Chinchillas are known for their fur. It’s what makes them such special pets. But what makes chinchilla fur so soft—and could it even be the softest fur in the world?
Why is chinchilla fur so soft? It’s soft because it’s thick, as chinchillas have up to 90 hairs per follicle. This is more than we have (up to three or four). Chinchilla fur isn’t the densest of all animals, but is perhaps the softest. Breeders breed chinchillas to have even softer fur than they do in the wild. To keep your chinchilla’s fur soft, give it regular dust baths, and keep its cage clean by spot cleaning it. Chinchillas groom themselves so you don’t need to brush them, although that can help when the chinchilla is priming (shedding).
The guide below first explores how thick chinchilla fur is and what makes it so soft. We’ll also rattle off some quick chinchilla fur facts, and make specific recommendations on what you can do to keep your pet’s fur thick, clean and healthy.
How Soft Is Chinchilla Fur?
Chinchilla fur is likely the softest of all animals. It can’t be said for certain whether it is, since there are animals we know little about, and species we have yet to discover. But chinchilla fur is at least easily the softest of any pet.
Chinchilla Fur Density: How Dense is Chinchilla Fur?
The reason chinchilla fur is so soft is that it’s dense. People have one, two or three hairs coming out of every follicle. You can see these follicles in your own skin. Chinchillas, though, have many more. Nobody’s sure of the precise figure, but journal articles state numbers between 75 and 90. This means it has lots of hairs all bunched together, sticking out from the skin rather than staying flat on it. This gives the overall coat softness.
Are Chinchillas The Softest Animal in the World?
So, chinchillas are soft. That much is clear. But is chinchilla the softest fur?
It’s impossible to say whether chinchillas are the softest animal; there are also different metrics you might want to measure by. What we do know is that the chinchilla’s dense fur is at least the softest of all pets. No rabbit, cat or pooch has fur as thick and pleasant to touch.
There are certainly contenders who have similarly dense fur. Otters have particularly thick fur: it’s so thick it forms a waterproof layer to trap air and keep the otter warm as it swims. But otter fur isn’t as long as chinchilla fur, so isn’t as soft.
Why Is Chinchilla Fur So Soft?
So, why do chinchillas need such soft fur? Wouldn’t it be a disadvantage in the wild for them to have to keep their coat clean?
Thick Coat = Warm Chinchilla
Chinchillas need thick coats because they live somewhere cold. The thicker the coat, the colder the climate they can adapt to.
The wild chinchilla lives in the Andes Mountains. This range runs from the southern tip of South America, along the west coast through Chile and Peru, all the way to Colombia and Central America. As well as being long, it’s tall, and chinchillas live on these mountainsides.
If this were the case, you could expect to see certain subspecies and types with thicker fur that live high up in the mountains, and others with thinner fur that live in the foothills where it’s less cold. And this is true: the short-tailed chinchilla, which has thicker fur, lives 3000m above sea level and higher. The long-tailed chinchilla, which has thinner fur, lives at between 1000-3000m. There are subtypes within the long-tailed subspecies, some which live near the coast, and these have thinner fur still.
Chinchillas Take Care of Their Fur
Chinchillas aren’t stupid. They’ve learned over millennia that their thick coats come with disadvantages too. They can get dirty, damp and greasy more easily than the average coat. As such, chins take basic grooming measures to keep clean, including:
- Everyday grooming. Chinchillas nibble at their fur to keep it clean. They groom each other, too, to get rid of parasites and build social bonds.
- Dust bathing. Many of the Andes Mountains used to be volcanoes (and some still are!), so there’s lots of volcanic ash/dust around. Chins roll around in this rock residue to dry out their fur and keep it clean in the same way we use talc.
- Simple sanitation. Chins pick a place to pee, and pee there. They pick somewhere they don’t spend a lot of time outside their burrow, or in a corner they don’t sit in. This stops their fur getting wet. They have also evolved to have solid, dry poop because they conserve water—this means it doesn’t get stuck in their fur.
Chinchillas are so good at this that, with a little help from you keeping their cages clean, you don’t even have to brush them.
Do Chinchillas Shed?
Another way chinchillas take care of their fur is by shedding.
Shedding, as you probably already know, is where the animal gets rid of its old hairs and grows new ones. This is a gradual process; the animal doesn’t instantly shed all of its old hairs and replace them with shorter new ones, like when a person shaves. Instead, one by one, each hair is lost and a new one replaces it.
Chinchilla owners refer to this process as ‘priming’. That’s because chinchillas that have fresh, new coats are said to be ‘in prime’. The unfortunate roots of this term are that chins were and still are extensively farmed for their fur, and this was the prime time to kill them for their pelts.
