Chinchillas take dust baths, not water baths, although it is possible to bathe a chinchilla in water if you know what you’re doing. But how can you, and why would you ever need to?
Can you bathe a chinchilla in water? You can, but there’s hardly ever a need for you to do so. It should only be considered in extreme cases, e.g. in severe infestations, for rescue chinchillas with dirty fur, or if a chinchilla is experiencing heat stress or hypothermia and a bath at an appropriate temperature would help. To bathe a chinchilla, fill a washing up bowl with one or two inches of water and place your chinchilla into it. Use dilutes shampoo to ensure it gets through your chinchilla’s thick fur. Ensure that the water is a suitable temperature (55-65°F/12-18°C) as your chinchilla can develop heat stress or hypothermia from being bathed.
But that’s far from all you need to know. Just as important—you have to get your chinchilla completely dry afterwards using a mixture of towel drying, blow drying, and a dust bath to finish. If you don’t, your chin could develop a fungal infection, or worse, hypothermia. The guide below looks at every stage of the bathing process, from preparation to bathing to drying, plus topics like do chinchillas need baths, how can you get a chinchilla wet without killing it, and much more.
Can You Bathe a Chinchilla in Water?
You can bathe your chinchilla in water. But there are several caveats to that statement that you need to be aware of if you plan on doing so.
The first is that there’s typically no need to bathe a chinchilla in water. Chins bathe in dust baths, and by and large, that’s enough to keep their fur sparkling clean. The second is that while bathing doesn’t instantly kill a chinchilla as if by magic, it can cause hypothermia if your chinchilla’s fur isn’t fully dried afterwards.
It’s for both of these reasons that we don’t recommend doing this if you’re a new owner. Instead, there’s likely another fix for whatever problem is affecting your chinchilla and perhaps necessitating treatment like bathing.
Do You Need to Bathe Chinchillas in Water?
As stated above, there’s normally no need to bathe a chinchilla. Pet chinchillas bathe in dust in the exact same way that their wild counterparts do. The dust acts like talc, wicking up moisture and grease. It then sticks to the fur to act like a deodorant or anti-perspirant until your chinchilla’s next bath. So, why would you need to give a chinchilla a water bath?
There are a few select circumstances in which water bathing is either necessary or might help. These are uncommon, so are unlikely to affect your pet.
- Fleas and other parasites. Chinchillas can get fleas, and bathing, even in regular soapy water, can help manage infestations.
- Ringworm. Bathing in water with an anti-fungal agent in it can treat ringworm (although it’s not the only solution).
- Exceptionally dirty fur, e.g. on a rescue chinchilla. Chinchilla rescues are a thing, and they frequently take in chins that were kept in awful conditions. These animals’ fur may be so dirty and unkempt that a dust bath wouldn’t be effective in cleaning it.
- If your chinchilla is in danger of hypothermia or heat stress. Bathing a chinchilla in water of an appropriate temperature can help cool it down or warm it up, depending on the issue affecting it.
Other than this, though, there are precious few reasons to give a chinchilla a water bath. If you’re planning on bathing it simply to keep it clean, that’s not reason enough to put your chinchilla in such an unnatural situation—as chins would never, ever bathe in water in the wild.
What Happens If Chinchillas Get Wet?
This may seem like a silly answer, but if you dunk a chinchilla in water, its fur will get wet. But why can’t chinchillas get wet?
The problem is that a chinchilla’s fur is so incredibly thick that it takes a long time to get dry without an owner’s intervention. The fur traps any water, or even just dampness, for a long time. This has knock on effects:
- Your pet will be uncomfortable. Having a wet coat would be akin to having to wear damp clothes 24/7. It would be a distinctly unpleasant experience. But you could change into something dry, whereas your chinchilla can’t.
- Your pet’s fur can develop a fungal infection. Fungus thrives in damp and warm conditions, so if your chinchilla’s fur is left damp, ringworm or other fungal infections can grow.
- Can water kill a chinchilla? It can, if you don’t dry it thoroughly. Damp fur can cause hypothermia, especially in a cool room or one with a draft.
It’s for these reasons that chinchillas don’t take water baths in the wild. They only ever take dust baths, and that’s what all owners should offer their pets. But the above doesn’t mean that water baths are never necessary, or that they can’t be safe if the owner is careful.
How to Give a Chinchilla a Water Bath: The Complete Guide
There are three steps to bathing a chinchilla. The first is to prepare yourself, the chinchilla’s bath, and the chinchilla itself in the correct way. This will make sure that bathing goes smoothly. The second step is to bathe the chinchilla, and the third is to dry it off.
