Chinchillas are becoming increasingly popular pets. What’s not to love? They have furry, round bodies, they make the cutest noises, and they have some big ol’ ears.
But, what do those big ears mean for their everyday life? Do chinchillas have super-hearing? Most importantly, do they hear so much it hurts them?
Chinchillas have pretty good hearing, which some might classify as “sensitive”, but really, their fine hearing only makes them more endearing as pets. Here are some things to note about a chinchilla’s hearing sensitivities, which will help you understand their big ears are more than just cute decoration!
Do chinchillas have good hearing?
Chinchillas are not actually too sensitive to most noises. They have great hearing, but their ears are not as powerful as some other animals—like dogs. In many ways, chinchillas’ hearing abilities are very similar to those of humans.
Scientists have compared chinchillas’ hearing ranges to those of humans for many years because structurally, their ears are very similar to a human’s—only their ears work a bit better. Chinchillas have even been used a lot for auditory research on hearing loss in humans due to the many similarities in the structure of human ears and theirs, as well as the comparable hearing ranges.
While the ranges are close, chinchillas’ hearing ranges extend a bit farther than a human’s. The range of a chinchilla’s hearing is around 50Hz to 32kHz—and a human’s hearing range stands from 20Hz to 20kHz. In laymen’s terms, this means the chinchilla’s hearing range extends past the human’s range on the higher-pitch end, but they do not hear low-pitches nearly as well as humans.
Because of this, chinchillas are able to hear much higher pitches than humans can, as well as sounds that are too soft for most people to hear—so sometimes the noises they react to are things we humans cannot detect. However, a chinchilla’s hearing range does not speak for their sensitivity to the sounds themselves.
Why are they so sensitive to sound?
There are several reasons why chinchillas may react to the slightest sound:
1. It is how they communicate.
Sensitivity to sounds are caused by the animal’s adaptation to the sounds themselves. Chinchillas communicate with one another through higher pitches—the ones humans typically cannot hear. They “speak” to each other with these high pitches that exceed the hearing ranges of most other animals. It helps their communication go subtly undetected.
These small animals have several different sounds they make for different reasons. The most common sound people who have chinchillas as pets is their bark. This tends to be their alerted reaction when something catches them off guard—like they are sounding off their presence.
They make other sounds, too, like small hiccups and grunts, but their good range of hearing is really purposed for those high-pitches we humans are not able to hear. Because of this, chinchillas are more sensitive to picking up higher-pitched sounds in general, since they need to be open to their peers’ communication.
2. They can hear more things than humans.
Some chinchilla owners think that a chinchilla’s hearing tends to ere on the overly-sensitive side of things, but this is because chinchillas can also hear softer sounds than humans can, they can sometimes pick up on farther away sounds people do not.
If a chinchilla is caught off-guard by a noise—something like a far-away car door slamming—they might get spooked, and to an owner who could not hear what their pet did, the reaction seems random and sensitive. Their sensitivities to most sounds stem from their aversion to big, loud noises that come upon them unexpectedly—which is understandable.
Chinchillas are not accustomed to abrasive sounds, like loud music, sharp beeping, or sudden bouts of shouting.
3. Their sensitivity helps them survive.
But, why might a chinchilla need to have sensitive hearing, since we only tend to see and think of them in domestic settings? When chinchillas are in the wild, predators think chinchillas are just as cute as we do—just for different reasons… obviously. Therefore, a chinchilla’s hearing is one of its survival tools.
They are small—and they know it—so chinchillas are always aware of their surroundings, watching out for possible predators all the time. Because the animals are sensitive to softer sounds as well as the high-pitches, they are able to pick up small sounds a predator might make—like the brushing of its foot against the grasses. Hearing this sort of sound before the predator knows the chinchilla is there gives it time to run and hide.
While chinchillas can hear these noises, they are not the most spatially aware animals. Chinchillas lack in the sound localization department—which is how animals tell where a sound is coming from. They are actually worse than humans at this, so being able to tell that a predator is coming in general is an important factor for the animal, especially since it cannot tell where the predator is.
A chinchilla owner might get annoyed by its barking at the sound of the pizza-delivery guy, but in the wild, that animal’s keen sense of hearing saves its life.
4. It is how their ears function.
Chinchillas are so sensitive to sounds and can hear so well for one, simple reason: their big ol’ ears. Animals that have larger ears have better hearing, especially when it comes to higher pitches. A chinchilla’s large set of ears are able to trap more sound waves due to their size. When an animal has a larger ear, it can catch more sound waves.
This promotes better hearing due to the structure of the ear in general. Because the larger outside of the ear can catch more sound waves, then when the sound waves are transmitted into vibrations within the inner structure of the ear, the brain can process the pitch of the sound and the loudness of the sound better, as well.
When a chinchilla hears a higher-pitched sound, its large ears catch most of the sound waves, then transmit most of those waves into vibrations. When there are more waves, like with higher pitches, there are more vibrations. So, the animal’s brain recognizes the sound as louder than lower-pitched sounds. This is where the “sensitivity” idea stems from.
Since chinchillas are wired to understand higher pitches normally, they are more sensitive to louder high pitches—like whistling and beeping. If a noise is abrupt and high-pitched, then it can become overwhelming for the small animal’s plus-sized ears.
5 Tips to Manage Sound Levels around Your Chinchilla
Do not worry, chinchillas will not die from loud noises! They might be able to hear better than humans, but they are not too dramatic about it. Here are some tips:
1. They like quiet.
Overall, chinchillas prefer calm, quiet environments. In the wild, they lead quiet lives in small holes and live between rocks. They like plenty of space to do their own things, and they do not like noisy neighbors.
2. Let them adjust.
It takes a new chinchilla pet a small amount of time to get used to human sounds, especially if they are adopted when they are older. Eventually, they get used to the consistent hums and bumps of their new space—like any small, new pet—but it will take them a bit of time to get accustomed to everything. They will never be prepared for any random, loud noises, but they will only bark until they realize they are not under attack.
3. Your loud is their loud.
If you are worried about if your life is too noisy for a chinchilla, use this rule of thumb: if it is too loud for you, it is too loud for them. Basically, if you would wear earplugs, they would definitely need them. They will not be upset by the occasional too-loud TV, but band practice might be bit much for the small animal.
4. They will let you know when it is too loud.
If you are still unsure if your behavior might be too loud for a chinchilla’s calm lifestyle, watch how they react to you and your noises. When a chinchilla thinks something is far too loud, they hide and cower with their ears flattened against their head. When you see your pet do this, you know you need to tone it down a bit.
5. They won’t always be so sensitive.
It is important to note that chinchillas, like humans and their aging process, tend to begin to lose their hearing as they get older. They begin to lose their ability to hear higher frequencies, but their lower range of hearing stays relatively the same—much like a human’s.
The hearing loss only worsens as the chinchilla ages, which is why, in the wild, chinchillas live in groups—which is a hint that if you are looking to get one, go ahead and get it a best friend!
Chinchillas are cute, loving animals. They may not be squeezable, and they might be a tad jumpy with loud noises, but they are great animals with a lot of unique tendencies.
Remember, you can judge a chinchilla’s hearing by thinking of your own, but since they are so small, try not to push their hearing limits too much—so maybe just lay off the rock n’ roll practice if you are thinking of getting one.