The Ultimate Chinchilla Care Guide for Owning This Tiny Pet
Chinchillas originate from regions of South America where they live in high elevations and the cooler temperatures of the Andes Mountains. They prefer being in large social colonies on the rocky slopes where they can burrow during the day and forage at night under the safe cover of darkness. These hardy rodents are related to the same family as guinea pigs, rats and mice, but they mostly resemble rabbits with their hopping abilities and soft, furry coats.
Domesticated chinchillas make excellent pets for older children and adults. However, they are not cuddly like dogs, despite being gentle and generally affectionate (primarily when domesticated at a young age). Not only are they beautiful to look at and soft to the touch, but these rodents are also odorless and highly entertaining.
If you're interested in owning a chinchilla, here are some essential facts and tips you should consider before purchasing one as well as guidance on how to care for a chinchilla if you decide to bring one of these cute little creatures into your life.
Chinchillas can live up to 20 years.
The lifespan of a chinchilla is roughly 10 to 12 years, but some have lived as long as 20 years. So, be prepared for this pet to stick around for a while.
They average 9- to 15-inches long and weigh in at about 1.5 pounds (around the size of a baby rabbit or large squirrel). They are born with four toes on each paw and have 20 teeth (four incisors and 16 molars).
You can expect initial costs for a standard grey chinchilla to be between $50 and $115.
Age, sex and coat color all factor into the cost of a chinchilla, some of which can easily be between $150 and $200, with some of the more uniquely colored breeds costing upwards of $500.
Keep in mind that you should only buy a chinchilla from a good breeder or a reputable pet store.
Chinchillas need a lot of space to move around since they are active rodents.
Their cages should be tall and roughly 3- to 4-feet wide with solid floors. Make sure there are separate areas for sleeping, feeding and playing.
Necessities for the cage include a sleeping hut or nest house, running wheel, PVC pipes for climbing through, ramps, separate levels for jumping, a hammock and plenty of chew toys. The cage will need to be thoroughly cleaned at least once a week.
Baby chinchillas are called kits.
A female is mature enough to get pregnant by the time she is 8 months old. Their gestation period averages 109 to 114 days and they can have up to six babies at a time.
Kits need to nurse for six to eight weeks before being separated from their mothers.
Chinchillas come in a variety of colors.
The most common (and least expensive) is the standard grey, but mutations of this color come in black, white, tan, charcoal, beige (champagne) and mosaics, which is a mix of colors (usually white and one other color).
Less common colors include sapphire (a gunmetal blue with a white belly) and violet (similar coloring to a blue-point Siamese cat). Occasionally, you will find an albino chinchilla with light fur and red eyes.
Much like a squirrel, the chinchilla's tail is significant.
A chinchilla’s tail can be as large as 6-inches long.
They use it for balance, especially when jumping from one level to another.
Chinchillas bond very quickly with their owners.
That’s because they can recognize their owner’s smell and the sound of their voices.
They often greet their humans enthusiastically by running up to the cage door or making a series of happy chirping sounds.
The unique, silky fur of the chinchilla is the softest of all land mammals.
It’s even 30 times softer than human hair, which is what makes them so desirable to breeders, pet owners and, unfortunately, to people who are only interested in them for their pelts. They were initially hunted by native tribes in the Andes Mountains, not for their meat but for their fur.
Their dense coats have 50 to 80 hairs that grow out of a single follicle, compared to humans who only have two to three hairs per follicle.
Chinchillas should only take dust baths.
It is not necessary to give chinchillas traditional baths in water; in fact, it can be dangerous. Their fur is so dense that it cannot completely dry out. They are accustomed to bathing in the fine sand and volcanic ash from South America to prevent their coat from becoming matted by the natural oils in their skin.
This specifically formulated dust can be purchased at most pet stores and should be given to your chinchilla one to three times per week. Simply pour some of the fine sand into a container large enough for your pet to roll around in. It's quite entertaining to watch a chinchilla dig and roll in the powder!
Brushing or combing your pet regularly is recommended to prevent the fur from matting.
Chinchillas groom themselves, and like cats, they are capable of getting hairballs. Regular grooming with a flea comb will remove the loose hairs.
If a problem with hairballs persists, your vet can recommend medication to reduce the incidents.
Chinchillas cannot vomit.
This is because they have a very delicate digestive system similar to a horse, rabbit and guinea pig.
If a chinchilla is angry or upset, it may spray you with urine.
The chinchilla does this by standing up on its hind legs and spraying to ward off perceived threats.
Chinchillas’ teeth are also very sharp, and they have been known to bite if provoked.
Never grab a chinchilla by its tail.
That’s because you may end up holding just the tip of it in your hand.
This is a natural response since they are often hunted in the wild by birds of prey.
Stress can cause a chinchilla to shed large clumps of fur.
Known as "fur slip," a chinchilla can shed if handled wrong or when fighting another chinchilla. Typically, the fur grows back within six months.
However, if a chinchilla is feeling poorly or anxious, he may chew off portions of his coat, especially in the tail area. These rodents don't like sudden movements or loud noises and can be easily stressed by people yelling or dogs barking.
Chinchillas and their fecal pellets are entirely odorless.
If there is a bad smell, it's usually an indication of illness or a dirty cage.
They are typically clean, tidy rodents, which makes them ideal for owners who prefer exotic pets that are low-maintenance.
