Should you trim a chinchilla's claws?

A chinchilla’s claws continually grow, so it stands to reason that they could grow too long. If your chinchilla’s claws are too long, they could hurt your pet or make walking difficult.

You shouldn’t trim a chinchilla’s claws because you could hurt your pet, e.g. by clipping its toes. Handling your pet to clip or file its nails would be impossible. Besides, their nails are short, flat and weak, so never grow too long. They can also chew their own claws. You can provide a rough surface or encourage activity to keep claws short.

Your chinchilla’s claws are something you shouldn’t worry about as an owner. But keep an eye on your pet to see if it’s painful or difficult for it to walk.


Do Chinchillas Have Claws?

Chinchillas do have claws. Like all rodents, they have a paw with four small toes. On the ends of these toes are tiny claws. Many new owners think that they don’t, because they’re so small and hard to see. But they’re there.

Like all claws, these continually grow. The chinchilla has to keep them short by walking around and scrabbling on things. If this isn’t enough, the chinchilla can chew them when they get too long.

However, these claws are largely useless. The chinchilla won’t use them for anything like other rodents do, e.g. digging. Chinchillas don’t dig unless they’re kicking up dust for a dust bath, and that doesn’t require long sharp claws.

And because these claws aren’t used much, they don’t look like you might expect. They are long and flat. They can be razor sharp, but this varies from chinchilla to chinchilla and depends on their environment.

Do Chinchillas Have Nails or Claws?

When you think of an animal’s claws, you think of a certain shape. Claws are long, curved and thin. They are normally sharp, so that the animal can use them to dig or to defend itself. They are kept sharp because the animal walks on surfaces with them, which wears them down.

By contrast, we have fingernails. These are relatively short and flat. They aren’t sharp, and definitely aren’t sharp enough to be useful. They can scratch, but wouldn’t help in self-defense e.g. against a predator.

A chinchilla’s claws are more like our fingernails than sharp claws. Up close, they look surprisingly like a person’s fingernails.

They look even more like fingernails/toenails because a chinchilla has thin, long toes like ours. Their claws can still be sharp, but often aren’t.

As well as being short and flat, a chinchilla’s claws are thin. Other animals’ claws are fat and long, like a predator’s tooth. If you have other common household pets, they may have claws like these. But a chinchilla’s claws are flat and thin like ours.

That being said, they can still be called either claws or nails. You can call them either.


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Do You Need to Cut Chinchillas’ Nails/Claws?

Many pets have claws that you have to trim. These animals’ claws are strong and hard enough that the animal can’t wear them down. If you don’t trim them, these claws make it difficult and painful for the pet to walk.

In the worst case scenario, untrimmed claws become a health hazard. They curve inwards, and can cause cuts on an animal’s paw. These cuts can become infected if left untreated. They then require the intervention of a vet.

But chinchillas’ claws don’t need to be trimmed. There are several reasons why you shouldn’t, even if they get longer than usual.

You don't need to clip your chinchilla's nails/claws.
You don’t need to clip your chinchilla’s nails/claws.

Chinchillas’ Claws Aren’t Long

Other pets’ claws get so long that they can hardly walk. Walking on them is painful. If you’ve ever had long toenails, you will understand how it makes it difficult to walk.

However, a chinchilla’s claws don’t grow to this length. This only happens in pets which have strong, thicker claws that they need for digging or hunting. It’s the strength of the claw which stops it wearing down, which makes it grow too long.

Because a chinchilla’s claws are thin, flat and weak they never get too long.

They may be so short and small that you may not see them. New owners often ask whether chinchillas have claws because they’re so difficult to see. All chinchillas have claws, but they’re small. This means you won’t ever need to trim your chinchilla’s claws.

Chinchillas Trim Their Own Claws

Chinchillas are capable of trimming their own claws when other pets aren’t. They can chew on their own claws when they’re too long. This is on top of the claws already being worn down by walking around.

Again, this is because a chinchilla’s claws are thin and weak. Your pet can easily chew its own nails where another animal couldn’t. A predator’s claws are so thick and strong that it cannot easily do so.

They also have the perfect teeth for chewing their own claws. A predator with sharp claws can’t chew its claws to keep them short because it only has pointy front teeth, which can’t chew. A chinchilla has sharp incisors at the front of its mouth which are made for gnawing.

