Chinchilla Care Sheet

Chinchilla-Care-Sheet

Before bringing your chinchilla home:

  • Ensure you have a cage set up and ready,
  • Be sure that your family is aware your new pet will need peace and quiet to settle into their new home.
  • Ensure your chinchilla is not unduly disturbed by other pets such as cats and dogs.
  • Ensure that any younger children understand a small animals nervousness and that they will need to be gentle and patient

 Setting up a Chinchilla Cage

There are many types of cages which will make a wonderful home for your chinchilla. The one we use is the Midwest Deluxe Critter Nation. As chinchillas love to run around, choosing as large a cage as you can accommodate comfortably would be a wise decision. We don’t feel a cage should be smaller than 24″ x 24″ x 18″ as this allows a single chinchilla some running room. Two-story cages are larger and nice if you are accommodating several chinchillas. You can buy your cage or make it yourself. It is nice to incorporate shelves, a hideaway house, toys and a wheel for exercise. Our preference is to use ½” x ½” on the bottom and 1″ x ½” on the sides and top. This is especially important if you are planning to breed a pair of chinchillas. Babies are great escape artists and can get out of wire mesh that is larger than 1″ x ½.” Also, if you have babies, it is best to have them in a single story cage with no shelves as they can fall or be injured by a jumping adult.

You can choose to have a wire bottom cage or a cage which rests in a pan. If you choose a cage that rests in a pan or has a solid metal bottom, you will want to use natural pine shavings that contain no oils or tars. Do not use cedar shavings as they can be toxic to chinchillas. If you choose a wire mesh bottom cage, the size of the mesh is extremely important. The mesh bottom of the cage should be no larger than ½” x ½.” If the wire is larger, a chinchilla can get a foot caught in the mesh. In its distress, a chinchilla can chew off its foot, break its leg or the leg trauma may necessitate amputation. Why take a chance! If using a wire bottom cage, be sure the chinchilla has areas where it can sit or rest where its feet are not directly on the wire. We use houses or shelves and sometimes wood planks (which we change regularly because they can harbor bacteria). Chinchillas can develop sores on their feet from the continued direct contact with the wire.

A standard chinchilla cage is constructed of strong wire mesh; this mesh should not be coated in plastic which could be chewed and swallowed. Wooden shelving should be provided inside the cage to give them a place to rest off the wire; they will also appreciate a wooden house or box to retreat to.

Accessories you will need include: 

  • a hay rack (unless one is built into the cage),
  • a water bottle,
  • a food dish which cannot be knocked over,
  • a dust bath,
  • food, and hay,
  • Chinchilla dust or chinchilla sand. Do not use ordinary sand as this is too coarse.
  • Litter – wood based cat litter is ok. Alternatively, you may line the litter tray with newspaper provided the chins can not reach the paper. Do not use sawdust as this is too fine, and do not use cedar wood shavings (cedar is harmful to chins).
  • exercise wheel

The cage is best placed where other animals will not bother your chinchilla; away from drafts; not directly in front of a radiator; and not in direct sunlight where they may be at risk from heat exhaustion. A good spot is against the wall, or in the corner of the room where the chinchilla will feel
less exposed.

When your chinchilla arrives home, place them in their new cage and leave them alone for the rest of the day. Before they start to interact with you, they need time to settle in, investigate their home, and become accustomed to all the new smells and sounds around them.

Exercise Wheel:

When choosing a wheel, do not select a wire mesh wheel or a hamster wheel. Many chinchillas have had legs amputated or have been killed when caught in these wheels. Choose a wheel that is solid all the way around. The ONLY two that I have found to be safe are the Exotic Nutrition 15″ Chin-Sprint and the 15″ Chin Spin Chinchilla Wheel (Handmade in the USA)

Water Bottles:

Many good water bottles are available. Heavy glass water bottles are nice because they can be sterilized in the dishwasher, but be sure the drinking tubes are very heavy glass, so the chinchilla does not bite through them. There are also many varieties of plastic water bottles from Lixit and Nivek which also work well. Be sure the bottles do not leak, especially if the chinchillas sit on litter. Damp litter is very unhealthy for the chinchilla. If using plastic water bottles, it is important to put a sheet metal guard between the water bottle and the cage. Chinchillas will chew through a plastic water bottle at every opportunity. We cut a piece of sheet metal large enough to shield the water bottle and make a hole for the water nozzle. This has worked very well. Also, be sure the water bottle is securely fastened to the cage as the chinchillas enjoy unhooking the wires that hold it to the cage.

Chinchillas need access to fresh water at all times. It is important to change their water daily and keep the water bottles clean so as not to breed bacteria.

Toys:

Chinchillas enjoy chewing and need to chew to prevent their teeth becoming overgrown; chewable toys are therefore ideal for chinchillas. Avoid toys that have small or sharp, metal parts, or have plastic parts. If (or when) your chinchilla chews these they will end up swallowing the plastic
and could end up with a blockage in their intestine.

Many chinchillas enjoy hanging toys with bells on the bottom and wood blocks (usually pine or fir) stacked on the chain. They delight in chewing off the blocks and like the sound of the bell. It is important that chinchillas have adequate items to chew as their teeth continually grow. We often supply wood blocks, hanging toys, pumice blocks, booda bones, etc. If you use any wood in the cage, be sure to change it often as wood can harbor fungus and bacteria.

Be sure your chinchilla has a little hideaway house so s/he can have somewhere to go when s/he needs to feel safe. They do truly enjoy their houses and often feel comfortable lying on their sides or backs totally relaxed.

Food Dishes:

We like to use stoneware crocks that sit on the bottom of the cage. This allows us to monitor the food intake to be sure the chinchillas are eating well. Although sometimes the chinchillas will soil the dishes and the food, they can be easily washed and refilled. We tend to use different size crocks depending on the number and age of the chinchillas in the cage. Crocks that are 4″ and 5″ tend to work well. There are also metal feeders which hook onto the side of the cage. However, with these, the chinchillas tend to pull out the food, and it scatters over the cage bottom.

[alert style=”warning”]Items which are also suitable to leave in your chinchillas’ cage are:

  • hanging parrot toys
  • sisal ropes (again designed for parrots, but chins love them)
  • pieces of pumice stone
  • some rabbit or large hamster toys
  • wood or branches, e.g., kiln-dried pine (not fresh pine), apple, pear, or willow.[/alert]

Feeding

Two words: Hay and Pellets

All a chinchilla needs are good quality hay and pellets; and fresh water – a very basic diet is, without a doubt, the best diet for them.

