For the most part, pet chinchillas rarely need to be groomed. The goal of using good quality grooming combs and supplies is to remove dead fur, mats, dust and grease to give the coat a nice shine.
For breeding quality animals, this is a must before attending any shows. An ungroomed animal will be hard to judge quality as an unkempt coat can detract from the overall eye appeal and give the animal a "dull" appearance. Removing all of the dead fur will immediately brighten up the animal and give them a polished, smooth look.
For pet animals, grooming can remove any matting or dead fur to improve their coat. This ensures they have less of a chance for dead fur buildup, uncomfortable mats to form, and to keep your pet looking their best. However, grooming is usually not required for pet quality animals; dusting your chinchilla every few days should be enough to keep them looking fresh and clean.
Practice makes perfect, the more you groom the easier it becomes. If at anytime your chinchilla is overly scared, aggressive or agitated, its best to put them back in their cage to calm down. You may also want to consider offering treats (plain cheerios or plain shredded wheats) to your chin while grooming. This helps to positively reinforce a chin who is unsure about being combed. If at anytime you are frustrated or feeling defeated while grooming, take a break! Learning to groom is a process that doesn't happen in one sitting. Both you and your chin are getting used to it, taking your time is beneficial to you and your pet.
To get started, you will need a comb. If you are grooming for show, you will need show quality grooming combs. These can typically be purchased online via chinchilla breeders and organizations. For grooming your pet chinchilla, you can use a show comb or any regular dog/cat comb. Dog/cat combs have blunt tips that are much safer to use when learning or just grooming your pet.
Show quality combs have metal teeth that are pointed at the tip similar to a needle. This fine tip allows for the comb to penetrate the fur deeper than a dog or cat comb; this is ideal for removing all dead fur before a chinchilla show. These can poke you or your chin if you are not careful, so be sure to avoid the eyes and scratching the skin. These combs are also numbered starting from four down to one; comb #4 has the widest teeth while #1 has the teeth closest together. Some brands of combs may be numbered differently or have more comb sizes. The general consensus is to use the widest toothed comb first and work your way down from there. For us, comb number four is used first when starting to groom, then we work our way down to #3, #2, and then #1 to dislodge more dead fur.
Other supplies you may need are a lint roller, scissors and a hacksaw blade; these supplies can usually be purchased at warehouse or hardware stores. The lint roller and hacksaw blades will be used on the top of the coat to catch loose fur. The scissors will be used to trim the tip of the animals tail fur.
As you can see in the first photo, this is a fur slip. If you are combing your animal and you see this, the animal is either slipping fur or you are combing too hard leading to fur that is being pulled out from the root. Fur slips generally are pretty uniform as it is a clump of fur coming directly out of the animals skin. Therefore, you can see the tip of the hair follicles are even and the roots are visible at the bottom.
The second photo shows what you should be seeing coming off the animal. This fur is more dull and jumbled together. It tends to buildup on the comb and looks messy or balled up. It is normal to see fur like this coming off the chinchilla and it can be discarded.
Before grooming, always make sure you're using the proper comb number. Comb #4 is best to use upon grooming the animal for the first time, also called rough grooming. All combs after that are used to get a deeper penetration of the coat to remove as much dead fur as possible. Grooming the entire animals coat with each comb number, starting from #4 and working down, is the best way to prepare an animal for show.
To begin, you will want to start at the base of the tail and work your way to forward in sections (photo 1). Gently comb from the base of the hair shaft near the skin to the tip; be sure you don't scratch the skin as this is uncomfortable for the animal (similar to being scratched by fingernails). You never want to force the comb through, only gently wiggle and push until the dead fur releases. Eventually you will have fur buildup on your comb that you will want to remove and discard.
After combing the back and rump, the next area to comb can be the sides (photo 2). To do this, you will want to start from the bottom of the leg or belly area and gently comb upwards to the back. The same process applies here, groom from the base of the fur shaft to the tip without forcing the comb through. Grooming the sides of the animal will really fluff up the fur for show, this helps to make sure that their coat is nice and uniform.
