For pet owners looking to care for exotic pets, chinchillas can often be the first animal they look to. Because of their growing popularity on social media and the fact that they require little maintenance, it's no wonder that so many people are looking at them as prospective pets. However, before getting a chinchilla as a pet it is very important to evaluate whether they will be a good fit in your current home and with your current lifestyle.
This article will help you determine whether a chinchilla would make a good exotic pet for you. It will cover important considerations such as different chinchilla behaviors, how to care for chinchillas, and how they might interact with children in your house.
What Are Chinchillas?
Chinchillas are members of the rodent family that originate from the Andes Mountains in South America. Given their natural habitat, chinchillas have a thick coat of fur that has adapted to help them survive in cold climates, and as such prefer to live in places with cold temperatures. They also act as herd animals in the wild, and many chinchillas thrive when they are living with at least one other chinchilla.
There are two main breeds of chinchilla: Short-tailed chinchillas (Chinchilla chinchilla) and long-tailed chinchillas (Chinchilla lanigera). Long-tailed chinchillas are the primary breed of domesticated chinchillas, and the breed most commonly raised as a pet. They are far less likely to be found in the wild than their short-tailed counterparts.
On the other hand, short-tailed chinchillas are more often found in the wild than as domesticated pets. As you would expect from the name, short-tailed chinchillas have shorter tails, but also possess a bigger body and broad shoulders that help them survive in nature.
It is important to remember that domestic chinchillas are of the Chinchilla lanigera breed, and that is what we will be referring to throughout the rest of this text.
Chinchilla Behavior And Temperament
Understanding the behavior of your pet chinchilla and adapting to it is an important part of ownership, not only in how they interact with you, but also regarding their activity needs and handling.
Chinchillas are very active creatures that require plenty of exercise. Both domestic and wild chinchillas are crepuscular animals, which means that they are most active during dusk and dawn hours.Social Interaction
While chinchillas have a wide range of personalities, they are considered herd animals in the wild, and they typically enjoy being around other chinchillas and enjoying their companionship.
The only cons to housing chinchillas together are that they may fight, and that chinchillas of opposite sex cannot be housed together. To avoid fighting, it is important to bond your chinchillas. If you are bonding baby chinchillas or younger chinchillas, it will be much easier to bond them than if you are bonding an adult chinchilla.
When introducing chinchillas to each other, it is very important to do so gradually, monitoring them to see how they bond to each other. Improper bonding can lead to aggression between the chinchillas, which can result in significant injuries. If your chinchillas are not getting along, it is necessary to get a second cage to separate them from each other to maintain their safety.
Chinchillas of opposite sex cannot be housed together for a variety of reasons, one of which is the possibility of unintentional breeding - if you're not an experienced breeder, there are a number of complications that can arise during breeding and pregnancy and should be avoided at all costs.
Handling And Bonding
Taking the time to properly bond with your chinchilla is incredibly important. Chinchillas are naturally skittish creatures so patience is required when you first adopt them.
As you handle your chinchilla, it is important to keep in mind that chinchillas can and will bite you if they feel threatened, but they are highly unlikely to bite you if you handle them properly.
Handling a chinchilla is best done by grabbing it near the base of its tail (as close as possible to the body, but not so close that you grab them on their back) in the bend between your thumb and index finger. Like grabbing the scruff of a cat's neck, this will enable you to pick up and handle your chinchilla properly.
In regards to the above, chinchillas will also nibble on your skin when they are showing affection; this rarely hurts and can be seen as chinchillas grooming one another.
Chinchilla Care Requirements
It is worth noting that we have another article that will go into even greater detail about everything you need to take care of a chinchilla, including the cost, but here we will mention some of the most important items, including how to house your chinchilla properly in a good quality cage, how to feed and groom your chinchilla, toys and exercise for your chinchilla, and the average lifespans for chinchillas.
Getting a proper cage for your chinchilla is the most important step to prepare your living space for your new pet. A cage for a single chinchilla should be no less than 4' x 4' x 3' and ideally multi-leveled so your chinchilla can jump around and get proper exercise. Additionally, a proper cage should be made of all metal, preferably galvanized or powder coated steel, as plastic and other materials can be dangerous if ingested.
