chinchilla-fur-biting

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Chinchilla Fur Chewing – Biting

Fur biting is not as straight forward as it seems, everyone generally has a good idea of ‘how’ it happens but never seem to suggest any useful information on how to ‘stop’ this habit.

First of all, if you suspect your chinchilla is fur biting, then it’s best to go with the list shown here below in the grey box because there are different reasons a chinchilla may fur bite.

The list will help you identify if your chinchilla has a problem that can be cured to a reasonable extent – or if more serious – a vital check out at your vets would be necessary.
 
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FUNGI INFECTION

Fungus infections (as known in Trico-phyton Mentagrophytes) are quite different from fur biting. A trained eye can quickly tell the difference between fungi infections and fur biting.

With fungus, the first areas to be affected are around the eyes and nose, sometimes the tail. Whiskers also do break off around the nose area. These are early signs that your chinchilla has a fungus. The more advanced version is when their fur falls out. The difference is quite obvious because the chinchilla will have bald patches where fur should be, and the skin scales and flakes away.

With fur biting, it does not ‘fall out’ it looks ‘chewed’ in an uneven pattern – the picture of the chinchilla at the top of this article is an excellent example of how bad fur biting can get.

With fungi infections, outbreaks can occur in the Autumn and Winter. Both seasons bring damp conditions that cause the fungus to grow and spread. Your chinchilla must be kept away from any possible damp areas. Fungus and other infections that chinchillas can obtain will be dealt with in more detail in another article on this site later on in the future.
 
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Hay is another common cause of fungi. Hay left in the cage too long, especially in damp surroundings, is a sure way for a chinchilla to get a fungi infection. Hay is a carrier of fungi. Water must be changed daily, and bottles cleaned regularly.

If you catch the fungus infection early, it is easily manageable. You should have your vet confirm it is a fungus. The vet will generally give you a fungicide (like athletes foot powder), which you can mix in the chinchillas’ dust bath. I use this brand.

PREVENTION – clean, hygienic cages and a tablespoon of athletes foot in the dust bath – changed every two months, not to be continuous – just add the powder occasionally / about two months after the fungus has gone in case of risk of it lingering after.

MALOCCLUSION

Malocclusion is a serious problem with all rodents, I will write more about Malocclusion in a separate post, but first, what has Malocclusion got to do with fur biting?
 
UPDATE:

For a more in-depth understanding of Malocclussion, please check out our recent article titled Is Chinchilla Malocclusion A Long Agonizing Death Sentence

 
Just because a chinchilla fur-bites does not mean that it is a sure sign of a tooth problem, in general, fur biting is a hormone/hereditary problem. When a chinchilla does have Malocclusion, especially advanced, then pain can cause the chinchilla to be distressed, which in some cases makes them fur bite, not all chinchillas that have teeth problems fur bite – just a few.

Always check your chinchillas’ teeth, Malocclusion can come at any age. When a chinchilla fur-bites due to this problem, there are more obvious signs to look for, mostly know as the ‘slobbers.’ From that expression, you can easily see what I am getting at – the chinchilla will dribble down the front, eat awkwardly (probably not eating much at all) if you fear this is the case you definitely must take your pet to the veterinary surgeon for a professional check-up and perhaps an X-ray.

HORMONE IMBALANCE

Many chinchilla owners with experience do dispute the fact that most of the reasons that chinchillas do bite their fur is through a hormone disorder, well, from what I have read, this can only be so with certain cases – for instance: If the chinchilla is female, it’s more than likely a hormone disorder especially if pregnant, not all pregnant chinchillas will fur bite, and if they do, then generally it stops once the young kits are born.

Sometimes afterward, the mum – especially first baby mums – may have a little too much maternal zeal and will nibble the fur on the kits head or back, but obviously, this stops after the kits grow and leaves.

Sometimes young kits have this habit when separated from mum after weaning, or as they reach maturity, it doesn’t happen often, but if it does, it’s generally a temporary situation.

