If your chinchilla’s ears turn red, you might think it’s cute. But it’s actually a bad sign. So, what do red chinchilla ears mean, and how can you fix them?
Why are my chinchilla’s ears red? Chinchillas’ ears turn red when they overheat. Chins send more blood to their ears when they’re hot. The large surface area of the ear allows heat to dissipate from the blood, stopping the chinchilla from overheating. This is the chinchilla’s only adaptation to heat, as it can’t sweat or pant. You will notice visible blood vessels, and the color of the ear can range from a light pink tinge to bright red. If your chinchilla is overheating, cool it down by placing it in the fridge, using a Chin Chiller, or moving your pet’s cage. If your chin experiences heat stress and is about to die, a water bath at 60°F/15.5°C may help.
The guide below first explains why chinchillas’ ears turn red when they overheat. It then covers each way you can prevent a chinchilla overheating, and how to save a chinchilla experiencing heat stress.
Why Are My Chinchilla’s Ears Red?
The likely reason why your chinchilla’s ears are red is that it’s overheating. That’s because when your chinchilla gets too hot, one of its only cooling-down mechanisms is to send more blood to its ears.
If you’re familiar with elephants, you’ll perhaps already be familiar with this idea too. When an elephant gets too hot, it sends lots of blood to its ears and flaps them around. Because the ears have a large surface area, the blood’s heat dissipates, or at least it does so more than when it’s elsewhere in the body. The blood then travels around the rest of the body, slightly cooling it down. Chinchillas do the same thing, except they can’t flap their ears so much!
The reason they do this is that they don’t use other methods to cool down. Chinchillas don’t sweat, because if they did, their fur would get damp, which could encourage fungal infections as it is difficult to get dry again. Moreover, sweat works by evaporating from the surface of the skin when wind/air hits it. But this wouldn’t work for chins because the fur is in the way, protecting the skin and sweat and stopping it from evaporating.
On top of that, chinchillas don’t pant. The likely reason for this is that chins need to conserve water, as the Andes Mountains are so dry. If you didn’t know, panting works in the same way as sweating: saliva evaporates from the tongue and cools it down, cooling down the blood in the tongue, which then cools down the rest of the body.
There are two other reasons why your chinchilla’s ears might be red. The first is if your chinchilla’s ears are bleeding. But this looks completely different to what they look like when they overheat. The second is if your chinchilla’s ears are infected by bacteria. Infections generically cause redness and swelling, but again, this doesn’t look the same as ears do when they overheat.
What Do Red Chinchilla Ears Look Like?
The first thing you’ll notice is that the whole ears have a reddish or pinkish tinge to them. This happens because there’s more blood circulating inside the ears than normal, and you can see the color of it through the skin. This is like how you can see the color of the veins and arteries in your wrist.
In bad cases, you will see small blood vessels standing out in your chin’s ears, which indicates that your chinchilla is far too hot. Your chin is pumping more and more blood to its ears in an effort to cool down so the blood vessels are swollen.
There are other signs that chinchillas are overheating, too. Your chin won’t move around as much, and may lie flat on the floor of the cage. If you notice these behaviors in conjunction with red ears as described above, then overheating is the issue.
Note: if you are color blind, you may not notice if your chinchilla’s ears turn red. That’s because they won’t necessarily turn bright red, but can be a lighter shade if your chin is only slightly too hot. This is difficult to see if you’re red-green color blind. You should therefore ensure that you control the temperature closely and monitor your chin’s condition with a thermometer.
Why Do Chinchillas Overheat?
Chinchillas are adapted to a cold environment. Wild chinchillas live high up in the Andes Mountains, which get very cold, but only rarely get warm. That’s why chins have such thick fur. This thick fur is good the chinchilla’s body heat. So, if the chin sits in a warm room or in direct sunlight, it gets progressively warmer. It’s the same as when you wear a thick coat in summer heat.
But that’s not the only reason. As chinchillas are adapted to the cold, they don’t have adaptations for dealing with heat. They don’t have the ability to pant or sweat like animals from warmer climes do, so they’re not well equipped to cool down when hot. They also don’t drink much water, as the Andes Mountains have little fresh water available, which means they can’t cool down that way either.
The final reason is that as a pet, a chinchilla doesn’t have control over its environment. If a chinchilla got too hot in the wild, it would find a cool rock crevice to cool down in. It would avoid direct sunlight too. In a cage, your chinchilla may be unable to do this: and of course, it can’t turn down the thermostat, turn off the heating, or open a window. The main reason why chins overheat is therefore if the owner keeps them in unsuitable conditions.
How to Stop a Chinchilla’s Ears Being Red
If your chinchilla’s ears are red, you must take steps to help your pet. That means figuring out why they’re red—likely that your pet is overheating—and then correcting the problem. The rest of this guide focuses on how to do just that.
Should You Take Your Pet to The Vet?
