OWNING A PET CHINCHILLA
Chinchillas can make fun, enjoyable pets. The chinchilla is a rodent related to the guinea pig; they originate from South America where they live in the Andes Mountains. In addition to their popularity as pets, they are also raised commercially for their soft, luxurious pelts. Chinchillas can exhibit "fur slip"; part of the fur can be shed if the pet is handled roughly or the fur grasped too tightly. Their average life-span is about 10 years. They are nocturnal animals and are often more active at night, preferring to sleep during the day. They do not hibernate. As with any pet, they do occasionally get sick, and their illnesses are often severe. All pet chinchillas should be examined by a qualified veterinarian within 48 hours of purchase, and at least annually thereafter. This "new pet" exam is critical to detect signs of disease and help new pet owners get off on the right foot. So many problems are caused by misinformation; the first veterinary visit can help prevent well-intentioned owners from doing the wrong thing and ultimately contributing to the pet's early death.
A. Like all rodents, the chinchilla's teeth grow continuously throughout life.
B. Chinchillas have a digestive tract (like other rodents and rabbits) that is specialized for digesting large amounts of fiber.
C. The breeding season of chinchillas is mainly from winter through spring, November through April or May.
D. Baby chinchillas, like their relatives, baby guinea pigs, are born with eyes open, fully furred, and active.
Selecting Your Pet
Chinchillas are usually purchased at pet shops or through breeders; they are often also for sale at exotic pet shows. As with any pet purchase, avoid chinchillas that appear ill. Chinchillas should be bright and alert, and move quickly when startled. Avoid pets with closed eyes or discharge from the eyes or nose. Check the ears for redness or excess wax, which might indicate an infection. If possible, examine the teeth and make sure the incisors (front teeth) are not overgrown. The pet should neither feel fat nor thin; you should be able to feel the ribs with just a small amount of fat over them. Check the anal area for diarrhea or moistness, which might indicate a gastrointestinal infection.
The First Veterinary Visit
Your chinchilla should come with a health guarantee that requires a checkup by a veterinarian with a few days (usually 48 hours) after purchase. All pets including chinchillas need regular examinations. Select a veterinarian knowledgeable about chinchillas. The visit includes determining the animal's weight, as well as checking for lumps or bumps. The animal is examined for signs of dehydration and starvation. A fecal test is done to check for internal parasites. The veterinarian can also determine the sex of your pet. If all turns out well, your pet will be given a clean bill of health. Like all pets, pet chinchillas should be examined annually and have their feces tested for parasites during the annual visit.
Pet chinchillas do not require vaccinations.
The chinchilla is a rodent closely related to the guinea pig and porcupine. They are native to the Andes Mountain area regions of Peru, Bolivia, Chile, and Argentina. In the wild state, they live at high altitudes in rocky, barren mountainous regions. Adult females weigh approximately 450-800 grams whereas the male is usually much smaller only weighing about 400-500 grams. Their lifespan is between 9-17 years, average is 8-10 years. Sexual maturity is reached at 7-10 months. Activity includes climbing and darting, both horizontally and vertically. Most like to be cuddled and carried.
Chinchillas are fairly clean, odorless, and friendly pets, but they are usually shy and easily frightened. They do not make good pets for young children, since they tend to be high strung and hyperactive. The fur is extremely soft and beautiful bluish grey in color, thus leading to their popularity in the pelt industry. Current color mutations include white, silver, beige, and black.
Chinchillas must be kept in an area that has good lighting, adequate ventilation, and cool, dry air. They do not tolerate heat or humidity, and they thrive at lower temperatures. The optimal temperature is 50° F to 68° F. Wire cages are typically used for chinchillas, with or without a solid floor. These animals tend to be very acrobatic thus requiring a lot of space. An ideal enclosure would measure 6’X6’X3’ with one foot square nest box. Dust baths should be provided at least once or twice weekly. These baths should be large and deep enough to allow the chinchilla to roll over in it. Finely powdered volcanic ash is marketed as chinchilla dust, which is used to keep the fur clean and well groomed.
Chinchillas generally do not get along well when housed together, with the female being the more aggressive gender.
Commercial chinchilla pellets are available, but they are not available through all pet shops and feed stores. When the chinchilla pellets are not in stock, a standard rabbit or guinea pig pellet can be fed in its place. Chinchillas tend to eat with their hands and often throw out a lot of pellets resulting in wastage. Timothy or other grass hay (not alfalfa) should also be available to supplement the diet and for psychological reasons. Grass hay adds additional fiber, while serving an item for the pet to chew on other than its fur. Hay should be free of mold.
Dried fruit, seeds, and nuts are good treats for the pet chinchilla. Fresh carrot and green vegetables can also be provided but in moderation. Remember that these supplements should not constitute more than 10% of the total food intake.
Chinchillas can drink from sipper type bottles. Very careful sanitation is necessary, since contaminated water may be a contributing factor in disease outbreaks.