Chinchillas are the fluffiest, furriest pets of all. But if you neglect your pet, its fur can become matted, greasy and dirty. Why does that happen, and how can you fix matted fur?
Do chinchillas get matted fur? They can for a variety of reasons: poop or urine stuck in fur, dirty cage, or a lack of dust baths. If your chinchilla has matted fur, pull the mats out by lacing your fingers underneath them and tugging. You can also use a brush to pull them out. If there are too many, clip your chinchilla’s fur, but not if you would leave your chinchilla with many bald patches. Prevent them with spot cleaning the cage and frequent dust baths.
The guide below first looks at where chinchillas get matted fur, and why. Then, we’ll cover the many ways of getting rid of matted patches of fur in a way that won’t hurt your chinchilla.
Do Chinchillas Get Matted Fur?
Chinchillas are frequently seen with matted fur. It’s especially common in animals that are neglected, but this is not a necessary condition for matted fur to occur.
The problem is that chinchillas have such thick fur. Their unique coat does allow them to survive more easily in cold conditions. But it does also mean that if the fur gets wet or dirty, it’s not easily dried or cleaned. If fur stays dirty or oily for too long, it sticks together, which is how mats form.
Where Do Chinchillas Get Matted Fur?
Matted fur is most common where the chinchilla’s fur is thickest. A chinchilla’s fur is thicker on its back and sides, while it’s thinner on its underside, legs and tail. But chinchillas can get matted fur anywhere, and it’s common for a chin to have matted fur in several places at once.
The location of the matted fur can also depend on what caused it. Say, for example, that your chinchilla got matted fur because it had diarrhea. It stands to reason that most of the matted fur will be around its behind, and on its underside and feet (where it accidentally sat in the ‘result’). You can try to figure out what caused the matted fur by looking at where it is on your chinchilla’s body.
Why Do Chinchillas Get Matted Fur?
There are three core reasons why chinchillas get matted fur. They are dirty surroundings, a lack of dust baths, and/or an inability to groom. All three may affect your chinchilla at once; this is commonly seen in neglected chinchillas.
Lack of Cage Cleaning
Because matted fur is caused by dampness and dirt, if you don’t clean your chin’s cage, it encourages matting.
The key issues are poop and pee. While chinchillas are largely hygienic, they can sit in their own pee sometimes, which gets their fur damp and dirty. This won’t instantly cause matting, but it does encourage it and make it happen over time.
Poop is less of a common issue because chinchilla poop is dry. Chins conserve water as best they can, so their poop shouldn’t be soft or sticky. But sometimes it can be, either because of too much water in the diet or a digestive issue. If it is then it gets stuck in your chinchilla’s fur. Owners recommend tidying the cage each night, and doing deeper cleans every three to six months.
Lack of Bathing
Dust baths make matted fur impossible. The dust that people use to bathe chinchillas is like talcum powder. It coats each hair, stopping grease from forming. In doing so, it stops the hairs from sticking to each other. But if you don’t give your chinchilla a dust bath for a long time, the grease builds up in your pet’s fur.
Along with a lack of cage cleaning, this is a core reason why so many rescue chinchillas have matted fur. The owner can’t be bothered bathing their pet. Owners recommend two or three dust baths per week, although even one per week would be enough to stop matted fur. This isn’t a lot of effort, not least because the chinchilla bathes itself: you don’t even need to do anything!
Inability to Groom
Chinchillas frequently groom themselves and each other. This grooming stops large patches of matted fur from forming, as the chin can get rid of them before they do (at least if it isn’t too dirty). But if your chinchilla loses some of its mobility, it may be unable to groom itself properly. This will make matted patches more likely.
What you may notice is that a cage-mate will instead groom the chinchilla that lost its mobility. But, if your chin doesn’t have a cage-mate, it won’t either groom itself or be groomed at all.
To figure out what’s causing your chinchilla’s matted fur, observe it for a while, and consider the level of care that you’re providing for it. Ask yourself: when was the last time your chinchilla had a dust bath? When was the last time you cleaned your chinchilla’s cage? You can then move on to fixing the problem.
How to Help a Chinchilla with Matted Fur
There are several ways to fix matted fur in chinchillas. Some of these require more effort than others, while some require particular equipment (although nothing you can’t get online or from a pet store).
1) Pulling The Fur Out
Most owners simply pull the fur out manually. Chinchillas have an ‘ability’ of sorts called fur slip, which is where their fur is tugged out easily. The idea is that if the chin is ever caught by a predator, the fur the predator has caught onto can come loose, so that the chinchilla can escape.
This means that if you tug at a matted piece of fur, it will come free. It’s easier to do this from the underside: run your fingers underneath the mat, almost like you would if you combed your own hair with your fingers. Then, pull directly away from the body.
The downside is that this will be painful for your pet. If you’ve ever had matted hair, you’ll know that it hurts; imagine how much worse the pain is when you have a complete fur coat! Your chinchilla will get angry with you (and make ‘kacking’ noises, as owners call them) although the pain will only last a moment.