If your chinchilla is overheating, it needs to cool down. It may also need medical attention, but it may not be possible to take your chinchilla to the vet at this time.
The issue is that it’s likely even hotter outside than it is in your chinchilla’s cage. If you were to take it to the vet, you could make it continue overheating and even pass away on the journey. Plus, heat stress can kill a chinchilla very quickly. You should therefore consider ways of helping your chinchilla cool down at home. Ideas include:
- The Chin Chiller. This is a big slab that you keep in the freezer. You take it out when it gets hot and put it in your chinchilla’s cage. Your chin will enjoy sitting on it to cool down.
- Moving your chinchilla to another room. It’s possible that you picked the wrong place for your chinchilla’s cage. Your chin should never be in direct sunlight, and should be in a room that’s permanently cool like the basement.
- Placing your chinchilla in the fridge for a limited time. If your chinchilla is severely overheated, you can immediately cool it down by placing it in the fridge or even the freezer. If you do, give it a surface to stand on like a towel that its feet won’t stick to. Take everything out of your fridge beforehand and clean it afterwards. Don’t close the fridge/freezer door when your chinchilla is inside.
Whatever you do, you should do something soon, as overheating can kill within minutes.
Sometimes, your chinchilla doesn’t know what’s best for it. That’s why it will eat vegetables, nuts and seeds any time you offer them even though they can cause dangerous bloating or weight gain.
In the same way, if your chinchilla’s room is warm, you should limit its exercise time. Chins to an extent know not to be too active when it’s hot, but it takes time for their bodies to warm up when exercising. Your chin may play too much and get too warm, making it even warmer than it was before. So, don’t encourage your chin to run around its play pen or cage when it’s too hot.
Place a Thermometer in Your Chinchilla’s Cage
It’s vitally important to your chinchilla’s health that its cage stays at a suitable temperature at all times. That means both that it shouldn’t get too cold, and that it shouldn’t get too hot. The safe limit for chinchillas to live in is 70 degrees Fahrenheit/21 degrees Centigrade. Chinchillas can survive for limited times below freezing, but you should keep them in a stable climate that stays around room temperature.
To make sure your chin stays safe, you should put a thermometer in its cage. This is necessary because while the thermostat aims to keep the room at a certain temperature, it doesn’t always. So, just because you set it to 65 degrees Fahrenheit, that doesn’t mean every corner of the room is that temperature. Whether because of direct sunlight, a draft, or faulty heating/AC your chin’s cage could be too hot without you realizing.
The exact temperature that a chinchilla can withstand is a subject of debate among owners. Some believe that chinchillas can be trained to live in hotter temperatures than they’re used to if the temperature is gradually upped. However, there is no reason to do this and we don’t recommend it.
Last Resort: Water Bath
Contrary to popular belief, water baths aren’t deadly for chinchillas. What’s deadly is if you don’t know how they work.
Water is better at conveying heat than air. That means your chinchilla will cool down quicker in 60°F/15.5°C water than in air of the same temperature. Baths are therefore a good way of cooling your chinchilla down in a hurry, which is exactly what you need to do if your pet is experiencing heat stress. To keep your chinchilla safe, you must follow these guidelines:
- Ensure that the water is the exact right temperature. 60°F/15.5°C is perfect as it’s not too hot and it’s not too cool. Remember, you aren’t washing your chinchilla, so the water doesn’t need to be hot. Measure the temperature precisely with a thermometer—never guess.
- Ensure that the water level isn’t too high. It shouldn’t be higher than your chinchilla’s neck, for obvious reasons.
- Monitor your chinchilla at all times. Chinchillas don’t know how to bathe in water and could drown. Also, your chin will likely try to get out of the bath, and you must be there to ensure it cools down enough.
- Don’t bathe your chinchilla for too long. The longer you bathe your chinchilla, the more the water will change temperature. If the room is very hot, the water will gradually warm up, and that’s bad. Ten minutes is enough.
- Don’t get water on your chinchilla’s face and nose. You don’t want it to inhale any. But you can take small amounts of cool water and rub them on your chin’s ears.
- Dry your chinchilla thoroughly afterwards. Chinchilla fur takes a long time to get dry. Towel dry your pet until it’s nearly dry, then blow dry it on a cool setting. Never use a hot setting as this alone can make your pet overheat.
- Give your chinchilla a dust bath once it’s dry. This makes sure that your pet’s fur is completely dry.
Do not rely on water baths to cool your chinchilla down frequently. This is intended as a last resort—something to do if your chinchilla is experiencing heat stroke. It’s far better to control the temperature in other ways.
Apart from these measures, rely on your good judgment. Keep your chinchilla in a cool location and check on it regularly to see if it’s happy—not just that it’s the right temperature, but that it’s not sick, not fighting with its cage mate, and so on. Just by doing this you will help your chin live a longer and happier life.