Hay needs to be available at all times as it is essential in helping wear down their teeth and keep them in trim. If your chinchilla is not eating its hay then reduce the amount of pellets you feed to encourage eating of hay. You can’t give a chinchilla too much fresh hay.

It is also a good idea to provide a cuttlefish bone to chew on as this provides calcium which is essential for healthy teeth.

You will see mix foods which say they provide a well-balanced diet however problems which become apparent when feeding a mixed food are:

  • Most mix foods contain treat foods.
  • Given a choice, most chinchillas will pick out their favorite food and choose not to eat the rest. Chinchillas can become picky – they will tend to eat more treat foods and less of the other ingredients.
  • A diet rich in treats is not considered a good diet for a chinchilla.
  • A mix of food is formulated to provide a well-balanced diet based on the assumption that all ingredients are eaten.

We recommend feeding your chinchilla twice per day (morning and evening). Chinchillas enjoy a routine and look forward to being fed at the same time each day. We have used APD-Alffy Pellets (American Pet Diner) and Mazuri pellets. Our chinchillas have maintained excellent health on this diet. We offer timothy hay, hay cubes, and alfalfa cubes.

Always be sure that any food, timothy hay or alfalfa you use is fresh, free of mold, mildew and toxic weeds. If your chinchilla eats “bad” hay, diarrhea often results. This can sometimes lead to intestinal problems which, if untreated, can lead to an untimely death to your pet.

When changing your chinchillas’ diet do it slowly to decrease the risk of digestive problems. Start by mixing in a little of the new food into the existing food, then throughout a one or two weeks (approx.) gradually increase the quantity of new food, and decrease that of the old food.

Feeding Treats

Although pellets and hay are all that a chinchilla needs they can be given some treats. All treats offered should be low in salt, sugar, fats, and oils. Therefore commercial foods, e.g., biscuits, crisps, crackers, etc. should be avoided. Nuts and seeds should also be avoided or given only occasionally as
they are high in fats and oils, for example, pecan nuts contain approx. 70g of fat per 100g. All treats should be given in small quantities, and only one or two each day as too much fresh fruit, veg, and grains can cause digestive problems. Peanuts and corn should not be given.

Treats which can be given are:

  • Fruit, try fruits with seeds, not stones or pits, e.g., raisins, dried cranberries, dried strawberries, dried blueberries, dried rose hips, a banana chip, or a piece of apple, pear, grape, or kiwi.
  • Veg, e.g., a piece of carrot, flaked peas, parsley, chard, romaine, a dandelion leaf (small and washed). Avoid anything gas forming, e.g., broccoli, cabbage.
  • Dried herbs, if available you can pick herbs, then after washing them, hang them upside down (in bunches) in a warm area until they have completely dried out. Herbs suitable for chinchillas include oregano, comfrey, mint, nettle, dandelion, and raspberry leaves.
  • Grain, e.g., rolled oats, oat grouts, healthy cereals low in sugar like Shredded Wheat or Cornflakes.
  • Nuts and seeds, very sparingly – e.g., almonds, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, flax seeds
  • commercially prepared, e.g., chinchilla crackers (produced for chinchillas and available in the US & UK), a small piece of dry toast, or an alfalfa-based animal treat.

When introducing a new treat, do it slowly – introduce one treat at a time, and when first feeding it to your chinchilla only give a small piece. If you have just bought a chinchilla and are not sure if they have been given fruit before then start by only give one small piece at first.

Fat/oil content of nuts and seeds

The table below is provided for information only to allow a comparison of different nuts and seeds. The fat/oil content is expressed as a percentage, e.g., sunflower seeds contain 47.5g oil per 100g. I know sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, and flax seeds can be fed to chinchillas – I can not guarantee that all the items listed below are safe for chinchillas to eat!

Nut or seed type Fat/oil content (%)
Pumpkin 45.6
Peanut 46.1
Sunflower 47.5
Cashews 48.2
Pistachios 53.7
Almonds 55.8
Hazel 63.5
Brazil 68.2
Walnuts 68.5
Pine nuts 68.6
Pecans 70.1
Macadamia 76.9

 

Possible problems resulting from feeding peanuts

Your chinchilla will benefit from some essential fatty acids provided by nuts and seeds. However, it is believed that too much fat in a chinchillas diet may make them prone to hepatic lipidosis. Hepatic lipidosis tends to occur in animals which cannot metabolize fat well. It is literally fat infiltration into liver cells – fat globules build up in the cells until they are unable to perform their natural function. Severe hepatic lipidosis can cause major problems and even death.

Peanuts may also be a source of aflatoxins. This carcinogenic mycotoxin is produced by certain fungi and is a potent poison. It remained undiscovered until 1960 when 100,000 young turkeys died after eating contaminated feed. Aflatoxins appear to work by modifying the structure of DNA in the liver cells resulting in highly corroded livers. It is thought that there is a link between primary hepatocellular carcinoma and the consumption of aflatoxins. Foods most likely to be contaminated are corn, peanuts, and cottonseed, although it has also been detected on other foods.

While many chinchillas are given peanuts as a treat with no apparent ill effects, it is considered better to avoid peanuts, give seeds as a treat instead, and reserve other nuts as a ‘special’ treat.

Sugar and fiber content of dried fruit

This information is included because a few owners have reported tooth cavities in their pets. While the diet of those animals is not known, it seems sensible to limit the amount of sugar your chinchilla eats.

Dried fruit is often high in sugar because the sugar that is naturally present in the fruit becomes more concentrated by the drying process. It is, therefore, best to avoid feeding fruit with added sugar to your chinchilla.

Information in the table below is based on dried fruits to which no sugar was added. Once again this table is provided for information only to allow a comparison of different dried fruits. The sugar/ fiber content of each fruit is expressed as a percentage, e.g., raisins contain 71.4% sugar, and 5.8% fiber per 100g. All these fruits can be fed to chinchillas – in small quantities, e.g., one or two raisin-sized pieces.

