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How to Take Care of a Chinchilla (Care Sheet & Guide 2021)
Chinchillas make terrific pets if you can provide them with enough space. They are active animals that are a joy to own. Their care is a bit more involved than with other small animals, however. That’s due in part to their high energy levels. One thing you can say about them is that chinchillas make unique pets.
There are two species of chinchillas. The one that you’ll find available as a pet is the Long-tailed Chinchilla. In the wild, they live in the rock crevices of the Andes Mountains in Chile. The ones you see in pet stores are captive-raised animals, and all are descended from 13 animals imported to the United States in 1927.
This species is endangered in its native land, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources. Its numbers have been decreasing in recent years due to logging, farming, and mining. That makes your pet chinchilla a special animal.
Chinchillas are relatively long-lived for a rodent, with some reaching 10 or even 20 years old. The native animals are a mottled gray-yellow, which provides excellent camouflage in the shrublands of the mountains. Selective breeding has opened up a broad spectrum of colors, from velvet to sapphire to dark blue-gray.
The chinchilla has a dense coat, with up to 80 hairs per follicle, more than any other animal! That influences its weather tolerance in two ways. First, it can tolerate the cold quite well. Second, its fur density means that the chinchilla is heat-sensitive. That’s something to bear in mind when setting up a cage for your new pet.
Do Chinchillas Make Good Pets?
There are a few things that you should know before inviting a chinchilla into your home. This rodent is active at dusk and dawn. It makes evolutionary sense to forage and run around when predators are less likely to spot you. However, you should remember that before putting its cage in the kids’ bedroom.
Like all rodents, a chinchilla’s teeth grow their entire life. That will affect the care and maintenance of your pet. It also means it can and will bite if it feels threatened. Chinchillas are easy to handle. However, it’s probably not the best choice for smaller children without supervision. Nonetheless, it can make a wonderful pet for older kids.
It’s essential to socialize chinchillas from a young age. However, some animals don’t like being handled much. Of course, an occasional treat is sure to win a friend.
Other care is similar to how you’d raise other small animals. Keeping the cage clean and providing fresh food and water daily go a long way toward fulfilling a chinchilla’s basic needs. However, there are a few caveats that may influence your decision to get one for your home.
Where Can I Get a Chinchilla?
You may find that finding a chinchilla that you can afford will be your greatest challenge. As with many other small animals, the chinchilla has entered the show circuit.
On the one hand, you can find reputable breeders by going through different clubs. Quality assurance and humane treatment of the animals are the top priorities.
On the other hand, you’ll likely to pay a higher price, especially if you get an animal from a championship line. The other option is to check with your local pet store. We strongly urge you to buy from sellers who offer a health guarantee. Transitioning into a new home is a traumatic experience that can leave a chinchilla vulnerable to disease.
How Much Does It Cost to Own a Chinchilla?
Prices for chinchillas run across the board, depending on the source and lineage. You can find animals at pet stores for a couple hundred dollars. Going through a breeder can easily take the cost into the four figures. The most important thing is to get a healthy animal that is active, with a good-looking coat.
Owning a chinchilla is both a financial and time commitment. The first year is typically the most expensive because you’re buying a cage and supplies. We recommend looking for a vet who specializes in small animals. Regular vet care is a vital part of having any pet. Chinchillas are no exception.
The activity level of the chinchilla comes into play when getting a cage for your pet. This animal needs plenty of room and multiple levels. You can easily expect to pay well over $100 for a cage with sufficient space. Then, you have to get bedding, hiding places, food bowls, and a water bottle, to say nothing about food, treats, and toys.
The annual expenses of owning a chinchilla can easily surpass $500.
What Kind of Home Does My Chinchilla Need?
A wire cage with a plastic collar along the bottom of it is ideal for providing adequate circulation, while keeping the bedding inside instead of on the floor around it. Err on the side of caution, and get the biggest one you can afford that will fit in your space. You can go tall too, since chinchillas can jump up to 6 feet high.
A pullout tray is a desirable feature to make clean-up as easy as possible. We recommend multiple levels to add interest and increase the space while taking up less real estate. Coated wire grates will also make your job hassle-free and provide a healthier environment for your pet.
Chinchillas aren’t escape artists like some rodents are. As long as the cage door latches are secure, you shouldn’t have issues with a Houdini Chinchilla. The other concern is balancing circulation with heat retention. A cage on a stand offers a distinct advantage over one that you must put on the floor.
Bedding or a substrate is necessary to make your pet comfortable and provide an absorbent means to control odor and waste. We suggest avoiding aromatic products, which your chinchilla may find irritating. Instead, go with something with unscented or preferably, a recycled product for an eco-friendly solution. You should change it regularly for both yourself and your pet.
