Chinchillas are a true gift of nature. With a beautiful plush coat, long fluffy tail, elegant ears and wide, appealing eyes, this Chilean native is arguably the most beautiful of all rodents.
The Chinchilla makes a great pet for adults, but in spite of their cuddly appearance they are not ideal pets for young children. They are very quick and are difficult to restrain and hold. Chinchillas will not hesitate to bite if they feel threatened or stressed. They can inflict serious, deep puncture wounds and even remove the tips of small fingers. Chinchillas should be treated with respect as well as care.
Chinchillas live a long time. You can expect your Chinchilla to live for up to 15 years, although 20 years is not uncommon. Therefore, taking on a Chinchilla is a long term commitment and needs careful thought and consideration.
Unlike other many rodents, Chinchillas are strict vegetarians. In their native South America they feed on vegetation, grasses and chew bark off trees. Chinchillas need a diet high in protein and fibre but low in fat and moisture. Fatty foods will cause liver disease. A diet lacking in fibre will cause poor gut movement. A good quality specialist Chinchilla pellet forms the basis of a good diet. Pellets are not sufficient on their own; your pet will also need a constant supply of hay. Chinchillas also require Vitamin C in their diet, so rabbit food is NOT suitable for them!
Avoid sudden changes to your Chinchilla’s diet, as it may cause severe gastrointestinal problems. Sultanas and raisin can be offered occasionally, along with small pieces of vegetables. Certain foods such as chocolate and the green parts of potatoes are harmful to your pet. Avoid any foods that are designed for human consumption. Fresh drinking water should always be available.
Chinchilla’s teeth grow continuously and they need hard materials to chew on to keep them healthy and in good shape. Specialist rodent toys or a piece of apple wood will help prevent dental problems.
Chinchillas are meticulously clean and are virtually odourless. In captivity and in the wild, Chinchillas keep their coats free of dirt and prevent natural oils from accumulating by rolling in clean dust! Dust baths also help to keep the skin healthy. Good quality dust can be bought in pet shops. The layer of dust for bathing should be least ten centimetres and should be changed at least once a week. Do not use builders’ sandpit sand, it is too coarse and may damage the Chinchilla’s skin and fur.
Chinchillas are nocturnal, so will sleep throughout the day. They tend to come alive in the early evening and this is a good time to exercise them. Chinchillas are curious by nature, and explore with their teeth! Be careful therefore with electrical wires and equipment around the home when letting them go ‘free range’. You will find your Chinchilla will become tame with time and patience. Tempt it with treats, such as raisins, as you stroke it. Be gentle. A frightened Chinchilla will spray urine at any potential threat.
Invest in the biggest cage you can for your Chinchillas
Chinchillas are philopatric, meaning they love their home and surrounding area. Chinchillas are usually kept as indoor pets, as they enjoy a warm climate. Your Chinchilla’s cage should be a big as you can possibly afford. The bare minimum cage for two chins should be 1.5metre x 1.5metre floor space and 1.2 metres high. Shredded paper makes a good base for the bottom of the cage. There should be separate sleeping quarters and enough boxes for all your Chinchillas, in case they need their own space. Your cage should be positioned well away from draughts. Chinchillas will enjoy empty cardboard tubes to chew.
Fur chewing may be a sign of boredom, stress or poor diet. Chinchillas are sociable creatures and need the company of their own kind. If you decide to keep a single animal, be prepared to spend lots of time with your pet, playing, grooming and handling. Chinchillas need a lot of hay to provide the necessary fibre in their diet. A lack of fibre may cause your Chinchilla to chew its fur to make up for this lack. Stress-related fur chewing may be caused by a house move or stress caused by other household pets.
Chinchillas require gentle handling
To pick up your Chinchilla, support its whole body on your hand and gently restrain him by holding the base of the tail, Never pick a Chinchilla up by its tail, it can cause serious injury and pain. Dropping your Chinchilla, even from a small height can result in nasty injuries, including broken bones.
Chinchillas enjoy the company of their own kind and should not be kept alone unless you can give them plenty of attention. You can keep one male with one female, or one male and two to three females. Chinchillas from the same litter usually live peacefully together, but not if they are the same sex.