As disgusting as the idea might be… Chinchillas drink pee. But what possible good does it serve them, and can you make it stop?
Why is my chinchilla drinking pee? Nobody knows for sure, but it could be conserving water, conserving minerals, or checking the pee for hormones. Chinchillas can drink their own pee, or the urine of other chinchillas. Pee is sterile so it won’t make your chinchilla sick, and you can’t train it to stop.
Perhaps surprisingly, hardly anybody has ever studied this question before! So, many of the potential answers below are guesswork. But the anatomy of a chinchilla and its habitat may both play a role here.
Do Chinchillas Drink Pee?
Chinchillas don’t frequently drink pee, but they can. If yours does, it’s nothing to worry about.
What’s most common is for a chinchilla to go back to somewhere it just peed, and drink what’s there. This can be on any surface, including bedding, fleece and carpet. It will drink it as if it were water. You might see:
- Chinchilla drinking own urine. Chinchillas can drink either their own pee, or that of other chinchillas.
- Chinchilla drinking other chinchillas’ urine. If anything, it’s more common for a chinchilla to drink the pee of its cagemate/s.
This can occur straight after the chinchilla went to the toilet, or a minute or so afterwards.
But so much for that… How about why?!
Why Is My Chinchilla Drinking Pee?
The short answer is that nobody knows for sure. But there are plenty of potential explanations.
Part of the reason why is that scientists haven’t studied this issue. While chinchillas have been the subject of studies on their vision or their hearing, their behaviors have received relatively little attention. It also doesn’t seem to be uniformly triggered by a lack of something, too much of something, or a particular time of year like other behaviors.
Interestingly, urine drinking isn’t unique to chinchillas. It’s seen in many animals, including many other small mammals. It’s from looking at these other animals, and the chinchilla’s habitat, that we can make some guesses.
1) Pee Is a Water Source
Chinchillas need to drink water as all other small mammals do. But they have a unique background that makes them need to conserve water more than most.
All pet chinchillas were bred from wild long-tailed chinchillas. These live in the Andes Mountains, which are right next to the driest place on the planet: the Atacama Desert. Even though they don’t live in the driest parts of the desert, there’s still precious little rainfall here.
This is reflected in the chinchilla’s evolutionary adaptations. They can only have such thick fur if they live somewhere that doesn’t have much rainfall; they infrequently pee, and when they do, it’s very dark indicating that it doesn’t contain much water.
Based on these facts, it makes sense that the chinchilla would reuse the water in its urine. They clearly don’t find the taste disgusting, so rather than letting it go to waste, they drink it. This could potentially, then, be triggered by your chinchilla feeling dehydrated. It could perhaps not have enough water in its water bottle. Or, it may have been exercising and gotten too hot.
2) Conserving Minerals
Urine contains many minerals. The purpose of urine is to rid the body of anything it doesn’t need, so sometimes, undigested nutrients end up in there. In the same way, undigested nutrients can be pooped out (and chinchillas eat poop, too).
The minerals you’ll find in urine include sodium, nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus. That’s why urine makes such an effective fertilizer.
Again, wild chinchillas live somewhere desolate. They can’t afford to waste either water or nutrients. That’s especially the case during the colder seasons, when even fewer things grow there that they can eat. As such, you may see your chinchilla drinking urine because it wants to hang onto those minerals instead of wasting them. This behavior could hypothetically be triggered if your chinchilla weren’t getting enough minerals from its food.
3) Hormones & Mating
Urine doesn’t just contain water, urea and various minerals. It contains hormones, too. That’s why animals pee to mark their territory.
If you notice your chinchilla tasting or drinking another chinchilla’s pee, this could be why. Animals are more sensitive than we are to hormones and pheromones, and it’s possible that your chinchilla could be checking for them. It could also be checking for its own, although this isn’t common behavior in animals.
This could explain why some owners report pee drinking only when a female is in heat. The males could be testing her urine to see how fertile she is. They can then decide whether it’s worth fighting other males for mating rights.
4) Something Habitat Related
This behavior could also be driven by environment. While it’s not clear how that might be, some owners report that their chinchillas only display this behavior when they’re outside the cage. Perhaps the chinchilla does this when it’s somewhere unsafe to stop predators smelling the scent of its urine.
It could also be to do with keeping its fur clean. The first time you’ll likely notice your chinchilla drinking its pee is if it pees on the carpet when it’s playtime, or if it pees on the fleece floor of the cage. Your chinchilla may want to clean up its pee so that it doesn’t accidentally sit in it, and get pee in its fur.
This chimes with other things we know about a chinchilla’s peeing habits. Most chinchillas pick a corner to pee in and only pee there; effectively toilet training themselves. Again, this is so that the chinchilla doesn’t accidentally get its fur wet.
Is It Dangerous If My Chinchilla Drinks Pee?
While you probably won’t want to anyway, urine is safe to drink. It doesn’t contain any bacteria unless you have a urinary tract infection. So, your chinchilla won’t get sick from drinking its own pee or that of other chinchillas.
This is backed up by owner experience. Breeders say that it happens frequently, and no adverse health effects are reported. If you’re worried, you could take your chinchilla to the vet, but they’ll likely report that it’s fine.
The reason why we don’t do it is that it’s disgusting. Disgust is an emotional response that isn’t uniform across all animals. Some animals display disgust at certain things we do, but not others; other animals don’t show any signs of disgust.
People evolved to treat certain things with disgust as a way of protecting themselves; that’s why we’re disgusted by things like ticks or fleas, or by severe injury. But because people are more advanced, we apply disgust to more things than animals do, which is why their habits can be so disgusting to us.
How to Stop a Chinchilla Drinking Pee
If you’re like most people, your first reaction is some variety of ‘Ew!’ or ‘Yuck!’ Congratulations: you’re normal!
But despite that, there’s no need to stop your chinchilla drinking urine. It won’t hurt them, and it’s probably a natural behavior; all natural behaviors, like jumping or living in groups, should be encouraged so that your pet can thrive.
You’re also limited in what you can teach a chinchilla. While they’re smart for rodents, they aren’t as easily trained as dogs. If you were to clap your hands when it drinks pee, it would likely stop for the moment, but it wouldn’t learn not to do it. That’s because it doesn’t understand cause and effect: it doesn’t know that you clapped because you want it to stop.
As such, there’s no way to get your chinchilla to stop drinking its own pee, or another chinchilla’s pee. You just have to let it!
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