A dust bath is a common self-grooming activity for chinchillas and other small pets like birds and degus. Taking regular dust baths is a natural behavior for these animals to keep their lush coats clean and healthy.
What is a dust bath?
Many species of mammals and birds take dust baths during which the animal rolls in dust or sand to absorb the oils and dirt from its skin. Dust baths also help to remove any parasites that may be living inside their fur or feathers.
Not only does a dust bath help your chinchilla's fur stay smooth and silky, but it is also thought to be a relaxing and fun activity for your pet. Chinchillas really get into their baths, rolling and flipping in the dust with great enjoyment.
Dust for Chinchilla Baths
Always use store-bought chinchilla dust for bathing your chinchilla. This dust is specifically made for chinchillas and for this purpose. When the chinchillas roll in this dust, it penetrates their coat down to the skin and absorbs oil and dirt from the fur which in turn keeps the coat clean. Other powders or sand may look or feel similar but they just won't work the same way. Chinchilla dust is made to mimic what they would have access to in their native habitat (in the wild they use volcanic pumice). The dust should be at least a couple of inches deep in whatever container you use so that the chinchilla can effectively roll in it.
Chinchilla Dust Bath Bathtubs
A heavy, tip-resistant bowl or deep dish can be used as a bathtub for your chinchilla's dust baths and it should be slightly larger than your chinchilla to allow room to roll. Glass fish bowls or canisters can be used and work well. Also, a plastic house-type container with a rounded bottom can be purchased at the pet store and are designed for this purpose.
Fish bowls and the plastic house-type baths have the advantage of being fairly enclosed, which can help minimize the amount of dust flying around the room. Sand will be thrown everywhere during the bath but this is just part of having a chinchilla. Using a covered bath can help, but your chinchilla will still shake and groom after a dust bath, resulting in a fine layer of dust on everything around your chinchilla. Invest in a good duster and remind yourself that you are being a good chinchilla owner by providing regular baths. The remaining sand in the bathtub can be reused for a time, as long as any waste matter is removed.
Chinchilla Dust Bath Schedule
The dust bath should only be made available to the chinchilla intermittently, rather than left in the cage indefinitely. Too much bathing can dry their skin out and if the dust is left in the cage, chinchillas will often sit in the bathtub and/or use it as a litter box. Offer the dust bath to your chinchilla at least twice a week in the evening when they are most active for about 10 to 15 minutes. Twice a week is usually sufficient, though you can offer the bath more often if your chinchilla's fur starts to look rough or feels damp or oily. In humid weather, baths should be offered more frequently. If your chinchilla has dry, flaky skin or seems itchy, decrease the bathing time and frequency.
Some owners provide the dust bath daily to their chinchillas. As long as their skin isn't too dry and you don't see them itching, this is fine. It will just make more mess for you to clean up, but chinchillas love taking baths so much that it may be hard to resist allowing them this pleasure.