It is vital to make sure your chinchilla’s cage is located in a well ventilated, dry, and cool area. The ideal temperature range for a chinchilla is between 64º to 70º degrees fahrenheit.
What you outfit your chinchilla’s cage with is also important. For bedding, you can use things like non-pill fleece or kiln-dried pine pellets or shavings. It is incredibly important that you don’t use cedar shavings as bedding, as the fumes and resin can be harmful. It’s also vital to make sure there is NO plastic in your chinchillas cage, as this can be deadly when ingested.
In addition to the standard parts of a cage, adding accessories can help keep your chinchilla happier and healthier by providing opportunities for play and exercise. Adding platforms and ledges to your chinchilla’s cage gives them space to run and jump around to keep active, while chew toys such as pumice blocks (sometimes sold as a chinchilla block) can let them have fun while also helping to file their incisors.
Diet And Nutrition
Even though we have a comprehensive article dedicated to chinchilla food, it is equally important that we go over the basics of their diet here as this is one of the most crucial aspects of their care.
Chinchilla pellets and Timothy hay make up a majority of and are vital to a chinchilla's diet. Timothy hay can help ensure that your exotic pet is receiving extra fiber that your chinchilla would not get otherwise, and along with toys and treats can ensure your chinchilla's incisors are filed down properly.
It's important when you are looking for both pellet food and Timothy hay to be sure there are no preservatives or fillers that are unhealthy for your chinchilla. In addition, it is incredibly important to ensure that your chinchilla is always able to get sufficient amounts of water and that it is easily accessible at all times. We recommend multiple water bottles for this purpose.
If your chinchilla is 6 months of age or older, you can begin giving them more treats like dried herbs and flowers that are safe for your chinchilla to eat. Marigold petals, Goji berries, and bee pollen are all examples of dried herbs that can be given in moderation.
Grooming And Hygiene
There is something incredibly unique about chinchilla fur, as they have over 50 hairs per follicle. Because of this, they require an entirely different grooming technique than other pets.
While most pets will suffice with a regular bath, a chinchilla’s fur is so thick that they cannot get wet, so they use dust baths to get clean instead.
It’s also important as an owner to keep an eye on your chinchillas teeth, as malocclusions and overgrowth can be common if not monitored regularly.
Toys And Exercise
It is very important for your chinchilla to get a sufficient amount of exercise in and out of their cage so that they stay healthy and happy. You can outfit their cage with many items that make it easier for them to exercise in their cage, and it's also important to let them run around to their little heart’s content with the use of exercise wheels. We recommend the Chin Spin, which is a 15 inch wheel that allows them to exercise in their cage safely at any time of day. The use of wire wheels is discouraged because their feet can become caught in between the wires, resulting in fractures.
Other items that can be placed in the cage to encourage exercise include the platforms and ledges mentioned earlier.
Outside of the cage, setting up a playpen is the best way to make sure your chinchilla has enough room to run around and has everything they could want in their space like huts and toys to play with. Wooden chew toys are the best for chinchillas, as they allow for chinchillas to work their teeth without the risk of ingesting plastics. We also recommend sitting in the playpen with your chinchilla to give you both bonding time.
A chinchilla’s lifespan can vary greatly due to a number of considerations. With proper care, chinchillas can live up to 20 years old. This is the longest lifespan in the rodentia family, with degus and guinea pigs trailing behind chinchillas at only 8 years.
Health Concerns And Veterinary Care
In caring for your chinchilla, there are a number of common health issues you may encounter. These include dental problems, respiratory infections, and gastrointestinal stasis.
Chinchillas’ teeth grow continuously (usually two to three inches per year), which can cause problems if they are not being filed down at a proper rate. Symptoms of dental issues include drooling, cuts on their cheeks and tongue, difficulties eating, and weight loss. These symptoms should be addressed with a vet immediately if they appear.
Chinchillas are also prone to respiratory conditions such as pneumonia, which can cause significant weight loss, wheezing and sneezing, fever, teeth chattering, and loss of appetite. These conditions will often only clear up with the administration of antibiotics, so it is very important to contact a vet quickly upon noticing these symptoms.
Gastrointestinal stasis is a serious condition where gas builds up in a chinchilla’s stomach, resulting in extreme discomfort. This may result from diet changes, overeating, or the ingestion of non-digestible items such as plastic or fabric. Symptoms include a swollen stomach, rolling from side to side, loss of appetite, teeth grinding, and little to no poop in the cage. While minor cases can be treated at home with gas drops, if their condition worsens they should be taken to a vet immediately.
