What is a Chinchilla?
Chinchillas are playful, friendly rodents that look like a small rabbit with a squirrel tale. They are very playful, intelligent and nosey! They like a routine although over time, with regular contact, they will adapt to your own routine – but like peace and quiet in the day as they are naturally nocturnal. With the proper care and attention they can live up to 20 years, although the average is 15yrs, so having a Chinchilla is a long term commitment.
Chinchillas originate from the rocky mountain range of the Andes in South America
The name Chinchilla means “little chinta”.
They grow to between 10 – 14 inches long with 5-6 inches for their tail
Chinchillas have no dander so pet allergies shouldn’t be a problem
They can jump up to five feet
Chinchilla fur is considered to be the softest in the world and they nearly faced extinction for it
The hunting of wild chinchillas is banned and they are protected by the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Animals.
Don’t they just sleep all the time though?
Chinchillas do spend a lot of the day asleep so they are an ideal pet for someone who works during the daytime. Although Chinchillas are naturally nocturnal animals – so be prepared for them making noise at night – they do adapt to your own patterns as they like a routine. They are usually most lively between 6-9pm.Mine knows that when I come home from work she will get a cuddle so is always waiting at her cage door when I walk in. If I don’t go over straight away she starts banging on her door! Any sudden changes to their routine can lead to stress.
Are they friendly?
Although they look cuddly not all chinchillas like being cuddled, therefore they do not make ideal pets for small children. This does not mean that they don’t like to be handled though. Over time they will get used to be touched – mine now jumps up and sits on my lap, falls asleep whilst being stroked or sits on my shoulder whilst I walk round the house. They will let you know when they want a fuss or when they just want to be left to sleep or play.
Handling – never grab your chinnie as they are likely to lose some of their fur, and you might get bitten too. Always slide your hand gently underneath them and pick them up and don’t pick them up when they are asleep. Until you get to know each other hold them against your body or sit with them on your lap. NEVER pick them up by their tail as this can cause a lot of stress and it may even fall off! They do like being stroked under the chin, behind their ears or along their nose – over time you will find out their likes and dislikes.
It will take time for you to get to know each other but one of the easiest ways is to sit on the floor whilst your chinnie is exploring. They will soon start to climb over you to be nosey.
Chinchillas prefer to be in pairs, although having the same sex will cause fights so it is important that the male has been neutered. If only having one chinchilla it is important that they have regular contact with humans so that they don’t get lonely.
Treats - raisins, carrot, celery, fruit – especially orange or pear (but nothing which has stones) but in small amounts otherwise we get an upset tummy. We also like apple twigs and it also helps to keep our teeth short as we love to gnaw at them. Just make sure that the tree hasn’t been treated with anything that might hurt us. Do not feed more than a teaspoon of treats a day though as it can cause tummy upsets.
Exercise – we like to have a play and run about but be warned we do like to chew things. Skirting board, electric wires, cast iron fireplaces (yes mine did!) and if there is a loose bit of wallpaper on the wall they have been known to have a pull at it. They can also squeeze in to very small gaps so make sure that you are able to get them out again safely. Letting them exercise out of their cage also helps to prevent fur biting due to boredom. Just make sure there is nothing they can injure themselves on. 20 – 45mins is adequate as you don’t want them to become exhausted.
Dust bath, preferably daily, so that we can remove oil and moisture from our fur. Be warned though we love them and don’t mind flicking the dust everywhere! You can buy special chinchilla baths although a cat litter tray is good – just make sure that we don’t chew the plastic! Don’t leave the bath in our cage though as our fur will become too dry if we use it too much. It also helps to remove excess fur as they moult ever 3 months.
Chinchillas should not be bathed in water as their coats absorb water and are very difficult to dry out, unless in an emergency, and should be dried thoroughly. Water in the fur may cause hypothermia which, in turn, could prove fatal.
With multi-levels, platforms, ramps and perches as they like to run and jump between platforms.
Chinchillas do not smell but their cage should be cleaned out at least once a week, including cleaning the shelves. The cage should be placed in a cooler room of the house, away from draughts, and excessive noise.
Bed made from wood (a bird nesting box is ideal), cardboard or even carpet tubes.
Somewhere to sit and climb on
Something to chew – parrot toys, pumice block, apple or pear twigs to keep our teeth in good condition
Water bottle – similar to what is used for a rabbit is fine. Water bowls are not suitable as they are easily tipped over and can get contaminated
Marble slab / tile provides a cool area for the chinchilla to sleep or rest
Cuttlefish – helps to keep teeth healthy and good source of calcium
Food & hay:
A good quality hay helps with their digestion and helps them to grind their teeth. Chinnies can be problem eaters so really only need their chinchilla food (pellets or a complete food mix available from pet shops). DO NOT change their diet quickly as it will give them an upset tummy. Gradually mix the new food with their own food so that they get used to it.
Looking after all of the time:
If you want to go on holiday, you must ensure that someone is prepared to look after your pet properly whilst you are away, or that you can afford to pay to place him in boarding.
Illness & prevention
Nobody likes to see that their pet is ill but it is wise to be aware of common problems. Chinchillas are hardy animals but can suffer from the following. Remember – if you are worried take them to a vet:
Diarrhea – usually a sign that they have over-eaten or had bad hay or food. It can also be a sign of stress due to a change in diet or too many greens.
Constipation – often caused by stress or lack of water. You will notice that the droppings are very small. Ensure that fresh water and hay is available. Also make sure they are getting exercise.
Pneumonia – even with the thick fur this can still happen. Signs are difficulty breathing and a runny nose.
Fungus fur – they do not suffer with mites or parasites but can get fungus. The fur will look limp and messy. Usually a fungicidal powder in the dust bath will solve the problem.
Teeth – as chinnies are rodents they can develop problems with their teeth as they are continuously growing. It is very important that they have plenty of things to chew. If teeth become too long it will prevent them from eating. Signs include dribbling, discharge from the eye and pawing at the mouth. They will then need to visit the vet. Don’t worry that the teeth are yellow this shows they are healthy.
Cold – if your chinnie has a runny nose they could have a cold. Simply make sure they are kept warm and have lots of fresh water.
Heat stroke – chinchillas do not like hot weather so it important that they are kept in a cool environment. When we have a hot summer it is a good idea to keep a fan in the room. Putting the bath dust in the fridge before use helps the chinnie to stay cool in hot weather.
Eyes – they should always be clear and sparkling. Look out for any discharge or inflammation of the eye lids. Usually some dust has got caught so rinse with cold water and cotton wool, or take to the vet. Also stop using the dust bath.
Ears – if your notice a discharge or pawing at the ear you should take your chinnie to the vet to be checked. Also stop using the dust bath.
Sores on feet – this is often caused by the chinchilla not having a flat surface, and only the cage wire, to sit on. They feet will harden but if they do become sore treat with tea tree cream for small animals which is available from pet shops.
A chinchilla makes an ideal pet for someone who is out of the house most of the day and will be able to socialise with them when they get home. They may sometimes look grumpy, and sleep a lot of the time, but with love and attention from you they will give the same and leave you with years of happy memories!
Thank you Lisa for this information xXx