How To Take Care Of A Chinchilla Like A Pro

What the heck is a chinchilla? Why would I want one as a pet? Do I need to know a lot about their care before doing this, or is it easy to get started? These are all frequently asked questions about pet chinchillas we get asked. Let’s get started with chinchilla care 101, on everything you need to know to have your own healthy and happy chinchilla.

What is a chinchilla?

Chinchillas are rodents that live in burrows in temperate grassland areas of South America. They are native to the Andes Mountains in Chile and Peru, where they thrive at altitudes of between 9,800 and 16,400 feet above sea level. We can also find them living at altitudes of up to 17,500 feet above sea level in Argentina.

They have distinctive black or gray fur, small bodies (about 9-14 inches long), large ears, thick tails and sharp teeth. Their fur helps them to maintain an internal temperature that is warmer than their surroundings.

When threatened by predators, chinchillas will try to escape through their tunnels or jump into the air to get away from danger. However, if cornered by a predator, they will hiss loudly to frighten their attacker. If this cannot work, chinchillas will attempt to bite their attacker with their very sharp teeth.

Species overview

Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Chordata

Class: Mammalia

Order: Rodentia

Family: Chinchillidae

Genus: Chinchilla

Scientific name: Chinchilla lanigera

Lifespan: Chinchilla live around 10 years

Size: body size 10- to 15-inches, another 3 to 6 inches added by the tail

Gestation period: 110 days

Physical Characteristics

Chinchilla sizes vary depending on the sex. Females are slightly larger than males. The female chinchilla has a body length of 10 to 15 inches (25 to 38 centimeters), while the male’s body length is 8 to 11 inches (20 to 28 centimeters). The average weight of males can be 1 pound, while females weigh 1.76 pounds. On average, both the male and female Chinchillas have a lifespan of 8 to 12 years.

Chinchillas have a short body, with long slender limbs and a large head. Their fur is very soft, dense and fine and is the most abundant of any Myocastoridae. The hair on their head is longer than that on the rest of their body, except for their tail, which has some long hairs.

Chinchillas have a thick, soft undercoat and an outer layer of longer, coarser guard hairs. Their coloration is agouti (variegated) and they can have pure white, black, gray and brown fur. Their eyes are large, dark-colored, and protruding.

The chinchilla’s teeth grow continuously throughout its life; this is one reason it must constantly gnaw on hard materials such as wood to keep them from getting too long.

They have muscular hind legs for jumping, but their front legs are not very strong. They are digitigrade animals—they jump and hop on their toes instead of plantigrade or unguligrade walking on their entire foot or hoof like most mammals. Chinchillas’ tails resemble that of rabbits—long and fluffy (about 17 cm or 6 inches).

Behavior and temperament

Chinchillas are one of the most popular pet choices. It is a small and delicate animal with a docile temperament. Although they are not as energetic as guinea pigs or hamsters, they can still be very mischievous and love to chew on everything they can reach. They are social animals and need companionship of other chinchillas to thrive, although they do well alone. If you want to have two males, consider having them neutered. Although they get along well if they came from the same litter.

Taming a Chinchilla can be a hard process, even for experienced owners. Because of their skittish nature, it can take several months or years before they feel comfortable around people. A Chinchilla’s temperament depends on how it was raised by its breeder and owner. The temperament of a chinchilla changes over time depending on how you treat it and how much attention it receives from you. It won’t bite if you raised it from a young age.

Chinchillas can develop bonds with their owners; it is important for owners to show them affection and attention in order to ensure that their chins remain happy and healthy. However, it should be noted that chinchillas are shy around strangers and can bite if handled by someone they do not know well.

Chinchillas are nocturnal animals that enjoy their peace mostly during the day. They do, however, like to play and interact with their owners, but only at night when humans are usually asleep. When you first bring your Chinchilla home, he or she will be shy and withdrawn. It may take weeks before your Chinchilla acts more like a normal pet.