Fruit Sugar content (%) Fibre content (%)
Banana 29.6 6.0
Cranberry 57.1 28.6
Mango 62.0 ?
Strawberry 71.4 7.1
Raisin 71.4 5.8
Blueberry 81.8 9.1
Apple 84.6 11.5
Pineapple 86.4 4.5

 

Changing your chinchillas’ food

Changing your chinchillas’ diet should be done slowly to decrease the risk of digestive problems. Start by mixing in a little of the new food into the existing food, then throughout a one or two weeks (approx.) gradually increase the quantity of new food, and decrease that of the old food.

When introducing a new treat, again do it slowly – introduce one treat at a time, and when first feeding it to your chinchilla only give a small piece. If you have just bought a chinchilla and are not sure if they have been given fruit before then start by only give one small piece at first.

Taming and Handling

A chinchilla can live up to 20 years, so you have plenty of time – take your time getting to know your chinchilla, a weeks progress can suffer a severe setback if you inadvertently scare your pet.

Remember that chinchillas are timid and can easily become frightened; each chinchilla is different and the time it takes to develop trust between you and your new chinchilla will vary with each animal – some animals can take six months or more to trust their owner completely. It is worth remembering that in the wild a chinchilla is a prey animal – and they have evolved to be alert to dangers, and to run and hide if there is something they are not sure of.

Approach the cage slowly and speak quietly and gently to your chinchilla, offer them a raisin or some other small treat. Chinchillas are naturally curious so after a while, s/he should come to the side of the cage and accept the treat. When your chinchilla is happy with this try reaching into the cage and offering a treat, do not pursue your pet – be patient and let them come to you, and allow them to explore your hand and arm. As your chinchillas trust in you increases you can try stroking their back, and in time you may be able to pick them up. It has to be said here that some chinchillas will never like being picked up.

Exercising Your Chinchilla

It is important for chinchillas to have exercise. A safely constructed wheel (not wire) in your chinchilla’s cage provides both entertainment and exercise. A wheel (if your chinchilla enjoys using it) also helps to keep your chinchilla from becoming overweight and lethargic. If you have a spare room, a closet or a bathroom that you can “baby proof,” use this for your chinchilla to run free. They leap, jump and ricochet off the walls with abandon. If you are sitting on the floor, they will use you to leap upon as well. It is important to be there to supervise a chinchilla’s playtime to ensure there are no mishaps. Be sure toilet seats are down; garbage cans are covered, no cupboards open no electric outlets are exposed or cords accessible to the chinchilla. We usually take a few chinchilla toys (toilet paper rolls, PVC pipe tubes, plastic balls, whiffle balls, etc.) and spread them on the floor. Chinchillas are very nosy and love to explore the toys, carrying them around the room. Often your chinchilla plays so hard, s/he wears himself out and then goes right to sleep when you put him/her back in the cage.

Whichever play area you chose you will need to chin proof. This involves ensuring that:

  • no electrical (or telephone) wires are available for chewing,
  • they cannot get behind or under any gas fires, fridges, freezers, washing machines, etc. where they may become stuck or may come to harm,
  • you have no objects lying around that you really don’t want to be chewed,
  • the toilet seat is kept down – chinchillas have died or been badly harmed by toilet incidents.

Your chinchilla will need to be supervised at all times. When you leave the room for five or ten minutes, you may walk back in to find your pet has managed to climb up and reach some electrical wires or has discovered the delights of wallpaper stripping!

Use caution – while your pet is outside the cage it is extremely important to know their whereabouts, they can move very quickly, but at other times they can move very quietly – it is very easy to turn around and tread on your chinchilla! Likewise, before sitting down check the seat, your chinchilla may have pinched that spot.

Getting your chinchilla back in the cage can be a challenge. It is a good idea to avoid chasing them, especially if you are still working on gaining their trust. One method is to offer them their bath when they hop in just take them back to their cage.

Health

The most important thing to keep in mind is that by the time you notice your chinchilla is feeling poorly, they may have been ill for some time. If an infectious illness is suspected isolate them from other chins, then take them to the vet as soon as possible rather than try to guess what may be wrong
and possibly give inappropriate treatment.

Having said that chinchillas tend to be healthy animals. Problems that may occur include overgrown teeth, diarrhea, constipation, heat stroke, fur fungus, eye infections, colds, hair ring.

Teeth

Chinchillas can get overgrown teeth or tooth spurs. If your chinchilla appears to be having difficulty eating, is reaching their paw to their mouth frequently, and particularly if you notice wetness around the mouth or on the chest then take it along to the vet as soon as you possibly can. These symptoms may indicate tooth problems which in some cases can require surgery – treatment is best undertaken before the chin loses too much weight and weakens through lack of food.

Chinchillas can also develop cavities – so beware of giving too many sweet treats!

Digestive problems

These can occur due to change of diet, too much fruit, and vegetables, or through illness. Again a visit to the vet is in order. A chin with constipation may benefit from extra exercise, while in the event of diarrhea the following may help: withhold all treats, offer your chin charcoal in the form of bird
charcoal, or extremely well-done toast (completely blackened).

Heat stroke

Chinchillas generally will not survive temperatures over 75 degrees for extended periods. They can become very stressed even at 70 degrees if humidity is high.  If kept over 80 degrees, chinchillas can suffer heat stroke and die. Keep your chinchilla in a cool place, being careful to avoid drafts. It is important to have a good exchange of air in the room. You should consider acquiring an air conditioning unit if you have chinchillas in your home (and perhaps a backup unit if you have many chinchillas). We repeatedly warn people of the heat dangers to chinchillas since chinchillas cannot perspire as we do.  We are adamant about instructing people not to put their chinchillas outside during the summer months because of the risk of heat stroke.  If you leave your chinchilla outside in the sun, on a porch or even under a tree during very hot weather, you will be killing your pet.  So many chinchillas die from heat stroke every year, and it doesn’t have to happen!

In the book, Joy of Chinchillas, there is a section that talks about heat stroke.  The following is an excerpt from that section:

 Chinchillas can die from heat stroke, and it is preventable!  If temperature (in degrees Fahrenheit) and humidity add up to 150 (e.g. temperature is 90 degrees Fahrenheit and humidity is 60%, the sum equals 150) then that is dangerous to the chinchillas.  The chinchilla comfort zone is 65 degrees to 80 degrees Fahrenheit tops.  They can tolerate cold far easier than heat (of course, they have a nice fur coat).  Humidity should be around 30% to 40%.  Below 25% humidity even humans develop dry cracked skin – so, decrease bathing which causes dry skin if done excessively.  Remember, if you are uncomfortable from either heat or humidity, your chinchilla will also be uncomfortable.  The rule of 150 goes for humans too, and if the temperature plus humidity is 150 or above you also are in danger of heat problems.  If you are in danger, how much more your chinchilla, which cannot sweat nor take off its nice fur coat!!!”

