Posted: June 7, 2013, 9 p.m. EDT
Courtesy Christin Schmitt
A chinchilla's coat can be an indicator of health condition. This chinchilla shows no sign of fur-biting, but watch your chinchilla for this possible problem.
Q: I'm having a pretty big problem with fur-biting with my female chinchillas and hope you have some tips on this. I have three female chinchillas in one cage. They've been raised together all their lives and, from observing them, there is no fighting going on. Two of these females have very severe fur-biting to the point that rather large portions of skin are visible. The third has absolutely no fur-biting at all. I've been keeping their cage clean and giving them dust baths regularly and their diet has not changed. Could the fur-biting be due to inbreeding? I got them through a school summer breeding project and their mother had bad fur-biting, so I thought it might be a personality defect due to inbreeding.
A: Fur-biting in chinchillas can be hereditary, a learned behavior, caused by stress or another chin may be doing the chewing.
Hereditary: Fur-biting can be passed on from either adult parent to a kit. When breeding chinchillas, it is very helpful to know the background of both parents. Background includes breeding history going back two to four generations, as well as notes on genetic defects, health problems and type of temperament. Conscientious chinchilla breeders always maintain accurate pedigree information on every animal so healthy bloodlines can be maintained and chins can be paired based on genetic strengths. Using this information makes it possible to avoid breeding chins that will pass on undesirable hereditary traits like fur-chewing, bad temperament, malocclusion and heart defects.
Many pet chinchilla owners are not aware of these potential problems, because pet category chinchillas frequently have no breeding information available. An increasing number of pet chinchilla owners are breeding pairs of chins. Some results are good, but an increasing number of chinchillas with genetic defects are entering the gene pool.
The stronger the genetics of each baby chinchilla are, the healthier that chin will be, the longer it will live and the less he will cost in vet bills -- so paying some up-front attention to background can make the ownership of an exotic pet like a chinchilla a much happier experience.
Learned behavior: Often, if the mother is a fur-chewer/fur-biter, there is a higher probability one or more of her offspring will learn this behavior. Chinchillas sometimes fur-chew when young but may outgrow it as they mature. Other times, this behavior continues off and on throughout their lives. It can become so severe that the chinchilla's coat appears to be well-mowed around the back end, sides and on the chest. Not every kit born of a fur-biter will become one, but many do.
Stress: Noise is a common source of stress. Often if the cause is removed, the fur-biting ceases. For example, a chinchilla may begin fur-chewing because of a constantly barking dog close to his cage. When the dog is kept out of the room, the noise ceases, the chin calms down and the fur-chewing subsides.
It often takes about three months for a coat to re-grow and even out.
Other sources of stress for chinchillas include loud/discordant music, screaming or loud children, change of cage location, addition of a chinchilla into a cage group, loss of a cagemate, dislike of a neighboring chinchilla or cagemate, cage placement in an area where the chinchilla does not feel secure (some chins like their cage higher while others like it to be lower and darker), etc. It often takes a little detective work and some trial and error to finally determine the source(s) of a chinchilla's stress. But once you have narrowed down the problem, you can work on correcting it to make the chinchilla more at ease.
The other guy did it: Sometimes a chinchilla will chew his/her own fur and/or may also chew on cagemates. It is important to determine who is chewing on whom. This may require some time watching the chinchillas at night when they are more active.
If it is only one chinchilla causing the fur-biting, you have the option of removing that chinchilla from the group and placing him/her in a separate cage. This might, however, cause stress to the chin who was removed as well as the remaining chins in the group. Placing the chin is an adjacent cage may help reduce the stress of separation.
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