There are lots of online guides that say you shouldn’t get a chinchilla wet. They say that if you do, your pet might die. But how true is that?
Why can’t chinchillas get wet? If it stays wet and cold for a long period, a chinchilla will die of hypothermia. If it stays damp, it can catch fur fungus. A few drops or a splash won’t hurt your pet, but you should take care to avoid water anyway.
This is common sense: any species that could never even touch water would quickly die out. But nevertheless, there’s lots for you to learn below…
What Happens to a Chinchilla When It Gets Wet?
As a chinchilla’s fur coat is so dense, it absorbs water easily, but is difficult to get dry. As such, getting a chinchilla wet means it can stay wet/damp for a long time. This can cause health issues like fungus and hypothermia, the latter of which can kill your pet.
This isn’t the case if you get one or two drops of water on your pet. But if your chinchilla gets loose and has water spilled on it, or it jumps in the toilet or into a bucket, then it will become sick if you don’t correct the situation.
Note: This means you can’t put a water bowl in your chinchilla’s enclosure; instead, your pet has to have a water bottle. This is also why chinchillas bathe with dust rather than water.
How Much Water Is Too Much Water?
Several online guides state that even a few drops of water are dangerous to a chinchilla, but this isn’t true. Otherwise, wild populations of chinchillas could never have existed. This would also mean that messy water bottle drinkers would die or become ill, and that any chinchilla which sprays urine (or is sprayed on) would be done for. But as any owner will tell you, that’s obviously not the case.
So, if your chinchillas has come into contact with water somehow, it’s not a death sentence. Your pet isn’t even likely to become ill when damp, unless you neglect it.
The problem is if you allow a large amount of water to soak into your chinchilla’s fur. Once the water is soaked in, it’s difficult to get dry. This is the core issue, because fungus and temperature regulation issues occur when the chinchilla is damp for a long time.
Why Can’t Chinchillas Get Wet?
Chinchillas can’t get wet and stay wet because they become sick. The two issues which affect a wet chinchilla are fur fungus and hypothermia.
Chinchillas can be affected by ringworm. Ringworm is a kind of fungal infection (dermatophyte, i.e. fungus which grows on skin) which thrives in warm and moist conditions. So if your chinchilla gets wet, it becomes more likely that it will catch ringworm.
Once caught, a fungal infection of any kind is communicable. This means it can be passed from one chinchilla to another. This happens quickly, so prompt treatment is essential. Ringworm is easy to diagnose because it affects chinchillas in a specific way:
- Bald spots first appear around the nose or eyes
- These bald spots spread to the front feet or genitals, or the body
- These spots may be red and itchy
A vet’s visit will be necessary. They will recommend a topical antifungal agent such as Betadine which you must apply to your pet’s affected areas using gloves (ringworm affects humans too). Don’t allow a chinchilla with ringworm to take dust baths, as the spores are spread through the dust, which gets everywhere.
Temperature Regulation Issues (Cause of Chinchilla Water Death)
Chinchillas are more comfortable with low temperatures than high temperatures. However, if affected by damp, a chinchilla can get too cold. That’s because your pet’s fur is a core tool in its temperature regulation.
The purpose of fur is to trap air. Body heat warms the air within the fur, which stays trapped, and the density of the fur stops the cold air outside from reaching the skin. When fur is wet, it can’t trap air because the water is where the air would be.
In addition to this effect, water cools the body down through evaporation. When sweat evaporates from your skin, it cools the skin down. While chinchillas don’t sweat, any water that gets in their fur acts the same way. So, the water evaporating from your chinchilla’s fur will further cool it down.
All of this means that your chinchilla gets far too cold. This can exacerbate illnesses, e.g. respiratory infection, although these are not caused by getting cold. It makes illness worse because the body has to expend lots of energy to keep warm rather than fighting the disease.
And like any animal, if your chinchilla’s core body temperature drops too much then it will die (hypothermia). Chinchillas have a body temperature of 98.6 to 100.4°F (37 to 38°C); water can cool a chinchilla down far below this, and quickly. You have to dry your chinchilla to prevent this happening.
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If your chinchilla has gotten wet, don’t panic. You can correct the situation in several ways: warming the room, towel drying, blow drying, offering dust baths and lowering the humidity. Blow drying your pet is particularly effective, but must be done in a particular way to prevent further harm.
Warm Your Chinchilla’s Room
Temperature is the core issue with a chinchilla getting wet, so you must do what you can to keep your pet warm.
Check the temperature of the room and move it towards the higher end of the chinchilla’s acceptable temperature range (72 degrees Fahrenheit).
This gives you some wiggle room, because while your pet will cool down because of the evaporation of the water, it will stay slightly warmer because of the temperature of the room. By contrast, if the temperature was toward the lower end of the acceptable scale (e.g. 50 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit) then the cooling effect would leave your pet at a dangerous body temperature.
Set the termostat to an appropriate temperature and monitor it to ensure it stays correct.
How to Towel Dry Your Chinchilla
You can use a towel to dry a chinchilla, although you must be careful. Take your pet from its enclosure and place it on a towel. Then, take the towel and rub it gently against your pet’s sides, without squeezing it. Begin by stroking your pet with the towel from its head to its tail. Then, rub its fur in a light circular motion all along its body.