Food Bowls and Water Bottles
A shallow bowl is an excellent option for feeding your pet, considering the type of food that it eats. A water bottle is a better choice than a bowl to keep its bedding dry. Just make sure to get one that your chinchilla can’t chew. These rodents don’t drink much water because their food supplies most of their moisture needs.
We recommend adding at least one hiding place for your chinchilla. This will help your pet feel more secure in its home. Remember that this animal is a prey species with an instinct to hide when it feels threatened. A cage without any cover will add to the stress that your chinchilla feels. It doesn’t have to be anything elaborate. A shelf in a multi-level cage will give your pet the security that it needs.
What Should I Feed My Chinchilla?
Timothy hay is an ideal food that serves several vital purposes. It is a nutritious food that won’t increase your pet’s risk of GI issues with other diets. It will also help wear down your pet’s teeth, which is something that you must consider with rodents. We suggest limiting fresh fruits and vegetables because chinchillas have sensitive tummies.
Food like iceberg lettuce can cause GI distress simply because chinchillas haven’t eaten many of these things in their native habitat and haven’t evolved to digest them properly. There are commercial treats available that you can offer your pet. We recommend that you limit them to no more than 10% of your chinchilla’s daily intake.
Related Read: What Do Chinchillas Eat in the Wild and as Pets?
How Do I Take Care of My Chinchilla?
Taking care of a chinchilla isn’t much different than doing so for other small animals, only that it’s bigger and more active. That will affect some of the routine aspects of keeping a pet, such as exercise and socialization.
Chinchillas require a similar diet as other herbivores such as rabbits and guinea pigs. Timothy hay is the preferred food because it supplies enough roughage without taxing your pet’s digestive system. You should provide fresh greens every day. Remove any that have gotten wet to prevent bacteria development.
You can feed your chinchilla pellets, but they shouldn’t be the primary source of nutrition. Unfortunately, they lack the necessary fiber to keep your chinchilla healthy. You can offer them as occasional treats. You can also give your pet a pumice stone to help keep its teeth in check.
The density of their coats and the climate of their native habitat make dust baths the optimal way for chinchillas to stay clean. You should provide your pet with a pan filled with powder for this purpose several times a week. It’ll instinctively know what to do and roll around and play in it for several minutes. Remove it and discard the used dust when it’s finished bathing.
Exercise and Socialization
Exercise is vital for chinchillas. That’s one reason that we emphasize getting a larger cage. You can let your chinchilla outside of its cage to play — with two caveats. Its size is deceptive with all that fur. Make sure that the room is chinchilla-proof by blocking off any potential hiding places. The other concern is its teeth.
Chinchillas need and love to chew. That doesn’t stop when it comes to your furniture. If you let it out, make sure it’s supervised playtime.
Regular cage maintenance is imperative to provide a healthy environment for your pet. Daily cleaning will go a long way toward preventing bacterial and fungal infections. We recommend using unscented cleaning products to avoid skin or respiratory irritation. You should also replace its bedding regularly or whenever it gets wet or soiled.
How Do I Know If My Chinchilla Is Sick?
A change in activity level or appetite is a telltale sign that something is wrong. Heatstroke is a significant concern with these pets, making the choice of where you place its cage vital. You should put its cage someplace where the ambient temperature won’t exceed 80℉. Signs of overheating include labored breathing, drooling, and weakness.
Cooling your pet with cool compresses is an effective way to lower its body temperature safely.
Chinchillas typically live in a dry environment. Excessive humidity can put them at risk for respiratory infections. Typical signs are discharge from its nose or eyes, lethargy, and shivering. This condition requires veterinary care, depending on the cause. Make sure to keep your chinchilla’s cage in a draft-free environment to prevent these conditions.
GI distress can occur if you feed your pet too many treats or foods other than timothy hay. This condition can quickly deteriorate and cause dehydration if left unchecked. The best way to prevent it is to stick with the recommended diet. If your pet becomes lethargic, contact your veterinarian.
Chinchillas can make delightful pets once you understand their environmental and dietary needs. They are sweet animals that are fun to watch and are relatively long-lived. That’s saying nothing about how cute and cuddly they are. We’re sure that you’ll never regret inviting one into your home.
Featured Image Credit: Luniaka Maria, Shutterstock
Nicole is the proud mom of Baby, a Burmese cat and Rosa, a New Zealand Huntaway. A Canadian expat, Nicole now lives on a lush forest property with her Kiwi husband in New Zealand. She has a strong love for all animals of all shapes and sizes (and particularly loves a good interspecies friendship) and wants to share her animal knowledge and other experts’ knowledge with pet lovers across the globe.
- Chinchilla Facts
- Do Chinchillas Make Good Pets?
- Where Can I Get a Chinchilla?
- How Much Does It Cost to Own a Chinchilla?
- What Kind of Home Does My Chinchilla Need?
- What Should I Feed My Chinchilla?
- How Do I Take Care of My Chinchilla?
- How Do I Know If My Chinchilla Is Sick?