why do chinchillas spray urine?

Why Do Chinchillas Spray Urine?

Spraying urine is different to normal peeing. The chinchilla stands up and produces a strong stream of urine, and lots of it. But what could possibly explain this unusual and unhygienic behavior?

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Spraying urine is different to normal peeing. The chinchilla stands up and produces a strong stream of urine, and lots of it. But what could possibly explain this unusual and unhygienic behavior?

Why do chinchillas spray urine? It scares away predators and intimidates other chinchillas. Pet chinchillas spray to get their owners to leave them alone. It’s a sign that your chinchilla is annoyed or doesn’t trust you. To stop a chinchilla spraying, get it used to you by spending time with it, or separate it from the other chinchilla that’s fighting with it.

You can easily tell this apart from regular peeing. Spraying involves your chinchilla peeing standing up, and is done in the context of fighting or annoyance.

What Is Chinchilla Spray?

Chinchilla spray is urine. It’s not like the smelly, stinky spray other animals make specifically to get you to leave them alone, which is made of different sticky chemicals. It’s regular urine without anything extra added.

The term spraying in this context refers both to the spraying of urine, and other behaviors which your chinchilla exhibits at the same time. The purpose of these behaviors is to get you to leave the chinchilla alone. As such, spraying is different to just peeing. Other behaviors your chinchilla will display when spraying are:

  • Standing on its hind legs. This exposes the genitals so that it can aim the spray directly at you.
  • Making a noise. Chinchillas use noises to intimidate or tell you they’re annoyed. Your chinchilla may make a spitting or squeaking sound at the same time as spraying.

So, if a chinchilla owner told you their pet was frequently ‘spraying’, it refers to all of these behaviors together. The purpose of spraying isn’t to get rid of waste, but to get a predator or pest to leave the chinchilla alone.

Spraying is easy to distinguish from normal peeing because of these additional behaviors, and the context in which the spraying is done (e.g. when fighting or annoyed). The spray is surprisingly strong and can reach several feet away.

How Does a Chinchilla Protect Itself?

Chinchillas protect themselves in several ways. They can use their strong front teeth to nip at any predator that gets too close. They use loud barks and spitting sounds to scare and intimidate. But they also use sprayed urine to achieve the same thing.

Many animals do precisely this. They give off a foul chemical of some kind when a predator gets close. Some animals poop, other animals pee, and others still have special chemicals (musks) that smell even worse. Chinchillas only use urine, not musk or poop for this purpose. But the goal is the same: protection.

Do Female Chinchillas Spray Urine?

Female chinchillas do spray urine. They do so in the way described above (standing on their hind legs and giving off a strong stream of urine). Both males and females have something called a ‘urethra’, which is an opening that produces urine. When the female stands on its hind legs, its urethra is pointed at the correct angle to spray forwards.

Females need to use this behavior because they are more territorial. In the wild, females are the ones that form the core part of a group, while males can switch between groups. As such, females are more strongly aware of their territory and what’s theirs. This passes on to pet chinchillas, the females of which are still more territorial.

Also, it’s females that fight off males that want to mate, not the other way round. So, females have far more use for this behavior than males do.

Do Male Chinchillas Spray Urine?

Male chinchillas do not spray urine. Your male may stand up and make noises to get you to go away. It may even urinate when it does. But it won’t spray a stream of urine like females do. They lack the anatomy to produce a strong, accurate stream of urine.

This may seem counter-intuitive, as males have penises. However, they don’t hold the penis to aim the urine. So, all that will happen when your male chinchilla does this is that a small amount of urine will dribble out. It’s like the chinchilla is peeing standing up. This is far less threatening than it’s intended to be, but can be inconvenient as your chinchilla shouldn’t get its fur wet with water or otherwise.

Do Baby Chinchillas Spray Urine?

Baby chinchillas don’t spray straight away. It’s partly instinctual and partly a learned behavior. Like communication and foraging, baby chinchillas learn how to spray urine by seeing their parents do it, but it does come naturally. As such, it’s more likely that a baby will spray urine if it sees its parents do so too.

