Chinchillas aren’t perfect pets, and one thing yours might do is pee on the shelves/platforms in its cage (rather than in its bedding, or just in one corner). But why is that so bad, and how can you make it stop?
How do you get a chinchilla to stop peeing on the shelves in its cage? You could litter train it by putting a tray in the corner of its cage. Alternatively, you could remove the shelves, then sand them down and douse them in vinegar to remove the smell, so your chinchilla doesn’t recognize it as a ‘peeing place’. Bear in mind that it’s difficult to train a chinchilla, so you may not be successful.
The guide below first explores why a chinchilla might pee on the shelves in its cage. You need to understand this before moving on to how to stop it, and we’ll give three easy steps you can follow to stop shelf peeing once and for all… Hopefully. So, read on!
Why Is My Chinchilla Peeing on Shelves?
If there’s one thing that’s true of all chinchillas, it’s that they have minds of their own! Your pet will do what it likes, and it just so happens that what yours likes doing is peeing on the shelves/platforms in its cage. This may be solely because it likes to pee on the shelves, or because you notice your chinchilla peeing everywhere. This inconvenient behavior makes the cage smelly and gets urine in your pet’s fur. But if it’s downright bad for your pet—which having damp fur definitely is—why would your chinchilla do it?
Do Chinchillas Mark Their Territory?
Chinchillas may mark their territory, although some owners disagree. The idea makes sense: pee contains pheromones that are unique to each animal, which applies to chinchillas as it does to known territory-markers. So, if the chin feels threatened—whether because there’s another chinchilla around, or because it’s stressed—it might change its normal peeing habits to pee in a new place.
If this is true, it would apply especially to females. That’s because females are the core of each wild chinchilla herd, while the males can switch from one group to another. It’s therefore females that have more of a need to mark territory. Males will still do so sometimes, but not as often.
The problem is that chinchillas don’t have well-defined and obvious scenting behaviors like other animals do. They don’t pee on vertical surfaces, for example, where the scent would be more obvious to passing intruders. And they don’t sniff out scents using the Flehmen response like cats or other pets. As such, while it’s possible that chinchillas mark territory with pee, it isn’t known for sure. As such, there are other explanations we have to consider.
Your Chin Picked The Shelf As Its ‘Pee Place’
Many chinchillas pick one place to pee, and only ever pee there. This is a behavior that chinchillas presumably developed to avoid getting urine in their fur, which can’t get dry easily, and would be unsanitary. The most common choice is one corner of the cage. There are some chinchillas that don’t seem to do this, for reasons that aren’t clear. These chinchillas will pee wherever they like, whenever they like; but picking a pee-place is a known and common behavior.
If this applies to your chin, then it’s picking up on the scent of its own pee. Perhaps it peed on the shelf randomly one day, and then as it smelled its pee there, it kept peeing there over and over.
Not every chinchilla behavior has an obvious explanation. For example, sometimes chinchillas bark for what seems like no reason. Or, your chin might one day play happily with its cage mate, but the next day fall out with it, and the pair will have to be separated.
Ultimately, chinchillas are still not well understood. They have only been domesticated for a hundred years or so, and haven’t yet been bred to have a particular personality or temperament we can understand. Dogs have; we understand that certain breeds love to play fetch because we bred them to retrieve things for us when we hunt (like Golden Retrievers). But it will be a long time until we understand everything a chinchilla does like we can with other pets.
How to Stop a Chinchilla Peeing on Shelves
This behavior is inconvenient, so you should take measures to make your chinchilla stop. Here are three ideas that might help.
1. Litter Train Your Chinchilla
It is possible to litter train a chinchilla, but only to an extent. It’s worth trying to see if it works for you.
Litter training a chinchilla works differently to litter training other pets. The idea is to rely on your chinchilla’s instinct to pee in one place rather than anywhere it likes. As stated above, some chinchillas are more strict with this ‘rule’ while others are less so, so this may or may not work. What you do is place a small litter tray in the corner of your chin’s cage. Some people use specially-made trays for small pet cages, while others use Pyrex dishes. They are lined with bedding or fleece to absorb the urine.
