Chinchillas are easy pets overall, and they have limited health problems associated with them. So, it can be difficult to recognize when your chinchilla may be having a health problem, or when they are doing something abnormal and it becomes too much.
Symptoms such as itching and scratching is such behaviors that can be both concerning and confusing, so here are some things to keep in mind should you find your chinchilla behaving in such a way.
Why is my chinchilla itching and scratching itself?
There are several different reasons as to why a chinchilla might be constantly itching and scratching. You may not think anything of their scratching at first—because it is a normal behavior—but the frequency of their itching may start to concern you. Here are some causes to keep in mind:
1. Fur barbering
Fur barbering is the term for when a chinchilla excessively chews their fur. Fur chewing is normal for chinchillas, because it is how they clean themselves on the regular, but fur barbering is what happens when a chinchilla chews so much they begin to remove tufts of fur. Sometimes, chinchillas will chew their fur as their method of scratching, but it can be detrimental when it becomes too much.
Fur barbering can cause itching and scratching because the chinchilla is overly exposing its skin. Sometimes, it can also mean the chinchilla is cleaning itself too much, which is having adverse, bacterial effects.
2. Dry skin
Just like humans get itchy when their skin is too dry, the same thing can happen to a chinchilla. Even below their thick fur, a chinchilla’s skin can get so dry, it causes discomfort. While chinchillas do not technically have sensitive skin, there are several factors that might contribute to the drying out of your chinchilla’s skin.
For example, your chinchilla might develop dry skin if they are kept in a consistently too cool environment. Wild chinchillas live in windy, mid-temperature climates, but domestically, chinchillas need consistent, moderate temperatures.
They could also have dry skin due to being too-wet too-often. Chinchillas are not meant to get wet, since their fur is so thick and takes so long to dry, and if they are left to dry out by themselves too often, it could chafe their skin, causing it to become itchy. This not only goes for you not giving them water baths, but it also goes for if you live in a humid climate. Chinchillas are not made for wet air, so be conscious of how this might affect your pet.
3. Fleas, lice, or fungal infections
Yes, chinchillas can get lice and fleas. They are not immune. However, lice and fleas for chinchillas do not cross species, so you will not catch lice from your chinchilla. But they are pesky to treat, and they can cause your chinchilla to be miserable and itchy until they are completely gone.
As for infections, chinchillas can get fungal infections, which can be very itchy and tough to catch amidst a chinchilla’s thick fur. The most common form of fungal infection for chinchillas is a Ringworm. Contrary to its name, it is not an actual worm, it is a mold-like infection on the skin. It can come from anywhere and is transmitted through touch—so, wash your hands!
Everyone reacts to stress differently, and itching and scratching can be a sign that something is stressing your chinchilla out. It could be anything from a new cage, a new partner to a constant loud noise they do not like, or a smell they hate.
Itching and scratching may just be your chinchilla’s manifestation of their stress. Check out our helpful post about how to help a stressed chinchilla.
What are some signs and symptoms?
The obvious sign that your chinchilla is excessively itching and scratching… is catching them constantly itching and scratching. If you notice it enough to think it is weird, it probably is. Trust your instincts.
But if you do not catch your chinchilla constantly itching itself, here are some other things to look out for. Remember, sometimes a chinchilla has an underlying problem and several symptoms, which can accumulate and cause an even worse problem.
Sign 1. Bald spots
Sometimes a chinchilla will scratch so much, it literally tears its own fur out. It can even leave their skin bloody and raw. This can also be result of fur barbering, but fur barbering and itching can be caused by the same things.
Ringworms can also cause bald spots. It causes a chinchilla’s skin to become raised and irritated, looking red or brown and crusty.
Sign 2. Dry flakes of skin
Constantly itching and scratching is sure to irritate probably already irritated skin even more. It can kick up some of the top layer of skin, which can linger amidst a chinchilla’s thick fur. Some skin infections, like the Ringworms mentioned, will also contribute to lots of dandruff.
But sometimes, a chinchilla is just dirty, so if you do not see a chinchilla scratching a lot to accompany the skin flakes, your chinchilla may just need a bath.
Sign 3. Tufts of fur on the floor.
Bald spots are inevitably accompanied by excess shedding and wads of fur. If you see lots of little tufts littering your chinchilla’s cage floor, be wary as to why this might be. Watch their behavior for reasons as to why you could knit a pillow with all the fur you find.
Other signs of sickness.
If your chinchilla is itching due to any form of infection or illness, there will be other signs to suggest that you may have a sick chinchilla. These signs could include hiding, lethargy, or decreased appetites. Should you suspect they are itching because of any infection or sickness, simply monitor their behavior to see if they are acting weird in other ways as well. If not, then look for other signs as to why they might be acting so oddly.
How to Prevent and Treat Excessive Itching and Scratching:
Should you find that your chinchilla is behaving weirdly by scratching and itching themselves more than is normal, there are ways to treat your pet, or even some ways to try to prevent this from even becoming a problem. Here are a few:
Tip #1 Dust baths
It is no secret how much chinchillas love dust baths. They are their favorite things because aside from fur chewing, dust baths are the only other way for a chinchilla to get rid of their excess oil to feel clean—and they like to feel clean.
If your chinchilla is itching because they are not clean or because their skin is irritated because of their environment, a dust bath will help soothe them a bit. It is basically like a spa day for them. Also, giving them weekly dust baths will keep their skin clean enough to prevent any possible irritants that stem from poor hygiene.
Tip #2 Clean cages
Much like with the dust baths, giving their cage a regular deep cleaning will keep them feeling clean. It will also help prevent a chinchilla’s cage bedding or shavings from harboring any bacteria or fungi, which will help lessen the chances of such things getting on your chinchilla’s skin and causing them sickness or more cause for itching.
Do read up our popular post about how to clean a chinchilla cage.
Tip #3 Get a dehumidifier
If your environment is the key cause to your chinchilla constantly scratching themselves, then perhaps try getting a dehumidifier to help you control the humidity and coolness of the air. It will help pull some of that wetness that might be making your chinchilla uncomfortable out of the air.
However, if you do not live in a naturally humid area, you may have the adverse problem of your air being too dry, so you may want to try the opposite tool, a humidifier, to add a bit of moisture back into the air. There are several tools you can try to help you control your home climate, so try them all until you find what works.
Tip #4 Talk to a vet
If you find that your chinchilla has a fungal infection like a Ringworm, it is best to take them to a vet for some proper, topical cream. However, if you feel the need, there are home remedies you can try to treat the infection.
Ringworms and other fungal or bacterial infections are not things you want to ignore, as they can spread very easily. The longer they are left untreated, the longer it will take for you to get rid of it once you start trying.
Vets can also give you medicinal help for scratching causes such as fleas and lice. They can be extremely hard to get rid of on your own, and a vet will have access to the good stuff that will help rid your chinchilla of the pests much, much faster than any store-bought remedy.
Also, if your chinchilla is constantly itching but you cannot figure out why, your vet may be able to give you some insight or medicines to try to help prevent and treat the scratching. Overall, a vet is the person who went to school to be able to treat animals…so why not use them?