As for a dietary deficiency, it’s most unlikely that if your chinchilla is eating good basic pellets and plenty of quality hay along with water and not too many treats, then dietary does not come into it.

Irritations to the chinchillas’ skin can also cause temporary fur biting until the problem is solved, they may even fur bite along with the fungus mentioned above – giving the impression that it’s an advanced infection! but it generally is irritation of sand baths, the wrong dusting powder, sometimes too many baths – certain chinchillas don’t need too many baths – it really depends on the weather if it is quite warm (especially in warm climate countries) and how much they are handled

IN HEREDITARY

If you have read the paragraphs above and your chinchilla does not relate to any of them, then it’s more than likely this is the part you will need to read.

Firstly, now that you have identified your chinnie to be a ‘true chinchilla fur biter’ do not despair – just because furball bites his fur doesn’t mean he is not well if it’s none of the above mentioned – it’s definitely in the genes!

And if they are PRONE to biting their fur then the only problem will be cosmetic, no health problems will occur from biting fur – just cosmetic problems – true it looks unsightly, and some can be worse than others at biting but I tend to look at it from a human version – NAIL BITING – once a nail biter always a nail biter!

FUR BALLS

Some people panic and compare it to cats and dogs, and that creating ‘FUR BALLS’ could be fatal. From what I have read and my personal experience with chinchillas and furballs, there definitely is no reason to panic. One certain modern chinchilla book does seem to indicate that two autopsies made on their chinchillas found fur balls and came to the conclusion that this could be the cause.

I know of those that have bred many, many chinchillas and tend to disagree – 2 fur ball victims out of thousands of chinchillas does not prove that furballs can kill, but having said this, there is always someone to disagree with me, they are entitled to think what they believe. Unless it can be absolutely proven (and we are talking many years of breeding chinchillas all over the world here), I will believe that furballs do no harm to chinchillas.

GENES

This is generally the real culprit and cause, it can be a disaster to a breeder who produces ‘show quality’ animals, he definitely does not want that ‘gene’ flowing through his herd, and if he sells as a pet, or to other breeders new or old members, then reputation is his name when buying a chinchilla from a GOOD ESTABLISHED breeder or hobby breeder, it’s a sure guarantee that your chinchilla will not fur bite – although there is always the exception he might – some bad genes ‘jump’ a few generations!

When you buy from a pet shop, that is an entirely different thing. I would say that of all the pet shops in the US, 99% of shops will buy from small hobbyist with little knowledge or unscrupulous breeders (those that do not care what gene is carried through as no one knows it’s them through a shop) not a good guarantee then when you go shopping.

There are a few shops that breed with quality – pet shop quality no doubt – but little chance of them breeding fur biters- rare shops – but out there! You may be one of the many lucky owners that have a fur biting free chinchillas from a shop – it’s just a form of chinchilla ‘Russian roulette’ really!

CURE

First of all, before you get too excited over the title here, let me flatten your hopes a little and say that until now – there is no ‘cure’ – but to give you hope, there is a way of ‘controlling’ this problem.

Just Like I mentioned above – you can class it has a human form of nail-biting. Some chinchillas will hack away until they are completely bald and others will be what you call ‘spontaneous’ biters, in other words, they will chew their fur large or small, then leave it to grow, then a month later or so decide to chew again – spontaneous chinchillas are generally the best to control.

Now, this is coming from personal experience, the first two chinchillas I bought were pet shop buys, like most people who buy their first chinchilla, it is usually a shop buy until you find out about breeders!

These two were perfectly OK until they were two and a half years old, two females, one beige and one grey – fur biting can start at any age, any sex and at any time!

Kip, my grey chinchilla, started first – we had a downstairs bathroom decorated, and as their room was near to this bathroom, along with the banging and radio noises occurring. Kip had just had enough and began to chew her flanks (generally the starting point on all culprits) Tasee, my beige did not chew during this period.

