Almost all pet chinchillas have orange, even red teeth, which can be shocking for a new owner. But is that healthy, or is it a sign that your chinchilla is deficient in something?
Why are my chinchilla’s teeth orange? Deep yellow, orange or orange-red teeth are healthy for chinchillas while lighter yellow or white teeth are unhealthy. Deep orange or orange-red teeth occur because your chinchilla’s tooth enamel contains lots of calcium, iron and phosphorus. Lighter shades indicate that your chinchilla has a nutritional deficiency. To fix calcium deficiency, mix fresh alfalfa hay with your chinchilla’s regular timothy hay, or switch to a high-calcium pellet. You could also provide a cuttle bone for gnawing. If nothing helps, talk to a vet and they may prescribe supplements.
The guide below first looks at what color chinchilla teeth should be, before detailing why they might be orange or white. We’ll also cover exactly what you should do if your chinchilla’s teeth are the wrong color.
Should a Chinchilla’s Teeth Be Orange?
Chinchillas, in fact all rodents, have teeth that are different to ours. If you ever look into your chinchilla’s mouth, the first thing you would notice—provided that it’s healthy—is that its teeth are orange. This is normal, natural and healthy. A chinchilla’s teeth should be deep yellow, orange or orange-red in color.
This can be quite shocking to see. We’re so used to thinking that lighter teeth are healthier that to see such dark teeth strikes us as a sign of ill health. But in chinchillas, it’s the opposite that’s true: darker, deeper orange teeth are healthier while lighter teeth mean something’s wrong.
What Makes a Chinchilla’s Teeth Orange?
What makes rodent teeth darker than ours is the enamel.
Enamel is the outer layer of a tooth, and it’s the hardest tissue in your chinchilla’s body. It’s thin, but it’s very strong; it both provides a solid surface for cutting and grinding, and protects the tooth (with all its nerves) underneath. That’s why when your enamel is worn away, your teeth become sensitive.
In people, this enamel has lots of magnesium in it; but in chinchillas, the enamel contains lots of iron and calcium, which gives it its dark yellow or orange hue. They can even border on orange-red, which is the natural color of iron. You can see the same difference in other rodents such as beavers or rats.
Should My Chinchilla’s Teeth Be White?
If your chinchilla’s teeth are a light yellow shade, or even verge on white, that’s a bad sign. It indicates that your chinchilla isn’t getting enough of certain micronutrients, particularly iron and calcium. Chinchillas should be able to get all the nutrients they need from their hay, but yours may not, due to:
- You buying a low quality hay brand
- Hay that has gone bad or stale during the production process
- Hay that has gone bad or stale after you bought it
- Hay that was grown in adverse conditions, e.g. drought
- Your chinchilla is not eating because dental disease makes doing so painful
One of these issues, or all of them combined, could be causing your chinchilla’s white teeth.
What Happens If My Chinchilla’s Teeth Are White?
Nutritional deficiencies have a direct impact on your chinchilla’s health and should be corrected as soon as possible. While the specific effects of calcium deficiency in chinchillas hasn’t been studied, there are several ways it’s likely to affect your pet:
- Calcium deficiency may cause brittle bones. Calcium is one of the building blocks of bones, and without it, they can become weak. This is especially relevant if your chinchilla is still growing.
- Calcium deficiency may make malocclusion more likely. Calcium deficiency is likely to make teeth weaker, and more prone to chipping. For both of these reasons, deficiency would make malocclusion occur.
- Calcium deficiency may impair organ/body function. Calcium is needed by the body for muscle contraction (e.g. in the heart), as well as blood clotting and enzyme function.
These issues won’t necessarily occur all at once, or as soon as your chinchilla’s teeth turn yellow rather than orange. But if you’d like to avoid them, you should take steps to combat your pet’s calcium deficiency.
How to Make a Chinchilla’s Teeth Orange Again
If your chinchilla’s teeth have changed from a dark shade to a light shade, or even white, you need to take action. Otherwise, your pet’s health is at risk.
Fix Your Chinchilla’s Diet
The likely issue is that your chinchilla isn’t getting the nutrients it needs from its food. As such, if you take steps to provide your pet with a better diet, you can fix the problem.
The first thing you should do is stop giving your chinchilla snacks. Chins don’t need anything aside from hay and hay pellets. While snacks like shredded wheat or rose hips are healthy enough, you should focus on improving the core of your pet’s diet before including anything else. This ensures that it only eats the things that’s right for it.
Since the likely issue is that your chin isn’t getting enough calcium, your next step is to give your chinchilla alfalfa pellets or fresh alfalfa hay. Alfalfa contains far more calcium than timothy hay, so much so in fact that if you feed your pet nothing but alfalfa, it can develop health issues from having too much. So, give your chin fresh timothy hay mixed with 1/3 alfalfa until its condition improves; or, get rid of your old pellets and feed your pet some that are high in calcium instead.
Provide a Cuttle Bone to Gnaw On
If your chinchilla is already eating what seems to be an adequate diet, there are further changes you can make. One is to provide something called a cuttle bone for your chinchilla to gnaw on.
A cuttlebone, which you might also know as a ‘cuttlefish bone’, is an internal shell that all cuttlefish possess. It’s made of a mineral called aragonite, which is a kind of calcium carbonate, which means it contains lots of calcium. Cuttle bones also happen to be the perfect consistency for chinchillas to gnaw on.
These cuttle bones therefore kill two birds with one stone. First, they provide your chinchilla with the calcium it needs for strong enamel. And second, it helps your chin keep its teeth from growing overlong. We don’t recommend offering them if your chinchilla gets lots of calcium from its diet, because too much calcium causes bladder stones. But if your pet clearly has a deficiency, they’re a good choice to combat it.
Talk To a Vet
If you don’t notice any improvement, you should talk to a vet. That’s because calcium deficiency can have a serious impact on health if it continues for an extended period of time.
The vet can make recommendations on how you can change your chinchilla’s care for the better. This might be related specifically to your chinchilla’s dental problem—they might, for example, recommend a particular kind of alfalfa hay pellet that they find effective—or, they might make general recommendations. If your chinchilla has several health problems, they will treat all of them.
The vet can also prescribe supplements. We don’t recommend the use of supplements as a rule, since chinchillas should get all the nutrients they need from their hay. But if your chinchilla is deficient in something like calcium, calcium supplements will help. Talk with the vet about appropriate dosage.