In order to ensure that your chinchilla will receive optimal care, you should find an exotic veterinary practice nearby that has experience with treating chinchillas both for routine health checks and in case of an emergency.
It is recommended to visit an exotic vet within 48 hours of adopting your chinchilla so that they can check for any health issues that you need to be aware of so you can provide the best care possible to your new pet.
It is very important to note that there is a big difference between a normal vet and an exotic vet, in that exotic vets have much more training in treating exotic animals such as chinchillas. If you do not have an exotic vet located near you, you should still attempt to find a vet that has worked with chinchillas in the past, as their medical care is different from most small pets.
Chinchillas And Children
While chinchillas can make great friends, they may have difficulty coping with having young children in the house. Chinchillas need to be handled with great care, which can be hard to teach to young children. They can also be very skittish when faced with loud noises, which young children are known to make quite often.
If you decide to get a chinchilla while you have young children at home, it is important to supervise your children’s interactions with the chinchilla in order to ensure they are treating them with the care they require. This supervision can also help you teach them how to properly handle and care for this pet. For example, you can demonstrate how gently they should pick up the chinchilla by the base of their tail, and how you should never pull on the end of their tail. Once they have grasped the basics of handling their chinchilla, you can also teach them how to feed or clean up after them, until eventually they know how to look after the chinchilla themselves (although it is important to continue to supervise at points to ensure they are providing the proper care).
Are Pet Chinchillas Easy To Take Care Of?
In comparison to the needs of a small pet like a hamster or gerbil, the needs of a chinchilla are more complex, but beyond a few key considerations taking care of a chinchilla is as easy as taking care of any other pet.
The biggest difference between a chinchilla and another pet is their temperature and cleaning requirements. While Fido might be alright with only the monthly grooming session, upkeep of chinchillas' fur is incredibly important and chinchillas require dust baths 1-3 times a week.
Now, we've already covered the temperature needs of a chinchilla before, but to reiterate here: chinchillas require to live in an environment that is 64º to 70º degrees Fahrenheit, so what many chinchilla owners will do is dedicate a separate area of their home to make sure the chinchilla has a cool space.
As an owner, you will have very little to do when it comes to your pet's medical needs in a non-emergency situation, other than studying the signs that will indicate an emergency. It is important to note that chinchillas with special needs do have their own set of care needs, and those are covered in another article.
Should You Get A Chinchilla As A Pet?
There is no doubt that we are biased when it comes to the answer being yes; however, there are a few things that you may want to consider before getting a chinchilla for your home.
There are many factors concerned with keeping a chinchilla, and first and foremost we strongly recommend that potential owners ask themselves whether or not they can adequately and consistently accommodate the temperature needs of a chinchilla.
Another consideration is other pets in your house - it’s not impossible to own a chinchilla and another pet together, but you need to look at your current pet's temperament and what adjustments you will need to make.
Aside from temperature, it is important to also consider space confinement - both inside the cage as well as outside - for the sake of humane treatment for your new exotic pet. Chinchillas also need as much time as possible out of their cages to exercise, so we recommend setting aside a sufficiently sized playpen or chinchilla safe area for them to roam.
Are Chinchillas Good Pets?
Chinchillas are great pets for those willing to take on the responsibilities involved with owning an exotic pet, such as specialized vet care, specific dietary requirements, and helping your chinchilla get the needed exercise to remain happy and healthy.
Do Chinchillas Like Being Held?
Chinchillas are prey animals, so they don’t like to be held all that often. However there are times they will need to be held, such as during transport or while inspecting any potential injuries, which you are able to do safely and without stressing them out too much.
Are Chinchillas Good Lap Pets?
A chinchilla would rather run around than be held, so if you are looking for a lap pet or just want to keep your furry friend close to you all day, chinchillas may not be the best choice for you.
Is A Chinchilla A Difficult Pet?
A chinchilla can be a very easy pet to own once you learn the basic mechanics of caring for chinchillas. There is, however, a learning curve at the beginning, since you have to consider many different factors when caring for a chinchilla.
Have Questions About Chinchillas as pets?
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Author Bio: Morgan Mulac