As for when they start, chinchilla kits are precocial. This means that they begin life as more independent creatures than the babies of other species. Unlike other baby animals, they’re born with their eyes and ears open, and can run around straight away. So, your baby chinchillas can start spraying from a young age. You’re more likely to see it from ten weeks when the kits can begin mating and getting territorial.

Why Does My Chinchilla Spray Urine?

You may think that chinchillas spray solely to annoy you, or because they don’t like you. But it served an important function for wild chinchillas. In a certain sense, the function of this behavior is still useful even in captivity.

The point of spraying is to get something to leave the chinchilla alone. This could be a predator, or it could be another chinchilla. Pet chinchillas can also find it useful to spray at their owners. Here’s why:

  • It shocks the predator. A quick shock can make it reconsider attacking the chinchilla.
  • It gets the predator dirty. If the predator has any cuts or scratches, spraying urine on them could infect them. It can also get in the predator’s eyes and face. This is unpleasant, so the
  • It makes the chinchilla seem like a less appealing food source. The predator will associate the chinchilla with the urine, and assume that it’s not good food.

The same applies to things that aren’t threats, but that the chinchilla wants to go away. So, females will spray at males that want to mate when the female isn’t in heat. They will also spray at owners who won’t leave them alone, e.g. an owner who won’t stop trying to handle a chinchilla that isn’t comfortable being handled yet.

What to Do If a Chinchilla Sprays

The first thing you have to do is figure out why your chinchilla is spraying. The ‘fix’ depends on what the problem is. So, if the problem is that a male is trying to mate with a female that isn’t in heat, you should separate the pair. Or if the chinchilla is spraying at you because it wants you to leave it alone, leave it alone.

Aside from that, spraying means you should clean up. But this is easier said than done, considering your chinchilla is spraying at you to get you to leave it alone.

How to Stop a Chinchilla Spraying at You

If your chinchilla keeps spraying at you, you must leave it alone. It’s uncomfortable with your presence, so picking it up after it sprays at you won’t make it like you.

Instead, make your chinchilla comfortable by gradually getting it used to you. Begin by sitting in the same room as your pet for an extended period of time. Sit several feet away so that the chinchilla can see you, but doesn’t think you will attack it. At first, your chinchilla may make calls to indicate it wants you to go away. But if you sit there for long enough, it should stop, which means it has realized that you aren’t going to attack.

You can do whatever you like in the meantime, such as playing games or checking your phone. Doing this for a few evenings should get your pet used to you. The next step is to continually sit slightly closer each evening, before you’re next to your pet’s cage. As you continue spending time with your pet, it should get used to you and stop spraying.

Chinchilla Urinating through Cage Bars

If your chinchilla is urinating through its cage bars, the spray will get on your things. To clean it off, all that’s needed is regular soap and water. Chinchilla pee/spray will only stink if it’s left to dry. So:

  • Clean everything that can be cleaned under a faucet. Use dish soap and warm/hot water as you would if you’re washing the dishes.
  • Wash any clothes or upholstery in the washing machine. Check the label first to see how you’re supposed to wash it.
  • Use soap and water on the carpet if you have one.

Your chinchilla should stop doing this if it stops spraying. If it doesn’t, consider moving the cage somewhere that this won’t be a major issue e.g. somewhere without carpet and that isn’t close to all your things. You’ll still have to clean up after your pet, but at least the pee won’t soak into anything.

Stop a Chinchilla Spraying in its Cage

While it’s less inconvenient for you, it’s still best if your chinchilla doesn’t spray in its cage. To be clear: urinating is fine, but spraying is not. Spraying involves lots of urine and is directed at something, e.g. the accessories in your chinchilla’s cage or another chinchilla. The spray can soak into the fur of either chinchilla which is a problem both for hygiene and health (as chinchillas shouldn’t get wet).

You may have to remove the second chinchilla from the cage. If so, put it in a cage of its own away from the first cage. By having the cages close together, the pair could still fight, and the sprayer still spray.

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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!