Chinchilla behavior is difficult to understand unless you know what to expect. One thing you may have noticed is your chinchilla winking at you. But what meaning, if any, does that have?
Why do chinchillas wink? Winking can be a sign of a happy chinchilla. Chinchillas may wink as a kind of greeting which shows that everything is OK. But it can also indicate something wrong with one of your pet’s eyes, e.g. inflammation and infection. Look for white goop or fluid around your pet’s eye, and if you notice any, take it to the vet.
Chinchillas are fascinating in their own right, not because their behavior is like ours. To compare their behavior to ours and think it’s the same is to misunderstand them (and do them a disservice!) So, to find out what winking means in chinchillas, read our guide below.
Why Is My Chinchilla Winking at Me?
The purpose of blinking is to keep the eye clean. The motion of the eyelid physically dislodges any dirt or hairs that touch the eye. And as the eyelid moves, it leaves behind a trace amount of fluid: tears. This further cleans the eye, and also stops it from drying out. Keeping the eye moist means it can move around more easily in its socket.
Many animals wink for the same reason. Animals can blink their eyes independently like we can. If they only have something in one of their eyes, they will wink rather than blink. This leaves one eye open so that the animal can see anything dangerous coming. But winking can also have meaning behind it.
“If my chinchilla winks at me, surely it’s trying to tell me something?”
When a chinchilla winks, it doesn’t have the same meaning as when a person winks. To think that your chinchilla is being cheeky or silly would be a mistake. This is something that pet owners commonly do called ‘anthropomorphizing’, which means thinking of the pet like a person. The owner assumes that the pet thinks like people do. This isn’t dangerous, and it’s lots of fun, but it does mean that you may not properly understand its behavior.
That doesn’t mean that winking is necessarily meaningless. Chinchillas are social and are skilled at communicating both through noises and body language. As such, winking could be a way to communicate. And on top of all of that, winking could also be a sign that something is wrong with your chinchilla’s eye or eyes. So which is it?
The guide below explores which side of this divide winking falls on!
1) Blinking vs Winking in Chinchillas
Chinchillas rarely blink. Only two or three blinks every 10 minutes is not unusual for these pets. It’s thought that this gives wild chinchillas an advantage, as they can always see threats approaching. This behavioral adaptation will have been passed on to pet chinchillas.
Nevertheless, blinking serves the same purpose in chinchillas as it does in people. Blinking moistens the eyeball which keeps it working properly. There’s a possibility that:
- Your chinchilla only needed to moisten one of its eyes, so it kept the other open
- Your chinchilla did blink both of its eyes, but you only saw it close one
What some owners report is that a chinchilla blinks one eye first, followed by the other. It does this in quick succession. So, you may have missed it blinking its other eye. If this is the case, there’s nothing wrong with your pet: it’s just blinking its eyes one by one.
Observe it for a while and see if it winks again. You’ll likely see that your chinchilla is perfectly fine, getting on with its day, either eating or snoozing. But if it blinks too frequently or only blinks one of its eyes, it may have a problem like an eye infection (check Section 3 for more details).
2) Chinchilla Body Language and Communication
Chinchillas are communicative creatures. They make noises to show they’re happy, frustrated, angry or scared. Their body language is another tool they use to communicate, e.g. when they stand up to threaten each other when fighting.
While chinchillas and their communication have been studied in depth, the specific behavior of winking hasn’t. This means that we have to rely on the experience of owners, and what experienced owners think winking signifies.
Many books and online sources state that winking is a form of greeting. It’s like greeting somebody with a smile: it shows that everybody is calm, and everything is okay. It’s possible that this is a natural chinchilla behavior, or that some individual chinchillas have developed this behavior as pets. This would fit in with what we know about other pets, and it’s certain that winking doesn’t signify anything bad, at least.
However, it would be wrong to assume that a chinchilla does something because other animals do it. As such, this remains conjecture rather than fact.
3) Somebody Taught Your Chinchilla to Wink
Chinchillas are smart pets and can learn lots of new behaviors. One thing that a chinchilla can learn to do is wink.
You can teach a chinchilla to wink on purpose, but you can do it by accident as well. When your chinchilla winks at you, your first reaction is likely to wink back. If you do this enough times, your chinchilla will wink back when you wink first. Your chinchilla could also react to your blinking, which is why it winks when you don’t expect it.
If your chinchilla was a rescue or was previously owned by a friend, this can still apply. The previous owner may have taught the chinchilla to wink and not told you. The winking may be triggered by something you don’t expect.
4) Chinchilla Eye Health and Winking
Another possibility is that your chinchilla is sick. Many health conditions affect the eye, including conjunctivitis, cataracts, lens luxation and more. In many cases, these affect only one eye.
As in people, conditions like conjunctivitis cause irritation, swelling and infection. This can force your chinchilla to keep its eye closed, or shut its eye more frequently, while leaving the other one open. This could explain what you interpret as ‘winking’.
As such, if you notice it winking frequently, you should check your pet’s eyes. Look for:
- Wet, matted fur around the eye
- White goop coming from the eye
- Redness and swelling in the eye
- Your chinchilla pawing at its nose and eye frequently
- Your chinchilla blinking far more frequently than two or three times in 10 minutes
If you spot these signs, your pet may have an eye infection and should be taken to the vet. You will need to administer saline drops or antibiotics to heal your chinchilla’s eye. Infections can easily cause blindness or loss of the eyes in chinchillas, so take this problem seriously if you spot it.
5) Dust in Your Chinchilla’s Eye
Alternatively, there could be something in your chinchilla’s eye. The most common problem is bathing dust/sand. A particle or two can get in your chinchilla’s eye and cause irritation. This is seen with finer dusts like Kaytee.*
When this happens, the symptoms are similar to those of general poor eye health. Your chinchilla’s eye or eyes will water, and it may paw at its nose and eye. If you don’t fix the problem, your chinchilla’s eye could get infected (pink eye/conjunctivitis). A vet can wash its eye out and prescribe antibiotics if it is infected.
*Note: Kaytee brand chinchilla dust is of good quality, and using finer bathing dust than usual isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The finer the dust, the better the cleaning action. However, this is one of its downsides.
Chinchilla Has One Eye Closed All the Time
If your chinchilla keeps one of its eyes closed much or all of the time, this is a different issue. It’s almost certainly a health problem affecting the eye.
Chinchillas aren’t supposed to keep one of their eyes closed. As all other animals do, they keep their eyes open to scan for hazards or predators, or to look for food. So, while the chinchilla’s eyesight isn’t as good as its senses of smell or hearing, it still should keep its eyes open unless it’s sleeping or resting.
Perform the same health checks described above (looking for wet fur and white goop around the eye). This will tell you whether the eye is infected. Redness will tell you that the eye is either infected or has dust in it from bathing.
Whatever the issue, take your pet to the vet. They can properly diagnose what’s wrong and treat it in the appropriate way.
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