Wild chinchillas shed, too. The shedding process starts from the head and moves gradually down the back. The boundary between new and old fur creates a line called the priming line. By shedding, the chinchilla gets rid of old and damaged hairs and replaces them with fresh ones. This means that the coat works optimally, keeping the chinchilla as warm as possible. As a side-effect, this also makes the fur softer.
Active Breeding Programs
Today’s pet chinchillas descend from wild animals caught a hundred years ago. They were domesticated because the chinchilla was (and still is) on the verge of going extinct, so to satisfy the demands of the fur market, they would be bred as captive animals instead.
It was therefore in the interest of breeders to produce animals with the thickest fur. Breeders therefore selectively bred their animals, only having those with the thickest fur and stoutest bodies produce offspring. Over time, ranch chinchillas therefore developed thicker and thicker fur.
Your pet chinchilla is a descendent of these animals. And while breeding for fur is less popular than it once was, breeders who breed their animals to become pets still select those with the thickest fur—as these are the most popular!
Don’t Wild Chinchillas Get Wet?
A thick coat is only useful if it stays dry. A chinchilla’s coat is so thick that if it gets wet, it takes a long time to get dry again. While it’s wet, it makes the chinchilla lose core body temperature as the water slowly evaporates (the same way that sweat works). This means that rather than keep the chinchilla warm, it makes it colder.
Chinchillas avoid this problem in a few ways. The first is that the Andes Mountains are as dry as they are cold. They are so tall that weather systems don’t pass over them, meaning that in certain areas, precious little rain falls. On top of that, chins stay dry by sheltering in burrows and rock crevices when it rains. They can even hide under plants like Puya berteroniana.
How to Keep Chinchilla Fur Soft
If you want to keep your chinchilla’s fur soft, there are lots of ways to do it. These are things that any good owner should do anyway, whether you’re particularly concerned about your pet’s coat or not.
Regular Dust Baths
Because chins take dust baths in the wild, you have to provide your pet with dust baths too. Most owners do this with the same kind of dust that chins will find in the wild, made from ground-up pumice and similar kinds of rock. As stated above, this works like talc, wicking up moisture and grease. Because small amounts stick to your chinchilla’s fur, it has continual action, almost like deodorant does.
Most owners give their chinchillas dust baths twice a week. Once a week is probably just fine for your pet, too. Chins can survive if they don’t get dust baths, although not taking them makes them stressed, and their fur greasy and much less soft.
If you are going to use Blue Cloud dust (the most common kind), be aware that it can affect or even damage the lungs. Each particle is microscopic and can be breathed in. Once inside the lungs, it can irritate them, and cause something similar to an allergic reaction.
Regular Cage Cleaning (Spot Cleaning & Deep Cleaning)
Your chinchilla can’t keep its cage clean on its own. It needs your help to do so. If you don’t clean its cage, its fur can get dirty, even matted.
Owners recommend something called spot cleaning. This is similar to the idea of cleaning as you go, which you might be familiar with from cooking. What you do is clean your chinchilla’s cage a little bit every evening. Small tasks like changing the water bottle and cleaning its spout, sweeping up poop and old hay, and changing soggy bedding stop your pet’s cage from getting dirty and smelly. It takes all of five minutes per day, but keeps your pet happy, and keeps its coat clean.
If you don’t do this, your chinchilla’s fur can get matted. This happens when the fur gets greasy and damp and gets something stuck in it, like soft or soggy poop that hasn’t been cleaned up. Matted fur has to be pulled out, leaving bald spots.
You should also do deep cleans every once in a while. This keeps the cage in tip-top condition. It’s less important when it comes to keeping your chinchilla’s fur soft, but you should do it anyway.
Do You Need to Groom Chinchillas?
Manually grooming your chinchilla isn’t strictly necessary, but some owners do it anyway.
You don’t need to brush a chinchilla when it’s not priming. The only reason you would need to do so is if it’s in the middle of shedding, as this helps gently pull out the loose tufts of fur that your chinchilla is trying to shed. These would come out on their own eventually, but you can speed up the process. This would improve the quality of your chinchilla’s coat.
When people do groom their chinchillas is before a chinchilla show. Chinchilla shows are where experienced owners and breeders go to show off their chins, and for them to be judged on qualities like how thick their coats are or how big and blocks their bodies are. These meets used to be for breeders who bred their chinchillas for fur, but now, they’re attended by ‘regular’ breeders as well. Brushing the coat before a show makes it look better.