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PLEASE NOTE: If you suspect your chinchilla to be lethargic, you must call a vet immediately as this is a sign of severe ill health. The following guide is for educational purposes and is not intended to replace the care, knowledge or advice of a vet.

If your chinchilla isn’t moving, that isn’t an immediate cause for alarm. Chinchillas do sleep an awful lot. But if your chinchilla is awake and still doesn’t move around, that may be cause for concern.

My chinchilla is not moving—why? There are four potential answers: it may be asleep, it may be lethargic, it may have passed away, or there may be no reason. Lethargy is where a chinchilla stops moving even if it has to, and is the frequent final symptom of various health conditions. If your chinchilla is lethargic, it needs prompt veterinary assistance and it may pass away even if it gets some.

There’s a big difference between too much sleep, lethargy, and a chinchilla not moving around much.


Why Isn’t My Chinchilla Moving?

Chinchilla isn't moving.

Every good owner gets worried about their pet chinchilla once in a while. And because chinchillas sleep so much, it’s no wonder you might ask Why is my chinchilla not active?

There are four reasons why a chinchilla may not be moving. These range in severity and can be inferred from the context of your chinchilla’s cage and the suitability of its care. They are:

  1. My chinchilla isn’t moving—but it’s for no reason. Your chinchilla may be relaxing, in which case there’s no ’cause’.
  2. Your chinchilla is asleep. Chinchillas sleep for 11-13 hours per day. This is natural and normal.
  3. Your chinchilla is lethargic. Lethargy is a medical term which refers to inactivity as a result of health issues. Lethargic chinchillas move far less than they should, and will even hardly move when hungry or in danger.
  4. Your chinchilla has passed away.

You can identify why your chinchilla stopped moving by checking for other signs of ill health. If there are none, your chinchilla is either sleeping or relaxing. If it’s stressed, has an infection of some kind or is behaving strangely in other ways then it may be seriously ill.


What Is Lethargy?

Lethargy in chinchillas.

Lethargy is a medical term. The terms lethargy or lethargic are used in everyday speech to refer to laziness. But the specific medical definition is “a pathological state of sleepiness or deep unresponsiveness and inactivity.” Pathological means that this inactivity is caused by ill health.

Lethargy occurs in the context of many different kinds of ill health. Unfortunately, it typically occurs towards the end of a chinchilla’s life after other symptoms have been displayed for a while. By the time a chinchilla displays lethargy due to ill health, it is usually too late to fix whatever condition is affecting it.

This symptom is characterized not by laziness, but by lack of movement even in the face of heavy stimulus. So, for example, a lethargic chinchilla won’t get up to eat even if it’s hungry. Or, it won’t move or will only move slowly when confronted with danger. This means that simple laziness is something altogether different.

Lethargy is also distinct from sleeping. A lethargic chinchilla will still sleep much of the time. The problem is that it won’t move when it’s awake, either.

Why Do Lethargic Chinchillas Not Move?

Lethargy occurs when something is severely wrong. It is caused by:

  • Severe pain. If it hurts to move, an animal won’t move as much.
  • Difficulty controlling the limbs. This can occur after neurological damage.
  • No appetite. Very sick chinchillas don’t want to eat even if they’re losing lots of weight.

Lethargy may also serve an evolutionary advantage. Severely sick animals can infect others, so if a lethargic chinchilla were to collapse while the herd moved on, it stands less chance of infecting the rest.


Why Is My Chinchilla Always Sleeping?

Chinchillas will sleep for between 11-13 hours a day. They are most active at dawn and dusk, the term for which is crepuscular. Chinchillas are more active during the night than the day, but will pop out occasionally for food or water during daylight hours. A pet chinchilla will spend hours asleep, then hours awake in a cycle rather than having one ‘big sleep’.

This seems like a lot of sleep, but it’s necessary for a chinchilla’s well-being. They need constant small sleeps because their food (hay, or in the wild, grasses and leaves) doesn’t contain much nutrients. They therefore struggle for energy throughout the day.