As simple as that sounds, there is lots more to learn about each individual step. So, for example, preparing the bath involves knowing what temperature the water should be, how deep the water should be, where you should bathe your chinchilla, what shampoo to use and so on. Bathing involves knowing how to rub the shampoo into your pet’s fur, how long the bath take, and more besides. And, of course, drying is a multi-stage and time-consuming process since your chinchilla has such thick fur.
The rest of this guide looks at these three steps: preparation, bathing and drying.
Step 1: Preparing a Chinchilla Bath
We don’t recommend running a quick bath and bathing your chinchilla without preparing first. You need the right equipment, the right shampoo, and the right knowledge before you can. Let’s take a look at how to prepare properly for your chinchilla’s bath.
What Can You Bathe Chinchillas In?
You have a few options available to you. We recommend rectangular or square tubs as these won’t tip over as easily as a bowl. A big washing up bowl would be perfect. You may already have one of these for washing up, or for giving your chinchilla dust baths.
If you don’t have one and can’t get one, you can bathe your chinchilla in the sink. This may be a bit more awkward, especially if you have a slippy porcelain sink. You must also remember to thoroughly wash the sink afterwards to get rid of any bacteria left behind. We recommend using the bathroom rather than the kitchen sink, as it’s generally best to keep your chinchilla away from food preparation areas.
How Much Water Does a Chinchilla Water Bath Need?
You don’t need to fill your chinchilla’s tub all the way to the top to bathe it. You want enough that it covers much of your pet’s body, but not enough that your chinchilla can’t feel the bottom with its toes. It’s like bathing a baby: you’re going to be doing most of the work, so it doesn’t matter if your chinchilla’s body isn’t fully submerged. Two to three inches of water is fine. Adjust as necessary if your chinchilla is particularly tall or short!
Water Temperature for a Chinchilla Bath
The biggest pitfall of water bathing is that you need to get the temperature of the water correct. Chinchillas can very easily overheat, and that’s especially true in water. There are a few reasons why the heat of water is particularly dangerous:
- Water passes on and absorbs heat more easily than air. Have you ever noticed how cool water feels colder than air of the same temperature? That’s because water is better at sapping your body’s heat than air is. The same applies in reverse, meaning that warm water feels warmer than air of the same temperature.
- Your chinchilla’s fur doesn’t dry quickly. As such, when you take it from the bath, the warmth of the water is still acting on its body.
This means that if the water is too hot, your chinchilla can develop a condition called heat stress. This is where the body essentially starts shutting down, the organs stop working, and the animal dies. This can happen remarkably quickly even in temperatures far lower than you might expect.
It’s for the same two reasons as above that you also have to avoid the water being too cold. Chinchillas can develop hypothermia in cold water, which is similar to heat stress in that the body starts shutting down, but because of cold conditions rather than hot.
As such, you need to keep the water at a comfortable temperature. Between 55-65°F, which is 12-18°C, is optimal. This isn’t something that you should guess at; you should measure the temperature exactly with a thermometer to make sure that it’s precisely right both before and during the bath (because the water may cool down gradually, too).
What Shampoo Can You Use to Bathe a Chinchilla?
You should use a gentle shampoo, like a baby shampoo. These are formulated not to be harsh on hair and skin. You could alternatively consider using a soap brand that’s kind to skin. The fewer ingredients in the soap or shampoo, the better, as this means it’s less likely to have any unintended effects.
Ideally, you want a shampoo that doesn’t have a heavy scent. Once the bath is over you want your chinchilla’s fur to go back to smelling like normal. Chinchillas have even more sensitive senses of smell than we do, and you want your chinchilla to smell like itself again as soon as possible. There are lots of unscented shampoos and soaps available.
Preparing Your Chinchilla for a Water Bath
You should be prepared for the eventuality that your chinchilla won’t want to take a water bath. That’s normal, and you shouldn’t force your pet to do something it desperately doesn’t want to do.
Most chinchillas are friendly and docile, if a little skittish. If your pet trusts you, it will therefore not mind all that much if you put it in a water bath, even if it’s something it isn’t used to. But say for example that you take your chinchilla in your hands, and lower it into the water of the bath; if it doesn’t like the experience, your pet may try to get away from you, splashing you with water or tipping the bath altogether, and maybe even running off to hide somewhere. This isn’t dangerous for your chinchilla per se, but you’ll have to clean up and encourage your pet back into its cage. That’s a lot of work you could avoid.
