Why Are My Chinchilla’s Ears Dry?

Your chinchilla’s ears can get dry, flaky and cracked for several reasons. But why might that happen even if you care for your pet properly?

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Your chinchilla’s ears can get dry, flaky and cracked for several reasons. But why might that happen even if you care for your pet properly? Is it to do with ill health?

Why does my chinchilla have dry ears? The likely cause is that your chinchilla is taking too many dust baths. Dust bathing more than once a week can cause dry ears. Other causes include ear mites and ear fungus, which each cause dried-out, cracked and flaky skin. Take your chinchilla to the vet to have the issue diagnosed and follow your vet’s treatment advice.

Below, we’ll address what causes dry ears in chinchillas, the various symptoms they present apart from just dryness, and what to do if your chinchilla has dry ears.

Dry Ears in Chinchillas

Chinchillas can occasionally get dry ears for one reason or another. This occurs because the ears are one of the parts of your chinchilla’s body with thin fur. They therefore aren’t protected as well as the rest of your chinchilla’s skin. It’s like how your hands will get dry and cracked skin if you don’t protect them in the winter.

Symptoms of Dry Ears in Chinchillas

The most obvious symptom of dry ears is that your chinchilla’s ears will be dry. But besides that, there are other things to look out for, which will make this issue stand out like a sore thumb.

  • Flaky ears. Small flakes of dry skin will come away from the site.
  • Cracked skin. As the skin loses moisture, it can cause small cracks. These cracks can get infected if left untreated.
  • Crusty ears. With a build-up of dry skin, cracked skin, infected tissue and debris, your chinchilla’s ears may look crusty.
  • Itchy ears. Dry skin is itchy, whether it’s caused by lack of moisture, fungus or ear mites.

Because your chinchilla’s ears will be itchy and may also be infected, there are other secondary symptoms for you to look out for. One is that the ears are red and slightly swollen, which is a classic sign of infection. They may be red in particular places, too, immediately after your chinchilla is scratching them. And if they are itchy, of course, then your chinchilla will be scratching them more frequently than usual.

Why Are My Chinchilla’s Ears Dry?

There are three main reasons why your chinchilla’s ears might appear dry, itchy, cracked or flaky. These are that your chinchilla may have ear mites, it may have a fungal infection on the skin of its ear, or it may be bathing in dust too frequently. The issue could be one of these issues or a combination of them.

Chinchilla Ear Mites

chinchilla ears
Ear mites in chinchillas look like those that affect other animals.

Ear mites can affect chinchillas just as they can affect other pets. Ear mites are like regular mites, except they prefer living in your pet’s ears compared to anywhere else on its body. There are several different species of ear mite, although the most common is Otodectes cynotis, which is responsible for most infestations.

Ear mites are like other parasites such as fleas, in that they primarily live on your pet. They feed on your pet’s blood. When they do, they use a numbing agent so that the pet doesn’t notice it’s being bitten and scratch the mite away. But after a while, your chinchilla’s body will notice this numbing agent (which is made of saliva) and the area will become inflammed, red and itchy.

If your chinchilla has ear mites, then there are other symptoms that you may notice. The first is that you will see dark brown spots, which are the mites themselves. You may also see mite poop, which is a darker color, and is smaller than a mite. Other symptoms include:

  • Tilting the head to the side
  • Shaking the head

And while chinchillas will scratch at ears with dry skin, they will scratch even more if they have ear mites. Each of these signs clearly shows how irritating ear mites are.

Chinchilla Ear Fungus

This is what ringworm looks like. Image courtesy of Brenda’s Cherished Chinchillas.

Chinchillas can develop both fungal and bacterial infections around the face, and occasionally on the ears.

The most common kind of fungus that affects the skin is ringworm. If you’ve had ringworm in the past, or you know someone who has, you’ll know that it’s not actually a worm but a fungal growth. It grows in a ring shape on the skin, hence the name. But what you may not know is that it can affect chinchillas too.

Ringworm can occur anywhere on the body, but is most likely to attack exposed areas of skin. That’s because these are easier for the fungus to access. Exposed areas include the ears, face and thighs, although it can occur anywhere.

Ringworm causes loss of fur, redness and debris. Bacterial infections can look similar to ringworm. It’s highly contagious and should be treated as soon as possible. To treat ringworm, talk to a vet. They may prescribe either a topical medication, i.e. one you have to rub into the area, or a prescription medication that your chinchilla needs to ingest. Wear gloves when you handle your chinchilla or treat its condition, otherwise you will likely catch ringworm too.

Can Chinchillas Dust Bathe Too Much?

This is by far the most frequent cause of dry ears. Since chinchillas bathe in dust in the wild, you might assume that they need to do so very frequently. Some owners give their chinchillas baths twice, even three or four times a week. And they certainly aren’t deterred by the behavior of their pets, since chins take any opportunity to roll around in a little dust.

But as owners, with science and experience on our side, we can provide a better, longer life than a chinchilla might enjoy in the wild. That’s why we feed hay and hay pellets to our pets, as we know that these have the precise right nutritional balance. The same applies to dust baths, which should only be offered sparingly.

The reason why chinchilla dust might dry out your pet’s ears should be obvious. The point of chinchilla dust—which is essentially the same thing as talcum powder—is that it forms a protective dry layer in the fur to stop water and grease from worsening the quality of your pet’s coat. Since the fur on a chinchilla’s ears is quite thin, the dust can access the skin easily and dry it out. The more frequently your pet bathes, the more this effect becomes evident.

