With its plush coat, large ears and quirky personality, a chinchilla seems more like she belongs in an animated movie than high in the Andes mountains. But it's from these roots that this long-lived rodent gets the need to bathe in fine volcanic ash instead of water. A chinchilla really looks forward to a fun roll in the dust. It is possible, though, to let your small pet bathe too much.
Chinchillas are exceptionally clean, low-odor pets. To keep in optimum condition, chinchillas need a dust bath to pull dirt, oil and excess moisture from their coats. These pets have up to 60 hairs per follicle, allowing them to easily retain body heat in a high-altitude environment. This thick fur and the rodent's lack of ability to sweat mean a chinchilla can easily overheat if kept in a warm room with higher than 50 percent humidity.
For a variety of reasons a chinchilla might incur hair loss, some normal and others not so. Chinchillas naturally shed regularly, though the distinction between the loss of new growth and old fur may be too subtle to notice. Grooming a chinchilla after a dust bath runs the risk of ripping out healthy fur as the comb catches on dust. Using chinchilla bath dust that's been recycled too many times can cause fur disorders. As a natural self-defense mechanism, a chinchilla has the ability to release a patch of fur when she's being grabbed by a predator, playmate or human companion; this is called fur slip. Chinchillas can also chew on their own or cage mate's coat due to boredom, lack of bathing, dietary reasons or genetic factors. Ringworm can cause hair loss as well as red lesions around the eyes, nose and feet.
You should offer a dust bath to your pet one to three times a week. Too much time in the dust bath can dry out your chinchilla's skin, which manifests with scratching and dry patches, and can possibly irritate her nose or eyes. Meanwhile, not bathing enough is stressful to your pet; it can leave her more vulnerable to illness as clumping fur saps the creature's body heat, and dirt and oil in the coat create fertile ground for skin disease. Dirty fur can lead to a chinchilla chewing on her own fur; if she ingests too much, intestinal blockage may result.
Give a Dust Bath
Coat the bottom of an enclosed chinchilla bath or heavy container such as a wok-shaped bowl, baking dish or metal tin with chinchilla bath dust. You can get both the dust and an appropriate bath bowl at a pet shop. Give the chinchilla 10 to 15 minutes to bathe -- watch your pet's entertaining roll in the dust as she jumps in and out. You can reuse the dust for two more baths as long as any fecal pellets are removed. Your chinchilla will likely be relaxed and ready for a nap after bath time.