This isn’t something you need to fix. You don’t need to give your chinchilla extra food, or more nutritious foods like nuts and seeds, to enable it to stay awake for longer.

However, if your chinchilla is sleeping for a lot more than 11-13 hours per day, it may have a health issue. If that’s the case, we recommend that you take it to a veterinarian as soon as possible.

My Chinchilla Keeps Sleeping All Day

Depending on who you ask, chinchillas are either nocturnal or crepuscular. Studies show that they are slightly more active at night, but also at dawn and dusk (which is what crepuscular means). The image below shows when chinchillas get their sleep: the higher up the graph, the more sleep at that time.

chinchilla sleep cycle
Image courtesy of Analysis of Sleep Cycles in the Rodent, by Henry B. Van Twyver.

Chinchillas sleep in chunks rather than one big go. As such, it’s normal for a chinchilla to get up during the day for ten minutes to get some food before going back to bed. Some chinchillas only get up a couple of times during the day, and again, this is normal so long as it isn’t sleeping all night too. Chinchillas should sleep for around 12 hours, not all day and all night.


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Chinchilla Lethargy Symptom Checker

Your chinchilla will frequently surprise you by napping, and looking as if it’s lethargic or like it’s passed away. To put yourself at ease, you can learn to tell the difference at a glance. You may still get freaked out initially, but by learning from the tips below, you can quickly reassure yourself if your chinchilla is fine.

Chinchilla Sick Not Moving

First off, chinchillas don’t vomit. So, that’s not an issue you have to think about.

But if your chinchilla is sick in a more general sense, and is not moving because it’s lethargic, that’s a very bad sign. Lethargy commonly occurs after illnesses like respiratory infections or eye infections have progressed too far. When a chinchilla is sick, lethargy is normally the last symptom before it passes away.

As such, check your pet for general symptoms of ill health. Can you see:

  • Matted or wet fur?
  • Alopecia (bald spots) anywhere in its fur?
  • A runny nose?
  • Lameness in one or more limbs?

If so, then your chinchilla’s lethargy likely is related to its sickness. Unfortunately, once conditions reach the point of lethargy, it’s normally too late for a chinchilla to survive. You should call a vet anyway as there’s an outside chance it could survive; if it can’t, a vet will be needed to euthanize it as this may be more humane.

Chinchilla Not Moving but Breathing

Chinchilla sleeps all the time.

This could either be ‘good’ or bad. Chinchillas take frequent sleeps throughout both the day and night. So, if your chinchilla is sitting or lying peacefully but is still breathing, it could be asleep.

If this is the case, you can check on your chinchilla by poking it or picking it up. Your chinchilla will be annoyed with you, but if you think it might be severely sick or passed away, it’s worth checking. Your chinchilla will jump and give you a stink eye as you woke it from its sleep, but this will show it isn’t too badly ill.

But if your chinchilla won’t move even if you disturb it, this may be lethargy. Lethargy is defined by not moving even after stimulus or when the chinchilla could be injured or hurt by not moving. So, if you pick your chinchilla up and it doesn’t react, that’s lethargy.

Your chinchilla’s breathing may also be affected by the health condition causing the lethargy. A respiratory infection can make your chinchilla’s breathing rough and difficult. Its breathing may also be quick and shallow.

Chinchilla Laying on Side Not Moving

Chinchillas don’t typically sleep on their sides, but they can. This is especially disturbing, as some owners report, when the chinchilla sleeps with its eyes open too. As such, your chinchilla lying on its side isn’t a sure sign of ill health.

However, it is worth being concerned about. Check your chinchilla’s breathing and if its breath is short, or it’s not breathing, call a vet.

Knowing the difference between lethargy and sleep is something that can come with time. But even experienced owners can sometimes think something is wrong, only to find their chinchilla was sleeping.


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