Why Do Chinchillas Need Dust Baths?

When I think of the word “bath,” I automatically think of how I, like nearly everyone else, takes a bath. We take our clothes off and get into a shower or bathtub, and turn on the water, right? When I first got my chinchilla, I found out that chinchillas do not bath like that. Chinchillas should never be “bathed” with water! Water will damage their fur!

Chinchillas take dust baths to clean their furry coats. Regular dust bathing also protects them by eliminating extra oils and moisture. They will flip, roll and flop all around the dust to completely cover themselves in it; this removes any dirt and oil. 

These curious rodents require regular dust baths to ensure that their coat is in perfect condition. This kind of maintenance is particularly important for the chinchilla, as its body secretes oils that are designed to keep the skin and fur soft. While these oils add flexibility and softness, they can cause the fur to become greasy very quickly, so the chinchilla has developed an innovative way to tackle the problem. In the wild, which tends to be Peru and Chile for these rodents, they live up high in the mountains. There is very little liquid water at this altitude, so they cover their fur in volcanic ash or dust. For domesticated chinchillas, a suitable substitute must be found. This is why they have to be allowed to bathe regularly in a dust bath.

Chinchilla Dust Bath & Chinchilla Sand Bath

Chinchilla Dust looks like fine gray baby powder and is made from 100% volcanic ash. Chinchilla bath Sand is made from 100% natural volcanic mountain pumice. The sand is virtually dust-free and more like “sand.” Below are two photographs showing the difference between the two. They are both 100% from Volcanic Ash, one is just finer and powdery form, while the other is more like sand.

Sand or Dust?

This subject is controversial. Both are marketed for chinchillas. It’s going to be more of a personal choice. Blue Cloud Dust is what I personally use on my chins, and it seems to be the most recommended by breeders and pet stores. Blue Cloud only list one ingredient because it is just dust from blue cloud volcanic ash (their natural bathing source). It’s nice because I have two boys and you can buy it in a bigger container that comes with a scoop and everything. The whole point behind the dust rather than sand is that its super extra fine and said to be better on their skin. I add a tiny little bit of Desenex foot powder to my dust. I do this now and then when it gets humid (such as in the summer) as a preventative measure against mold or fungus that chins can be prone to due to their extra dense fur.

Health Tip! ~ Fungus: One of the common health problems chinchillas have is “Fungus”.

Patches of hair fall off revealing the skin beneath: fungus causes irritation to the skin which causes the fur to drop in patches.
Bald spots
Fur breakage resulting in an uneven and thin coat of fur
Scabs on ears and nose

A good and easy way to prevent fungus is to add some foot powder to their dust
(i.e. dessenex).

It will help with any remaining fungus germs and prevent them from getting it again.

With that said, I only let my chins bath in an open container! Why? Well, because I do worry about the “dust” particles getting into my chins lungs. An open container versus a closed container is an easy choice. I prefer an open container instead of a closed container because it lets my chins have more breathing room. Yes, I realize it’s marketed and supposed to be safe for my chins, but I still worry! This would be why some Chinchilla owners use only the “sand” variety.

So as you can see, it’s a personal choice that you will have to make. Dust is more “dusty” but is preferred by breeders, while sand is said to be too coarse for their skin. This is a debate I do not think will be settled anytime soon. So now that you know both sides, you will have to make an educated choice as to which kind you prefer?

It is generally believed that Chinchillas prefer finer dust because it is more effective when it comes to cleaning the fur and maintaining a healthy coat. You will find that some products contain extra components as well – Blue Sparkle, for example, is packed with tiny pieces of mica for extra shine and vitality.  I do not use these types of products! (it’s a personal choice)

Bath House

The good news is that you do not have to have anofficial’ chinchilla dust bath to give your furry friend a good cleaning. In fact, proper dusters (from pet stores) can be swapped for anything from fish bowls to plastic shoe boxes, large-scale condiment jars, or anything else which is round enough and big enough to allow the animal to comfortably take a bath. As you can see from the examples below, nearly anything can be used to give your chinchilla a comfortable bath.

[alert style=”warning”]It is important to remember that chinchillas should not be left unsupervised with plastic dusters. As all rodents do, chinchillas love to chew things, and they will bore a hole in the plastic casing within minutes. This can be very harmful to their intestines, even deadly in some cases, so if you are going to buy your pet a plastic duster, make sure that you supervise its bathing time.[/alert]

How Do I Give My Chinchilla a Proper Dust Bath?

To provide your companion with a proper bath, you need to pour approximately five scoops of dust into the bottom of the duster. You can add multiple cups if you are bathing more than one rodent. If the animal is wet or sticky in any way, you should not allow them to bathe in the dust. It will only cause the chinchilla to become frustrated and agitated when it cannot clean its fur.

Once you have placed the duster back inside the chinchilla cage, and the chinchilla has entered the container, you can expect him to start flipping and twisting around. (see video below) This is perfectly normal and simply means that the bathing process has begun. If your chinchilla does not start bathing immediately (and the duster is not made out of plastic) give them some space, and leave the room for ten minutes.

It is fine to reuse dust in the chinchilla dust bath, just so long as it contains no urine or feces, and it has not already become too grainy and dirty to do an effective job. At this point, the dust will need changing. As for frequency, chinchillas should be given a dust bath at least once a week. The more you handle the rodent, and the higher the humidity in its living environment, the more baths it will need.

Chinchilla Taking a Bath in Chinchilla Sand

Chinchilla Taking a Bath in Chinchilla Dust

How Often

You should offer a dust bath to your pet one to three times a week. If you allow your chinchilla to bath too often or spend too much time in the dust bath you could end up with a chinchilla who’s skin is dried out, which in turn causes scratching and dry patches! One other possible effect of too much dust bathing can be an irritated nose and/or eyes. On the other hand, not bathing enough is stressful to your pet; it can leave them more susceptible to illness as clumping fur traps the chinchilla’s body heat, and dirt and oil in the coat create perfect conditions for skin disease. If the chinchilla’s fur becomes matted, they may begin chewing on it, which in turn can lead to intestinal blockage if ingested!

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