might smell like that instead. But chinchillas have remarkably little ‘chinchilla scent’.
Do Chinchillas Have Bad Breath?
All animals have bad breath to an extent. That’s because the mouth is naturally full of bacteria, even if you brush your teeth, use mouthwash and floss. It’s permanently damp, closed off to the outside, and has lots of tiny nooks and corners where bacteria can develop behind teeth and at the back of the mouth. This problem can get worse if your chinchilla has some kind of infection in its mouth, too.
As such, you shouldn’t expect your chinchilla’s breath to smell like roses. But it’s no worse than the breath of any other pet (or smelly relative).
The only instance in which it might have worse breath is if it has an infection in its mouth. These can occur if your chinchilla’s teeth overgrow and cut into its gums, causing open wounds that then get infected. If that’s happened, take your chinchilla to the vet.
Do Chinchilla Cages Stink?
Most of the stink from a small pet is from its cage rather than the pet itself. The pet might have its own unique scent, or smell faintly of pee or poop. But it’s the cage that harbors the bulk of the bad smell.
That’s the case with chinchillas too. Chinchillas need to go to the toilet, and this will smell bad if you don’t clean the cage well enough. The poop and pee builds up and attracts bacteria, which makes the smell worse.
But if you’re considering buying a chinchilla, don’t let that put you off. With a tiny amount of care and attention (as little as five minutes a day!) you can completely stop a chinchilla’s cage or a chinchilla’s fur from smelling bad.
Why Does My Chinchilla Stink?
There are two main reasons why your chinchilla smells bad. The first is the chinchilla’s thick fur, and the second is its cage. Both of these issues can be corrected with proper care. Your chinchilla can also smell bad if it gets sick, but this isn’t as common.
This section of the guide addresses why these things can make your chinchilla smell bed; the rest focuses on how to fix the problem.
1) Soiled Bedding (Dirty Chinchilla Cage Smell)
Chinchillas need to go to the toilet like any other animal. This isn’t something they can help. In fact, chinchillas are much cleaner in this regard than other animals: they pick a corner of the cage to pee in (and can be toilet trained), and their poops are hard and small so shouldn’t smell bad.
The problem is if you don’t clean your pet’s cage frequently enough. Urine-soaked bedding develops bacteria and starts to stink; poop can build up and break down if it gets wet, and start to stink too. You’ll notice this generic dirty-cage smell if you’ve ever had small pets before.
2) Chinchilla Hay Got Wet
Your chinchilla’s hay can also make its cage smell. The hay on its own shouldn’t smell bad; it’s dried grass. It won’t go off if it’s kept dry, and hay can be kept for years in the right conditions.
But many chinchillas eat in a way that causes lots of mess. They pick up a piece of hay, eat part of it, and discard it. A moment later they’ll get another piece of fresh hay and nibble on that instead. Soon, the floor of the cage is littered in old hay.
If the cage stays dry, this isn’t a big problem. But if the hay gets wet, the bacteria in the bedding will start feeding on the hay and making it stink. This is the main scent people associate with small pets like chinchillas.
3) Fungus & Bacteria in Chinchilla Fur (Dirty Chinchilla Fur Smell)
The other thing that can smell is your chinchilla’s fur. Chinchilla fur is thicker than that of any other animal, at an amazing eighty hairs per follicle. People have at most two or three hairs per follicle, which shows you how thick chinchilla fur really is.
The downside to such lovely fur is that when it gets damp, it stays damp, unless you manually dry it. This can cause:
- Fungal infections. Fungus loves warm and damp conditions, and invisible spores float through your home even if you keep it clean.
- Bacteria. Bacteria, like fungus, love damp and warm conditions like a wet chinchilla’s fur.
Plus, if your chinchilla smells like urine, this will be why. Chinchillas will go to the toilet in one corner of their cage. But if you don’t change their bedding frequently enough, they can accidentally sit in or walk through the urine and get their fur dirty.
What you won’t notice is any kind of greasy, sweaty smell. Chinchillas don’t have sweat glands, and dust baths keep fur clean of grease.
4) Do Chinchillas Have Scent Glands?
Many animals have scent glands that they use to mark territory or release warning smells. Chinchillas do, too. These scent glands are found on your chinchilla’s bottom.
Your chinchilla may release scent from these glands when it’s startled or overexcited. People report how it smells in different ways: some people think it smells like burnt nuts/almonds, others say vitamins. Others think it smells like concentrated urine, others say pasta. The exact smell may be related to the chinchilla’s diet or another factor which is why it’s not always the same.
This smell isn’t a serious issue. For starters, it’s exceptionally unpleasant to smell, and the scent will go away on its own. But you’ll also only smell it infrequently, and only when you accidentally frighten your pet, e.g. by picking it up when it doesn’t want you to, or by making a sudden loud noise.
5) Chinchilla Smelly Poop
A chinchilla’s poop shouldn’t stink. It should be hard and dry, which means it won’t smell bad. But chinchillas can have gut problems that give it diarrhea/softer poop than usual, in which case it can smell. It will smell like any poop does.
Poop will also smell bad if it’s left in a cage for a long time. Bacteria in the cage will break it down, which happens even quicker if it gets wet.
6) Your Chinchilla Is Sick
Last but not least, your chinchilla could smell bad because it’s sick. Lots of health issues cause bad smells, the most obvious being infection.
When an open wound gets infected, the bacteria inside multiply. As they do, they cause the instantly-recognizable gone-off-food/wound smell. This shouldn’t be an obvious smell from a distance (like pee might be), but you will smell it up close. Chinchillas can get infections:
- In their eyes. Eye infections like pinkeye don’t smell unless they get really bad.
- In their mouths. Chinchillas can get open, ulcerated wounds from their teeth growing too long/large.