To finish off the coat, you will want to work around the head and neck (photo 3). It is important to be extra gentle in this region so that you do not poke an eye, ear or nose. Work from the base of the hair shaft to the tip, gently pushing the comb upwards to fluff the fur and remove dead hair.
You can also check underneath the animal's rear to make sure there are no mats. Gently combing under the tail and legs near the genitals can remove any stained, loose fur. It is fine to lift them by the base of the tail to look underneath, usually the animals belly will not need much grooming.
After combing, the lint roller and hack saw blade can be used to catch loose fur (photo 1). Gently take either and smooth/brush over the tips of the fur. The hacksaw blade works similar to a tiny comb grabbing any loose fur. The lint roller works by sticking to the loose fur and removing it, you will want to make sure your movements are swift with this. Never push the lint roller firmly into the fur, this can catch attached fur and pull it out causing a fur slip. Smooth the lint roller over the top of the coat in quick motions, this will only grab loose fur and will not cause fur slips. You can use either the hacksaw blade, lint roller or a combination of both to achieve the same purpose.
After this step, most breeders will use the hand smoothing method as a finishing touch (photo 2). This removes loose hair and grease from the coat to give it a bright shine. You can use your clean hand or cup you hand over your mouth while breathing into it to create condensation on your skin. Both options will achieve a similar purpose, a slightly moist hand from the breathing technique just offers an added step to smoothing the coat. Make sure to never squeeze or squish the chin when doing this, their ribs are very flexible and can lead to organ damage if aggressive pressure is applied.
Tail trimming is often only a final step needed for showing. It removes any stained or discolored hair from the tail and helps to keep any haphazard hairs from disrupting the freshly groomed coat.
To achieve this, you will want to start by holding the base of the tail and locating the very tip of the animals tail skin. You can then grasp the tip with your thumb and index finger to protect it when trimming. Then gently trim the tips of the tail hair and cut any discolored areas so that they do not distract from the coat color.
The Butt Wiggle
To fluff out the fur after a grooming, it is best to give the chin a little wiggle to get all the fur to stand up straight after being touched. Don't worry, this does not hurt them at all.
Grabbing a chinchilla by the base of the tail is actually a very safe way of handling them as it is the strongest bone in the body. This is also a good opportunity to look underneath and comb their butt area to remove mats or loose fur.
To do this little dance move, gently lift their back legs off the ground and wiggle the tail slightly. This doesn't bother them at all, nor does it hurt. It just fluffs them up a bit more and gets them ready for the show table.
As you can see, this little guy, Parmesan, is not phased by the but jiggle. He knows that a plain cheerio will soon be in his future!
Grooming and Dusting Frequency
For most pet chins or chins that are not going to show, grooming is only necessary for mats and can be applied on a case by case basis.
Show chins will need to be groomed more often. We usually start to rough groom, with a #4 comb, our show chins 3-4 months before the chinchilla show. One rough groom with dusting weekly for each animal, once a month should be adequate. During the month before the show, we groom each animal once a week with a #4 and #3 comb while dusting every other day. In the final week before show, we groom each animal once a day with a #2 and #1 comb to get as much dead fur out of their coat as possible. We typically trim the animals tail fur the day prior to the show.
The week prior to the show, we usually dust our animals once a day until three days before show day (excluding white or light colored animals). This prevents the dust from giving darker animals a dull look under the show lights, light animals can be dusted up to a day before as their coat will still be bright under the show lights. Some breeders do also add cornstarch to their dust bath to help remove stains. This should never be done the week prior to showing an animal as this can be considered a deceitful tactic to improve an animal's color for the purpose of winning. Any alterations to the coat prior to show that are done for the purpose of success aside from grooming or dusting can be caught by a show judge leading to the disqualification of the animal. On the off season for shows, dusting is only needed as necessary, one to two times a week is plenty for show and pet chins alike.
As you can see here, Parmesan is all groomed and ready to go!
His coat is smooth, even, and clear. You can easily see his fur density, color, hue, and texture. This helps chinchilla show judges to really see the quality of the animal under the show lights.
For pet chins, this is just a little pampering that can make them feel fresh and clean.
*All of the above photos are property of Sunshine Chinchillas*