Housing

Enclosure

The most important factor in determining the size of the housing cage is to ensure that there are enough platforms to allow all animals to rest at the same time. There should be a minimum of three per animal plus one on each side of the cage. The height of the platforms should allow the animal to stand while resting on their hind feet.

A minimum of 4 feet X 4 feet X 3 feet would be required for a single chinchilla. For additional animals, add a similar space for each additional chinchilla. You can provide multiple levels in cages that will help it exercise.

You can construct cages from wire, wood, or plastic, but wire is most commonly used because of its low cost and easy maintenance. When considering a wire cage, it is important to select a structure that will not entrap limbs.

The floor of the cage should be solid and should not have any openings that may trap a limb or foot. If the bottom of the cage is also wire, provide a section of solid flooring to prevent pododermatitis.

Chinchillas are naturally very timid, and they are easily frightened by sudden movement, loud noises, and unfamiliar objects. As a result, it is extremely important to provide ample space for hiding. When constructing hide boxes, use materials such as PVC pipes or cardboard that can be cleaned easily because chinchillas can be notoriously messy.. We don’t recommend wooden hide boxes as they are difficult to disinfect and chinchillas chew on them.

Temperature & humidity

Temperature and humidity are the major factors in determining if your chinchilla will be healthy. Chinchillas live in the high Andes Mountains at about 13000 feet above sea level, so you have to simulate their natural environment as closely as possible. The good news is that chinchillas are very hardy animals with a low body temperature of 98.5-100.4 degrees Fahrenheit, so they can handle a wide range of temperatures and humidity levels.

BASIC REQUIREMENTS:

Temperature range: 50-80 degrees Fahrenheit

Humidity: 40%-60% (we recommend less than 60%)

Airflow: Moderate to heavy airflow is recommended. If your chinchillas live in an area with high humidity, use an air conditioner or dehumidifier to reduce the moisture in the air. If you do this, try to keep the temperature within the suggested ranges. Chinchillas prefer cooler temperatures, but they need warmer temperatures to digest food.

Chinchillas are also very sensitive to air quality, as they have sensitive respiratory systems because of their high metabolism. They can become sick if exposed to heavy smoke, perfume, aerosols or other chemicals. You should keep them out of kitchens and laundry rooms where these chemicals are used.

Lighting

Lighting is the single most important environmental factor influencing a chinchilla’s health and well-being. Lighting must provide an environment which simulates a natural 24-hour day.

Chinchillas are nocturnal, meaning that they sleep during the day and are active at night. However, many people who keep chinchillas as pets have them out during the day and give them a 12-hour photoperiod.

Some people use just normal house bulbs, while others will use special full spectrum bulbs.

Substrate

One of the most important aspects of chinchilla colony management is the substrate.

While many people in the industry use bare wire flooring, we recommend a substrate in order to decrease pressure on the plantar surfaces of the feet and decrease incidence of pododermatitis. It may also make it easier for owners to spot small amounts of wet droppings that can be signs of respiratory problems.

The substrate may comprise paper products, such as shredded newspaper or recycled paper bedding, or wood shavings. You should avoid cedar and pine shavings. These substrates contain aromatic oils, which act as contact and respiratory irritants.

Place a layer of hay on top for enrichment. You should then remove the waste from the cage at least twice a week.

Accessories

  • Shelter box
  • Dust bath
  • Toys
  • Indoor playpen
  • Exercise wheel
  • Hideaway place
  • Chew tubes

Diet & nutrition

Chinchillas are herbivores and eat mainly hay or grasses. Chinchillas need a diet that is 16% to 20% protein, 2% to 5% fat, and 15% to 35% bulk fiber.

A high-quality timothy hay is the most important part of a chinchilla’s diet. Timothy hay provides essential fiber for digestion, roughage to help prevent hairballs, and a source of nutrition for the chinchilla.

Chinchillas also require more concentrated sources of food, such as seeds and pellets, to provide additional protein and vitamins.

Treats should be given sparingly, but they are very important to the health of your chinchilla and will allow you to bond with your furry friend. Treats should be 100% fruit, vegetables or nuts with NO added sugar or salt. The only acceptable treats would be things like apple slices, carrot slices, raisins and walnuts.