Bathing once per week is absolutely fine. If your chinchilla has a problem like incontinence, which makes its fur dirty, you could consider giving your chinchilla water baths every once in a while instead.

What to Do If Your Chinchilla Has Dry Ears

If your chinchilla has dry ears, there are several things you can do. You first must have the condition diagnosed, and then treat it in any way it needs to be treated. But you may also need to make adjustments at home that will make your chinchilla’s condition improve.

Talk To a Vet

We recommend taking your chinchilla to the vet. That’s because the vet can tell you exactly what’s causing the problem, and then how to fix it.

The problem is that you could easily assume the problem to be over-bathing, when it’s not. If it’s ear mites, for example, then the problem will continue to grow worse as you don’t treat it. While ear mites won’t kill a chinchilla, they will cause distress, so you shouldn’t leave the condition to fester.

You can then treat the condition in whatever way the vet recommends. Both ringworm and ear mites require medication to treat correctly. Talk to your vet about the options available to you, and how to use them.

Handle Your Chinchilla Correctly

handling a chinchilla
Easy-to-follow hygiene practises should prevent you catching anything from your chinchilla, or spreading from one chinchilla to another.

Learning correct handling techniques will help prevent future ear problems, stop you catching whatever is affecting your chinchilla, and stop you passing problems from one chinchilla to another. There are two things you can do to improve how you handle your pet at this time:

  • Wash your hands before and after handling a chinchilla. Washing before hand stops you passing anything to your pet, while washing afterwards stops you catching anything or passing anything to another chin.
  • Wear gloves when you handle your pet. You don’t typically need to do this, but when your chinchilla is unwell, gloves provide an extra level of protection. And you should definitely wear gloves if you’re treating a condition like ear mites or ringworm.

You should also minimize how much you handle your pet when it’s sick. This will make it even less likely that you catch anything or pass anything on from your pet. It will also minimize the stress that your chinchilla experiences at a difficult time.

Clean & Correct Your Chinchilla’s Cage

Both fungus and parasites can live in your chinchilla’s environment. This means that if you don’t clean your chinchilla’s cage, and if you don’t correct any issues with its care, then these issues may occur again. Here is a brief list detailing what you should check and consider changing:

  • How warm is your chinchilla’s cage? Fungus thrives in warm conditions, but your chinchilla’s cage doesn’t need to be warm. Temperatures between 55°F and 65°F (12.5°C to 18.5°C) are perfectly safe, so consider lowering the temperature to the lower end of this scale.
  • How humid is your chinchilla’s cage? Fungus also loves damp conditions. A chinchilla’s cage should not be humid. You should ideally keep the humidity between 20-30%, with 50% as an absolute maximum. However, this could also dry out your chinchilla’s ears further.
  • Do you allow your chinchilla out of its cage frequently? Your chinchilla can catch fungal infections or ear mites from other pets. You shouldn’t allow your chinchilla around other pets like dogs and cats. But since parasites live in the general environment, not just on pets, even allowing the chinchilla loose in the same room that another pet was previously in can cause these issues.
  • Do you take your chinchilla for frequent vet checkups? Chins should have regular checkups, either once every six months or once every year. These allow the vet to identify issues before they become too serious.

Besides that, you should also clean your chinchilla’s cage. Parasites don’t just live on your pet, but in its surroundings. Give your pet’s cage a thorough deep clean: take everything out, wash everything in soapy water, and wipe the cage down with something antibacterial from top to bottom.

Ensure that you have provided your chinchilla with everything it needs to thrive and survive. All chinchillas need the following things:

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Fewer Dust Baths, and Changing Dust Bath Dust

You should consider giving your chinchilla fewer dust baths, so that its ears don’t become any drier than they already are.

Chinchillas only need one dust bath per week to keep their coat in good order. If you are offering baths more frequently than this, then this alone may be the reason that your pet’s ears are dry and cracked.

But even if the issue is something else, then less frequent dust baths may still help. That’s because mites and fungus can both dry the ears out, but bathing makes them even drier. As such, consider manually bathing your chinchilla with dust. This is easy to do:

  • Take a small amount of dust in your palm
  • Rub it along your chinchilla’s back, belly, legs and tail
  • Avoid rubbing any dust on your chinchilla’s head

Your chinchilla won’t be happy that it isn’t bathing. It enjoys expressing the natural rolling behavior it displays when it bathes. But manually bathing it will stop its ears from getting any drier.

Additionally, you should consider changing other rules you may have regarding bathing. It’s common practise to reuse chinchilla dust until it starts to ‘pill up’, i.e. form tiny balls of dust. These balls form when the dust absorbs lots of grease or water. But dust that hasn’t pilled up can be reused. In this context, though, you shouldn’t reuse the dust as it may contain fungus or mites. If you do, your chinchilla could re-catch the health issue from its dust, or the issue could be passed on to other chinchillas.

Bag Balm for Chinchillas

To reintroduce moisture into your chinchilla’s dry and cracked ears, consider applying bag balm. Bag balm is a kind of deep moisturizer which is also used to treat bumblefoot in chinchillas. It would also be effective in soothing your chinchilla’s dry ears.

If your chinchilla has either a fungal infection or ear mites, however, you shouldn’t apply the bag balm directly. Instead, take a small amount on a gloved finger and apply it that way instead. This will stop any cross-contamination which may occur. Either wash the gloves afterwards, or if they’re disposable, dispose of them.

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New owner, don't know where to start? Or do you need a handy chinchilla reference guide? Check out our Chinchilla Care 101 eBook, or get what you need from our online store!