One question we get asked often is if chinchillas will make good pets for children. It’s very difficult to answer this question as every situation is going to be unique. Some young children can be very patient and responsible and others are not there yet. Regardless, kids have the most successful experiences in pet ownership when parents are interested and actively involved in the caring of the pet as well. Yes, pets help teach children responsibility but we don’t want it to be at the cost of an animal’s wellbeing. A child can be a pet owner but parents need to be guides and supervisors of their care. All this being said, chinchillas are a commitment and there are a lot of things to remember about them that may not be so easy for a child to recall. Here are a few things to consider before adding a chinchilla to your family.
Chinchillas can live 20 years or more! If the chinchilla is exclusively for a child, are they going to be able to take their pets with them when they move out or go to college? Are they going to want to continuously care for them the rest of their childhood and into their adult years? Chinchillas are not particularly difficult keepers but they live along time. This is definitely something for the whole family to take into consideration.
Chinchillas are not always very handleable. Prey animals do not have the confidence of dogs or cats so it is normal for them to be wary and uncomfortable about being held. Most chinchillas do enjoy getting scritched by you and will seek that out, but many do not begin that way. It takes time- sometimes years- for a chinchilla to begin associating positively with you and want your interaction. Are you going to have enough patience for that? Is your child?
Besides not particularly enjoying handling, being held by us can be dangerous for a chinchilla. Their ribs and legs are very delicate and their bones break easily. It is safest to hold them by the base of the tail with one hand, and support the rest of their body with another without squeezing. This is easier to do with bigger hands. A kid may have to sit down somewhere comfortable before attempting to handle their chinchilla. Chinchillas that are not used to being handling may be frightened and may bite or pee during a handling session. It is important to allow your chinchilla to set their own pace with you or your children and make sure every experience with each other is a paw-sitive one!
Another important bit of chinchilla information is how sensitive their digestion can be. They are designed to eat a dry diet, almost devoid of sugar and fat. There are many unhealthy treats out there and one of the things children like to do is feed animals. Stress how important it is to feed only healthy treats in small amounts. It may help to have a “Treat Chart” near the cage for everyone in the family to remember how many treats chinchillas can have and keep track of how many have been given.
Children have great imaginations and wonderful thoughts. However they don’t have a lot of life experience. I think this may be what leads many children to want to introduce their small pets to other pets in the family. Unfortunately, this has led to many traumatic experiences for children after witnessing their pet be hurt- sometimes fatally so- by another pet in the family. If your child wants a pet chinchilla or other small animal, it may help prevent an accident by explaining the difference between predators and prey, and how some animals can get sick when exposed to another kind of animal. It is always best to be more cautious than you need to be. Chinchillas should not be in direct contact with other family pets.
If you decide your child is ready for a pet, remember that your continued support and guidance will lead to the best experience. Make sure to research that pet to determine if it will be a good match for the family and for your child. We feel that chinchillas are great pets, but they’re not suitable for every situation. If you have questions on chinchillas or other small animals as pets, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or use the chat feature to leave your email!