Does your chinchilla's coat look like it's been attacked? As if clumps of hairs have been chewed? Well, it could be that your chinchilla has become a fur chewer - otherwise known as "fur barbering".

What is fur barbering?

Fur chewing (or "fur barbering") is the name given to many animals who chew their own hair. In fact, fur chewing can be done by the animal themselves or by another if there are several in the cage. Other species known to chew their fur are rabbits, hamsters and foxes.

Why does my chinchilla eat its hair?

Fur barbering may be caused by a number of factors affecting your fur friend. The most common is said to be due to stress and anxiety. As a prey animal, chinchillas are naturally more anxious animals with a highly activated 'flight' mode. However, fur barbering may also be due to dietary deficiencies, boredom, illness, an unsuitable environment, or hormonal disorder.

Some scientists also suggest that fur chewing is hereditary. It has been reported that those with the condition generally have a low body temperature and significant thyroid activity. However, this does not apply in all cases.

How to recognise fur barbering

It will be relatively easy to tell if your chinchilla begins fur barbering. Markings will typically appear in a well-defined area, although they may be barbering in more than one spot. The fur will appear cut and ragged, almost as though it has been moth-eaten. This is done by the incisor teeth.

You may notice these patches on any part of the body except the head. That is, of course, unless another chinchilla is doing the barbering.

The areas most prone to chewing include the shoulders, flanks and limbs. You may even notice gutter-like markings on the flanks.

When highly stressed, your chinchilla may reach the skin leaving it visibly irritated. Therefore, it's important to know that all chinchillas can experience fur barbering at some point and to be on the lookout for signs.

What to do against fur barbering

With stress and anxiety said to be the most common reason for fur barbering, it's important to find out where this stems from so that it can be quickly resolved.

Ensure that your chinchilla's environment is well suited to them in terms of size, activities, cleanliness, and access to food and water. If your chinchilla is bored, it may be due to an undersized living space, and/or not enough play toys or time outside the cage. You should also consider if the surroundings are too noisy or busy for your chinchilla. If so, try moving the cage to somewhere quiet and peaceful.

If your chinchilla is alone, they may just need a companion. In fact, it's recommended that you have more than one chinchilla as they often need the company of another. While you can consider adopting another chinchilla, it's important to approach this carefully. The ideal approach would be to adopt two at the same time.

If you're ever unsure, don't hold back in seeking advice from your vet. If the fur barbering is severe, they may prescribe medication to ease any anxiety, as well as dietary supplements for the regrowth of your chinchilla's fur.

For further reading: How to welcome your new chinchilla.

Has your chinchilla ever suffered from fur barbering? What were the causes?

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