This is therefore a decision you have to make on your chinchilla’s behalf. Say, for example, that you recently took in a surrendered chinchilla that was neglected for a long time. You have to do something about the matted fur, as it’s painful even when it’s not being tugged on, and you can’t properly clean and bathe the chin with the matted fur in the way. It’s this rationale—that a moment’s pain is necessary for your pet’s welfare—that is the most reasonable excuse for tugging the fur out. But if your chin is covered from head to toe in matted fur, then other solutions would be better.
2) Grooming With a Chinchilla Brush
Rather than using your fingers, you could consider using a brush. The teeth of regular brushes aren’t close enough together to work in the context of normal grooming, as the chinchilla’s fur is so dense. But for matted fur, that isn’t a problem.
Again, try to get the brush underneath the mat and pull upwards. The same problems apply to using a brush as to using your fingers, meaning your chinchilla won’t like it; so, while not rushing, try to get every mat out quickly first time.
3) Trim Your Chinchilla’s Fur
If your chin has many matted areas of fur, it will be less painful for your chinchilla if you trimmed its fur rather than pulled them all out.
This is something that many owners disagree with. However, chinchilla fur will grow back, and so long as you haven’t shaved your pet bald it shouldn’t be a problem for its temperature regulation.
The only problem is if your chinchilla is skittish, as most are. To trim your pet’s fur you should use sharp scissors, but if your chin is wriggling and squirming as you hold it, you could poke or cut your pet by accident. If you think this might be an issue, it’s best to stick to other methods.
4) Cleaning Your Chinchilla’s Cage Regularly
Prevention is as important as cure, and to prevent your chinchilla’s fur from becoming matted in the future, you must clean its cage regularly. That means:
- Sweeping up dirty hay and poop each night
- Switching out fleece linings when they get damp
- Providing your chin with a litter tray for it to pee in
- Performing regular ‘deep cleans‘ to get rid of leftover oils, bacteria and more
This is standard practise whether you’re worried about matted fur or not. The cage should be ‘spot cleaned’ every night, which is where you check the cage quickly to see if there’s anything that needs cleaning. It’s then that you should sweep up old hay and poop, or replace the water bottle. Deep cleans don’t need to be done as regularly; some owners do them every month, some every six months. How frequently you need to do them depends on a) how clean your chinchilla is and b) how good you are at spot cleaning.
5) Frequent Dust Baths
Dust bathing is the most effective preventative method of tackling matted fur. There are two ways in which chinchilla dust helps:
- It picks up grease and dirt in the fur
- It coats each fur in a protective layer of dust, stopping it from getting sticky and damp
What dust can’t do is get rid of matted fur that’s already there. Once fur is matted, it can’t be untangled, so the only solution is to cut or pull it out. But dust baths do stop them from forming in the first place.
6) Water Bath
Something that may help is to give your chinchilla a water bath. It’s commonly thought that a water bath can ‘kill’ a chinchilla, but that’s only true if you don’t do it correctly. It’s the same as taking a bath yourself: if you lie face down in the tub, you’ll drown, or if you don’t dry yourself afterwards and stand outside in the freezing cold, you’ll die of exposure. But that doesn’t mean ‘baths kill you’, so to speak.
Problems you have to avoid include:
- Water at an incorrect temperature. Cold water gives your chin hypothermia, hot water makes it overheat. 70 degrees Fahrenheit/21 degres Centigrade is the maximum, while 60 degrees Fahrenheit/15 degrees Centigrade is the minimum. Ten minutes of bathing is all that’s necessary, and will stop the water cooling down too much.
- Not fully drying your chinchilla afterwards. Your chinchilla needs to be fully dry once it’s done bathing. Towel dry it first, then blow dry it on a cool setting. Once it’s practically touch-dry, give your chinchilla a regular dust bath.
- Using harsh shampoos and soaps. These make your chin’s skin too dry, and you want to avoid scented soaps too. Use regular baby shampoo, and don’t get any (or any water) in your chinchilla’s eyes.
A water bath won’t get rid of the matted patches of fur on its own. But it will help in that it kills bacteria and thoroughly gets rid of the grease in your chin’s fur. They’re therefore most effective after you’ve gotten rid of matted fur by pulling it out or trimming it.
7) Maintaining the Correct Humidity Level
One effect that the wrong level of humidity can have is that it makes your chinchilla’s fur damp. When the fur is damp, it means that it sticks together more easily. In the presence of grease or dirt, this will make the fur form matted patches. You should therefore keep the humidity in your chinchilla’s cage at below 50%, or ideally lower at 30%. You can measure the humidity level with a hygrometer, which is like a thermometer, but for humidity.
Aside from all this, spend lots of time with your chinchilla and care for it well. By spending lots of time around your pet, and handling it, you may spot problems before they become too serious.