Air movement by fans cools just by circulating the air, so use fans to blow air around your chinchilla.  Don’t blow air directly on your chinchilla, but cool the environment instead.  Having access to an air conditioner can save your animal’s life.  Filling your chinchilla’s cage with jars of ice, or dishes of ice cubes, so they can lie next to the ice to cool off, also helps.  (Chinchillas sometimes chew on ice cubes, and though this is thought to crack teeth, it is not as yet been proven.)  Other ideas are:  soaking them in cool (not cold) water, turning the water sprinklers or misters onto the cage or spraying the cages with water, or putting wet sheets over cages and using a fan to speed evaporation can also cool off your chinchilla.  Anything to cool them off will make a difference and can save a life. Heatstroke is fatal…

A chinchilla suffering from the effects of heat may lie on one side and remain motionless, the ears may become pink – this is most noticeable in beige chinchillas or those with pale colored ears. They may also have difficulty breathing.

To keep your chinchilla cool:

Keep the heat out

  • If the sun shines in through the window, then ensure the cage is not near the window. Keep the curtains at least three quarters closed when the sun is on the window.
  • A thin dark material over the window will help keep out the sun, but let in the air.
  • Consider buying curtains or blinds which have thermal properties – these keep out heat in summer and retain heat in winter.
  • For a chinchilla room, or chinchilla outbuilding you could paint cool glass on the window. This is used on greenhouses to provide shading and will wash off. Look for it in shops selling gardening products.

Let the heat out

  • Opening the windows may cool the room down, however, if there is no breeze you may simply be letting warm air in!

Cool the cage area 

Some methods have been suggested to do this:

  • Find some really cheap tins of soup/beans etc. Remove the labels and freeze them. When they are frozen run them under a warm tap for a moment to remove the white frosting (the kind your fingers may stick to!), dry them and put them in the cage.
  • Fill and freeze ice cream containers, or use frozen tins, ice packs, or terracotta tiles. When frozen place them on top of the cage. Warm air rises and cold air sinks, so the temperature in the cage below should fall. You may want to ensure condensation does not drip into the cage.
  • Large beach stones (or similar) can be frozen and put in the cage – your chin can sit on them and try chewing them. Alternatively, use terracotta pots/tiles.

I use ice packs on top of the cage if I am out all day during very hot weather; however, if you use any water-filled plastic container (e.g., ice packs for picnic boxes) then ensure your chin cannot chew the plastic and make it leak! Note that terracotta tiles are best wetted before freezing.

Fur fungus

If your chins have fur fungus the vet will prescribe an antifungal powder which can be mixed in with the bath sand – the fungus should start to clear in a few days. Do not confuse this with fur biting – some chins bite their own (or other animals) fur so that it appears short and bristly – it is thought this
can sometimes be caused by stress.

Eye infections

If your chins eye is closed and has a discharge coming from it, then this may be an infection, or it may the result of a scratched eyeball. Until you see a vet you can make the chin a little more comfortable by trying to keep the eye open: make some tea (no milk, no sugar) and allow it to cool,
use some cotton wool dipped in the tea and wipe the eye from the inside corner outwards to clear away the discharge.

Colds

Cold symptoms in chins are similar to those in humans, including a runny nose! Ensure your chin is warm enough and is continuing to eat and drink. If the chin has problems breathing or appears to have a fever then see a vet immediately.

Hair ring

A male chinchilla may develop a penile hair ring if they do not clean themselves properly. This can result in severe discomfort and even death, it needs to be carefully removed, either by the vet, or yourself (if you are confident and have a friend to hold the chin). A little lubricant like Vaseline or KY
jelly can help.

 

 

Tips You Can Learn Today To Help Your Chinchilla A Lifetime

Tips You Can Learn Today To Help Your Chinchilla A Lifetime

I’m sitting here watching Jasper jump and play, and I remembered back when I first brought him home. I didn’t know a single thing about this new little life I was about to be responsible for. I researched and learned everything I possibly could so that I could give him a healthy, happy home. What follows is some of the things I have learned about chinchillas.

Chinchilla Quick Fact Guide:

  • Average life expectancy is between 10-20 years. The oldest Chinchilla I have heard of was 27-29 years old.
  • Chinchillas on average weight from 550grams -1000grams.
  • Chinchillas can jump at least 3 feet high.
  • Chinchillas have very dense fur. Their environment must be kept under 75 degrees. They can overheat and die in warmer temperatures.
  • Chinchillas should be housed indoors. Also, many people ask if chinchillas can be walked on a leash. The answer is no. They can easily slip out of pet harnesses. Remember chinchillas are mostly fur and you can not tighten the harness enough for them.
  • Chinchillas do not take water baths instead they take dust baths. They roll in the dust bath to keep their fur clean of oils. Dust baths should be given at least two times a week or as needed. Use about a tablespoon or more per chinchilla.
  • Their teeth grow continuously throughout their lifetime. It is very important that they have wooden toys or pumice stones to help wear their teeth down.
  • Use caution with toys: Run around balls are not a good way to have your chinchilla exercise. They can overheat in them causing a heat stroke. Wheels are great for a chinchilla, but you need to be careful which type you chose. Wheels should be solid (no wire) and fit securely to the cage. Not
    all toys in the pet store are safe. Please use good judgment when purchasing toys.
  • Chinchillas are nocturnal. They sleep during the day and are awake at night. Bedrooms are not always the best place to house a chinchilla for this reason.
  • Cage location is also a very important aspect. The cage should not be located under a window or direct sun light. The cage should not be under an AC vent or in any other drafts.

Chinchillas need a good diet to maintain their health.

