Chinchillas

2 Chinchillas being held in a womans hand

Chinchillas are small, furry rodents that have become increasingly popular as family pets. They are native to the Andes Mountains in South America and can live up to 15 years with proper care. Chinchillas are rodents native to the western part of South America. They are typically found high in the Andes Mountains between 9 and 15 thousand feet, living on the rocky slopes.

Chinchillas make great pets for those looking for a less common pet that is relatively low maintenance. They are active and playful, but also enjoy snuggling up with their owners. Chinchillas need a large cage that is at least two feet wide and three feet long, as well as plenty of toys and hiding places to keep them happy.

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 don’t like to be handled at all. 

Chinchillas have a unique appearance, with their large ears, big eyes, and soft fur. They are one of the smallest mammals in the world, weighing around half a pound. They’re not as common as Guinea Pigs, but are still available at most major pet stores.

Chinchillas are very social creatures, and will enjoy having friends around. They are also very clean, and enjoy bathing themselves. They are also very vocal, and will bark and squeak when they feel threatened or unhappy.

Chinchillas are very easy to care for, and will require little maintenance. They are also relatively inexpensive, making them a great choice for first-time pet owners.

Chinchillas are social animals and do best when kept in pairs or groups. They can be quite vocal, so it’s important to provide them with a quiet place to sleep away from any loud noises. Chinchillas also need regular exercise, so providing them with a wheel or other toys is essential.

Chinchillas are also relatively easy to care for, and they don’t need much grooming. They should be brushed once a week with a soft brush to remove any loose fur and prevent matting. It’s also important to trim their nails regularly to keep them from becoming overgrown.

Chinchillas make great pets for anyone looking for a low-maintenance pet. They’re a bit pricey for their size, costing around $80 to 150 per Chinchilla from a breeder, or more at a pet store.

Chinchillas are relatively easy to handle because they don’t bite or scratch. They can be held and cuddled, but it’s important to do it gently and carefully. Chinchillas are very sensitive to temperature changes, and it’s important to keep them away from drafts and direct sunlight.

Overall, Chinchillas make great family pets for those looking for an unusual pet that is relatively low maintenance. With proper care and attention, your chinchilla can live a long and happy life as part of your family.

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
  • 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
  • Good for Less Experienced Pet Owners: No
  • Training: They learn tricks, but slowly
  • Exercise Needs: High need
  • Weight Gain: Can become overweight
  • Health Concerns: 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

a close up of a Chinchilla laying in some hay

Chinchillas have soft fur that’s very thick, it’ll either be gray, beige, or brown. They have small heads, large ears, and long whiskers. Adult Chinchillas have a round body and weigh between 1.1 to 1.8 lbs. They have 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. They’re 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 to 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.

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 them. Allow your Chinchilla to crawl on your hand instead of grabbing it. 

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

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

Their Compatibility with Children

a Chinchilla doing their business in a litter box

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 Chinchillas are not a good pet for them.

The other reason why they 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 get older. A Chinchilla given to a 6 year old can easily live until they graduate college!

Some Chinchillas, especially female ones, may show some aggressive behavior towards human beings. Female Chinchillas may chirp, open their mouths 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. They need spacious, safe, and comfortable cages for a long healthy life. Here are the requirements of a good habitat for a Chinchilla.

Cage

The minimum size for their cage is 16″L x 18″W x 16″T. While you can get by with a small cage, we recommend that they be given a much bigger cage. This is especially true if you plan to have several Chinchillas. 

a close up of 2 Chinchillas grooming each other

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

They are sensitive to extremely cold or hot conditions and thrive best in homes with temperatures that don’t exceed 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Their cage should be put 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 Chinchilla.

Hiding Areas

Chinchillas hide from predators in the wild and need hiding materials like 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. 4-inch PVC pipes work great because they are easy to clean and make great hideouts, especially the Y and T shaped pipes.

Toys

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

a Chinchilla sitting in a hay bed

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 if it was to tip over with your pet using it. 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 them separately.

The Attention Requirements of Chinchillas

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

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, they are 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 them to your vet for proper treatment.

Gastrointestinal Stasis

an illustration of a sick chinchilla

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. They have 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 they can roll over and clean themselves effectively. Avoid using regular sand because it has coarse particles that can easily hurt your Chinchilla’s skin.

After 20 minutes, remove the Chinchilla dust from their 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 their 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 your Chinchilla to make sure that their teeth trim naturally. They use chewing materials to trim their teeth. In some rare cases you may need to take your pet to the vet for teeth trimming if they become overgrown. Overgrown teeth are painful and your pet may not eat properly.

Keep giving your pet safe chew toys like 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. They are able to naturally keep their nails short by scratching on substrate, wood, and chew materials.

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 the fiber and protein they need and should make up 80 – 90 percent of your Chinchilla’s diet. 

Hay also helps your Chinchilla 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 their cage where the Chinchilla can easily get to it. The hay rack prevents the hay from getting contaminated with urine, poop, or water. Make sure the hay is always available to them.

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 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.