Chinchilla body language is fascinating, and they can even communicate with their ears. But what if your pet keeps its ears down? Could that mean it’s in pain?

What does it mean if your chinchilla points its ears down? It can be ‘sleepy ears’, where your chinchilla points its ears back when it’s tired or resting. Or, it could be a sign that your chinchilla is in pain (if it always keeps its ears down). But you can over-analyze chinchilla body language, so if you’re worried, take your pet to the vet instead of fretting.

Figuring out what a chinchilla’s movements and behaviors mean is something that comes with time. Experienced owners find this much easier, and can practically sense what their chinchillas mean when they do certain things. But to help you along, the guide below tells you everything!


Chinchilla Ears & Body Language

Chinchillas are highly social creatures. When there used to be more of them in the wild, there were herds of up to a hundred of them. To operate in such big groups, they need to communicate, and one way they can is through body language.

That’s the basis of many ear movements. However, sometimes your chinchilla moves its ears around for what seems like no reason. Learning to tell the difference is tough! Here’s a brief table listing common ear positions and movements you might see, plus what they mean:

Ear Position Meaning
Ears perked up Your chinchilla is listening
Chinchilla ears down/chinchilla ears back Your chinchilla is sleepy
Ears down permanently Your chinchilla is in pain
Ears flicking Your chinchilla is in pain when it eats
Chinchilla one ear down Nothing, unless it can’t lift its other ear

If you still want to know more, we explore each of these behaviors in depth below.

Chinchilla Ears Perked Up

chinchilla ears perked upChinchillas perk their ears up to listen for noises.

Your pet’s sense of hearing would be one of its key defense mechanisms if it were still a wild animal. That’s why a chinchilla’s ears are so big: so it can hear better.

When a chinchilla perks its ears up, it’s listening for noises. It’s like how you might extend the antennae on your radio to get a better signal. If the ears are pointing up, more sound waves can reach them, and your chinchilla can hear better.

If your chinchilla is listening for something, you’ll see so from its other behaviors, too. It will stay still for a moment, not moving so that it can’t hear any other distracting noises. If it’s a frightening noise, then it will run away. But if it’s something that doesn’t seem immediately dangerous, it may stand still and listen for a while, with its ears pointed up.

Why Are My Chinchilla’s Ears Down?

Having the ears pointed down or backwards can mean several things. You can tell what the cause is by thinking about the context.

Most common is that chinchillas will hold their ears down when they’re sleepy. This behavior is aptly known as ‘sleepy ears!’ 

This behavior, like all other kinds of body language, was learned in the wild. Chinchillas take frequent sleeps throughout the day. They don’t sleep for long periods of time like we do; rather, they’ll sleep for a couple hours, then head out to forage for food. They’ll sleep slightly more during the day than at night, but keep this pattern up 24/7.

Either way, because chinchillas live in groups, some will be on guard duty while the others sleep. So, the sleepy ones don’t need to keep their ears perked up. If anything, it’s best that they don’t, so they get better sleep!

Ears Held Down All The Time

That being said, holding the ears back constantly can also be a sign of pain. Chinchillas try to make themselves small and inconspicuous when they’re in pain. This is a defense mechanism: they don’t want to show weakness in case they get picked off by a predator.

Chinchilla ears back

For this reason, you’ll see the ears held back whenever your chinchilla has a painful medical condition. You may see it alongside bumblefoot, for example, or malocclusion.

Ear Flicking

This is a far more subtle body language sign. You may never notice it in your pet, even if it’s there and you’re closely observing it.

Ear flicking is a unique behavior related to malocclusion. Malo (for short) is when a chinchilla’s teeth grow too long. They can also move out of position, so they don’t meet properly in the middle. This occurs because chinchillas’ teeth grow continually throughout their lives.

What you can’t see is that the roots of your chinchilla’s teeth keep growing, too. These push into the upper jaw up towards the eyes, which can cause serious pain. Ear flicking while eating suggests that your chinchilla is in pain when it chews. 

It may flick both ears, or only one. It depends on whether the roots have grown up on both sides. If only one ear flicks, that’s the side that’s causing your pet pain.

One Ear Up and One Ear Down

This is a great example of what we call ‘chinchilla owner’s syndrome!’ This is a condition that can affect any chinchilla owner at any time, and it’s a cause of great stress both for the owner and the pet.

Chinchilla owner’s syndrome is where you watch over your pet analyzing its every move and behavior.* You can worry yourself into a frenzy thinking that every behavior must be meaningful. But that’s not true! Sometimes chinchillas do things for no reason, and that’s OK. Sometimes chinchillas perk their ears up; sometimes they don’t. Sometimes they hold one up but not the other.

What is cause for concern is if you see your chinchilla displaying body language alongside other symptoms of ill health. So, for example, if your chinchilla has visible malocclusion; or, if it’s lethargic (hardly moving). Or, if your chinchilla seems unable to lift one of its ears.

If that’s the case, then the behavior can back up your diagnosis. But if your chinchilla seems perfectly healthy, it’s likely nothing. If you’re still worried, rather than over-analyzing things, take your chinchilla to the vet. Then if there is anything wrong, the vet can tell you so.

*Please note: chinchilla owner’s syndrome is not a real medical condition, so don’t ask your doctor about it! But it does happen…

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