  • Fresh Pellets: There are three that is superior above all others and that’s  Oxbow essentials, APD-Alffy Pellets (American Pet Diner) and Mazuri pellets. Please do not feed a chinchilla any type of small animal food. They need a diet that is made specifically for them.
  • Hay: Chinchillas love their hay. You can feed hay either loose or in cubes. Alfalfa and Timothy are great choices. Which hay depends on one what kind of feed you will use. For example, if you use the Kline diet, you will need alfalfa hay if you use Mazuri pellets you would need timothy hay.
  • Water: Chinchillas need a constant supply of water just like any other animal. Filtered water is best it eliminates bacteria and sediment from the water.
  • Healthy treats include rose hips, raisins, dried papaya, plain mini-wheats, cheerios, loose hay (orchard grass, oat hay, bluegrass), and dried cranberries. Do not feed your chinchilla fresh fruits or vegetables this can upset their stomachs or make the bloat.

Chinchillas are treat monsters. You must be careful when giving treats. Too many treats can cause health problems later on in life. Chinchillas can be given treats once they are 6mo old, no sooner. If you give the treats to young, it will upset their stomachs. Give treats very sparingly once or twice
a week. When giving treats only give two small pieces. When serving loose hay as a treat just give one small hand full.

So what is a chinchilla?

Chinchillas are a nocturnal animal of the rodent family; a male is referred to as a buck and a female as a doe. They are about 25 centimeters high and have large, thin ears shaped like those of a mouse, and long whiskers. Their general body shape is similar to that of a rabbit, and they have long back feet like a rabbit; their front legs are shorter, and their paws can be used as ‘hands’; their long furry tail is similar to a squirrels tail. On a standard chinchilla the body fur, which is beautifully soft and thick, is grey; but they are available in a variety of colors including black, beige, blue-grey, brown and white.

There are three varieties of chinchilla – Chinchilla Brevicaudata, Chinchilla Lanigera, and Chinchilla Costina.

Brevicaudatas were found at higher elevations (approx. 15,000 feet), they are larger animals, with a blunter nose and shorter ears and tails, pure Brevicaudatas show a brownish hue to their coats, and have more docile temperaments.

Costinas were found closer to sea level; they are smaller animals with a more pointy head and body, and longer ears and tails. Costinas are credited for contributing the blue hue found in a chinchillas fur; they are more highly strung than Brevicaudatas.

Lanigeras were found at approx 10,000 feet, their size and their characteristics fall midway between the Brevicaudata and Costina, and their original color ranged from bluish grey to a brownish color. The Lanigera is the domesticated chinchilla which is featured on these pages.

Where did they come from?

Chinchilla-Facts-You-Need-To-Know

Chinchillas originally lived in South America in the Andes mountains, where they have been observed living in colonies at heights of up to 15,000 feet. When the Spanish pioneers discovered chinchillas in the 1500’s, they named them ‘chinchillas’ after the Chincas, who together with the Incas were one of the native people of South America.

Wild chinchillas live in colonies of up to 100 animals; most live in burrows however some make their home in crevices among rocks.

Unfortunately, wild chinchillas have become an endangered species. They were once found in Peru and Bolivia, but are extinct in those parts now, however populations of Chinchilla Lanigera can still be found in parts of northern Chile. In the past, they have also been found in the northwestern parts of Argentina.

Hunted

Chinchilla-Facts-You-Need-To-Know-2

The chinchilla was hunted to near extinction in the early 1900’s, and most of the chinchillas in the United States today are descendants of 11 animals brought to California in 1923. These animals plus their descendants were bred for their pelts.

Over the space of 40 years pelting farms spread across the USA – many such farms still exist, and sadly even today chinchillas are bred in large numbers for the fur trade both in the USA and elsewhere. At least 100 pelts are required to make one coat, and in 1992, a domestic chinchilla fur coat on sale at Elan Furs (Indianapolis, Indiana) cost $22,000. A wild chinchilla fur coat would have been more expensive! Chinchillas have also been used for medical research, but today they are also kept as pets.

The picture on the right is reproduced with the kind permission of Alecia who owns the copyright. The beautiful woman posing in front of the monitor is Iris – I don’t know the name of the animal wearing the dead chinchillas!

A quick word on chinchilla clubs

There are those who advise members of a chinchilla club/society to benefit from the information they can send to members, however, some chinchilla societies are pelting organizations. Examples of American societies which are pelting organisations are the Mutation Chinchillas Breeders Association (MCBA) whose stated purpose is to “provide instruction on the humane care of chinchillas in their production and to help commercially market and promote all types of chinchilla pelts and products”; and Empress whose stated purpose is to promote “breeding of chinchilla for production and processing of chinchilla fur”. An example of a chinchilla club that does not support pelting is a British club, The National Chinchilla Society – the NCS accepts overseas members.

In my opinion, good information regarding the care of chinchillas does exist and does not *have* to be obtained by joining pelting organizations. To join such an organization is to support it, i.e., to support the breeding of a chinchilla, which will live a short life before being killed and made into an item of clothing. Therefore before joining an organization, you may wish to check whether that organization is involved in pelting – if it is then it may be preferable to look elsewhere.

Other than joining a chinchilla club there are many good websites containing detailed and accurate information regarding chinchillas – after browsing a few, I’m sure most novice chinchilla owners will be able to discern which sites are best to use as a reference. Forums are also a good source of information, for example the British forum Chinchillas Unlimited (no longer active) has many members from around the world sharing their knowledge, and there are more than a few experts present to give advice to those needing it – the only thing asked in return is that visitors to the forum are polite when posting replies as young members are also present on the forum.

 

 

Things To Consider If Your Wanting A Chinchilla As A Pet

chinchilla-as-a-pet

So why choose a chinchilla as a pet?

With such a large choice of pets around why choose a chinchilla? Maybe because you perceive them as cute and think they will not take up too much space? Below are the reasons for buying, or not buying, a chinchilla

Reasons you may not want to buy a chinchilla

  • You don’t have time to dedicate to him/her
  • You want an animal you can cuddle and pet – most chinchillas are not keen on being picked up/cuddled
  • You intend to always keep them in the cage and never let them run free (indoors) – chinchillas may be small, but they can be quite energetic, they need to exercise
  • You have small children. While this doesn’t mean you can’t have a chinchilla, they are not considered suitable as pets for children under 12
  • You don’t think you’ll have the time/patience to slowly win their trust – chinchillas can be extremely timid when they do not know you.
  • They don’t come when you call them (and they can’t fetch either).
  • They can’t scare away a burglar.
  • They poop whenever and wherever.
  • They like antique furniture (to chew).

