Chinchillas are gentle, placid and cute. But they also have long front teeth. So, do chinchillas bite, and if so, does it hurt?
Do chinchillas bite? They do: a chinchilla’s teeth are its primary tool of self-defense. Chinchillas bite when they feel threatened or stressed, so don’t pester or punish your pet if it bites. Instead, rebuild your bond of trust. Bite marks can draw blood and get infected, so need to be cleaned and bandaged. If infection develops, ask a doctor for antibiotics.
A biting chinchilla is an unhappy chinchilla, so to stop your chinchilla biting, you have to correct whatever’s wrong. The guide below explains the different kinds of chinchilla bite, what makes them bite, and how to stop a chinchilla biting for good.
Do Chinchillas Bite?
A chinchilla’s teeth are its only means of self-defense, so yes, they do bite.
Biting happens most frequently in the context of handling. So, when you pick your chinchilla up, it will bite you if it doesn’t want you to do that. It’s far less common for a chinchilla to come over to you and bite you, e.g. if you’re sitting and watching it play.
Because of this, chinchilla bites typically occur on the fingertips, the fingers, the sides of the palm, the knuckles and the back of the hand. But your chinchilla could hypothetically bite you anywhere.
Do Chinchilla Bites Hurt?
Chinchilla bites vary in how much they hurt. That’s because some bites are intended as a warning, while others are because the chinchilla is panicked and feels that it has to fight for its life. Needless to say, the former is much more common.
Real bites are exceptionally painful. They’re more painful than a cat bite, for example, because a chinchilla’s teeth are larger. They cover a larger surface area, so the wound is bigger, so it hurts more.
These bites can hurt even more because they’re on the hands. The hands have more nerves in them than most other parts of the body. As such, bites or scratches on the hand hurt more than on the feet, for example.
Similarly, bites on the fingers can draw blood easily. The fingers have lots of capillaries in them close to the surface of the skin, and the skin itself is thin.
Are Chinchilla Bites Dangerous?
Chinchilla bites are not dangerous. They aren’t hard enough to cause severe physical trauma like bites of other pets can. So, you won’t bleed to death if your chinchilla bites you! They are also highly unlikely to keep biting: they’ll bite once, to tell you to leave them alone, then try to get away from you. And because chinchilla bites are typically on the fingers and hands, this makes them even less dangerous. A bite on the eye, for example, would be far worse—but is unheard of.
Chinchillas also don’t carry rabies, so that’s not an issue. Rabies is a disease that passes from one animal to another, and if your chinchilla is kept in a cage indoors as it should be, it’s impossible for it to catch it.
The only way in which a chinchilla bite could be dangerous is if one gives you a severe infection. But this can be prevented with basic medical care, and any infection can be corrected with antibiotics. So chinchilla bites are in no way dangerous.
What Do Chinchilla Bite Wounds Look Like?
Chinchilla bites look different depending on how hard your pet bit you. Often all they leave behind is what looks like a small graze. But if your chinchilla bites down harder, it will leave a distinctive pattern.
Your chinchilla is biting you with its front teeth: its incisors. It doesn’t have canines and it won’t bite you with its molars. Therefore, its bites will leave a pattern of two wide wounds at the top and two wide wounds at the bottom. These wounds are deeper if the bite was severe.
Why Do Chinchillas Bite?
Chinchillas bite when they feel threatened. They’re gentle creatures when they’re treated well.
If your chinchilla bites you, this doesn’t necessarily mean you’re a cruel owner, but it can mean that you misunderstood your chinchilla’s behavior or body language. If a chinchilla is uncomfortable with you, it may:
- Try to get away from you
- Stand on its hind legs as it faces you
- Appear nervous when you try to handle it
- It will make particular noises like grunting or kacking
By far the most common reason chinchillas bite is because owners don’t respect their boundaries. Sometimes, even the friendliest chinchillas want alone time, and they may tell you by biting you. So, whether it’s because you’re poking your fingers through your chinchilla cage’s bars, or because you’re picking your pet up when it doesn’t want you to, it might bite you to get you to stop.
But this is just one of several potential causes.
Your Chinchilla Is Stressed
Chinchillas bite more when they’re stressed. It’s because you stress your chinchilla out when you pester it that it bites you. But there are other causes of stress that can contribute, too:
- Your chinchilla’s cage is inappropriate. It could be too small, too dirty, too bare or house too many chinchillas.
- Your chinchilla is sick or in pain. It might not want to move around or spend time with you.
- Loud noises and bright lights. Chinchillas are skittish and prefer to hide when these things make them stressed.
- Your chinchilla is too hot or too cold.
It’s worth monitoring your chinchilla to see whether one of these issues is affecting it. If one is, you can correct it, and you may see immediate improvement in your chinchilla’s behavior.