Chinchillas also need water all the time because they are very sensitive to dehydration, resulting in impaction of the intestinal tract (enteritis). Approximately two ounces per day for each chinchilla will be sufficient, especially if it has access to consume grass. You can use a water bowl, but a water bottle is more handy to maintain the sanitation.

Chinchillas teeth never stop growing so they need constant access to hay or hard wood chews to prevent overgrowth and malocclusion. You should not feed chinchillas dog or cat food as it is too high in protein and fat. It can cause serious health problems.

Health

There are many reasons to own a chinchilla as a pet. They are cute, friendly, and can be very entertaining. But before you adopt one, make sure that it is healthy. A sick chinchilla will not live a long life, so foremost you need to make sure that your new pet does not have any health problems. The following are signs of a healthy chinchilla:

Signs of a healthy chinchilla

A chinchilla’s behavior is a good indicator of whether it is healthy. The signs of a healthy chinchilla are not the same for all animals and vary depending on age, but most healthy chinchillas will exhibit similar characteristics.

  • A healthy adult chinchilla should be curious and playful, exploring his cage and interacting with his human companion. He should also be interested in eating and drinking, grooming himself, and spending time outside his cage for regular play periods.
  • The eyes should be bright and clear, and there should be no discharge from the nose.
  • The chinchilla’s ears should also be clean and free of discharge. If the chinchillas’ ears are standing up straight, it means that their respiratory system is strong.
  • The chin should look healthy with no signs of redness or swelling.
  • Gums should look pink and the mouth should be moist with no discoloration (blue or black gums are a sign of disease).
  • The claws should be short and free of growths or discoloration. The nails on the fingers should also be short and free of growths.
  • Tail needs to be full and fluffy. They should be active and alert when you look at them.
  • A healthy chinchilla should have a body weight that is between 1 and 1.8 pounds (0.5 to 0.8 kg). Chinchillas usually weigh between 500 and 800 grams when they reach adult weight around the age of one year.
  • Other signs of good chinchilla health include regular defecation (250 times a day!) and urination, good appetite, normal elimination habits (when it needs to), and good muscle tone.

Signs of a sick chinchilla

Chinchillas are very hardy animals and often appear to be healthy even when they are sick. However, there are always signs to look for if you want to know if your chinchilla needs medical attention. Here is a list of some of the most common symptoms of a sick chinchilla:

  • Not eating normally: This is another sign that something is wrong with your animal’s health. An animal that isn’t eating enough won’t be getting the right amount of nutrients and calories it needs to stay strong, so pay attention to how much food it’s consuming daily.
  • Loss of weight and rough fur: Loss of weight and rough fur are two other signs that something is wrong with your pet. Chinchillas normally have a soft, thick coat, so if you notice yours is coarse or thinning, take it to the vet to determine the cause. If you’re concerned about how much your animal weighs, consult your vet about what to expect for its body type and age.
  • Lethargy: One of the most obvious signs of a sick chinchilla is lethargy. If your pet is normally energetic, but now sleeps during the day or seems disinterested in food, this may be a concern.
  • Sneezing: Sneezing is another common sign of illness in chinchillas. Sneezing can show an upper respiratory tract infection or an allergic reaction to something your chinchilla has inhaled. Take your pet to the vet if the sneezing persists despite treatment.
  • Pale gums: Pale gums in a healthy chinchilla should be pink or peach colored. If your pet’s gums are pale instead of pink, take him to the vet because it may show anemia or infection.
  • Excessive scratching: Chinchillas have very thick fur coats that protect them against the elements; however, they can still overheat when they get too hot and scratch excessively to cool down.
  • Tail bobbing. A healthy chinchilla’s tail should move up and down gently when it is running. If it is just flicking a little or not moving at all, this could show a problem.

Common health problems in chinchilla

Injuries: Chinchillas can hurt themselves by chewing on electrical cords or other hard objects that they find in their cages. They can also fall out of cages or off high perches if they’re not secured properly. Common injuries include cuts and broken bones.

