What to expect from your Chinchilla

Chinchillas are intelligent, charming creatures that quickly become bonded to their owners. They are easy to care for and have little odor. Basically nocturnal, chinchillas can be active during the day. They are fast, agile climbers, and they love to investigate everything, chewing up bits of paper, cardboard, or untreated wood along the way. Although chinchillas tend to urinate in their cage or litter box, they are difficult to litter-train with respect to their small, hard, dry fecal pellets, which are produced in abundance. However, the fecal pellets are easy to remove and have little odor. One peculiarity of chinchillas is their need to bathe in fine dust. Bath dust is commercially available, and at least once or twice a week, the chinchilla should be allowed to roll (bathe) in the dust. When chinchillas are stressed, they will chew their fur off, a process referred to as “fur-barbering.” Diarrhea (soft droppings) may also occur in an unhappy chinchilla.

Vital statistics

  • Total body length: 8-10 inches (20-25 cm)
  • Total body weight: 1-2 lbs (453-907 g) (female is larger than male)
  • Sexual maturity: 7-10 months
  • Life span: 9-17 years

Are Chinchillas tame?

Chinchillas are one of the most affectionate rodents. They rarely bite and prefer to be cuddled and carried. Only if they feel trapped or are restrained against their will, will they bite aggressively. However, a cornered or angry chinchilla will rear up on its hind legs and spray urine at the aggressor.

A chinchilla that is trying to escape can release clumps of fur from its body, leaving a large bald patch. The fur will grow back with time.

Is your Chinchilla a male or a female?

Male chinchillas do not have a scrotum, and the testes mostly remain in the abdominal cavity. The easiest way to sex these rodents is by the anogenital distance: female chinchillas have a very short distance between their anus and their urinary and reproductive opening, while males have a gap between their anus and their penis. Female chinchillas should be bred young or their pelvis will fuse and they may have difficulty giving birth.

What should you feed your Chinchilla?

A commercial pelleted diet formulated for chinchillas and unlimited timothy hay provides an adequate diet for chinchillas. Adults require 1 to 2 tablespoons of pellets daily. Small amounts of alfalfa (loose or cubed) may also be provided. Treats such as raisins, fresh carrot or green vegetables may be offered sparingly, but sunflower seeds, peanuts, and other fatty foods should be avoided to prevent obesity. A sipper tube or water bottle is the best way to provide a clean, plentiful supply of water.

Where should you house your Chinchilla?

Chinchillas are very active, and are able to leap 3 feet (91 cm) straight up in the air. The larger the cage, the better—one that is 3 x 2 x 2 feet (1 x 0.6 x 0.6 m) is a good starting point. Welded wire mesh is acceptable, with solid flooring in one area. Multiple levels should be provided in the cage for jumping and climbing—wooden perches or non-pesticide laden tree branches work well.

How to keep your Chinchilla healthy, happy and safe!

  • Allow chinchillas to sleep in the daytime (they are nocturnal).
  • Schedule a daily exercise/play time with direct contact of 30-60 minutes.
  • Provide dust baths only, not water baths.
  • Supervise fully when the chinchilla is out of its enclosure.
  • Offer a consistent diet to prevent gastrointestinal upset.
  • Provide safe wood objects or branches for gnawing as their teeth grow continuously throughout life.
  • Restrain gently to avoid fur “slip.”
  • Schedule regular veterinary visits, especially for dental checks.

Housing for your chinchilla should:

  • provide a cool and dry environment (optimal temperature is 50-68 F with humidity less than 40%)
  • provide space for a dust box (sheet metal = 6 x 6 x 9 inches)
  • include a hiding box in a top corner for sleeping
  • be separate for each chinchilla
  • include suitable substrates, such as shredded paper (non-inked), recycled newspaper composite materials or pellets, hardwood chips or shavings and compressed wheat straw. Cedar chips should be avoided as they may be toxic
  • have multi-level perches or pesticide-free branches for climbing
  • be as large as possible as chinchillas are active, agile creatures

It is important to prevent chinchillas from accessing:

  • electrical cords
  • dogs, cats, ferrets and other potential predators
  • direct sunlight
  • temperatures higher than 80°F
  • water baths
  • hay with mold, insects, insecticides or fecal contamination
  • high-fat treats
  • unsupervised freedom in the home

What your veterinarian looks for in a healthy chinchilla:

  • Large, bright eyes with no discharge
  • Teeth aligned properly
  • Pink foot pads, no evidence of sores
  • Alert and active, inquisitive
  • Fluffy, dense fur all over
  • Round, chubby body
  • No matting or missing patches of fur

Most common disorders of Chinchillas:

  • Ringworm
  • Trauma (broken bones, wounds)
  • Diarrhea/constipation
  • Colds/eye infections
  • Convulsions
  • Tooth problems (abnormal growth)
  • Penile hair rings in males
  • “Fur barbering” from stress
  • Heat stroke
  • Choking/bloating
  • Heart problems

Although chinchillas are basically hardy and suffer from few serious illnesses, regular health checks should be scheduled with an exotic animal veterinarian to prevent problems and to promote a long, satisfying relationship with your pet.

Background information

Free-ranging chinchillas live in caves under rocks in the South American Andes Mountains. They thrive in low temperature and low humidity environments. Chinchillas have been raised domestically for fur for many decades. Chinchilla fur is considered the softest in the world. The fur is so dense that skin parasites, such as cleas, cannot live and the pet industry is supplied by hobby breeders. The most common species in captivity is Chinchilla lanigera. Chinchillas are rodents and are more related to guinea pigs than to rabbits. They are characterized by their large hind feet, chubby round bodies, soft dense fur, large eyes and ears, long whiskers and squirrel-like tails. The original silver-gray color now shares popularity with color mutations, such as black, white, charcoal, beige and tan.

Courtesy of Zoological Education Network
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