Reasons you may want to buy a chinchilla

  • You have sufficient space for a good size cage, and you have the time to spend with them and supervise their playtimes
  • They are adorable and gentle creatures.
  • They require little attention, but they appreciate attention when shown to them.
  • They keep themselves very clean. In fact, they have no odor.
  • Their fur is so thick that fleas and ticks can’t live on them.
  • They are quiet.
  • They are easy to care for and can be left alone over a weekend.
  • Their food is very inexpensive (only about $1.20 per month).
  • They are nocturnal, so they are ready to play when you get home from work.
  • Many people who are allergic to most animals are not allergic to Chinchillas.
  • They are smart, curious and extremely entertaining.
  • Both you (and any children you have) will understand a small animals nervousness and will be gentle and patient
  • You are looking for a small pet which may enjoy a long lifespan (with some luck and your loving care)
  • You want a pet which will be happy left at home alone all day while you at work
  • You want a reasonably intelligent pet which can think for itself and has its own unique character
  • You have fallen in love with their gentle and inquisitive natures
  • You enjoy watching a chinchilla’s playful antics

Chinchillas and allergies

Most allergic reactions to animals are caused by an immune reaction to a protein found in the saliva, the dander (skin flakes), or the urine of an animal. Of these three, in the case of chinchillas, the urine is most likely to cause a reaction.

It does appear that the vast majority of people will not be allergic to chinchillas. I myself am allergic to cats, dogs, horses, and probably a few other animals as well, however, chinchillas do not appear to affect me – however, I have heard of a few people who do suffer a reaction. The hay (which the chinchillas should be supplied with), or their dust baths may also cause an allergic reaction.

Points to consider if you may be allergic:

  • Before buying a chinchilla try handling one. If you suffer an allergic reaction then you know it will affect you
  • Use chinchilla bath sand instead of dust to decrease airborne dust
  • Use hay cubes rather than loose hay to reduce airborne allergens
  • When buying loose hay, look for hay that says ‘Dust Extracted.’
  • Consider using a wire-bottomed cage with a pull out litter pan rather than have a cage with a solid bottom. Instead of the dust and allergens sitting in the bottom of the cage where the chinchillas will disturb them, they will collect below the cage where they will be undisturbed
  • Use newspaper in the cage/litter tray instead of wood shavings

 

Chinchillas and other animals

Many people who own chinchillas also keep cats or dogs and experience no problems. However, chinchillas can become stressed by other animals, for example, dogs nosing around the cage and barking at them, or cats trying to reach them. You need to judge for yourself how existing pets will react.

While it may not be a good idea to have dogs or cats in the room while a chinchilla is running free, many chinchillas will enjoy the company of a guinea pig.

Having said this, it has been known for other animals, e.g., dogs rabbits, etc. to pass on a disease they are carrying to chinchillas. While the disease may not affect the other animal, it can affect the more sensitive chinchilla. One example of such a disease is Bordatella.

 

Chinchilla Q & A

What do chins eat?
What other treats could I give my chin?
What type of cage should I get?
What is in a chinnie’s cage?
How much can I expect to spend on my first chin?
What about exercise?
Can I use a ferret leash on my chin?
What do you have against those exercise balls, anyway?
Can a chinchilla really die from being too hot?
What’s this I hear about chinnies and water?
What if my chinchilla gets abnormally dirty or gets wet by accident?

What do chins eat?
In all honesty, it depends on whom you ask. Different chin owners feed their chins different diets. A better question for me to answer is what do our chins eat! Our chins are given a constant supply of Mazuri pellets to eat throughout the day. They also have alfalfa cubes to chew on, though none of our chins seem to be particularly fond of cubed hay. In the evenings, they are given 1/2 teaspoon of rolled oats, a generous helping of timothy hay, and a treat. Treats can be a variety of things. We generally have raisins, bite-sized shredded wheat squares, horse cookies, and almonds. Once a week, each chin gets a small piece of dried papaya, rosehips, and a chewable Vitamin C. These are given in place of the traditional treats. Occasionally, we give Nutri-Cal in addition to a treat. Pregnant females are given calf manna, raspberry leaves, and an extra bottle full of cranberry juice and water.

(Top)

What other treats could I give my chin?
Dried cranberries, plain Cheerios, dried apples, prunes, a half of a fresh or frozen grape, very small pieces of fresh or dehydrated banana, unsalted peanut in the shell, uncooked pasta… The list goes on! Remember, everything in moderation.

(Top)

What type of cage should I get?
We have several different styles and sizes of cages for our chins. We started off with the wrong type of cage for our first chin. Of course, this can easily happen when you buy a cage from a pet store that has no real knowledge of what a chin needs. After doing even more research on chinchillas and cages, we quickly stopped using the original cage and got a new one. As a general rule, you should use a cage with wire flooring no bigger than ½” by ½,” if you have wire flooring at all. We recommend cages be at least 16″ (width) by 16″ (depth) by 16″ (height) for one chin. However, even bigger is definitely better! Having a slide-out pan can also save a great deal of time and prevents your chins from being in direct contact with the bedding or litter. If you are using a wire cage, it is important to provide solid surfaces for your chin to rest. This can be done with pine shelves and ledges or marble tiles, which also provide an excellent means for your chin to cool down. We recommend the  Midwest Deluxe Critter Nation Many people find that they can build their own wonderful chinchilla cages from a combination of melamine, pine, and wire. We just haven’t the time nor the energy.

Our Chinchilla Cages

 

(Top)

What is in a chinnies cage?
Once again, that depends on the chin. We use and recommend Choco Nose No Drip Top-fill water bottles, and Living World Lock and Crock Dish. Each cage has a pine box for hiding and chewing. Each of our chins has pine blocks, lava rocks, pumice, and a few other toys to chew on. Chewing is very important for a chin’s health, as it helps to keep their teeth trim. Many of our chins have their own special stuffed Booda buddy. A few of the chins have cuttlebone. They all have ledges and levels to add to the fun of their cage. Chins like to jump and climb! Bedding or litter is also necessary. We use Living World Pine Shavings, which are inexpensive, softer on chin feet, and safe.