- All over their bodies. When chinchillas fight aggressively, they bite and can cause bite wounds.
Gastrointestinal bugs can cause diarrhea, as pointed out above.
7) Are Chinchillas Messy?
Chinchillas can also make a mess of their cage. This won’t make the cage sell unless you don’t clean it; but if you don’t, it will contribute to the overall smell.
The main way in which chinchillas are messy is that they throw their food everywhere. But chinchillas can also get messy accidentally by dribbling water on themselves from the water bottle, for example.
Plus, some chinchillas are messier than others. While most chinchillas will pick a corner to pee in and then only pee there, other chinchillas don’t bother. They pee anywhere they like: in any corner, on any platform, even outside the cage! These chinchillas smell more than average.
How to Stop Chinchilla Cage Smelling
A basic care routine is enough to stop your chinchilla’s cage smelling. This routine amounts to 5-10 minutes per day (if that) of cleaning and tidying, coupled with occasional deeper cleans of your pet’s cage. Because chinchillas are naturally clean, this routine is not difficult.
1) Regular Spot Cleaning
‘Spot cleaning‘ is a term that means frequent small cleans as opposed to deep cleans. If you like to cook, you’ll be familiar with ‘cleaning as you go’, which is the same idea.
You can spot clean your chinchilla’s cage every day, which will prevent smell from building up. This involves:
- Sweeping up poop from the cage floor and platforms
- Sweeping up discarded hay from the cage floor
- Removing any sections of soiled bedding and replacing them with fresh
- Tidying up anything else that needs tidying
Keeping the cage floor clean is of particular importance. Urine by itself has a scent, but it’s only if left for a long time that it starts to stink bad. That’s because of bacterial build-up. As bacteria builds up in the soaked bedding, it can spread to any poop or hay nearby and break that down, too, causing even more bad smells.
To be clear, if you aren’t prepared to spend such a small amount of time looking after another living creature, then a chinchilla is not for you. There are pets that require even less care and maintenance, so if you absolutely must have a pet but cannot spare 5-10 minutes a day, pick one of these instead.
2) Occasional Deep Cleaning
Deep cleaning is where you take everything from your chinchilla’s cage to clean it more thoroughly. This need only be done infrequently (once every month to six months, depending on when smell develops). The idea is simple:
- Place your chinchilla somewhere safe while you work, e.g. in its play pen
- Remove everything from the cage
- Discard all bedding/launder the fleece lining of the cage
- Wash every cage accessory in soap and water
- Wipe down the inside and outside of the cage with bleach and rinse clean
- Dry and replace every thing one by one
The idea is to get rid of all bacteria in the cage to prevent smells building up. Once you’ve done this, it will take longer for things like soiled bedding to get really smelly because there are fewer germs around. This process takes around half an hour. You can put some music on or have the TV on in the background if you would get bored cleaning for so long.
For a more detailed guide on spot cleaning and deep cleaning, see our other guide.
How to Stop Chinchilla Fur Smelling
Your chinchilla will do all it can to keep its own fur clean. But sometimes factors outside of its control will make its fur stink, such as:
- Sitting or standing in its own urine
- Sitting or standing in wet poop
- Fungal or bacterial infections
- Dirty clumps of fur
- A build-up of oil
All of these problems can be corrected with the care guidelines below.
1) Do Dust Baths Stop Chinchillas Smelling Bad?
Your chinchilla should be getting dust baths twice a week. If you aren’t giving it any, you need to start immediately.
Wild chinchillas bathe in dust for several reasons. For starters, it gets the job done: it rids fur of greasy oils and parasites. But also, their wild range is dry, meaning there’s hardly any water to bathe in anyway. Even if there were, it’s so cold that their damp fur would quickly kill them. Pet chinchillas therefore bathe in the same way as they have only been domesticated for around a hundred years.
The process itself is easy:
- Place a large bowl or tub full of dust somewhere your chinchilla can access
- Let your chinchilla roll around in it for ten minutes
- Remove the bowl
The dust will get everywhere, so it’s better to pick somewhere that can easily be cleaned, like the bathtub. You can reuse dust until it starts clumping up (or if your chinchilla has parasites in its fur). If your chinchilla has very dirty fur, it can bathe every day until the smell and dirt go away, although be careful that its eyes don’t get irritated.
2) Do You Need to Groom a Chinchilla?
Few owners groom their chinchillas as there is typically no need. Also, most brushes and combs are ineffective in chinchilla fur as it’s so thick. But it can be done, and it can boost fur quality and appearance.
This won’t do much to fix the smell in your chinchilla’s fur. But it will stop the fur forming knots and getting matted as easily if your chinchilla has to live in unsuitable conditions.
3) Last Resort: Chinchilla Water Bath
Contrary to popular belief, you can safely bathe a chinchilla in water provided you get it dry soon afterwards. This is a good way to help a chinchilla which has been severely neglected as you can wash its fur with gentle soap. This kills bacteria in the fur. Here’s how it’s done:
- Fill a tub or large bowl with warm-ish water. Too hot or too cold can hurt your pet. It shouldn’t be warmer than 70 degrees Fahrenheit, or 21 degrees Centigrade.
- Gently rub soapy water into your chinchilla’s fur. Use Dawn dish soap or a gentle soap made for babies.
- Rinse your chinchilla with clean water and finish the bath before the water gets cold.
- Towel dry your pet to get rid of most of the water. Then, blow dry your chinchilla’s fur on a cool setting. A warm setting will make your chinchilla overheat, and it could pass away.
- Once it’s almost entirely dry, offer your chinchilla a dust bath.
This should only be done as a last resort, because if you don’t pay careful attention, you could overheat or chill your chinchilla.
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