Chinchillas

Chinchillas

Chinchillas have been kept as pets since the 1920’s, with the onset of commercial breeding. Many people will agree that Chinchillas are cute and cuddly, with fur that practically invites touching. What is not commonly known is that these animals are naturally skittish and do not like to be handled at all.

Chinchillas have high exercise needs and require careful attention to their care. Weekly dust baths, proper nutrition, and habitat maintenance top the list of specific requirements. With careful and persistent training, your pet will become acclimated to living with humans and can be made suitable for families.

Information about Chinchillas

  • Average Size: 9 to 15 inches
  • Average Weight: 500 to 700 grams
  • Coat Colors: Brown, black, white, gray, beige
  • Grooming Needs: Low Need
  • Sensitive to Touch: No
  • Good tolerance to Heat and Cold: No
  • Good Pet: With early socialization and training, yes
  • Safe with Children: With training
  • Good with Other Chinchillas: Yes
  • Good with Other Pets: No
  • Suitable for First-Time Pet Owners: No
  • Training: They learn tricks, but slowly
  • Exercise Needs: High need
  • Weight Gain: Can become overweight
  • Health Concerns: They tend to have respiratory infections, heat stroke, skin infections, and gastrointestinal stasis
  • Allergies: Chinchillas are allergic to strong scents and dust which can lead to respiratory infections
  • Average Life Span: 12 to 20 years

Physical Appearance of Chinchillas

Chinchillas have very thick and soft fur that’s either gray, beige, or brown. The pets have small heads, large ears, and long whiskers. Adult Chinchillas have a round body and weigh between 1.1 to 1.8 lbs. The pet has very short legs and a long tail. The female Chinchillas are usually bigger than the male ones.

Temperament of Chinchillas

Chinchillas are quiet pets that sleep a lot during the day. The pets are mainly active during the night with the peak of their activity being dawn and dusk. In the wild, Chinchillas live in groups of between 20 – 100 and they enjoy burrowing and hiding together. 

Chinchillas are social animals and they do better if there are at least two of them together.  They enjoy socializing with others and they will be much happier if there is someone for them to play with.

Most older Chinchillas that have not had much human contact may show aggressive behavior. An aggressive Chinchilla may chirp loudly and open their mouths wide. Avoid buying any Chinchillas with this behavior because it is very unlikely that they will change how they act.

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Training Chinchillas

Chinchillas are timid pets and at first may not be happy being handled. Take your time to earn trust from your pet. Begin by just placing your hand in the cage without necessarily trying to grab your pet. Allow the Chinchilla to crawl on your hand instead of grabbing it. 

Once the Chinchilla becomes used to you, you can try to hold it by supporting it from the hind legs. Use your other hand to slightly lift the front legs.

After learning how to handle the pet, you can now try to train your Chinchilla how to perform some tricks. The best way to get the Chinchilla to try a trick is by offering them a.

You can teach your pet how to sit on your shoulders or to move from the shoulder to the palm. To encourage them, place a treat on your hand, then place your Chinchilla on your shoulder. Encourage the pet to remain still on your shoulder and then try to walk to your hand to collect the treat.

Their Compatibility with Children

Chinchillas aren’t the best pets for kids because they have very fragile bodies. When holding a Chinchilla, be careful not to squeeze them because you could break their soft bones or hurt their internal organs. Most children want pets they can play with and even squeeze. If this is the case a Chinchilla is not a good pet for them.

The other reason why these pets aren’t compatible with kids is because they have a long lifespan compared to other pets. Kids are known to outgrow their interest in pets especially as they grow older. Chinchillas given to a 6 year old can easily live until they graduate college!

Some Chinchillas especially the female ones, may show some aggressive behavior towards human beings. Female Chinchillas may chirp, open mouth wide, and worse still pee on you if they think that you are a threat. This can make them a bad choice for families with children.

Best Habitat for Chinchillas

Chinchillas enjoy living in pairs or in groups. The pets require spacious cages, safe, and comfortable for a long healthy life. Here are the requirements of a good habitat for a Chinchilla.

Cage  

The minimum size for the cage is 16″ x 18″ x 16″. While you can get by with a small cage it is recommended that they be given a bigger cage. This is especially true if you plan to have 2 or 3 Chinchillas. 

A wired cage that clips to a solid floor is the best for a Chinchilla. Avoid wired floors because they can easily hurt the legs of your Chinchilla especially after standing on the wires for a long time. The mesh wires of the cage should not be coated with paint because Chinchillas may end up chewing on it. Paint is toxic if ingested by a Chinchilla.

The pets are sensitive to extremely cold or hot conditions and thrive best in homes with temperatures not exceeding 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Place the cage in a cool place away from direct sunlight or wind. 

Chinchillas are nocturnal and sleep during the day. If their cage gets exposure to direct sunlight they can become stressed, or may not sleep well.

Bedding

The best bedding for a Chinchilla is shredded papers as long as they don’t contain any dyes. Chinchillas just like other rodents enjoy chewing on stuff and toxic bedding material could make them sick. Avoid cedar or pine bedding because they have a strong scent and dust particles that could lead to respiratory irritations for your pet.

Chinchillas

Hiding areas

Naturally, Chinchillas hide from predators in the wild. Provide them with hiding materials such as hollow tubes and nesting boxes. You can also find other hiding materials like rolled toilet paper for your pet to use. Make sure the materials used on the hiding places are safe for chewing.

Hollow wood also makes good sleeping and hiding areas because they mimic the natural hiding areas for Chinchillas. You can also use 4-inch PVC pipes because they are easy to clean and make great hide outs especially the Y and T shaped pipes.

Toys

Add some chew toys in your Chinchilla’s cage to prevent boredom and to help them trim their teeth naturally. If you offer tree branches or wood for chew materials, make sure the plants aren’t treated with any pesticide because it’s dangerous for them.

