Chinchillas are small, furry, nocturnal mammals from the Andes mountains in South America. They were hunted to near extinction in the early 1900’s for their exquisite fur. Around the 1920’s, a few chinchillas were brought into captivity and ranches were begun to supply the fur trade instead of taking animals from the wild. Over the years, chinchillas have been bred to improve upon their beautiful fur and in time, to be kept as pets. The wild color of the chinchilla is grey, however they are now bred in many colors including beige, black, white, ebony, sapphire and violet, along with many crosses of these colors.
Chinchillas can make wonderful pets. They are the perfect pet for the smaller home or apartment that may not be large enough for cats and dogs. They are typically gentle and inquisitive and love attention. For the most part, they are a hypo-allergenic pet, as they do not have the dander that cats and dogs tend to have and their fur is so dense that they do not have any problems with ticks, mites or fleas. Some people may have a reaction to their hay or dust bath, but usually this is quite manageable.
Chinchillas are generally healthy and easy to care for. They do not require any vaccinations and usually do not even require veterinary care. They are also quite clean and do not have an odor, themselves. If you do not clean their bedding regularly, however, that will stink!
Chinchillas are nocturnal, which means they will be more active in the evening and night time hours. However, they can be quite adaptable to most schedules. Just be sure to give your chin time to adjust to a new schedule and new surroundings. He may take a few days to a week or more to feel comfortable in his new home. Be patient with him through this time period and let him get used to you and his new home.
The following is an overview of how to care for your new chin and what you will need.
Due to the environment that chinchillas come from, they do not need a big variety of food. Pellets, hay and water are the essentials!
It is very important that your chin has fresh water available to him at all times. Change the water in the bottle at least every other day and wash the bottle thoroughly with hot soapy water. Be sure to rinse well. Chins will chew on everything made available to them, so a round-ended water bottle or a bottle that hangs on the outside of the cage is usually best. A glass water bottle will prevent your chin from chewing a hole through a plastic bottle, but just make sure that it is secure on the cage and will not break.
FOOD:Your chinchilla has been fed a pelleted feed especially for chinchillas. Other types of small animal food does not have the correct nutrition for chins. If you plan on buying a different brand of chinchilla food, mix the new brand with the feed given in your care package to slowly switch your chin over to the new food. Any sudden change in diet can give your chin an upset stomach and possibly diarrhea or constipation. Do not buy the food with all of the treats in it (orange discs, banana chips, raisins, etc.) as that is just what it is - treats.
We do sell our feed to our customers who wish to stay with the same feed their chin was raised on.
HAY:Hay is very important in your chin’s diet. They can be fed loose hay or hay cubes. Hay cubes will last longer, are less messy and give the chin something hard to chew on, but chinchillas love loose hay even more. Make sure any hay you feed is free of mold and has not been chemically treated. The best hay to feed your chin is timothy or a timothy/alfalfa mix. Alfalfa is very high in protein and chins do not need such a rich diet. We also sell timothy hay cubes.
TREATS:There are many different treats that your chin can have, just be sure that any and all treats are in moderation. Too much of a good thing will make your chin sick. The following is a list of treats that are safe for your pet.
Raisins - Many chins favorite! Some do not recommend raisins as they are quite high in sugar. On occasion, a raisin is ok.
Oatmeal - Original oats, not cooked.
Fruits and veggies - Chinchillas are really not adapted for these types of foods, but on occasion they can have a little. Chinchillas prefer these dried, but some will eat them fresh. Be careful with these as too much will give them diarrhea. Favorites include apples, bananas and carrots. If you feed dried foods, be sure they are dried naturally and do not contain any preservatives or sugars.
Nuts are quite high in protein and fat and are not recommended as treats.
You can also find treats for chins at your pet store. Just be sure to read the ingredients and make sure it for chins as they cannot have any treats containing honey or corn.
MINERAL/SALT BLOCK:Chinchilla feeds generally have the correct amount of salts and minerals that chinchillas need. Some will lick on them regularly, and some like to play with them. You can find them at your pet store.
CHEW STICKS:Chinchillas are rodents and all rodents need to chew on hard things to wear down their teeth which are constantly growing. You can give your chin Chin Blocks, which are natural pumice stone, or wood chew blocks for small animals. You can find either of these at your pet store.
Chins love to chew on branches from apple trees. If you have access to apple trees, be sure that they are not treated with any chemicals, such as pesticides.
CAGE REQUIREMENTS:I recommend you keep your chinchilla in a wire cage. They will only chew out of a plastic cage. A glass aquarium is typically too small, hard to clean and will get too hot. A wire cage with a pan that slides out is by far the easiest to clean. Pine or aspen shavings are the safest for litter. Do not use cedar or chlorophyll (green) shavings. The chemicals in these shavings are too strong for your chinchilla and will make him sick. I also do not recommend newspaper bedding. Chins will eat any bedding available to them and I have seen chins develop a blockage due to eating bedding that is not recommended. A blockage is anything that stops the movement of food through the intestines and are very difficult if not impossible to fix and will generally end up in the death of the chinchilla.
Change the litter as needed - at least once a week.
The size of the cage is up to you. Large ones can be dangerous for some dare-devil chinchillas. They have been known to fall off of high levels and get hurt. They can live in a smaller cage with no problems.
Chinchillas will run in an exercise wheel. Buy the largest size wheel (10” diameter) so that your chinchilla will fit in it when he is full grown. You will probably want to secure the base of the wheel to the cage with wire so that the wheel doesn't move around when your chinchilla runs in it. We do not recommend giving your young chinchilla a wheel right away when you get them. Wait for them to grow, and get used to their new surroundings before they get a wheel to help prevent any injuries.
You can let your chinchilla run around your house, but out of cage time must be supervised. Pick a time when you can devote your attention to your chin so that he does not get into something he shouldn't, or chew on something he shouldn't. Remember that they love to taste test everything and if left unsupervised, can eat your woodwork or electrical cords or anything else they can get their hands, or teeth, on.
GROOMING:Chinchillas are very clean animals. The only grooming you will generally need to help them with is to give them a dust bath. This is one of the greatest parts of owning a chin because they are very comical to watch take their bath! Chinchillas generally do not need to be combed, unless they are being prepared for a show or have matted fur.
In summer, when it is warm and humid, your chin can have a bath often, even once a day if needed. In winter, however, a bath too often can lead to dry, itchy skin, so once a week is usually sufficient. If your chinchilla’s fur starts to look oily (which can happen after being held a-lot, too), it’s time for a bath. Put about 1-2 inches of dust in the dust container and put it in your chin’s cage. He will roll around in it until he feels he’s clean. I will usually leave the dust in the cage for 15-30 minutes and then remove it. If left in the cage, your chin will most likely decide to use his bath as a potty, and then you’ll have to throw out the dust and wash the pan. If there are droppings in the bath, they can be picked out and the dust can be used a few more times. If he decides to urinate in his bath, it’s time to dump it and start over.
Chinchillas can take the cold better than the heat. Be sure they do not get overheated, particularly in the summer. Temperatures above 80 degrees, especially with high humidity, can kill a chinchilla within a matter of hours. Do not keep them outside and do not place them directly in front of a window or vent, as a draft can also make your chin sick.