Diarrhea: Consumption of things that are not fit for consumption usually causes it. Cardboard, paper and other things should be kept away from your pet’s reach to avoid diarrhea problems.

Intestinal impaction: This occurs when the animal ingests something too big for its digestive system to handle, resulting in blockage of the intestines. If not treated immediately, it can lead to death as it could cause perforation of the intestine walls because of extreme pressure from within.

Chin acne: This is characterized by reddening of the chin area and development of sores. The sores develop into pustules and may become infected, which can cause death if not treated on time.

Lumps or swellings: Mites that have burrowed into the skin usually cause lumps and swellings on chinchillas. The mites often go undetected because they leave no visible traces on the fur. If you see a bump on your chinchilla, check for signs of fleas first. If you find any, then this is probably where they’re coming from. If there are no signs of fleas, then you should take your pet to a vet, who will medicate him/her against the mites.

Tumors: It is very important to keep your chinchilla safe from tumors. Chinchillas are especially prone to cancerous tumors which grow on the skin or internally. The cancerous tumors usually appear in the front legs of the animal. If you notice your pet has developed a tumor near his/her limb, take the animal to a vet to remove it as soon as possible. The vet can also provide you with ways to prevent such tumors from growing again.

Preventive measures

To prevent these health problems, we need to practice proper preventive medicine and hygiene.

Quarantine

Quarantine is the process of separating new animals from existing zoo populations to protect against the spread of infectious diseases. Quarantine is a vital component of bio security and public health, ensuring that animals in your care, as well as their keepers, are healthy.

Quarantine is a necessary precaution when introducing a new pet chinchilla to your existing pet chinchilla or guinea pig. It is very important that you do not skip this step, as it can help prevent the spread of bacteria and viruses.

Don’t be afraid to put your pets in separate rooms or even different parts of the house for at least 30 days until you can see that they are still healthy. This will allow you to monitor each animal’s behavior and keep an eye out for any health problems or illnesses before they spread to other animals in your home.

Routine examination

Routine examination is a very important part of the prevention of illness. A sick animal is often not as active and may be unwilling to let you examine it. Only by performing a routine examination can you establish a baseline for your chinchillas and detect any problems early.

It’s very important to bring your chinchilla for regular check-ups. The examination will take about 20 minutes, the veterinarian will examine the animal from head to toe and palpate (feel) all body parts to detect any abnormalities.

How often should you bring your chinchilla for a check-up? It depends on the age of your pet. If you buy a young one, then you should take him or her for a full examination after 6 months of age. After the first year of age, you should have the animal examined once a year. Older animals don’t have to be examined as often as younger ones, but they still need a check-up every six months.

The vet might suggest blood tests or x-rays if they find something wrong during the examination. After the exam, the vet will tell you what preventive measures you can take and when you should repeat this procedure.

Sanitation & Hygiene

Sanitation and hygiene are very important in chinchilla care. The most important thing you can do for your chinchilla is to have a clean cage. It’s essential that you clean and disinfect your cage at least twice a week to prevent the spread of infections and diseases.

Chinchillas are very susceptible to getting an infection called Fur Mite.

The best way to prevent fur mites is by washing your cage with warm water and a mild detergent such as Ivory Soap, washing all toys, food dishes, food bowls, hammocks, hay racks, etc.

Chinchillas are very sensitive to odors, so be sure to wash your hands after cleaning their cage and change clothes before handling them again.

Do not allow your chinchilla to sleep in its litter box! This can cause foot problems. Use heavy sandpaper on the bottom of the cage, and place several inches of soft bedding in the cage instead of just shaving dry.

Training

Hand taming is the most common training skill you can provide for your chinchilla. It is the first step in bonding with your chinchilla and is also useful for handling your pet when you need to clean its cage or do any other chores.

The first thing you will need to do is purchase your chinchilla and bring it home. In order to get your chinchilla ready for taming, you need to keep it in its cage for at least two weeks. This will let you bond with it and teach it that your hand is something good.

