What is a Chinchilla? Must Read Before Owning One as a Pet

1 comment by Morgan Mulac

What is a Chinchilla

It is quite likely that any potential pet owner who is researching small pets has heard about chinchillas. But what exactly is a chinchilla? And are they good pets?

The information provided in this article can be extremely helpful in learning how to take the best care of your own chinchilla. In this article, you will be able to learn what a chinchilla is, what it eats, how it got its name, why it almost was considered to be at risk to be included in the endangered species list and much more.

What Is A Chinchilla?

A chinchilla is an animal part of the Rodentia family and native to the Andes Mountains in South America, They can be identified by their thick fur (chinchilla fur typically has 60 strands per hair follicle!), large ears, and bushy tails. 

Due to chinchilla fur being so dense and the fact that wild chinchillas live in South America, they are best suited to cold and dry climates. 

In general, long-tailed chinchillas (the species of nearly every pet chinchilla) do not grow much larger than a pound and a half in weight, and 10 inches in length - this is similar to the size of a guinea pig.

Cute chinchilla

How Did Chinchillas Get Their Name?

Chinchillas got their name from the Chincha people in the Andes Mountains, who hunted chinchillas for their dense fur coats to wear and keep themselves warm. 

Since people still hunt wild chinchillas in South America, the short-tailed chinchilla and long-tailed chinchilla species are considered critically endangered species. However, long-tailed chinchillas are bred for a variety of uses now so the risk of going completely extinct is lowered. 

What Are Chinchillas Used For?

Even though domesticated chinchillas are usually bred for the purpose of keeping them as pets, they are sometimes bred for other purposes such as scientific research due to the similarity of their anatomy to that of humans' ears.

Wild Chinchillas Vs. Domestic Chinchillas

There are many differences between wild and domestic chinchillas, such as their diets, habitats, and similarities, such as how they interact with one another and other species.

Wild chinchilla

Since most wild chinchillas are short-tailed species, we will be referencing those when referring to wild chinchillas.  

The biggest difference between a short-tailed chinchilla and a long-tailed chinchilla is their size. As mentioned earlier, a domestic chinchilla has a weight limit of about a pound and a length limit of about ten inches, but a wild chinchilla can reach nearly twenty inches in length and up to three pounds.

Another large difference is their diet, a wild chinchilla typically eats a mixture of vegetation, such as leaves, twigs, and grass, and proteins like small insects and bird eggs. In contrast, a domestic chinchilla eats a very plain diet that is mostly composed of hay and pellet chinchilla food.

One similarity between both wild and domestic chinchillas is their sociability - while chinchillas as a whole are easily spooked since they have many predators, wild chinchillas survive by living in herds together so they can watch out for one another. Pet chinchillas similarly thrive when they have a cagemate they’re bonded to.  

Are Chinchillas Very Friendly?

It is important to note that due to the fact that chinchillas are prey animals like the guinea pigs, they can be highly skittish at first, but once they are able to trust you, they can turn into extremely friendly companions. It is important to note that however each chinchilla is different, and some might be less friendly than others.

Happy chinchilla

We advise you to avoid cuddling with your pet chinchilla, as it has very delicate bones, but there are many other techniques you can use to bond with your chinchilla such as sitting in a playpen with them, giving them chinchilla-safe treats, and petting gently.

If you notice that your chinchilla is exhibiting any signs of aggression or hostility, it’s important to look at their environment and see if there’s anything present that could agitate or stress them out.

Are Chinchillas A Good Pet?

Chinchillas make wonderful pets for a variety of reasons. It's becoming a very popular pet choice as it's very sociable, easy to care for, and one of the cleanest pets that you can own. 

You can get a chinchilla at a lot of different places like pet stores, breeders and animal rescue shelters, but not all of them are created equal, which is why we recommend doing as much research as possible so that you can be sure that you are adopting your chinchilla from an ethical place especially if they are from a pet stores or pet shops.

