Why Do Chinchillas Wipe Their Noses?


Have you ever watched your chinchilla, and seen them wipe their paws across the front of their face, almost as if they’re wiping their nose on a tiny furry sleeve? Have you wondered whether this is something to be worried about, or whether it’s just normal behavior? Allow me to explain further.

So, which one is it, and how can you tell? Are any of these reasons a cause for concern? Let me try to explain why chinchillas nose swipe.

Chinchillas rub their noses for a number of reasons, just like humans. They could have dust up their nose, have a bit of a tickle, a runny nose, or they might just be fixing their fur. Nose rubbing is also a sign of happiness, or displeasure, depending on how they perform the action.

Are Chinchillas Clean Animals?

Chinchillas are extremely clean creatures, and can’t bear to have a hair out of place!

To put it into perspective, with over 50 hairs per hair follicle (humans have only 1-3), chinchillas have the highest fur density of any land animal with 20,000-50,000 hairs per cm2, and therefore have to make sure that their fur stays in tip-top condition.

If chinchillas get dirt or oils trapped in the fur, then it can end up forming matts – these are very uncomfortable for the chinchilla, and affect the hair growth, in addition to not looking particularly nice.

If you do see this, then it’s an indicator of bad hygiene on behalf of the chin, and could be due to neglect, or even depression.

Chinchillas regularly groom themselves by wiping their faces, and this is generally accompanied by a ‘head-tuck’ as they groom the rest of their head, and behind their ears as well.

Chinchillas do occasionally stick their noses where they shouldn’t, and it’s sometimes pretty gross – again they’ll normally clean up after themselves, and attempt to wipe away whatever ickiness they’ve smeared on their faces.

If it’s not coming off, and they’re persistently trying to clean, then you may need to help them with it – the best thing to use is a baby wipe, by very gently rubbing the fur until the area is clean.

You should then leave the chin to clean off the nasty baby wipe by themselves – they’ll generally be pretty irritated at you for putting them through that, so just leave them to it! Give them a dust bath later when they’re dry again, so it doesn’t stick to the damp fur.

So, a chinchilla wiping the fur around the nose and mouth could be them cleaning themselves. If they do this more than once, then chances are that they are indeed just fixing their fur.

If this action becomes repetitive and goes on for long periods of time, then this is abnormal, and it’s worth having a chat with your vet to see what might be causing this behavior.

Can Chinchillas Get Dust up their Noses?

Chinchilla in dust

As we’ve mentioned, chinchillas are very clean animals, and the main way they keep clean in the wild is by taking a ‘bath’ in volcanic ash – basically, they roll and roll in order to fully coat themselves in the extremely fine powder.

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Dust bathing has the effect of removing any trapped dirt, loose fur, oils, or moisture from between the follicles. In captivity, we replicate this with specialist dust that is produced just for chinchillas, and this allows them to toss and turn in the comfort of their own homes.

This is usually a vigorous activity, and dust goes everywhere. Because it is so fine, the dust can get up the nose – ours as well as the chinchilla’s, so people with allergies are often also affected by this.

Generally speaking, just after taking a dust bath is the main time for a chinchilla to be wiping its nose. They could just be wiping away the excess dust – they shake to remove the excess from between their fur, but this doesn’t always work for the face.

The dust is so fine that it can also get up their nose, (and sometimes into their eyes), and they may sneeze and/or rub their nose/face to alleviate the itching, just as we would.

So, if they rub their nose after taking a dust bath, chances are they’re just having a bit of a dust issue, and there’s nothing to worry about.

Nose wipe

One caveat is that some chins have a slight sensitivity to dust, or if they’ve inhaled some of the small particles, they may make a nose-clearing sound, wipe their nose, or get watery eyes.

If the symptoms only occur after dust bathing, then try a different brand/type of dust as they may just be sensitive to that particular one. Keep a close eye on them, however, as these symptoms could indicate the onset of a respiratory problem such as pneumoniaOpens in a new tab..

If these symptoms persist or worsen, then contact your vet immediately.

Why Do Chinchillas get Runny Noses?

If the chinchilla has a runny nose, and/or runny eyes, then this may mean that they have a cold, or another respiratory disease, including pneumoniaOpens in a new tab.. If you notice this, then they should be taken to a vet immediately. 

If the chinchilla is also wiping its mouth, look to see if it’s drooling, or has a wet patch under its chin. Check to see if either of the eyes are watering?

If any of these questions are yes, then they should see a vet as soon as possible as they may be showing signs of malocclusion, which is a problem that chinchillas in captivity get, due to poor breeding or diet – this can be fatal.

What Causes an Itchy Nose?

If the chin is just rubbing their nose occasionally, there might be a bit of loose fur, or something that’s tickling their nose – this is nothing to worry about.

Chinchillas can also suffer from allergiesOpens in a new tab., in the same way that humans, and other animals do, and this may show itself as a runny nose and/or eyes.

Unfortunately, there’s no easy way to tell if this is something more serious, like a respiratory disease, without your vet taking a look. They may well culture the ‘snot’ – basically, they’ll take a sample of the nasal discharge to check for a bacterial infection. This won’t tell them if they have a virus, however, so your vet will need to examine the chinchilla to make a diagnosis.

Is Your Chinchilla Just Being friendly?

With chinchillas, gently rubbing their noses with their paws is a sign of them being friendly – their version of saying ‘hi’. If you’re really lucky, they’ll come over and rub your nose with their paws – this is a sure sign that your chinchilla is very fond of you!

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Chinchillas will often greet each other with a nose touch, the chin equivalent of an Eskimo kiss. This often happens after a squabble – they ‘nose kiss’ to make up, and show everything is ok.

Is Your Chinchilla Irritated With You?

On the other hand, chinchillas can also show their disapproval or irritation with a nose wipe.

In this case, it’s more like a swipe, rather than a wipe, and they’ll look straight at the offending individual whilst they do it.

There’s no mistaking it, and although it’s amusing to behold, it’s worth investigating to see what prompted this behavior – it may just be that you’ve refused them a second raisin, or there could be something in their environment that they are unhappy with, so it’s worth quickly checking.

What Other Reasons Could Cause Chinchillas to Rub Their Nose?

Occasionally a chinchilla will react to having a fan in the room – this appears to tickle, and cause them to rub their nose. If they’re rubbing their eyes, however, it may indicate the fan is drying out the air too much near them.

Move the fan away from them (fans should never be situated right next to chinchillas anyway, as they do not react well to draughty environments), and monitor to see if they stop rubbing their eyes. If they don’t stop, or it becomes more like pawing at their eyes, then it’s time to visit the vet.


Bottom line – if there’s no runny nose or watery eyes, then there’s generally nothing to worry about. However, if you’re ever concerned that something isn’t right, don’t hesitate to contact your vet.

Jo

I'm a Biomedical Scientist by trade, (over 22 years and counting), but my goal is to rehabilitate animals for an living. I started offering Canine Massage, and Equine Shiatsu alongside my lab work, but this has had to take a backseat to the pandemic. So I thought I'd put together a blog of (what I consider to be) helpful advice for chinchilla owners, and prospective chin parents. I hope you find something useful.

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