The Chinchilla wheel is another must have toy for your pet because it helps them exercise. Make sure the wheel has a solid surface to avoid injuries on your pet. You will want a wheel that doesn’t make noises because a Chinchilla mainly uses the wheel at night. Most cages are bought together with a wheel, but you can always buy separately.

The Attention Requirements of Chinchillas

Chinchillas require a lot of attention especially if there is only one. Even though the pets are cute, and cuddly after getting used to human contact, they do not make good pets for first-time pet owners. 

It’s also important to note that any changes with feeding or temperature could make them ideal pets for only experienced pet owners.

Chinchillas

Health Issues

Chinchillas just like other rodents get sick. The most common sicknesses are respiratory, gastrointestinal problems, and skin infections. The best way to keep your Chinchilla healthy is providing it with healthy food and keeping their cage clean. Here are some of the most common diseases to watch out for.

Respiratory illnesses

Respiratory conditions occur due to overcrowding, poor ventilation, and dusty bedding materials. A sick Chinchilla has nasal and eye discharge, lacks appetite, appears lethargic, has labored breathing, and may wheeze.

A respiratory illness should get treated by a vet because it could quickly become pneumonia.

Skin Infections

Chinchillas are also susceptible to skin infections especially because of their thick fur compared to other rodents. Skin infections develop if the fur accumulates moisture over time. 

If you handle a Chinchilla in a way it does not like, it may do a ‘fur slip’. A fur slip is a situation where a Chinchilla tries to escape from a predator by losing some fur on its skin. By losing some fur, the pet is able to loosen a predator’s grip and escape. During the ‘fur slip’ your pet may lose a lot of fur exposing it to infections.

Signs of a Chinchilla with skin infection are baldness, flakiness on the skin, wounds, redness on the skin, and swollen lymph nodes. Take a sick pet to the vet for proper diagnosis and treatment. It’s also important to note that some skin infections, especially ringworms can also affect humans in contact with the Chinchilla.

Heat stroke

Chinchillas are affected by extremely hot temperatures and high humidity. Temperatures in a Chinchilla’s environment shouldn’t exceed 80 degrees Fahrenheit while the humidity shouldn’t go above 60 percent. 

The reason why Chinchillas are highly affected by high temperatures is because of their dense fur and because they don’t have sweat glands. A Chinchilla experiencing heat stroke is likely to breathe heavily with the mouth wide open and may also become inactive.

The first step toward rescuing a Chinchilla with heat stroke is placing it in a cool environment. Then take the pet to your vet for proper treatment.

Gastrointestinal Stasis

A Chinchilla’s diet contains a lot of fiber and carbohydrates. A simple change in diet can affect your pet because it creates an imbalance of good bacteria that aids digestion of the high fiber diet. It’s also important not to change the feeding routines of your Chinchilla because it’s detrimental to its health.

Chinchillas don’t burp to release any gas accumulated on their digestive system. The pet has to maintain a routine so that the intestinal muscles keep moving to help remove any excess gas through the rectum.

Signs of gastrointestinal stasis include a hunched posture, seemingly painful stretching, lethargy, lack of appetite, and changes in patterns and texture of feces. Immediately you witness these signs, contact your vet to get your pet treated.

General Grooming Tips for Chinchillas

Bathing

Never bathe your Chinchilla in water because they are frightened by water. They prefer bathing in Chinchilla dust. Place some Chinchilla dust in a bowl at least 4 inches deep to make sure the pet can roll over and clean effectively. Avoid using regular sand because it has coarse particles that can easily hurt the skin of your Chinchilla.

After 20 minutes, remove the Chinchilla dust from the cage. Also remember to check your pet’s eyes and nose for any trapped dust after bathing. A dust bath helps your Chinchilla remain clean by removing excess oils and dead skin from its fur.

If for any reason your Chinchilla’s skin gets into contact with water, make sure to dry them thoroughly because accumulated moisture can cause skin infections.

Dental care

Regularly check on your Chinchilla to make sure that the teeth trim naturally. They make use of chew materials to trim its teeth. In some cases though rare, you may need to take your pet to the vet for teeth trimming if they overgrow. Overgrown teeth are painful and your pet may not eat properly.

Keep giving your pet some safe chew toys such as wood to help them keep their teeth healthy and strong.

Nail trimming

You do not need to trim your Chinchillas nails because they do it themselves. The pets are able to naturally keep their nails short by scratching on substrate, wood, and chew materials.

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Feeding Chinchillas

Chinchillas are herbivores that eat grass and tree bark in the wild. Their diet should consist of high fiber and protein content. Hay is the best food to give your pet enough fiber and protein and should compose 80 – 90 percent of a Chinchilla’s diet. 

Hay also helps the Chinchilla to trim their ever-growing incisors. Timothy hay is the best for adult Chinchillas while the young ones should eat alfalfa hay. Alfalfa hay contains a lot of fat and protein which is best for fast growth in baby Chinchillas. In adults, alfalfa hay may cause obesity.

Place hay in a hay rack within the cage where the Chinchilla can easily access it. The hay rack prevents the hay from getting contaminated with urine, poop, or water. Make sure the hay is always available to meet the chewing needs of your pet.

Give your Chinchilla about a teaspoon of pellet food every day as a way of supplementing their diet. Make sure to only feed your Chinchilla on hay-based pellets as opposed to seed or dried fruit pellets. If you must give your Chinchilla some fresh fruits, make sure you give them in moderation because the sugars in fruits aren’t healthy for them.

Just like other pets, a Chinchilla needs clean water every day. A water bottle with a sipper is best  because it minimizes chances of contamination. Use ceramic feeding bowls instead of light plastic ones to protect your pet from flipping them over during feeding.

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