One of the cutest things a pet can do is lick you. But do chinchillas lick? And if they do, what does licking mean? Does it mean your chinchilla likes you, or what?
Why is my chinchilla licking me? It could be tasting and sniffing your skin, or it could be grooming you. You can also teach a chinchilla to lick you either on purpose or by accidentally rewarding the behavior. Or, like many behaviors, it may have no clear reason. Whatever the case, licking is uncommon but not abnormal and is not indicative of a health issue.
The guide below goes through each reason why chinchillas lick, from being friendly to liking the way you taste! You can even train your chinchilla to lick you, and our guide tells you how.
Do Chinchillas Lick You?
Chinchillas licking their owners is reasonably common behavior. Not every chinchilla does, but it’s common enough that there are lots of reports of it online.
Chinchillas don’t lick their owners as if they’re licking a salt lick or an ice cream. Rather, it’s a quick darting lick: the tongue darts out of the mouth and quickly back in again. And your chinchilla’s licks won’t be slobbery lick a dog’s might, because chinchillas don’t slobber (unless they have dental problems).
Your chinchilla might also ‘kiss’ you, where it pokes its snout at you. Most owners who say their chinchillas kiss them say they do so on their lips. While we don’t recommend doing that as it’s not hygienic, it is at least a sign that your pet trusts you and enjoys spending time with you!
What Does It Mean If Your Chinchilla Licks You?
There are several possible reasons why your chinchilla might lick you. One or more of these explanations may apply to your pet’s behavior. Bear in mind that these explanations aren’t necessarily proven by anything like scientific research, they’re just guesswork; surprisingly, few scientists have yet studied why chinchillas lick their owners!
1) Your Chinchilla Is Tasting You
A chinchilla’s eyesight isn’t as sensitive as its senses of hearing and smell. As such, it may be licking you because it has done before, and it knows what your skin tastes like!
While no studies have focused on the chinchilla’s sense of taste, it’s likely to be quite sensitive because it’s related to their sense of smell (which is good). Plus, people give off pheromones in sweat, which chinchillas can likely pick up on either by smelling or tasting.
Another reason chinchillas might want to taste you is because there’s lots of salt in your sweat. Chinchillas don’t need salt licks, but they may like the salty taste they get from your sweat. Your chin could also be sniffing out and licking at your fingers because you just gave it a treat, and you taste like it.
2) Your Chinchilla Is Sniffing You (Chinchilla Kisses)
Another reason your chinchilla might lick you is that it’s combined with sniffing you. Again, a chinchilla’s sense of smell is highly sensitive, so it may want to both sniff and taste whatever got its attention.
This could be the reason why owners report their chinchillas ‘kiss’ them on the lips. The chinchilla could be sniffing and licking its owner’s lips because they recently ate, and the chinchilla can still smell/taste food on their lips. The same would apply to your fingers if you’ve just been eating, too.
It’s for this reason and the one above that chinchilla kits lick more often than adults. Kits are still exploring the world and learning what things are. As such, they’re more curious, so are more likely to lick you and see what you taste/smell like.
3) Your Chinchilla Is Grooming You
Chinchillas are social animals. They enjoy spending time with each other, and they can derive pleasure or relieve boredom by spending time with you, too. So, it stands to reason that sometimes your chinchilla interacts with you in the way that it would with other chinchillas.
One way in which this might happen is grooming. Chinchillas groom each other as a means of reinforcing social bonds. It can also be a way of creating social hierarchies, where one dominant chinchilla grooms the other (which can turn aggressive).
If you have a chinchilla pair for long enough, you’ll eventually notice them grooming each others’ faces. This is natural and normal. It’s a sign that the chinchillas are fully comfortable with each other, so much so that they don’t mind being within biting range. It’s possible that your chinchilla is grooming your face in the same way, which would indicate that it trusts you. Something that backs up this idea is that chinchillas only typically lick if they are happy and with owners that they trust.
If your chin is grooming you, then its licks will be accompanied by tiny nibbles. These nibbles shouldn’t hurt, as they aren’t the same as proper bites. Chins nibble each other this way to keep their fur clean and tidy.
4) You Taught It To
Chinchillas are smart and can learn to do basic tricks. You can hasten the process by giving your chinchilla treats.
But why is that relevant? You may have accidentally taught your chinchilla to lick you by rewarding the behavior. If your chinchilla ever licked it and you immediately gave it a treat, it may be repeating the behavior to see if it gets more treats. Spending lots of time and reacting positively may have also helped teach your chinchilla to keep licking.
And yes, if you’re wondering, you can actively teach your chinchilla to lick as well. The best way is to a) make a specific noise to encourage it to lick (like saying ‘Lick my hand!’) and b) give it a treat if it does. If you keep repeating this action and getting the same response, then your chinchilla may begin licking even when you don’t ask.
5) Your Chinchilla Is Bored
A chinchilla’s behavior changes when it gets bored. They start to nibble and gnaw more than usual. It’s possible that licking is a reaction to boredom that’s similar to gnawing, although this is just conjecture. If this is the case, it’s likely that your chinchilla would nibble at your fingers while it licked you.
As is the case with many chinchilla behaviors, it’s possible that there’s no explanation for your pet’s behavior. Chinchillas often do things for what seems like no reason: it’s part of their charm.
This isn’t something to worry about. It just means that licking doesn’t necessarily have a specific meaning. It certainly doesn’t mean that your chinchilla is sick. If that’s something you’re worried about, observe your pet for a while to see if it displays any actual signs of ill health. And if you’re still concerned, talk to a vet.
Is It Hygienic For Your Chinchilla to Lick You?
Even though it’s cute, you really shouldn’t let your chinchilla lick your face.
If your chinchilla licks your fingers, that’s one thing. You can clean your fingers with soap so any bacteria in your pet’s mouth won’t affect you. But if you let your chinchilla lick your eyelids, lips or gums, just be aware that your pet’s mouth is full of germs. All animals’ mouths are. Here are a few fun facts that we think you might find relevant:
- Chinchillas eat cecotropes. Cecotropes are half-digested poop. They eat them at night when you can’t see them (not because they’re embarrassed, just that’s how their digestive systems work).
- Sometimes, chinchillas drink pee, too.
- Chinchillas never brush their teeth, even after they eat cecotropes. And they definitely don’t floss.
You won’t get seriously ill if your chin licks you. But if it licks your eye, you could get conjunctivitis (pinkeye). And if you don’t have a strong immune system, getting all those germs on your lips is a bad idea.
Although it is rather cute.