Don’t expect this to completely fix the problem. This should get rid of some, but not all of the moisture in your pet’s fur. Drying hair is difficult enough; drying chinchilla hair is harder because it’s denser. To completely dry your pet, you must continue with the methods below.
Use a Hair Dryer (Blow Dryer)
Your chinchilla can easily get too cold when wet. But it’s even easier for it to get too hot. Your initial instinct might be to warm your chinchilla up by using the blow dryer at its hottest setting, but this could kill your pet by overheating it.
Instead, blow dry your chinchilla at a cool setting. This will initially cool your chinchilla down because the water will evaporate, but if done in an a room at a suitable temperature (between 65 and 72 degrees Fahrenheit) then your pet should warm up quickly enough afterwards. To blow dry your chinchilla:
- Place your chinchilla somewhere comfortable. You want it to stay still. Distracting it with a treat might help.
- Hold the blow dryer around 6in away from your pet. The loud noise and strange feeling of the air might unnerve your pet, so don’t hold the dryer too close.
- Take a grooming comb and run it through your pet’s fur. You want to lift the fur up so that the air can access underneath it.
Many chinchillas enjoy blow drying. If you have had to bathe and blow dry your chinchilla before, it will know what to expect, and should sit still.
Try to get your pet’s fur completely dry. If you can’t , don’t worry, as dust bathing will dry out the fur to its original state.
Offer Your Chinchilla a Dust Bath
Chinchillas bathe in dust rather than in water. The dust/sand acts like talcum powder: it keeps skin or hair dry by wicking up any oil or moisture.
This wouldn’t be a suitable method for drying your chinchilla if it were still soaking wet. The dust would clump up and attach to the fur. Instead, only offer your pet a dust bath once you’ve dried it using the other methods above. Double the amount of dust baths you give to your pet overall.
Don’t offer your chinchilla dust baths if you suspect it may have ringworm. Change the dust each time your chinchilla bathes.
Lower the Humidity in the Room
High humidity makes drying more difficult. That’s because the air is already approaching saturation with water. The less humid a place is, the quicker the rate at which evaporation will occur.
In this context, that means lowering the humidity in your chinchilla’s enclosure, and in the room that it’s in. There are several ways of doing this:
- Remove water from the room. Any bodies of water, e.g. a leftover cup of water, slowly evaporate and contribute to humidity in a room.
- Don’t stay in the room for long periods. When you breathe, you breathe out moisture and make the room slightly more humid.
- Use a dehumidifier. Dehumidifiers make a room dryer.
Turning on the air conditioning unit would also lower the humidity. That’s because AC works by condensing water from the air. But don’t do this to lower the humidity in the room, as the last thing your pet needs is to get colder.
Can You Bathe a Chinchilla?
Bathing should only be done if absolutely necessary, and is not recommended for novice owners; but it is possible. To do so, you must:
- Use a ‘gentle’ baby shampoo, without sulfates if possible.
- Use luke warm water: not too cold, and definitely not hot. Bathing a chinchilla is like bathing a baby.
- Shampoo and scrub lightly at all times. Rinse the fur thoroughly.
- Towel dry, blow dry and dust bathe your chinchilla.
To reiterate, there’s no need for the average chinchilla to take anything but dust baths. These are enough to keep your pet’s fur completely clean. But in certain cases, e.g. of disability, then a chinchilla will need help keeping its fur free of urine and bacteria.
Can You Shower a Chinchilla?
Showering isn’t recommended as it’s less gentle. Water droplets splash and could get in your pet’s eyes; the force of the water may also be too strong, and would make your chinchilla uncomfortable. If you’re gentle, though, it can be done.
The same caveat applies that this is only suggested for experienced owners, and is unnecessary in almost all cases. Stick to dust bathing your chinchilla instead.
How Do Chinchillas Not Get Wet in the Wild?
Wild chinchillas don’t get wet in the wild for two reasons. The first is that they live in and around the Atacama Desert. This is officially the driest place on the planet; some weather stations there have not seen a single drop of rain since they were installed decades ago. That’s because this desert sits in the rain shadow of two different mountain ranges, one on each side, which physically prevent rainy weather from accessing the area.
The area around the Atacama isn’t as dry, but still only gets 1mm (3/110ths of an inch) of rainfall a year. Long tailed chinchillas live closer to the Chilean coast, which receives more rainfall, albeit still not much.
What Do Wild Chinchillas Do When It Rains?
If rainfall does occur, the chinchilla will run for shelter underneath a plant or in a rock crevice. Here, it will avoid the worst of what little rain there is.
It is also possible that the chinchilla is caught in the rain. If it is, then it may experience the temperature regulation/fungus issues described above. This is the kind of risk which animals encounter in the wild.
Can Chinchillas Swim?
Chinchillas are not natural swimmers. They don’t swim across bodies of water in the wild, and for good reason.
If you have ever been swimming in your clothes, you’ll know how difficult it is. That’s because your clothes soak up water and make you heavier. It takes more effort to swim.
A chinchilla’s dense fur coat is like your clothes. A chinchilla swimming in water will have its fur clog up and become heavy, so would quickly drown. So, don’t force your pet chinchilla to swim.
Other than that, all good care guidelines apply. By spending lots of time with your pet chinchilla, for example, you should notice any time it gets wet and take appropriate steps to help it. And if your chinchilla gets wet and won’t get better, take it to the vet for medical assistance.
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