If you think your chinchilla is likely to react badly, start small. Have it stand in a bath with hardly any water in it so that it can get used to the feeling. You’ll have to dry it afterwards all the same, but at least you won’t have to clean up!
Step 2: How Do You Bathe a Chinchilla?
Once you, your chinchilla and the bath are ready, you can bathe your pet.
Do Chinchillas Know How to Bathe in Water?
Your chinchilla doesn’t know how to clean itself in water like some other animals do. While it learned how to bathe in dust in the wild, it never learned how to bathe in water. That’s partly because there’s precious little water for it to bathe in in the Andes, and partly because if it did bathe in water, it couldn’t get its fur dry.
As such, your chinchilla won’t have any idea what to do if you put it in water. It certainly won’t know how to use shampoo! This means that it’s your job to bathe your chinchilla properly. That’s what the rest of this section addresses.
Should You Wear Gloves to Bathe a Chinchilla?
This is very much your choice. There’s no need for you to wear gloves if you don’t want to. But, if you don’t want the soap to dry out your hands and nails, you’re free to wear some.
The only difference would be that you can rub the shampoo into your chinchilla’s fur slightly better if you’re not wearing gloves. That’s because you can better feel your chinchilla’s fur and skin with your fingertips, while wearing gloves means you can’t feel exactly what you’re doing. That’s less of a problem if you use diluted shampoo, though, as this soaks through your pet’s fur anyway.
Also, if you’re bathing your chinchilla to get rid of parasites in its fur, that’s something else you have to consider. Do you want to be able to feel where the fleas, lice and eggs are in your chinchilla’s fur? You might be more effective at getting rid of them if you do, in which case you could keep the gloves off. But if the idea of pests disgusts you, wear them.
How to Wash a Chinchilla’s Fur with Shampoo
Use the baby shampoo as you usually would: take a small amount and lather it into the area where it’s required. Try to get in between hairs and underneath your pet’s fur to give it a thorough clean. This is essential as otherwise, you wouldn’t be addressing the issue that has made water bathing necessary, such as fleas or severely dirty fur.
To help the shampoo reach in through the outer layers of fur, you should consider diluting it. This will help the shampoo seep through to every place that it’s needed. Comparatively, if you were to rub shampoo directly onto the outside of your chinchilla’s coat, it would leave one part of the fur spotless while the rest isn’t as clean as it could be. You can either do this by mixing the shampoo with water in your hand, diluting it in the bottle beforehand, or even just picking a runnier shampoo.
We recommend only using shampoo where it’s needed. Avoid using it in places where it could hurt or irritate your chinchilla, such as around its eyes or around its mouth. Your pet’s face is a no-go area, although if necessary, you could use shampoo on the back of your pet’s head. You then have to rinse your chinchilla’s fur, as you would rinse your hair when you wash it.
If you’re only bathing your chinchilla because it got too hot, there’s no need to wash its fur with shampoo. Instead, just use water.
Rinsing a Chinchilla’s Fur
Your chinchilla’s fur requires more rinsing than you might expect. That’s because it’s so thick and dense. If you don’t rinse your pet’s fur thoroughly, some of the shampoo will be left behind. This likely wouldn’t be a major issue, as the biggest problems it could cause are that it would make your chin’s fur smell different, and that it may dry out your pet’s skin. But these problems are worth avoiding anyway.
Rinse the fur as you normally would. Gather water in your hand or in a jug and run the water on, and into, the fur. Continue until there aren’t any obvious bubbles left in the fur, meaning there’s no more soap/shampoo.
To fully rinse your pet’s fur, it may be necessary to change the water. We don’t recommend doing this if it would take a long time to refill the bath and get the water to a suitable temperature, because your chinchilla could get cold. If you have another bath, or you could pre-fill a sink with suitably warm water, then consider doing that. But otherwise, it’s preferable to leave a tiny amount of shampoo behind than to compromise your chinchilla’s health.
Can You Use a Shower Head to Bathe a Chinchilla?
Using a shower head would be a good way to rinse out your chinchilla’s fur. But if you do plan on using one, there are a few things you have to be careful of.
- You could easily have the water running at the wrong temperature. Plus, the temperature is changeable, so could start out as the right temperature but then get too hot or too cold.
- The water would splash everywhere, and could get in your chinchilla’s eyes.
- The loud noise of the shower running could make your chinchilla stressed.
- The water pressure of your shower may be high, which could shock or even hurt your chinchilla.