What a litter tray does is give your chinchilla somewhere pleasant to pee (and that’s easier for you to clean up). The tray either has a grating in it so your chin doesn’t sit directly in the pee, or bedding of some kind, so either way it won’t get its fur wet. If you litter train your chin from a young age, it likely won’t pee as much in inconvenient places like on shelves.
2. The Vinegar Method
If the method above doesn’t work, you may get your chinchilla to stop urinating on wood shelves in its cage by using vinegar. The idea is to mask the smell of your chinchilla’s pee, so that it doesn’t recognize the shelf as one of its pee-places.
You take the shelves from the cage, soak them in vinegar for ten minutes, then allow them to dry. Some owners then soak them again just to make sure it permeates all the way through, while others sand the shelf before doing so to give the vinegar more surface area to work with. This also gets rid of the staining in the wood, which is where the odor is concentrated. Either way, once fully dried, the shelves are replaced.
This method isn’t fool-proof. It works for some chins but not for others, so don’t be too disappointed if it doesn’t work for yours. Bear in mind also that even if your chin stops peeing on its shelves, it may start peeing in some other inappropriate way instead (like outside the cage).
3. Avoid Cross-Contamination
This method only applies if you have several chinchilla cages. If you do, then when one chinchilla smells another, it may feel extra-territorial and so begin marking its territory. There are several ways in which this might happen:
- The chinchilla cages are in the same room. Scent can travel through the air on dust, fur, you, or something else.
- You use the same dustpan and brush to spot clean each cage at night. In sweeping, you pick up poop, hay and fur from the first chinchilla’s cage. Even if properly disposed of, your chin can smell these things on the brush when you use it.
- You handle one chinchilla after handling another, but without washing your hands. It’s good practise to do so anyway as this prevents fungal or bacterial infections from spreading, and parasites too, although these are uncommon.
- You reuse the dust that one chinchilla has bathed in, and give it to the other. Having cagemates use the same dust is fine, but a chinchilla won’t like that it smells of another chin it’s not bonded with.
There are simple fixes to all of these problems. If the chins are in the same room and always seem stressed, put them in different rooms. Purchase two cheap dust pans, one for each cage; wash your hands after handling a chinchilla; and only allow each chinchilla to reuse its own bathing dust.
My Chinchilla Won’t Stop Peeing on Its Shelves!
If you’ve tried each of the fixes above and your chin still won’t stop, there’s nothing you can do. While chinchillas can be trained to an extent, this is one behavior that can’t always be defeated. But there are things you can do to make the behavior less inconvenient for you and your pet.
Place Fleece Over the Shelves
The main issue with your chin peeing on the shelves in its cage is that it will get its fur wet. This makes the fur damp, and so encourages odor and fungal or bacterial infections. But if there’s fleece there, it will absorb the urine and stop it from pooling up (provided you change it frequently). This will also prevent odor building up in your chinchilla’s cage.
This is something that’s worth doing even if your chin isn’t peeing on its shelves. Bare wood is uncomfortable for a chinchilla; if your pet stands on bare wood for too long, it can develop bumblefoot, an uncomfortable or even fatal foot infection. The fleece provides enough comfort to prevent this.
Replace the Shelves
If cleaning the shelves doesn’t discourage the behavior, you could consider replacing them entirely.
That doesn’t mean getting rid of the shelves for good. Your chinchilla needs platforms for jumping to and from in its cage, as jumping is a natural behavior that it needs to express. Believe it or not, but if chinchillas aren’t able to display this behavior, they become stressed and even depressed.
Rather, you can replace the shelves with new ones. This might get rid of the smell of pee once and for all. It could be that when you used vinegar, it didn’t entirely get rid of the smell. New shelves would solve that.
Don’t get plastic shelves, even though they wouldn’t absorb pee like wooden shelves do. Plastic shelves have their own problem, namely that your chin will chew on them. The plastic gets stuck in your pet’s gut and causes GI stasis. Replace them with new wooden ones, ideally treated with something that will stop the pee soaking in.
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