 

(Top)

How much can I expect to spend on my first chin?
These amounts are low approximations for essential chinchilla supplies for one month. The actual price will vary depending upon the amount spent for any shipping and handling charges, buying in bulk to save future expenses, electing to purchase for different places or purchase different supplies, etc. This also does NOT include the cost of the chinchilla! You should expect to spend between $75 and $500 for a chinchilla, depending on color, background, age, etc.  Please consider adopting a chinchilla from a rescue rather than a pet store!

  • Cage
  •  Bedding
  • Water bottles
  • Food dish
  •  Food
  •  Hay
  •  Treats
  •  Toys
  • Bathhouse – Kaytee Chinchilla Bath House
  • Dust – Kaytee Chinchilla Dust

Your approximate total cost would be in the area of $181 for supplies alone.

Other items you may wish to purchase right away or could need in the future are listed below.

  • Ledges
  • Exercise Wheel
  •  Cuttlebone
  •  Nutri-Cal
  • Chewable Vitamin C
  • Calf Manna Supplement
  •  Oats
  •  Brush
  • Pine house
  • Chin-Chiller

Chinchillas are not inexpensive animals to care for. A great deal of time and money must be invested to ensure chinnies have happy, healthy homes and proper care.

(Top)

What about exercise? Can I use a ferret leash on my chin?
While we would never use a leash on a chinchilla, chins do require exercise. Large cages with enough room to run around and play will certainly help, but nothing beats having playtime! Chin-proofing a room is necessary before any chinchilla is allowed to run around. Chinchillas are chewers. This goes for baseboards, electrical wires, furniture, and on and on. We’ve found that the most convenient way to get our chins to exercise is by allowing them an hour or two to run around the bathroom every evening. Chin-proofing a bathroom is fairly easy. Clean up is much more simple when the carpet isn’t involved. Urine can easily be mopped up or wiped up, or a litter pan can be placed in your chin’s “favorite spot.”

(Top)

What do you have against those exercise balls, anyway?
We do not recommend the use of small animal exercise balls, such as the Giant Kritter Krawlers. It has been our experience that the lids on these come off easily, even when they have been securely locked into position. We have had chinchillas find their way out of these exercise balls on two separate occasions. If you must use these to give your chinchillas exercise, please use masking tape to prevent the lids from moving. Also, these Giant Kritter Krawlers can cause a chin to over-heat. Remember to take your chin out of the ball at least every fifteen minutes to prevent overheating and possible death. Another disadvantage to these exercise balls is that the chinchilla is trapped inside with droppings and urine. Feces and urine and become embedded in the chin’s coat. Regular and thorough sanitizing is necessary to prevent these exercise balls from harboring bacteria.

(Top)

Can a chinchilla really die from being too hot?
Yes. Unlike humans and most other mammals, chinchillas cannot regulate their body temperature. Ideal temperatures are between 45º and 70º F with low humidity. Cages should be kept out of direct sunlight as well as direct draft. We keep our air conditioning set at 70º F during most months, as Arizona tends to have mainly hot months and short winter periods. Another way to keep your chin cool is to freeze smooth rocks and place them in the cages for your chinnies to lean against. This acts better than a frozen water bottle, as there will not be any condensation. You can also try unglazed floor tiles, smooth marble slabs, and chimineas.

(Top)

What’s this I hear about chinnies and water?
Chinchillas and water DO NOT mix! It is fine for chins to drink water, of course, but it is not a good idea to have chinnies around an open water source. Chinchilla fur can be ruined by water. This is why we recommend the water bottles with no-drip valves. Instead of taking traditional baths, chins use special dust to keep clean. You can use chinchilla bath houses to keep the particles confined while chins are rolling around and having fun in the dust. We’ve found that these narrow entrances make a few of our chins a bit nervous. Instead, we use a clear, deep, plastic container with a lid that can be placed on top when the chinchillas are done bathing. This can be very messy, so we don’t recommend allowing chins to bathe around electrical equipment, such as televisions, computers, stereos, etc. Chins should be given access to dust baths approximately three or four times a week. You might consider placing the dust bath in the cage for a 15-minute period. We like to give them access to the dust bath during play time, as this takes place in the bathroom and, again, allows for easy clean-up. Having constant access to the dust bath can cause dry skin.

(Top)

What if my chinchilla gets abnormally dirty or gets wet by accident?
Generally, anything in chinchilla fur will come out with the help of numerous dust baths. If, for example, your chin’s fur gets sticky from Nutri-Cal or takes on the color from a dyed toy, you can use unscented baby wipes to help clean them up. Take the dirty fur between a folded baby wipe and rub. Afterward, either give the chin access to a dust bath or rub dust on the wet spots by rubbing the dust into the fur.

If your chin has gotten wet and the water has soaked through to the skin, you will need to help dry the fur to prevent fungus. Since chinchilla fur is so dense, the fur will not dry completely on its own. Use towels and a drying set on cool to prevent overheating.


My Chinchilla Schedule

Chinchillas are very much creatures of habit. Chinchillas like routines and tend to be a little more happy and relaxed in an environment where a routine has been established. Routines also help chin owners to ensure that all of their duties have been performed in regards to chinnie care. We have set up a list of our daily, weekly, and monthly schedules in regards to our chinchillas. Generally, there are one or two days a week that the chinnies do not get external exercise (playtime), but these days are determined by our plans for the week and can change from week to week.

I no longer have rescued chins. I am down to just one. This is the schedule a friend of mine gave me and has been adopted by many breeders. So if you’re going to have multiple chinchillas, this schedule may help you.

NOTE: Before putting two Chinchilla’s together, please thoroughly read Introducing Chinchillas!