Furthermore, we recommend that you do as much research about the care needs of a chinchilla as possible since they can live up to 20+ years with proper care, so creating and maintaining the best environment is essential.

Are Chinchillas Good With Kids?

Several factors are involved in this decision, but primarily the age of your child is one of them.

As friendly as chinchillas are, they are not the best pets for younger children because chinchillas might not cope as well with the manner in which they might be handled by them, despite their sociable nature.

The level of noise your child makes is also a strong consideration as chinchillas can be quite skittish towards any loud noises. So if your children are prone to yelling, a chinchilla may not be the best choice.

Chinchilla with senior owner

Another reason that chinchillas may not be a good choice for younger kids is due to their long life span. Since owning a chinchilla can be up to a 20-year commitment, it’s important to know that your child is dedicated to taking care of them long-term.

Can Two Chinchillas Live In The Same Cage?

If you’re looking to adopt two chinchillas, it’s good to know that it is perfectly safe to keep two chinchillas of the same sex in the same cage as long as they are properly bonded to one another.

The reason you need two cages for chinchillas of the opposite sex is due to breeding concerns. Since chinchillas cannot easily be spayed or neutered without high risk, it’s safer to keep these chinchillas apart. And taking care of a baby chinchillas are a whole different undertaking to take care of that only legitimate breeders are fit to do.

It also is vital to make sure your chinchillas are bonded properly, as improper binding can lead to aggression with one another at best, and fights that can result in either injury or death at worst. 

It is essential that if you find that your chinchillas are not getting along, you get a second cage and separate them from each other, either to opposite sides of the room or separate rooms entirely.

Can Chinchillas Bite You?

Chinchillas can and will bite you if they feel threatened, but the good news is that it is very uncommon for your chinchilla to bite if you are interacting with them properly. 

It is important to note that in the event that a chinchilla bites you, it can be quite painful as their incisors are generally quite sharp and can pierce or break the skin. Because chinchillas' mouths can contain bacteria, treating bite wounds to prevent infections is very important.

 There is an important distinction to be made here with regard to the fact that chinchillas will nibble on your skin when they are showing affection, this rarely hurts and can be seen as a grooming behavior that chinchillas display to one another.  

Do Chinchillas Need Vets?

In order to ensure that your chinchilla will receive optimal care, you should find an exotic veterinary practice that has experience with treating chinchillas both for routine health checks and in case of an emergency.

Chinchilla at the vet

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.

It is very important to note that there is a big difference between a normal vet and an exotic vet, and the difference is 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 will be different from most small pets. 

There are a few key medical issues, such as malocclusions, bloat, heat stroke, and respiratory issues that are hard to treat at home and require veterinary intervention to help treat.

Do Chinchillas Need Baths?

There is no doubt that Chinchillas do need bathing, however, it is imperative to mention that their dense fur prevents them from being able to bathe in water

In both domestic and wild chinchillas, the way they bathe is with a fine dust mixture, which is typically made of volcanic ash or pumice stone. Unlike their wild counterparts, your chin will need a container to take their dust bath in. 

Chinchilla on dust bath

While it may seem backward at first, by using dust baths, your chinchilla will be able to wick away any debris or oil from their fur and at the same time ensure that there is no moisture present. 

In Conclusion

Chinchillas are wonderful creatures with many unique characteristics! Having an understanding of these characteristics and their origin gives you a better understanding of how to keep and care for these wonderful animals. 

Despite the fact that the care they require for their well-being may seem complicated at first, once you know the why and how behind it, it will seem like a breeze!


Have Questions About Chinchillas?

Email us at cages@qualitycage.com 

Author Bio: Morgan Mulac

Morgan has been a professional copywriter for over five years. Morgan also happens to be a chinchilla owner for many years. Now she is merging her two passions to create chinchilla expert care guides to help other chinchilla owners.
Morgan loves all things artistic and enjoys making others happy through her art and stories.

1 comment

  • Mechell Burkley

    Loved the story.

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