The second step is to introduce the chinchilla to your hand. Offer him treats while he investigates you. After he gets used to eating out of your hand, start scratching him on his neck and head until he enjoys it as well.

Once he seems comfortable with this, try petting him in his cage with the door open and then finally all the way out of the cage. You may need to go back a few steps if he does not take well to this, but eventually he will walk into your hand.

Chinchillas are very smart animals and learn quickly once they know what we want from them. Training will make your pet more friendly, and you will soon enjoy your time spent together.

Exercise

All domestic pet animals need exercise in order to maintain health and to stimulate their minds. It is no different with chinchillas. Exercise is necessary for all pets, as it helps reduce boredom and behavioral problems, and improves overall health.

Chinchillas are no exception, and they require regular exercise to keep them healthy and in top shape.

Every chinchilla owner needs to know how to properly exercise a chinchilla. Chinchillas are very social animals, and they need to be with their humans at all times when they are awake.

Toys are a great way to have fun with your chinchilla, but make sure you have plenty of toys available for them to play with. Choose the toys that are designed specifically for chinchillas. Avoid plastic exercise balls at any cost.

Remember that chinchillas can jump, so make sure that you keep anything you don’t want them to have out of reach. Also, if you place a toy in your chinchilla’s cage, you should always remove it before closing the cage door. Otherwise, your chinchilla will attempt to get the toy once you confine it in the cage and might hurt itself.

Exercise time is also an excellent opportunity for you to bond with your pet. Spend some time talking and interacting with it while watching it play. Your little friend will love the extra attention.

Grooming

Dust bath is an essential activity for chinchillas. You should give a chinchilla the opportunity to take a dust bath at least once a day for 10-15 minutes.

But the bath can be taken more frequently if required. They can take dust baths on their own with no help or supervision. Buy the commercial chinchilla dust and put in a couple of inches layer to a container where your beloved pet can fit in.

Chinchillas enjoy rolling in the bedding material, kicking it out of their fur and then cleaning themselves by licking their fur and feet. This will leave them looking nicely fluffy and clean. Change the dust weekly to maintain proper sanitation and hygiene.

Dust baths are very important for all chinchillas. It is not only an amusing sight to watch your pet rolling about in the dust, but it also helps to keep its coat soft and shiny, it protects against mites and provides relief from stress.

Upkeep cost

The Chinchilla costs approximately $25 per month to look after, this includes food and litter. There are some additional costs for grooming, cage cleaning products and toys, which I estimate at $15-20 per month. These are all optional extras that you can choose from or not, depending on your budget.

If you love your Chinchilla and want them to have the best life possible, then these costs will be no problem at all. However, if you are looking for an impulse buy that you won’t have time for, then maybe getting a pet isn’t the best idea for you!

Pros & cons of owning a chinchilla

Chinchillas are adorable, cuddly little animals. But are these rodents a good pet for your family? Chinchillas make great pets for the right family. They’re smart and social but require extensive care to live a long, healthy life. If you are considering adding a chinchilla to your household, here is what you should know about their pros and cons as pets.

1. Pros of owning chinchillas

Chinchillas have many good qualities that make them great pets. Here are the pros of owning a chinchilla.

Sociable: Chinchillas enjoy being with people and other chinchillas, making them great pets for families with children, seniors and anyone else who is looking for a social companion.

Easy to care: It’s easy to care for a chinchilla. Chinchillas are spotless animals that groom themselves constantly. This is one reason they don’t need regular baths or frequent brushings like some other pets.

Low cost: Chinchillas are the cheapest pet to purchase, and the least expensive to care for.

Longevity: Chinchillas can live to be over 10 years old if they are taken care of properly and kept in good health.

Small Size: Even though they have long tails, chinchillas are still small creatures, which makes them easy to handle. You can hold them in your hand or carry them in a pocket.

No Odor: Unlike other pets, chinchillas do not carry an odor except for the occasional dust bath, which is actually quite pleasant smelling.

