Chinchillas are rodents with thick, soft, beautiful fur that originated from the Andes Mountain in South America. They are very intelligent, affectionate, and playful animals that can bond quickly with their owners. However, they are very shy and easily frightened and do not make good pets for young children. The average lifespan of a pet chinchilla is 10-15 years.
Cage – Chinchillas need a large, well-ventilated enclosure due to being very active and acrobatic. An ideal enclosure size should be at least 6ft x 6ft x 3ft. Glass aquariums and plastic containers should be avoided. Wire mesh cages are commonly used, but a solid floor should be provided to help prevent foot injuries. Wooden cages can be used with extreme care as chinchillas are known to be able to chew through the enclosure.
Bedding – Bedding material should be clean, absorbent, non-toxic, and mostly dust-free. We recommend paper pulp products (Carefresh or Yesterday’s News) or shredded paper.
Cage Furniture – A nest box should be provided for your chinchilla. Branches or other climbing material should also be provided to allow for exercise. Chew toys can be provided for enrichment purposes.
Temperature – Chinchillas prefer cooler temperatures and their optimal temperature range is between 60-70°F.
Cagemates – Chinchillas are social animals and can be housed in pairs, single-sex groups, or polygamous units (one male to 2-6 females). However, chinchillas, especially females, may fight when housed together. Solitary housing is recommended for aggressive individuals.
Pellets – A commercial chinchilla diet (Oxbow, Mazuri, or Zuprrem) should be provided. If unavailable, a standard rabbit or guinea pig pelleted diet can be used.
Hay – Timothy grass hay (or other) should be available at all times. This is an important source of fiber for your chinchilla. Alfalfa hay should be avoided due to potential urinary issues with overconsumption.
Treats – Dried fruits (raisins tend to be a favorite), fresh vegetables (carrots, romaine lettuce, red/green leaf lettuce, clover, turnip tops, escarole, endive, watercress, herbs), and nuts make great treats. Make sure that treats do not make up more than 10% of your chinchilla’s diet.
Water – Chinchillas should have access to fresh water at all times. They can be trained to drink from a bottle or provide water in a spill-proof bowl. Check water bottles often as they can malfunction and stop working.
Chinchillas are easy to restrain and they rarely bite. Care must be taken to avoid ‘fur slip’ which is the patchy shedding of hair when the fur is grasped roughly. During restraint, the base of the tail should be grasped with one hand while supporting the body with the other hand. If children are handling the chinchilla, have them sit on the floor and hold it in their laps. Only allow them to handle the pet with adult supervision.
We recommend a complete physical exam and fecal by an exotic animal veterinarian for all newly acquired pet chinchillas. Thereafter, we recommend bi-annual exams and yearly fecal exams.
Dust Baths – Dust baths are important to help remove oil and dirt from your chinchilla’s hair coat to maintain their soft fur. The container must be large and deep enough for your chinchilla to roll over. Dust baths should be offered several times a week for 15-20 minutes at a time. Excessive bathing may lead to eye problems. There are many different types of chinchilla dust available. We recommend the Blue Cloud dust or Kaytee chinchilla dust. Any dust you use should be a fine powder.
Cecotrophs – These soft mucus-covered night time feces are consumed by your chinchilla and are an important source of vitamins and nutrition. Chinchillas that are arthritic or overweight often cannot reach their rear ends to eat cecotrophs and can result in matting/fecal pasting on their fur.
COMMON MEDICAL PROBLEMS
Heat Stress – Chinchillas do not tolerate high temperature or humidity well and may overheat. Signs include increase panting, lethargy had unkempt fur, and can feel hot to the touch. If you suspect heat stress, please contact your veterinarian immediately.
Fur Ring – This condition occurs in male chinchillas where a ring of fur constricts the penis and can become life-threatening. If you see your male chinchilla straining to urinate, produces only small amounts of urine frequently, or grooms excessively, please contact your veterinarian immediately.
Dental Disease – This is commonly known as “slobbers.” Dental malocclusion or inappropriate chewing can lead to overgrowth of the molars (the back cheek teeth) that can lead to ulcers, infection, and abscess. Signs include drooling, dropping food, being picky, weight loss, and decreased stool production. Dental disease is very common and often requires lifelong teeth trims.
Diarrhea – Diarrhea is very common in chinchillas and there are many causes, from an inappropriate diet to bacterial and parasitic infection.
Respiratory Infection – Upper respiratory infections are common in chinchillas. Clinical signs include discharge from the eyes and nose, accumulation of mucus in the nose or on forearms, decreased to no appetite, and a rough hair coat. Death can occur in serious cases.