Chinchillas are native to the Andes Mountains in South America, however they have been raised in captivity for years and generally love people. As pets, chinchillas require a lot of exercise, a climate controlled habitat and a specialized diet. They also have an average lifespan of 15 years, with 18 – 22 years not being out of the question. Be prepared for this long term commitment before getting a chinchilla.
Choosing a Chinchilla
Chinchillas all have their own unique personalities. A good way to see if a particular chinchilla would make a good pet is to put your hand inside the cage and keep still. If the chinchilla approaches your hand, they are likely very friendly and tame. If it keeps its distance or makes a noise, it may not be as easy to tame.
Chinchillas have teeth that grow continuously and if the teeth are not worn down properly, issues with eating can occur. Giving them some chew toys, such as wooden sticks or pumice stones, will help prevent their teeth from overgrowing. Most woods are safe, but you should stay away from conifer and citrus woods because they have too much resins, oils and phenols which can be harmful to your chinchilla.
Chinchillas are nocturnal and should be housed in a place that doesn’t have much noise during the day. Bedrooms or living rooms that are not main living areas are ideal. Room temperature is also a factor as chinchillas can’t sweat. If the temperature raises above 80 degrees Fahrenheit your chinchilla can be at risk of having a heat stroke. If the ears become red then you know they are too hot. Due to this factor, never put the cage close to a window where sunlight may overheat your chinchilla.
Chinchillas need a roomy cage to run around in as they are very active animals. There are exercise wheels sold that are made specifically for chinchillas. If introduced at a young age, chinchillas love to run on the wheel. This gives them exercise and something to do while your sleeping or at work. Avoid giving your chinchilla anything made of plastic, including wheels. They enjoy chewing and plastic items will be destroyed in a matter of days. This includes bowls, toys, water bottles, and the actual cage.
Be thoughtful of how you arrange the cage, chinchillas are known for climbing. They appreciate more climbing areas and different levels in the cage. If you decide to get your pet chinchilla a large ball to walk in outside the cage, be cautious. They don’t have much breathing room and your chinchilla could easily overheat. Chinchillas also like hiding places. You could use a shoe-box (which would need to be replaced often), or small homes used for other small animals. Keep in mind to avoid plastic! When your chinchilla is running around free, be sure to supervise closely. They explore with their teeth and this could be fatal if they chew into a socket or cord that is plugged in.
Your chinchilla’s cage needs to be thoroughly cleaned at least once a week for one chinchilla and more if you have more chinchillas. Recycled paper based bedding is best. Stay away from clumping litters or pine and cedar litters as they are harmful to all small animals.
Timothy hay and hay-based pellets made for chinchillas should meet all dietary needs. You should avoid the pellets that are a mixture because they will eat around the pellets and just eat the raisins and seeds. Don’t feed your chinchilla fresh fruit because that can cause bloating and this could kill your chinchilla. You should also limit sweets and dry fruit treats to one per day. Chinchillas can not process fatty foods, high protein foods or an abundance of green plants.
Chinchillas require dust baths to clean their fur. The dust is made of fine pumice and absorbs dirt and oil. You should be able to buy the dust for dust baths at you nearest pet store, don’t use anything other than dust made for chinchillas. Dust baths keep chinchilla’s thick fur silky and smooth. Giving them a standard bath with water is not acceptable as their thick coat prevents them from self drying, which can introduce fungus or bacteria. Offer the dust bath at least twice a week, but don’t offer it all the time. If they always have the opportunity then they will use it to their full advantage and that can dry out their skin. You can reuse the dust for multiple baths as long as you clean out any waste they left behind. Dust baths can be a little messy since when the chinchilla is finished dust bathing they will shake it off leaving dirt residue on everything around your little friend.
How to Give a Dust Bath
- Get dust and small container from your nearest pet store. There are special dust bath “houses” that help contain the dust.
- Fill the container with about 1 to 2 inches of dust.
- Guide your chinchilla toward the dust – when they realize the bath is waiting for them, they will be more than happy to do the rest themselves.
Chinchilla Proofing Your House
If your chinchilla is running around your house, you should be sure to keep it safe by “chinchilla proofing” the house so they don’t hurt themselves. You should use cord covers for the rooms that your chinchilla explores and keep your cleaning items in a cabinet away from the curious explorer. They are curious animals and will get into just about anything they come across.