The red blood cells of chinchillas carry more oxygen than those of other rodents or rabbits.
The reason for this?
So that they can breathe easier while living in the high altitudes of the Andes Mountains, where oxygen levels are thinner.
Chinchillas are nocturnal rodents.
That means they sleep during the day and are active from dusk until dawn. They stay busy running on their wheels, chewing on toys, jumping and ricocheting off the sides of their cages. When it's time to rest, they prefer sleeping in small, protective spaces and will nap in various positions — upright, on their sides or even on their backs.
Do not place their cages in direct sunlight or interrupt their sleep pattern. It's also best not to keep them in your bedroom at night if you value your sleep — these rodents can be loud and rambunctious once the sun goes down.
The whiskers on chinchillas can grow up to half the length of their bodies.
Their whiskers are also highly sensitive.
In fact, they use them as their "eyes" to sense things around them and forage for food in the dark.
Chinchillas are fast, agile climbers.
Chinchillas even have long limbs and pads on their feet to help them grip surfaces.
They can also leap very high, thanks to their mountain roots. While most jump an average of 3 feet, others are known to jump as high as 6 feet!
Never house a chinchilla outside.
Due to their heavy fur coat, chinchillas cannot tolerate heat and humidity and are susceptible to heatstroke if exposed to temperatures higher than 80 degrees Fahrenheit.
Therefore, the best temperature for them is between 65 and 79 degrees. Consider keeping a small slab of polished granite in their cage since the stone surface always remains cool.
Specially formulated food is required for chinchillas to keep them in optimum health.
Chinchillas are primarily herbivores, but they are known to eat insects or bird eggs in the wild. You must stick to a consistent diet since they are prone to gastrointestinal upset. The best foods include hay and high protein pellets to keep their digestive tracts balanced. It's essential to keep food available 24 hours a day. Chinchillas don't overeat — they will graze only when they are hungry.
Feeding them with porcelain, ceramic or stainless steel bowls is preferable since they are not easily tipped over (avoid plastic feeders in the cage, as the chinchilla may chew and swallow small pieces). Water should always be available in a glass water bottle (with ball bearings), which is far more hygienic than plastic. Make sure the bottle is always clean and free of any algae.
Chinchillas do not have gallbladders and cannot process fatty or sugary foods.
That means treats should only be given sparingly — one or two raisins or dried cranberries a day.
Too many sweets can cause cavities, bloat, constipation and diabetes.
Chinchillas are noisy rodents.
They use a variety of sounds to express themselves when they are hungry, annoyed or happy. Don't be surprised if you hear them squeal, chirp, grunt, bark or make high-pitched squeaking sounds.
Most of the time, these noises are used to get your attention.
Always give your chinchilla playtime outside of the cage (but not outdoors).
They need a minimum of at least 30 minutes daily to play and run around; however, you should never leave them unsupervised around the house. Chinchillas are curious animals that love to explore and easily squeeze under furniture or bookshelves to hide from their owners. Be sure to remove any open containers of water large enough for them to crawl into to prevent drowning.
Like most rodents, they like to chew, so hide all electrical cords, remove toxic plants and store household cleaners or chemicals out of reach. Also, beware of lead-painted wood or lead pipes, as these can also be toxic to a chinchilla. The best play space for your pet is the bathroom, as long as it has been "chinchilla-proofed."
Chinchillas do not require vaccines like many other animals.
Still, it is recommended that you take them to an exotic pet veterinarian for a yearly exam to check their teeth, weight and overall health.
A chinchilla's front and back teeth never stop growing
For this reason, they need special chew toys to prevent dental problems. If the teeth grow too long, they can develop "sheer mouth" (misalignment of the teeth and jaw) or tooth root impaction from overgrowth, which can become life-threatening if not treated.
Your vet will recommend pesticide-free wood chew blocks or pumice stones for nibbling on to grind down their teeth and keep their chompers healthy.
Chinchillas are intelligent rodents and are much smarter than rabbits.
They also display a wider variety of personalities than rabbits. Some are active, feisty critters, while others are docile or skittish. They understand when a mate, parent or sibling dies and will actually exhibit grief by eating less, being less active and staying to themselves.
Chinchillas can be very caring animals, too. For example, if a female in the group cannot feed her young, another female will take over nursing the kits.
If you decide to purchase more than one chinchilla, make sure they are compatible before putting them together in a cage.
Although they are very social animals, it's best to keep them with other chinchillas they're related to — especially ones they grew up with. Males are more docile than females, but two unrelated males (or females) together in the same cage may cause aggressive behavior and severe injury to the animals.
Also, if you are placing a male and female chinchilla together, chances are you can expect babies (unless your pets are neutered).
Chinchillas thrive on routine.
Once you have established a schedule, stay the course since they will expect to be fed or played with at the same time each day.
Generally, chinchillas are healthy animals, but they are more prone to gastrointestinal problems than most rodents.
Diarrhea, which can be caused by intestinal parasites, Coccidia cysts or Giardia, is what pet owners need to carefully monitor.
If your chinchilla's diarrhea becomes chronic, seek immediate medical attention, as this can cause early death.
Chinchillas have fragile bones and need to be handled with care.
Due to their delicate nature, chinchillas are not suitable pets for young children. They will also be stressed out by the children if they are loud and rambunctious.
However, these sweet-natured animals do well with older children and adults, supplying endless hours of entertainment and plenty of affection.