Your Chinchilla Is Cornered
As stated above, chinchillas bite when they feel threatened. But aside from feeling threatened by you (for whatever reason), your chinchilla can also feel vulnerable when it’s cornered.
There are lots of ways this can happen. So, for example, your chinchilla might be outside of its cage for playtime. When playtime is over, you might move towards your chinchilla while it’s in the corner of the room; it’s literally cornered. But other circumstances aren’t so literal, such as when you approach your chinchilla when it’s in its hide. If the hide only has one entrance, your chinchilla will feel vulnerable because it has no means of escape.
This can affect chinchillas that otherwise would never bite. Even if your chin is completely socialized and enjoys spending time with you, if you corner it, it might bite.
Nibbling vs. Biting
What can confuse some new owners is the difference between nibbling and biting. New chinchillas will nibble you the first few times they sit on your hands. That’s because they nibble anything and everything they can get their mitts on. This is a natural instinct stemming from:
- Chinchillas’ poor eyesight. Chinchillas need to explore the world through hearing, smelling and nibbling because their eyesight is blurry.
- Chinchillas’ nibbling instinct. Chinchilla teeth grow continually so need to be ground down through gnawing on things.
- Grooming. Chinchillas are social and like to groom each other. They nibble each others’ fur to keep it clean and free of parasites.
You can tell nibbling from biting because of the context it’s done in. If the chinchilla isn’t stressed or unhappy, it won’t bite. Nibbling is gentler and is repeatedly done on the same area, while biting is hard and done once.
Once a chinchilla finds out you aren’t good for eating, it’ll stop nibbling you. Biting, on the other hand, is more deliberate and more painful. It occurs only in certain contexts like those described above, while chinchillas love to gnaw any time, anywhere.
Not Washing Your Hands Before Handling
Your chinchilla might bite you because your hands smell like food. If you were recently refreshing its hay for example, your hands will smell just like it, and guess what: your chinchilla thinks your hands are food. Remember, chinchillas have poor eyesight and rely on smell instead.
That applies to treats, too. Many guides state you can get a chinchilla comfortable with you by placing treats in your hand. Treats will distract your pet, but will also make your hand smell like food, so they can be a mixed blessing.
Chinchilla Kits Bite More than Adults
Chinchilla kits, as baby chinchillas are known, are excitable and playful. They’re also keen to explore the world around them, meaning more nibbling and more biting. They’re also figuring out how hard they have to bite for it to hurt!
As such, many young chinchillas grow out of their bratty and bitey phase eventually. All you have to do is avoid reacting and wait.
The reverse is true, too. Chinchillas aren’t good pets for kids, because kids can be loud and move quickly even if they try not to. Because they’re more unpredictable, chinchillas don’t like children, so are more likely to bite them.
You Feed Treats Through The Cage Bars
This is an easy mistake for new owners to make. You think you’re doing something good: giving your chinchilla a treat. But by feeding the treat through the cage bars, you’re setting yourself up for some nibbling!
The problem is that chinchillas are such good learners. Your chinchilla comes to associate you putting your fingers through the bars of its cage with getting a treat. So in the future, any time you poke your fingers through the bars, your chinchilla will nibble at them. It’s not doing so out of aggression, but because you’ve taught it through your actions to expect a treat.
Instead, all you have to do is put your chinchilla’s snacks in its hay rack or small food bowl. But if you’ve already trained your chinchilla to expect snacks this way, you can’t un-teach it, so just avoid putting your fingers between the bars.
Can Chinchilla Bites Get Infected?
My chinchilla bit me and drew blood! It’s no wonder: chinchilla teeth are long and sharp. But while the bite itself hurts, what’s more serious is the risk of infection. Any open wound can get infected if it isn’t treated properly. That includes chinchilla bites.
An infection is where bacteria or even a fungus starts growing in a wound. The skin is a protective layer; but if there’s an open gap, things can get inside. In a wound, bacteria can feed on nutrients in the blood and multiply.
Bites are particularly good at causing infections. That’s because every animal’s mouth contains lots of bacteria. These bacteria are left behind in the wound after the bite.
You can tell when a wound is infected because:
- It will be swollen
- It will be red, or in severe cases, other colors like green
- There may be pus (white fluid)
- It smells bad
- It hurts more than a wound of that size should
It’s easy to prevent this from happening.
How to Get Rid of a Chinchilla Bite Infection
Basic medical care will prevent infections. Once you’re bitten, you should:
- Wash the wound immediately. Use warm water and antibacterial salve or spray. This kills any bacteria that may have been transferred from your chinchilla’s teeth to the bite mark.
- Cover the wound with a bandage or plaster (band-aid). This stops any other bacteria from accessing the wound.
- Change the covering daily. This means that if you made a mistake when washing the wound or putting the covering on, the bacteria can’t fester in there.