DAILY


Monday

Check water levels (Morning and evening)
Playtime for Clyde, Z, and Zeus (6:30-7:30)
Playtime for Koontz (7:30-8:00)
Fresh timothy hay in every cage (8:00)
Playtime for Avra (8:00-8:30)
Playtime for Henna upstairs (8:00-8:30)
One treat per chin (8:30)
Playtime for Krishna and Radha (8:30-9:00)
Change out pellets and give 1/2 teaspoon of oats per chin (9:00)
Playtime for Sage (9:00-9:30)
Playtime for Bonnie, Hera, and Kalli (9:30-10:00)
Playtime for Harold (10:00-11:00)

Tuesday

Check water levels (Morning and evening)
Dust bathes during the first 15 minutes of each play time
Playtime for Clyde, Z, and Zeus (6:30-7:30)
Playtime for Koontz (7:30-8:00)
Fresh timothy hay in every cage (8:00)
Playtime for Avra (8:00-8:30)
Playtime for Henna upstairs (8:00-8:30)
One treat per chin (8:30)
Playtime for Krishna and Radha (8:30-9:00)
Change out pellets and give 1/2 teaspoon of oats per chin (9:00)
Playtime for Sage (9:00-9:30)
Playtime for Bonnie, Hera, and Kalli (9:30-10:00)
Playtime for Harold (10:00-11:00)

Wednesday

Check water levels (Morning and evening)
Clean all cages (Done during each chinnies’ play time)
Playtime for Clyde, Z, and Zeus (6:30-7:30)
Playtime for Koontz (7:30-8:00)
Fresh timothy hay in every cage (8:00)
Playtime for Avra (8:00-8:30)
Playtime for Henna upstairs (8:00-8:30)
One treat per chin (8:30)
Playtime for Krishna and Radha (8:30-9:00)
Change out pellets and give 1/2 teaspoon of oats per chin (9:00)
Playtime for Sage (9:00-9:30)
Playtime for Bonnie, Hera, and Kalli (9:30-10:00)
Playtime for Harold (10:00-11:00)

Thursday

Check water levels (Morning and evening)
Playtime for Clyde, Z, and Zeus (6:30-7:30)
Playtime for Koontz (7:30-8:00)
Fresh timothy hay in every cage (8:00)
Playtime for Avra (8:00-8:30)
Playtime for Henna upstairs (8:00-8:30)
One treat per chin (8:30)
Playtime for Krishna and Radha (8:30-9:00)
Change out pellets and give 1/2 teaspoon of oats per chin (9:00)
Playtime for Sage (9:00-9:30)
Playtime for Bonnie, Hera, and Kalli (9:30-10:00)
Playtime for Harold (10:00-11:00)

Friday

Check water levels (Morning and evening)
Playtime for Clyde, Z, and Zeus (6:30-7:30)
Playtime for Koontz (7:30-8:00)
Fresh timothy hay in every cage (8:00)
Playtime for Avra (8:00-8:30)
Playtime for Henna upstairs (8:00-8:30)
One treat per chin (8:30)
Playtime for Krishna and Radha (8:30-9:00)
Change out pellets and give 1/2 teaspoon of oats per chin (9:00)
Playtime for Sage (9:00-9:30)
Playtime for Bonnie, Hera, and Kalli (9:30-10:00)
Play time for Harold (10:00-11:00)

Saturday

Thoroughly clean water bottles and food bowls (Done during the day)
Check water levels (Morning and evening)
Clean all cages (Done during each chinnies’ play time)
Playtime for Clyde, Z, and Zeus (6:30-7:30)
Playtime for Koontz (7:30-8:00)
Fresh timothy hay in every cage (8:00)
Playtime for Avra (8:00-8:30)
Playtime for Henna upstairs (8:00-8:30)
One treat per chin (8:30)
Playtime for Krishna and Radha (8:30-9:00)
Change out pellets and give 1/2 teaspoon of oats per chin (9:00)
Playtime for Sage (9:00-9:30)
Playtime for Bonnie, Hera, and Kalli (9:30-10:00)
Playtime for Harold (10:00-11:00)

Sunday

Check water levels (Morning and evening)
Check weights (Done in the early evening)
Dust bathes during the first 15 minutes of each play time
Playtime for Clyde, Z, and Zeus (6:30-7:30)
Playtime for Koontz (7:30-8:00)
Fresh timothy hay in every cage (8:00)
Playtime for Avra (8:00-8:30)
Playtime for Henna upstairs (8:00-8:30)
One treat per chin (8:30)
Playtime for Krishna and Radha (8:30-9:00)
Change out pellets and give 1/2 teaspoon of oats per chin (9:00)
Playtime for Sage (9:00-9:30)
Playtime for Bonnie, Hera, and Kalli (9:30-10:00)
Playtime for Harold (10:00-11:00)

 


WEEKLY

Generally, we give our chinchillas a bit of Nutrical (about the size of a pea) once or twice a week. We also throw out alfalfa cubes and replace them with fresh cubes a few times a week, depending on temperature and humidity. Cages are cleaned at least once a week. Chew blocks are given as needed. Cuttlebone is replaced as necessary. Pine shavings are cleaned from around the cages often. Any urine on the shelves and ledges are cleaned as needed.


MONTHLY

Once a month, we take the cages outside and give them a thorough scrub down. Without the chins being inside them, of course! Once a month, stuffed toys are washed. Obviously, these toys are washed more often if they have become soiled.

(Top)


Meet My Rescued Chinchillas

 

Males

CLYDE

 


HAROLD

harold the chinchilla


Z


KRISHNA


KOONTZ


Females

Bonnie


Hera

 

hera our chinchilla as a pet


Avra

 


Radha


Kalli

Kahli our chinchilla


Background Information

Krishna & Radha

The Story:

Krishna is one of the most popular deities throughout India. Krishna’s consort, Radha, is equally loved amongst the people of India. Krishna is considered to be the eighth incarnation of the god Vishnu. According to legend, Krishna was also heroic. He is alleged to have defeated numerous dragons and monsters, and, as predicted, he killed his half-uncle, the tyrannical King Kamsa.

While Krishna is divine, Radha was human. Radha was a cowherdess who once experienced divine love with Krishna. After they were separated, Radha yearned for reunion. Her longing is a metaphor for the human soul longing for union with the divine. The final reunion symbolizes the bliss of salvation.

 

Avra

Their History:

After Avra’s initial quarantine, an attempt was made to place her with some of the other girls (Bonnie, Hera, and Kalli). Unfortunately, Bonnie and Avra just could not get along. Avra was given her own cage, just above the girls’ cage, with a lovely pink hammock. She thoroughly enjoyed the single life.

 

Z and Mabel 

Their History:

Mabel lived most of her young life helping her mother to raise her offspring. She has a very sweet temperment and loves being around other chinchillas. Unfortunately, Mabel’s first mate, Sage, passed away in December of 2015.

Z is a very docile chin, always preferring to let the other chins be dominant. He lived with Clyde and Zeus very happily for several months.

 


Having a chinchilla as a pet is a huge responsibility, but oh so rewarding!

You may also want to read our post “Chinchilla Care Sheet