Considering the fact that ‘noise’ was the key starter of her fur-biting, I did not panic – keep that in mind, some chinchillas do not mind noise, others are more sensitive and may chew in response.
 
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Note the small starting point on her flank? Well, that can get bigger on both sides, then she stops spontaneous fur biting is what you call it!

When the workmen finished, we had a lovely new bathroom, but Kip did not look so lovely, AND she did not stop there, this had been in her genes since birth, and Tasee her sister? Would she have it in her genes too? Of course! But in an entirely different method.

Once there was peace and quiet in the house I reckoned I would not see this happen again, I also had another pet shop chinchilla – a Wilson white and three more breeder chinchillas at that time – not one of those ‘nibbled a plunket’ all through the noise made in the two weeks of work!

Kip slowly chewed through until she looked pretty sad. Living with Tasee, her sister didn’t help. Fur chewing can be contagious. Tasee gleefully followed her sisters ‘fur steps’ and started to chew herself, not only that; she chewed Kip! I knew it was Tasee because Kip’s chewed fur appeared on parts of her body that she would not be able to reach herself – including her whiskers – guilty Tasee!

And what about the chinchillas’ personality? – does that make a difference to one that fur bites and one that doesn’t? – not really – although in very good breeder dispositions – yes.

Going back to these two girls, Kip has a sweet nature, but it did take me a while for her to get used to me, she is the nervous type, but on the other hand, Tasee is the ‘wild one’ of the two, has a very tomboy style about her, possessive and a bully with food, toys, treats and other chinchillas. A great attention seeker too and very adventurous. Kip is her own person, and she can ‘control’ Tasee quite well, she is more stable – like an older sister.

They both still fur bite that is something I have to ‘control’ with them often, it takes patience and an understanding of their personality to help control this problem they have. NOT all chinchillas will fur bite all the time – some may just do it once or for a short period of time between a month and a couple of years – and then never again, it generally is caused by upset, once the cause of upset is removed, then chinchillas in some cases generally stops.

But for those that do not, I have suggested ways here that have helped me in the past and present.

NOISE

As mentioned above – unusual noises, loud or discreet, can cause panic in fur biters. Changing their living quarters to another part of the room can cause quick nibbles to the fur and even a new environment all together like when you bring them home.

Some may chew with a change of scenery but should stop as soon as they settle down (may take a few days). Remember, chinchilla fur, once bitten WILL grow back no matter how bad they chew, it just takes a long time, three months is the general length it takes, and if they chew for a week then you will have to look at your moth-eaten furry for another few weeks before you know for certain he has stopped.

CAGE

Small cages can cause fur biting – generally a problem in large breeding quarters where the cage is too small. Some chins don’t care, but others don’t like it! It’s obvious that the largest cage you can accommodate is the best cage. A large cage with too many chinchillas can be a cause, too, especially if one doesn’t get along with another and may bully the ‘fur biter.’ Keep a check on your chinchillas – make sure there are no bullies!

A cage size of 36″ x 30″ x 60″ is perfect for one chinchilla, good for two if they have a little playtime and not too good for three unless they have a massive playtime.
 

If you’d like to read about my cage recommendations, please visit my Best Chinchilla Cages article.

 

Having said that, Kip and Tasee live in two side-by-side cages that measure 36″L x 24″W x 63″H, so obviously something else that causes the fur biting? Yes – read further down to find out!

BOREDOM

This is rather obvious, wouldn’t you chew your fur if you had nothing else to chew? Shelves can be a bit boring if this is all you get! EVERY chinchilla MUST have chew toys, oak, applewood, pine (untreated), and most fruit trees are a perfect choice, go into the woods for chinnie and collect some free! All they need is a good wash in salted water, rinse and dry – it will last them ages.
 

Be sure to read our experts guide: Chinchilla Safe Wood for Chews, Shelves And Toys article.

 
Loneliness can cause fur biting – but if you give your pet plenty of personnel attention, there should be absolutely no problems here.