It’s for the same reasons that we also don’t recommend holding your chinchilla under a running tap. As such, we recommend bathing your chinchilla or rinsing its fur in other ways. Use a regular jug, bowl or cup to gently pour water through your chinchilla’s fur instead.
How Long Should You Water Bath a Chinchilla For?
There’s no need to give your chinchilla an extra long bath. Ten to fifteen minutes should be long enough. That’s because:
- Your chinchilla is small, so it won’t take a long time to wash it
- Your chinchilla will get more restless the longer you bathe it
- The temperature of the water will change as you bathe your pet, either getting hotter or colder, depending on the room temperature
Continue to monitor the temperature of the water throughout the bath, so that you can be sure it’s still the right temperature.
Step 3: How to Dry Off a Chinchilla’s Fur
Once your chinchilla’s bath is over, you should dry it off. You can do this at home with things you likely already have to hand.
Drying is a multi-stage process. That’s because a chinchilla’s fur is so thick. If you have very long or very thick hair, you’ll have experienced something similar to your chinchilla: you pat it down with a towel, but that’s nowhere near enough to dry your hair completely. You then have to blow dry it.
While drying a chinchilla’s fur can take a long time, you absolutely need to see through. If you don’t thoroughly dry your pet’s fur after its bath, it could in the best case develop a fungal infection like ringworm or in the worst case experience hypothermia.
How to Towel Dry a Chinchilla
The drying process begins with towel drying. This step isn’t too complex: you rub your chinchilla’s fur until it’s almost dry. The only thing that’s difficult about this is that it’s going to take a while.
Start by setting your chinchilla comfortably in your lap. Lay a towel down underneath it, and hold another in your hands. Then, gently rub your chinchilla’s back, sides and belly. Here are a few guidelines that will make doing so easier:
- Dry your chinchilla in a chinchilla-proofed room. If your chinchilla gets away from you, you want it to be safe in a room that it can’t escape from or hide in.
- Don’t tug at your chinchilla’s fur. If you do, you could tug tufts of fur out due to fur slip.
- Don’t get impatient and rough. It’s vital that you get your chinchilla as dry as possible, but you also don’t want the experience to be a stressful and unhappy one for your pet. Then, if you ever need to bathe your chinchilla again, it won’t want you to.
It may take ten minutes to dry your chicnhilla’s fur enough. Make time for this so you don’t have to rush or cut your drying session short.
If your chinchilla is particularly skittish or impatient, hold it in in your hands wrapped inside a towel. This will mean that it can’t get away as easily.
Can You Blow Dry a Chinchilla’s Fur?
You can only blow dry your chinchilla if a) you blow dry it on a cool setting, and b) if your pet is mostly dry already.
If you were to blow dry your chinchilla at a high heat, you would give it heat stress. This is the exact same problem as hot water would cause your pet, and you have to avoid it at all costs. You therefore can’t ever use a regular hair dryer that doesn’t have a cool setting. If that’s your only option, towel-dry your chinchilla extra-thoroughly and skip to the next step.
But that doesn’t mean that blow drying on a cool setting is perfectly safe, either. If your chinchilla is still sopping wet, then blow drying it will make the water evaporate. When water evaporates from a surface, it cools that surface down; that’s why sweating makes you feel cool, and how air conditioners make air colder. If you blew dry your chinchilla straight after you took it from its bath, it would take a very long time, and it would develop hypothermia.
As such, you have to be very careful with your blow dryer if you do decide to use it.
Dust Bath After Water Bath
To finish the drying process, we recommend allowing your chinchilla a brief dust bath.
The first thing that this achieves is that it allows your chinchilla’s fur to fully dry. It’s akin to using talc once you towel dry yourself after a shower. It leaves you feeling completely dry, because the microscopic particles of talc (or whatever you use) absorb what little moisture is left. They then form a dry, protective coat on your skin (or fur, if you’re a chinchilla).
This is an important step because even if it’s only damp, chinchilla fur takes a long time to get dry. It’s like a sponge which can hold onto water for hours, even days after getting wet. The dust stops this from happening, and prevents the fur from developing a fungal infection.
The second point of offering a dust bath is that it makes your chinchilla happy. Your chin will have been in an unfamiliar environment, feeling the unfamiliar feeling of water around its body. It will then have been rubbed with a towel (another thing it’s not used to) and perhaps even been frightened by your loud hair dryer. A dust bath is a return to normal, and your chinchilla will appreciate that.
Beyond these tips, we recommend a) avoiding water bathing where possible and b) being careful if you must bathe your chinchilla in water. With correct care, it’s highly unlikely that any of this will ever be necessary.
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