Your Chinchilla Will Be Scared

Chinchillas don’t like handling as much as other pets do. They are skittish around humans, and will only learn to trust you over time.

There’s good reason for your pet to be scared. It’s fragile, and you can easily break its ribs through handling it. Plus, you’re much bigger than it is. So, your chinchilla will be scared of you if you try to cut its nails.

What makes your pet even more scared is that it doesn’t understand what you’re doing with the clippers. You’re prodding and poking its feet with something sharp. Your pet won’t like that.

You Could Hurt Your Chinchilla

This is the most important reason why you shouldn’t trim your chinchilla’s claws. A chinchilla’s claws are so short that you could easily clip or trim your pet’s paw by accident.

Other pets with claws have long claws which are easy to see. They are long enough that the tip may be an inch, or inches, away from the paw/toe it’s attached to. But a chinchilla’s claws are so small and short that they don’t.

You may think that you can avoid clipping your pet’s paw, but that’s not easy because:

  • Your chinchilla could squirm while you hold it
  • You could hurt your chinchilla by holding it too tightly (easy to do, especially by breaking its ribs accidentally)
  • Your clippers may be too large to trim your pet’s nails comfortably

You could avoid clipping the paw, but still trim the nail too short, causing pain anyway. Every nail has several sections. There’s the tip, which is often a different color. You can trim this without issue.

However, beyond that is a section called the ‘quick’. This is where the nail attached to the nail bed. If you clip this, it’s painful. You may have done this when clipping your own nails before. You could easily do this to your pet, too.


How to Keep a Chinchilla’s Claws Short (without Clipping)

As you can’t clip your pet’s claws, you must ensure they stay short through other means. Fortunately, with a chinchilla, this is easy.

Your pet will take care of most of the work for you. It will bite and chew its own nails to keep them short. This isn’t something you have to teach your chinchilla, or make it do. It should do so on its own.

But if your chinchilla is lazy, or doesn’t have the natural instinct to do so, you still have options.

Provide a Rough Surface

The easiest option is to provide a rough surface for your chinchilla to walk on. The surface doesn’t have to be something like sandpaper, which is too rough. Instead, something wooden like a wooden toy or a branch is more suitable.

Buying wooden toys is an obvious solution. But only buy something that isn’t pre-treated. Wood sprayed with a coating or a paint would be bad. That’s because your chinchilla will chew the toy as well as scrabble at it. If your pet ingests paint/glue, that’s bad.

There are plenty of wooden toys you can find that aren’t coated. You can buy chinchilla toys online or through a pet store.

You can also use natural wood. Any solid wood you find that isn’t damp or rotten is fine. Don’t put it straight into your chinchilla’s enclosure; bake it in the oven at a low heat first. The point of this is to kill any bacteria, fungi or parasites that may be in the wood.

Encourage Activity in Chinchillas

Your chinchilla’s claws will grow long if it’s inactive. So, to prevent this, encourage your chinchilla to do more. You should consider:

  • Scatter feeding your chinchilla. This is where you spread the chinchilla’s food across the cage rather than leave it in a bowl. This makes your chinchilla dig and scrabble for its food, plus it’s more natural.
  • Make a play pen for your chinchilla. A play pen is an area outside of its cage that your chinchilla can run around in. Your pet will spend more time playing when it’s exploring a new/different area.
  • Buy toys for your chinchilla to play with. Your chinchilla enjoys chewing toys, but also enjoys scrabbling on them too.

These activities combined should prevent your chinchilla’s claws getting long. They also make your pet happier, so these ideas are a win-win.

Can You File a Chinchilla’s Claws?

chinchilla nail file buffer
You could file your chinchilla’s nails if there are no alternatives. But you could still hurt/frighten your pet.

If you must, you can file a chinchilla’s claws. This is preferable to clipping them, because the potential for hurting your pet is less. You could use a regular nail file.

However, the other reasons you shouldn’t trim a chinchilla’s claws still apply. You could hurt your pet by handling it, and you will certainly scare it. It will learn not to trust you. It’s therefore not advised to do this.

Providing a rough surface for your chinchilla and encouraging more activity will solve almost all cases. If your pet’s nails are still long, they likely won’t cause your pet pain or trouble walking. But if they do, take your pet to the vet rather than fixing the issue yourself. Follow your vet’s advice to fix the problem.

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