2. Cons of owning chinchillas

Chinchillas can be destructive if they get bored. They are known chewers and may chew electrical wires if they get bored or aren’t given enough toys to play with outside of their cages. Chinchillas also are nocturnal creatures who like to play at night when you’re trying to sleep.

Buy or adopt a chinchilla

The best place to buy a chinchilla is from an authorized dealer or breeder. Buying from any other source might prove risky, as the animal might fall sick or might have some genetic defect. If you are looking to buy a Chinchilla, here are a few tips that will help you find the right dealer:

Selecting the right breed of chinchillas: Before buying a chinchilla, make sure that you select the right breed of chinchillas. Prior research will give you an idea about what kind of breed you want. You can ask friends and family members who own chinchillas or speak to an expert in a local pet store.

Search online: You can search online for breeders of chinchillas in your area. Check their reviews and visit their website to know more about them before making a purchase decision. Read the contract thoroughly before paying for your pet and try to negotiate the price if possible.

Adopting a chinchilla: Adopting a chinchilla as a pet is a rewarding experience. Check with your local exotic pet vet before you adopt a chinchilla. He’ll recommend a local rescue group or tell you it’s fine to adopt one as a pet.

FAQs

Here are the answers to some frequently asked questions regarding chinchilla:

Does a chinchilla make a good pet for your kids?

Yes, chinchillas are wonderful pets for kids. They are active, inquisitive, and playful. They’ll easily fit into a family environment and entertain the kids for hours on end. Chinchillas require very little upkeep, but they do like to be petted and will happily sit in your lap while you watch TV or read a book.

It’s important to remember that chinchillas are still wild animals at heart, so you should teach kids to treat them with care and respect. Because of their curious natures, chinchillas will chew anything they can get their teeth on—including shoes, furniture, and clothes. And while they need little space to roam around in, it’s important to remember that chinchillas are quick runners—so if you have a curious toddler or infant, it might not be wise to have the chinchilla loose in the house unsupervised.

What are the chinchilla’s basic needs?

Chinchillas require an almost constant temperature of 75 degrees Fahrenheit for their body, and 75-80 degrees for their cage. They need a good water supply that is not exposed to air currents. They need hay, pellets, and fresh vegetables daily. They need a dust bath every day and space to exercise outside the cage.

How high can a chinchilla jump?

The answer is an average of six feet, but it can be as high as eight feet. Chinchillas are a very active pet, and they love to jump. They are also not enormous, which means they have to use their jump to get around. The average size of a chinchilla is five pounds, so they can literally jump over your head if they wanted to.

How fast can a chinchilla run?

Chinchillas are rodents, which means they’re not exactly known for their speed. But that doesn’t mean they can’t run fast! A chinchilla can run up to a whopping 15 miles per hour (24 kilometers per hour). This is particularly impressive when you consider that chinchillas’ bodies only measure around eight inches long and weigh an average of 1.5 pounds (680 grams).

How to differentiate sex in chinchilla?

Determining the sex of any chinchilla is particularly tricky. Though adult males can be identified by their testicles, they lack a scrotum, making them difficult to identify. Trying to determine sex by palpating abdomens is not reliable either, as there are no external differences between male and female abdomens. However, upon close look you can find the following differences:

The first difference is that the anus of a male chinchilla is located farther from the penis than it is on a female chinchilla. The distance from the rectum to the cloaca (the opening through which urine, feces, and reproductive secretions exit) on a male chinchilla is longer than that of a female chinchilla. This gives a visual clue whether an animal is male or female. 

Also, we can make sex determination easier if you take advantage of their estrous cycle. Females will present vaginal bleeding during their cycle and will become receptive to males (rut). This can make it possible to use vaginal exams or speculums to determine sex.

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Dr Harunur Rashid (Harun) is a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine who has five years of experience in large pet animal medicine. He worked as a livestock officer for two years in an NGO, and since then he has been practicing pet animals medicine privately. He holds an MS in Pharmacology from Bangladesh Agricultural University and a DVM from the same institution.