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Chinchillas, with their exceptionally soft fur and funny antics, have made this member of the rodent family a favorite pet of numerous people for decades – you probably know someone who had one. The wild color, grey with white tummy termed Standard, is the color most people think of when “chinchilla” is mentioned. Many color variations have appeared since the first wild grey chinchillas, native to South America, were domesticated. There are now white, beige, ebony, mosaic, and several colors variations of chinchillas in between.
The average life span of a chinchilla is about 10 years; some chins have lived 15 – 20 years.
Chinchillas are very easy to care for, much like a hamster, only bigger! We need fresh food and fresh water every day, and their bedding changed regularly. Chinchillas do need interaction, as they are social animals. So talk to your chin every day, spoil her with a treat or two, and give him some tummy tickles. Without that contact, they may forget how nice it is to be in your company, which might lead to nipping or defensive urination.Chins also need their home to be in a cooler location, between 65 degrees F to 70 degrees F. A chinchilla’s fur coat is very thick, 40-80 hairs per follicle, and a cooler environment will keep them from overheating – heat kills chins!
Chinchillas love to bounce, hop, and rest on ledges and shelves – the higher the better. Unfortunately, this can make for a mess as droppings and bedding can be flung everywhere. Also, not everyone has space for a ‘high-rise apartment’ in their home. A shorter cage with high solid sides keeps most of the unwanted mess (droppings, bedding, hay) in the cage. Be aware that some cages that say they are good for ferrets and chinchillas, are not appropriate for chins. Most of the ferret cages have a mesh bottom and shelves that are uncomfortable for chinchillas to stand on, plus their small toes can get caught in the holes resulting in serious injuries. Your chin’s new home should be placed in a cooler part of your house. Because of her dense fur, it is very easy for your chin to get overheated – heat kills chins! Using a piece of marble placed in the refrigerator for your chin to stand on during the warmer months will help.
Your chin needs a good quality chinchilla pellet food. Other types of rodent food, rabbit, guinea pig, rat, etc., do not have the essential nutrients your chin needs to be healthy and active. Your chin will also want timothy hay as a necessary part of his diet. Sweet timothy hay helps keep her digestion working properly. Chinchillas have very sensitive digestion tracks – treats, such as raisins, dried fruits (with no sulfur dioxide!), should be given sparingly as too many could lead to runny stools or constipation.And of course, always provide fresh water. Clean the water bottle regularly to remove water deposits, and to prevent algae from growing in the bottle.
Dust baths are essential to a chinchilla’s health and well-being. Dust baths remove dirt particles and oils that collect on a chinchilla's fur. Also, chins just love to roll and play in the dust! Your chin should have a bath at least twice a week during the warm months of the year (this helps keep chins cool – remember heat kills chins!), and about once a week during the cooler months. You should also give him a bath after holding him for any length of time, this will remove the oils from your hands which would give your chin a “matted hair” look. The dust that is bought in stores simulates the natural volcanic ash in the wild chinchilla’s natural habitat in Andes Mountains. When chinchillas roll in the dust, the fine particles of the dust stick to the oils and dirt that are picked up from their surroundings. Chins can then just shake off the excess debris with the loose dust. The dust also gets down into their fur to separate the hair which helps keep them cool during the hot weather, and it gives them that wonderful distinctive puffy chinchilla look! Rolling the dust also helps relieve some tension, in case they woke up on the wrong side of the cage. Plus, chins just think it’s Fun!
Chinchillas are naturally a colony (group) animal. The more time and effort you put into your chinchilla, the more she come to think of you as an extension of her family, and will sure to become a loyal and loving pet for many, many years!