Whenever you think about owning an exotic new pet, Chinchillas are bound to make an appearance and if you have never heard of them before, you may have several questions, like what exactly is a chinchilla, how do you care for one, and whether or not chinchillas are good pets for your household.
We hope you will be able to take advantage of this article as your cheat sheet for the most important things to know about keeping chinchillas as pets as well as determining whether or not they will be good pets for you and your family.
What Is A Chinchilla?
A chinchilla is a member of the rodent family that is native to the Andes mountains in South America. Typically, wild chinchillas are herd animals, as they are considered to be prey in the wild, so chinchillas often thrive when they are living with another chinchilla in a household.
Chinchillas can be classified into two distinct species: Chinchilla Chinchilla (C. Chinchilla) - which is more commonly found in the wild (though for a variety of reasons it is quite rare in the wild), and Chinchilla Lanigera (C. Lanigera) - which is more uncommon to be found in the wild, but is considered the primary type of chinchilla.
There are many differences between the two species, with the main one being that the C. Chinchillas all have shorter tails than their domesticated counterparts, as well as a bigger body and broad shoulders which make them better suited for survival in the wild.
Chinchillas, regardless of their species, can be described as animals that are best suited to living in cold weather, due to their thick fur which is adapted to survive in the harsh and windy climate of the Andes mountains.
Should I Get A Pet Chinchilla?
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. The ideal temperature chinchillas require is between 64 to 68 degrees Fahrenheit and this means that where they are caged and where they have out-of-cage playtime should remain at this consistent temperature at all times. For many, this means that in a smaller home, this temperature needs to be the norm, while for others, it may work to have a dedicated space or even a specific room for your chinchilla cage and accessories.
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 for Small Children?
The answer to this question depends on several factors, including the age of your child, their level of responsibility, and if your child has ever had small pets before - such as hamsters or guinea pigs - in order to determine whether he or she can handle it.
One of the most important things that you should keep in mind is how your child handles a chinchilla, both in terms of how the chinchilla is handled physically and how they take care of it. Chinchillas have a floating rib cage. They typically don’t like being handled, and if they are handled too roughly, their bones can easily be broken.
The other consideration is treats. While some children may want to treat their chinchilla for everything, and while with some pets that may not have as big of an effect (say, a cat or dog), a chinchilla that has too many treats could cause larger issues to their digestive system.
There is one final important consideration that you need to think about - the lifespan of a chinchilla - chinchillas can live up to 20 years, so you need to discuss these factors with your child with the knowledge that them owning a chinchilla is a very long-term commitment, and ask their plans for caretaking once they move out or head to college.
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 64 to 68 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.
What Do You Need To Take Care Of A Pet Chinchilla?
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.
A cage is one of the most important things to get your chinchilla and our Chinchilla Mansion gives your chinchilla more than enough room to jump around and play their days out to their heart's content.
Fleece Or Bedding
You should include bedding on your shopping list, especially if you purchase a cage that has plastic trays (which we don't recommend), as you will need to cover the trays with non-pill fleece.
A cage that comes with steel pans can be filled with kiln-dried pine shavings or non pill fleece inside instead of being surrounded by plastic sheets like plastic trays.
Timothy Hay and Chinchilla Food
In the minds of most chinchilla owners, Oxbow and Mazuri are the two most popular brands of chinchilla food. It's hard to choose between the two options since they are both great in their own right. The reason why having pelleted food is important is because it provides the vital nutrients in a chinchilla's diet that hay and treats do not.
Adding Timothy hay (to your chinchilla's diet will let you feel confident that your exotic pet is receiving the extra fiber from the grass hay that your chinchilla would not get otherwise, and along with toys and treats can ensure your chinchilla's incisors are filed down properly.
Litter Box and Potty Training
While owners who use wood shavings will often go without a little box, we highly recommend if you’re getting a chinchilla for the first time to make sure they’re litter trained and get a litter box for them. Our recommendation for a litter box is our Quality Cage Metal Litter Boxes
Dust And Dust Bath Container
There are many containers for dust baths that will be perfect for your chinchilla, but we recommend metal dust baths - which have high enough walls to make sure your chinchilla gets the most out of their bath time.
When playing with and exercising your chinchilla, it’s important you keep their body temperature regulated. This is where a chin chiller comes in! A Chin Chiller can help combat any overheating your chinchilla may experience. This is especially helpful to your chinchilla after a vigorous exercise.
How To Care for Pet Chinchillas
Owning chinchillas can be an extremely rewarding experience if you know exactly how to look after them and how to keep them healthy. Lucky for you we have everything you need to know about caring for a pet chinchilla below.
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.
As mentioned above, pellet chinchilla food and Timothy hay make up a majority and are vital to a chinchilla's diet.
It’s important when you are looking for both pellet food and Timothy hay to be sure there are no preservatives or fillers in either 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.
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, rose hips, and bee pollen are all examples of dried herbs that can be given to your chinchilla as a treat in extreme moderation.
The housing of your chinchilla is perhaps the most important of all of the caretaking of a chinchilla, while some small animals can thrive with a pet store-bought setup - this will not be good enough for a chinchilla.
The most important thing to note about having a chinchilla set up is NO plastic should be in your chinchilla's cage - that means avoiding plastic trays at all costs, and absolutely no plastic food containers, bottles, or toys that can be chewed on as the plastic can become impacted in their digestive system.
There are a few alternatives to plastic that we recommend such as metal, glass, and kiln-dried pine wood. These can replace dust bath containers, food containers (for both pellets and hay), water bottles, and shelving.
If you want to keep your chinchilla happy and healthy, it's a good idea to provide plenty of space in your cage for them to move around and jump, including adding ledges that extend up the cage walls. While ramps can be helpful (would recommend them in the case of a disabled chinchilla who may need help climbing from level to level) your preferred method will always be to jump and glide their way around.
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. While you can outfit their cage with items like a Chin Spin to make exercising in their cage easier, it’s important to give them plenty of time outside of the cage as well.
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. We also recommend sitting in the playpen with your chinchilla to give you both bonding time.
Also, chinchillas are most active at dawn and dusk. So expect noises in the morning and near bed time.
There is nothing that can compare to the joy of having a pet chinchilla in your life as it provides a wonderful companion and a wonderful bonding experience. There are, however, many responsibilities related to caretaking that you should also be aware of if you decide to get a chinchilla.
It is our hope that this guide will help you to ensure that your chinchilla will have a long and happy life with their favorite hooman by their side.