Doing these things should prevent an infection from forming. If you notice the symptoms above (redness, swelling, pus, etc.) then talk to a doctor about antibiotics.
How to Stop Your Chinchilla Biting You
If your chinchilla won’t stop biting, it’s likely a problem with your approach to handling it. By adjusting how you spend time with your chinchilla using the tips below, you will eventually get it to stop biting, even if your chinchilla is very badly behaved.
1) Don’t Move Your Hand Away
This is the most basic mistake that owners make. You think that if your chinchilla bites you, you should move your hand away as soon as possible: after all, it hurts, and if you don’t it might bite again.
The main problem is that your chinchilla interprets your quick movement and loud yelp of pain as a threat. It thinks you’re going to get angry or hit it back. What’s better is to keep your hands where they are. This will show your chinchilla that you aren’t afraid of it. It will also show your pet that the proximity of your hands doesn’t mean you’re going to hit it. This can be really, really difficult, especially if you’re sensitive to pain. All you can do is grit your teeth and do your best.
What’s worse is that if you keep doing this every time your chinchilla bites you, you teach it that biting is an effective tool. You want it to think that it’s bites don’t hurt, so it shouldn’t bother biting you. Staying calm is the only way to do that.
2) Do Respect Your Chinchilla’s Boundaries
You have to learn what your chinchilla’s behaviors, body language and noises mean. This will tell you whether it is happy being handled or spending time with you or not.
The idea is to only handle your chinchilla or play with it when it’s happy for you to do so. This might be inconvenient for you at times, but remember: your chinchilla is a living being with its own wants and needs which should be respected. If you give your chinchilla that respect, it won’t bite you. So:
- Never chase your chinchilla around the room or around its cage
- Don’t force your chinchilla to do anything it doesn’t want to do
- Give new chinchillas time to adjust to you and its new surroundings
3) Don’t Punish Your Chinchilla
There’s no point hitting your chinchilla, flicking its nose, biting it back, shouting at it, or doing anything to punish it.
Chinchillas don’t understand cause and effect. If you were to flick your chinchilla’s nose, it wouldn’t understand that you flicked its nose because it bit you. All it would know is that you hit it, which means you’re a threat. The next time you try to pick it up, it’ll remember you’re a threat, and will probably bite you again… Or at least try to get away from you.
Far better is to use positive reinforcement. This is the opposite of punishment: rather than punish your chinchilla when it’s bad, reward it when it’s good. When your chinchilla sits on your hand calmly and without biting you, give it a suitable treat. Your chinchilla will repeat the behaviors that got it the treat in the future.
4) Gloves or No Gloves?
Wearing gloves has advantages, but has its drawbacks too.
On the one hand (pun intended), gloves would stop a chinchilla’s bites from hurting. This would stop you reacting instinctively by pulling your hand away. That’s a good thing.
But on the other hand, using gloves can easily backfire. Your chinchilla may see the gloves as a kind of chew toy, nibbling and gnawing at them. What you want is for your chinchilla to realize that your hands aren’t something to gnaw on, so while this will help you in the short term by blocking out the pain, it will make your chinchilla bite/nibble more in the long term.
As such, consider using them, but try a different fix if this one doesn’t work.
5) Don’t Blow in Your Chinchilla’s Face
This is easily the most common piece of advice you’ll get from any pet owner for stopping bad behavior. But it’s not helpful.
The idea is that any time your chinchilla bites you, you immediately blow in its face. You don’t have to blow hard; just a short shock will get it to stop. The same advice is applied to other pets like dogs.
But while this isn’t as bad as hitting your chinchilla or flicking its nose, your chinchilla still won’t like it. It will see what you’re doing as an act of aggression, which is what it is: you’re using a physical form of punishment that your chinchilla doesn’t understand. It will therefore make your chinchilla afraid of you, whereas what you want to teach it is to like you and enjoy spending time with you.
6) Do Start the Bonding Process Again
If your chinchilla won’t stop biting you, there is no hack or hint that will stop it straight away. Repeated biting indicates that your chinchilla doesn’t trust you. It thinks you’re a threat. To get around that, you have to build up its trust over time.
This is easy. Start by sitting near your chinchilla’s cage. You don’t even have to get your chinchilla’s attention. Your pet will smell, hear and see that you’re there, so may be wary at first, but will soon realize you aren’t there to threaten or hurt it. Next, talk to your chinchilla in a low voice. You can talk about whatever you like, but again, this is showing your pet that you’re not there to hurt it; only to sit near it.
The next step is to put your hand in your chinchilla’s cage. You don’t need to touch your pet, only hold your hand there. Start from far away before moving in closer. Then you can pick up your pet. Move at your chinchilla’s pace, only progressing from one step to the next when it is clearly comfortable.
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