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Chinchillas as Pets

Characteristics: Chinchillas are amazing pets; they are intelligent, inquisitive, and can become very sociable. They each have their own personality and no two are exactly alike in their behavior. Chinchillas typically live 12 to 15 years and can live up to 20 years or more; therefore, owning a chinchilla is a long-term commitment. Chinchillas typically weigh about 1 to 1 ½ pounds (450-700 grams) and have a very thick (plush) coat. They have the highest fur density of any land animal with more than 20,000 hairs per square cm. Where humans have one hair per hair follicle, chinchillas have as many as 80. With fur this dense, they are not susceptible to skin parasites such as ticks or fleas. Chinchillas also have no dander making them hypoallergenic. Chinchillas are very agile and can jump as much as five feet above their head. Some people report that chinchillas do not like to be held, but that depends on the chinchilla. Most of ours love to be held and cannot wait for us to take them out. Many will literally jump or crawl into our hands once the cage door is opened. Chinchillas like to chew and will chew on anything and everything.
Housing: There is some debate among chinchilla breeders and enthusiast regarding housing. In the wild, chinchillas live in a rocky area where they can hide in small caverns; therefor, some feel they are happier in a shorter cage where they are more enclosed and secure. Chinchillas also seem to enjoy jumping and climbing; therefor, some feel they are happiest in a tall cage with lots of shelves or platforms at various levels. We use breeding runs now, but have used taller cages (about 24") in the past. We found that the chins in the taller cages spent most of their time sitting on the top shelf where they were somewhat enclosed. Bottom line is, it is a matter of preference. It is impotant for an expectant chin to be in a shorter cage (about 12"). A kit, only a few days old, can climb the walls of a cage; if the cage is too tall, it may fall and be injured. It is also important to provide things for your chin to chew on like pumice stone and safe woods such as properly prepared willow or apple. There are two basic types of cages that can be used. The first type is one with a metal pan that you fill with shavings (pine or aspen) and the animal resides on the shavings covered pan. This appears to be the type preferred by most breeders. The second type has a wire (grate-like) floor with a pullout pan underneath and the animal resides on the wire floor. For this type it is important to provide pine wood surfaces so the chin has a place to go for a rest from the wire surface, which can be hard on its feet. A marble floor tile can also be placed in this type of cage to provide a cool surface for the chin to rest on. Whichever type of cage is used, there should be no plastic parts accessible for the chin to chew on as this can be harmful to the chin. Also the bar spacing should be close enough that the chin cannot escape; ½” or closer is preferred.
Diet: Chinchillas’ diet consists of pelletized food formulated specifically for chinchillas, hay, and supplements. The hay should be primarily Timothy Hay, with Alfalfa Hay given once or twice a week as a treat; alternatively, hay cubes may be given in lieu of loose hay. Dried papaya can be given in limited quantities (one small piece weekly) and can aid in digestion. Chinchillas have a very delicate digestive system and cannot tolerate foods that are too rich. Water should be provided constantly via a water bottle. We use glass bottles with glass tubes and fill them with purified water.
Care: Chinchillas originally came from the Andes Mountains of South America and require a cool environment. The temperature should ideally be kept at 70 degrees Fahrenheit or below. They also come from an area of very low humidity. High humidity coupled with warm temperature can prove fatal to a chin. Chinchillas should never be given a bath in water or allowed to get wet. They bathe by rolling around in a dust bath. A commercially available dust such as Blue Cloud should be used. This dust-like powder should be placed in a chinchilla bathhouse or a large bowl or container to a depth of about one inch. The dust bath should be offered to the chin for about 15 minutes approximately 3 times per week. Some breeders offer dust baths daily. Watching a chin roll around in a dust bath can be very entertaining.