Chinchillas have fascinating teeth. They’re bright orange, making them easily visible; but you may also hear them when your chinchilla grinds its teeth, too. But why does it do that?
Why is my chinchilla grinding its teeth? Chinchillas chatter or grind their teeth to show a range of emotions: annoyance or stress, happiness and pain. This is different to how chinchillas chew and gnaw on things, which has no meaning. It’s not unusual for some chinchillas to grind their teeth while others never do, or for a chinchilla to begin chattering/grinding when it didn’t before. To figure out why your chinchilla is grinding its teeth, observe its behavior for other symptoms of pain or happiness.
The guide below looks at all the reasons chinchillas grind their teeth: stress, pain, happiness and more. We’ll also look at how gnawing is different to chattering, what each sound like, why chinchillas chatter, grind and gnaw, and much, much more.
Why Do Chinchillas Grind Their Teeth?
There are two different senses in which a chinchilla might grind its teeth. The first, and the one addressed in this section, is when the chinchilla grinds its teeth together. This is the same way in which you can clench your jaw and grind your teeth against each other, and can be acommpanied by chattering. The second sense, in which chinchillas grind their teeth by chewing and gnawing on things, is a different issue entirely and is addressed later.
What Does It Sound Like When Chinchillas Grind Their Teeth?
There are two different sounds that owners associate with the term grinding, corresponding to the forms described above. Chattering sounds like teeth chattering together (like when you’re cold). Grinding sounds like teeth rubbing together. These noises vary in volume as you might imagine: they can be noticeable from outside the cage, or only when you pick up your pet. This may correspond to how stressed/happy/etc. your chinchilla is.
1) Do Chinchillas NEED to Grind Their Teeth?
Chinchillas do not need to grind their teeth against each other, whatever the reason. They do need to gnaw on things to ‘grind their teeth down’, but that’s not what this section is addressing.
This kind of grinding or chattering, where chinchillas rub their teeth together, isn’t necessary. Rather, it’s a way of chinchillas communicating to each other. It can mean many things: that the chinchilla is in pain, that it’s happy, or that it’s annoyed. The chinchilla doesn’t strictly need to grind its teeth for this purpose, as these amazing animals have lots of ways of communicating.
You can think of it as a kind of body language (which, of course, it is). You don’t need to use body language to communicate what you mean, but you can; sometimes you use it on its own, or in conjunction with other kinds of communication. This kind of teeth grinding is the same.
2) Do Chinchillas Grind Their Teeth When They’re Annoyed/Stressed?
There are lots of things that teeth grinding can mean. One of these things is that the chinchilla is annoyed. So, your chin might start grinding/chattering only when it’s stressed out by its cage mate, or when it hears a dog barking, or when you won’t leave it alone. In this sense, the chattering can either be interpreted as a way of telling other chinchillas about how it’s feeling, or a way of telling the stressor to leave it alone.
3) Do Chinchillas Grind Their Teeth When They’re Happy?
Chinchillas can also grind their teeth when they’re happy. You can tell that this is what the grinding noise means because your chin might do it while it’s waiting for, or after it’s had, a treat.
The reason why a chinchilla might display the same behavior when it’s stressed as when it’s happy isn’t clear. It could be, perhaps, that the noises or motions are subtly different in a way that a chinchilla might understand, but we don’t yet. Or, it could be a general sign of stimulation and excitement, like how your heart can start beating faster either because you’re scared or because you’re happy.
This has led to a lot of confusion, especially among newer owners, who can’t tell why their chinchillas are chattering and grinding their teeth. The trick is to check for other signs of how your chinchilla is feeling.
4) Do Chinchillas Grind Their Teeth When They’re Sad?
This isn’t something that you see as often. There aren’t any circumstances in which your chinchilla might be sad, but where its teeth chattering can’t be explained by something else like pain or stress. You could argue that these feelings are mixed together, meaning that in a sense, your chin does grind its teeth when it’s upset; but it would be more accurate to attribute the behavior to pain or one of the other reasons described.
5) Do Chinchillas Grind Their Teeth When They’re In Pain/Unhealthy?
Last but not least, chinchillas commonly grind their teeth when they’re in pain. This is a very common symptom, one that you see in relation to all sorts of health issues. Chinchillas display all sorts of body signal signs that they do their best to cover up—so as not to appear weak—but that you can spot if you know when and where to look. So, for example, a chinchilla that’s in pain might:
- Grind or chatter its teeth
- Sit with its back arched up, like a hunchback
- Sit with its paws close in to its body
- Not move much
- Hold its ears backwards, towards/against its neck
Grinding and chattering is especially associated with conditions that affect the mouth, like ulcers and malocclusion.
But What About MY Chinchilla?
To figure out why your chinchilla is grinding its teeth, you’ll have to observe it. Look for other body language or noises that would indicate its mood.
- If your chinchilla is holding its ears back and sitting in a hunched posture while grinding its teeth, this means it’s in pain.
- If your chinchilla is popcorning, running around and generally seeming active while grinding its teeth, this means it’s happy.
- If your chinchilla shows symptoms of a health condition like a runny nose or eyes, lethargy or something else while grinding its teeth, this means it’s sick.
As time goes by, you learn what your chinchilla’s behaviors mean. The more time you spend with it the more you will understand what it does and why.
It’s also possible that your chinchilla is chattering its teeth for no reason. Chins often do things that don’t make sense, or that would make sense, but in different contexts. This could be one of those times.
Why Is My Chinchilla Chewing on Things?
The second sense in which chinchillas grind their teeth is that they grind them on things rather than against each other. For the sake of clarity, we’ll call this behavior ‘gnawing’ (as it is often called).
This behavior has a completely different meaning and purpose to the grinding described above. That’s why we’ve considered it in its own section.
Why Do Chinchillas Gnaw?
Chinchillas gnaw on things because their teeth grow continually, like the teeth of any rodent. If they don’t gnaw on something every day, their teeth will eventually grow too long, and cause a condition known as malocclusion.
Gnawing therefore doesn’t have any ‘meaning’, nor should you consider it a kind of body language. It’s an evolutionary adaptation more like a reflex than a form of communication. You could consider it similar to brushing your teeth: important, but not holding any communicative meaning.
That doesn’t mean that you can’t infer things from your chinchilla’s gnawing behavior. If you notice your chinchilla gnawing on inappropriate things like the bars of its cage, this likely indicates that it needs more suitable chew toys, or that it has/is developing malocclusion. But it isn’t a way for your chinchilla to say that it’s happy, sad, or something else.
Is Gnawing Bad for a Chinchilla’s Teeth?
Chins like to gnaw on solid materials like wood. If you did the same, you might break your teeth, or at least be in a lot of pain. As such, new owners may be shocked to see their chinchillas chewing on things without the idea of eating them.
But first impressions can be deceptive. Gnawing is actually good for a chinchilla’s teeth; not bad at all. It very slowly, very gradually wears down the tips of the incisors and counteracts their constant growth.
You can compare this to filing your nails down—it’s actually strikingly similar. If your chinchilla doesn’t gnaw, its teeth will get too long, and can break by snapping. They will make it uncomfortable and mean that it can’t do everyday things (in this context, that means eating). And if one tooth breaks, this makes eating and gnawing even more difficult.
As such, you should never discourage your chinchilla from gnawing on suitable materials. Offer it plenty of apple wood sticks, other suitable kinds of wood, or toys like sand-blasted grapevines. These can completely prevent malocclusion.