Now having said that, as I noted out to you before, big cages, friendship with other chinchillas, no noise or minimal noise, plenty of chew toys – and they still fur bite?

This is true with my own two little monsters….but one day, I gave them some ‘new’ toys, some apple branches I had in my field, and what happened, they stopped chewing. Their fur grew for four months – but that wasn’t the end, after four months they started again, bear in mind that spontaneous biting can be a gap of 1-3 months while fur grows, they chew another area, or it gets bigger in the same area, you get to know if they have stopped or started. The answer lay in ‘occupational therapy.’

OCCUPATIONAL THERAPY

Sounds rather odd, doesn’t it? But I think anyone with half a chinnie brain will know what I am getting at. It’s similar to boredom, but without fault of the owner, they can have big cages, lots of chew toys, playtime and a no noise zone area – and what do they give us after all that? DEMAND!

Demand for attention is a bit like babies, no matter what attention you give them, all the toys you throw into the pram, and what do they do? Scream and wail and DEMAND MORE!!!

Chinchillas do not scream and wail (OK, the odd squeak of protest). Still, they can demand more if you have several chinchillas like me and the Chinchillastuff household have, it’s very hard to give one set of chinchillas extra attention, and also make sure the others are not left out, this is a lot easier if they are your only chinchillas.

But demand my two wanted and so to work I did go. First I already had a wheel in one of my other cages, but it would have been cruel to take it away as they loved it so, so I bought some more, in fact, I bought 4 for future usage on other chinchillas, you don’t have to go that mad, but a wheel is a great toy for chinchillas and the best controller of fur biting I have seen yet! But it isn’t always the FINAL cure, just one part of it (the well-know chin spin wheel is the best! Visit our – CHINCHILLA SHOPPING LIST to read more.)

The wheel did occupy the attention-seeking fur biters for a while, but it’s not enough. They need different chew toys periodically. The other chinchillas will chew until there is nothing left, same with these two, but they get bored with the same sticks and pumice stones, variety is the spice of life to them. I give them one set of toys one week (the odd cereal box works too) and another set next week, and so on, swap sets too! Don’t throw them away half-chewed, they will still look at it as ‘different.’

I find that this is always an excellent method if I forget for around three weeks – then lo and behold they will ‘chew’ their fur again very soon afterward – but then stop as soon as you give them this attention.

Playtime is another good one, half an hour to one hour a day at the most, playtime MUST have different boxes put in front of their noses, not as often as chew toys in the cage, but the odd occasional cereal box works a treat – even an old book! Although mine are limited to one room, sometimes I let them ‘escape’ for 5 minutes – fully observed by me in case they decide to dig their ‘pearlies’ into the cable wires, furniture, and skirting board of course!

This variety helps Tasees adventurous spirit and helps Kip build up a bit more braveness.

TOO MUCH HANDLING can cause chinnie fur biting. Some chinchillas just do not like being picked up as often as others. It may take a while even years before your pet really doesn’t mind being picked up and handled. Five minutes to certain sensitive chinchilla is a lifetime! This is why children must have the attention of an adult nearby – they are not really a child-friendly pet, chinchillas are semi-domesticated – still a little wild animal.

I know it’s tempting to cuddle your fluff and some chinchillas don’t mind it – but really, if your chinchillas are the kind to get upset over being held, then it’s trauma they are going through inside that calm exterior ‘look’ they have.

TOO RICH A DIET

A diet that is too rich can cause a deficiency and create skin irritations. Too much humidity in the climate is also a culprit.

Having said all this, if everything on this page fails to stop your chinchilla fur chewing – and it will take around 1-2 years to really know – then, unfortunately, you have a rare case of furry selfishness on your hands.

As long as your pet has the best diet going – Mazuri or Oxbow pellets, good hay or grass regularly along with fresh water every day that’s really what matters, if you have a rather grubby looking but healthy and much loved chinchilla – who cares what he looks like!