Chinchillas originate from the Chilean Andes Mountains in South America. They are very friendly and highly inquisitive animals with a very distinctive and attractive coat.
Chinchillas really make great pets with their friendly and laid back nature, and with plenty of time and attention they can become very tame animals. Although they are not completely nocturnal, they tend to snooze during the day, becoming more active in the evening.
Adult chinchillas will measure about 25cm long, excluding the tail. Their average life span can range from 15-20 years old however the oldest living chinchilla was 27 years old. They are a big commitment so you must ensure you can take on providing a long and lasting home to your new family member.
Chinchillas come in many colours ranging from white, silver or light/medium grey to beige, mosaic and black velvet. A healthy chinchilla should be bright and alert and able to move around the cage easily. Their coat should be clean and glossy with no signs of bald patches or skin sores. Look out for signs of breathing problems and discharge from the eyes, ears, mouth or nose.
The best time to buy a chinchilla is when they are about 3 to 5 months old.
You can keep chinchillas separately if you wish however housing them in single sex pairs provides them with a playmate to keep them company. They must be of the same sex, bought as babies and introduced to their cage at the same time to avoid fighting.
Chinchillas are very active animals and therefore need lots of space to exercise, so the biggest cage you can afford is advisable. The cage should have several layers and a mesh floor base with wooden litter beneath to prevent your chinchillas’ coat from getting dirty. Chinchillas love to chew so an escape proof wire mesh cage is essential.
Chinchillas love to snuggle and like to have a place where they can do this. Provide a nest box full of hay and bedding material to help them feel safe and secure. Cover the base of the cage with wood shavings, or a wood based litter. They become bored very easily so pack the cage out with lots of non-toxic wood branches, shelves, tubes and pipes, gnaw blocks and mineral stones.
Keep the cage out of direct sunlight and away from draughts and damp conditions. Chinchillas do not like to be too hot and temperatures above 20 degrees will start to affect them. A chinchilla cooling marble tile is a great way to keep them cool in the summer. Cool it in the fridge and place it in their cage to cool them down.
Chinchillas can live up to 15 to 20 years old
Clean the cage once a week with a petsafe disinfectant and ensure to change the litter every couple of days.
A chinchilla needs a daily dust bath to keep its coat shiny, glossy and clean. A dust bath should be about 5cm deep and the powder comprises of volcanic ash suitable to absorb grease and eliminate excess oil in your chinchilla's coat. 20 minutes of bathing a day is ideal and will keep the coat at its optimum.
A chinchilla has the densest coat than any other mammal with up to 60 hairs per each root.
Allow your chinchilla 24 hours to settle into their new surroundings without handling them.
A good quality chinchilla pellet or food mix will provide a sufficient basic diet which should be accompanied by a constant supply of hay readily available in their cages at all times. Hay is an essential part of their diet as it provides essential fibre and helps wear down their teeth. Very small quantities of dried fruit such as raisins can be used as treats.
Ensure the water bottle is checked and cleaned on a daily basis. Fresh water must be available at all times.
Chinchillas can suffer from overgrown teeth. Provide plenty of gnawing materials to keep them trim. They may have to have their teeth clipped by a veterinary surgeon.
They can suffer with eye infections due to overgrown teeth. Look out for watery eyes as a symptom of this. Contact your local vet for further information.
Provide a sand bath occasionally containing 5cm of chinchilla sand in the cage to protect their coat and keep it in peak condition. Chinchillas bathe by rolling in the dust to clean their coats. You can use a grooming brush, which will keep their coats clean and help you bond with your pet.
Your chinchilla will be nervous for the first few days so give them time to settle into their new surroundings. Slowly start placing your hand in the cage and offer them treats, over time they will begin to trust you and allow you to stroke and pick them up. Gently cup them up with one hand under its belly and the other across their shoulders. Once they are comfortable with you holding them you must handle them regularly to build on your relationship. Never hold or grab your chinchilla by the tail. Chinchillas can be allowed out of their cage as long as the room has been made safe free from electrical cables and other pets.