If you’re not already familiar with them, chinchillas are the adorable little half-mouse, half-squirrel-looking creatures from South America. They are super cute, and they are growing ever more popular in the world of pets. There are things you should know before getting one as a pet, however, and one of the most important pieces of knowledge a new chinchilla pet owner should have is knowing how to bathe a chinchilla.
You’d think you’d bathe them in water, correct? Nope! Turns out, domesticated chinchillas bathe just like their counterparts in the wild—by taking a dust bath! It sounds strange that rolling around in dust would keep an animal clean, but it works out well for these furry creatures.
Chinchillas in the Wild
In their native habitat of South America, chinchillas seek out volcanic ash or Andean clay for bathing. The ash comes from volcanic eruptions and is typically made of rock fragments, volcanic glass, and minerals. This natural resource can strip away dirt from a chinchilla’s coat while also helping to distribute their natural oils, keeping their fur clean and healthy. When chinchillas find ash or clay to bathe in, they simply roll around to get clean.
How often do they bathe? While there’s limited research into how often a chinchilla in the wild bathes, it’s believed that they probably bathe whenever they feel like it is safe to do so, possibly on a daily basis if the opportunity presents itself. However, wild chinchillas are endangered and very rare, and therefore, this is speculation at best.
Do Pet Chinchillas Bathe the Same Way?
If you have a chinchilla of your own, they’ll need to bathe in the same way as those in the wild. There’s a good chance you don’t live in an area with its own volcano, but don’t worry—there are a few types of dust you can buy that are made specifically for chinchillas. You’ll also need a “bath house” of sorts for your chinchilla to be able to take their bath.
Domesticated chinchillas should take baths every day, but only for a period of around 10 to 20 minutes.
One thing you shouldn’t do is keep their dust bath in an area where they can get to it on their own (such as their cage). If your chinchilla gets bored or is just entirely too fond of bathing, they could head for the bath too often and end up doing damage to their skin. Younger chinchillas may develop eye issues (conjunctivitis) from bathing for too long a duration.
What Kind of Dust Should Pet Chinchillas Use?
As we said, you can use a few types of dust to ensure your chinchilla is keeping themselves clean. Most commercial chinchilla dust bath preparations are safe for chinchillas to use.
An alternative to a commercial dust bath is making your own bath with silver sand and Fuller’s earth in a 9:1 ratio. This means that for every nine parts of silver sand, you should add one part of Fuller’s earth. For example, say you’re going to prepare a 100-gram (3.5-ounce) mixture of this ratio. Such a preparation requires 90 grams (3.17 ounces) of silver sand and 10 grams (0.35 ounces) of Fuller’s earth.
Your pet’s bath should be 2 to 4 inches deep, on average. Please note that chinchillas may indiscriminately soil their dust bath and continue to roll in it. If they do so, you have to intervene and replace the dust bath to ensure that they roll in clean dust.
A chinchilla rolling a dust bath is arguably one of the most enjoyable aspects of their ownership. Many people even watch chinchillas taking a bath as a form of ASMR therapy.
Why Chinchillas Don’t Bathe in Water
You’re probably wondering why you can’t just bathe a chinchilla in water like other animals. Dust baths do seem counterproductive, right? However, there’s a good reason chinchillas use dust instead of water to get clean.
Chinchillas have incredibly thick coats. In fact, their hair follicles contain around 50 hairs each, as opposed to most mammals whose follicles only contain one! Due to their fur’s sheer thickness, getting wet means it will take forever to dry. That time spent getting dry could result in moisture being trapped near the skin leading to fungal infections.
You should only ever bathe a chinchilla in water in extreme circumstances where they’re exceptionally dirty or soiled, and only after your exotic veterinarian says it’s okay for you to do so.
Wild chinchillas and domesticated chinchillas bathe in the same way—via dust. Using dust instead of water means dirt and debris are kept out of their coats. At the same time, natural oils are distributed, plus they avoid risking infection and hours spent drying. However, they shouldn’t bathe too long at a given time, as it can cause irritation to the skin. If you’re debating getting a chinchilla as a pet, be sure you have the right kind of dust and a place for them to roll around in.
- Related Read: What Do Chinchillas Eat in the Wild and as Pets?
Featured Image Credit: Irina oxilixo Danilova, Shutterstock