Ultimate Chinchilla Care Guide
Welcome to Chinchilla Care Group
Getting a new pet chinchilla and not sure how to look after it? Then you have come to the right place. This is a super comprehensive guide about chinchilla care and everything you need to know before bringing your new friend home.
Chinchillas are curious, adorable creatures that are native to the Andes Mountain range in South America. There are two subspecies still remaining in the wild: short and long tailed. Domestic chinchillas are thought to be a hybrid of the two subspecies, with most of their genes stemming from the long tailed.
Historically, they were nearly hunted to extinction for their fur by the early 1900s. Thanks to proactive measures taken by the governments in several South American countries, hunting was banned and the population was restored. However due to increased illegal poaching, both species are once again back onto the endangered species list.
How to Care for a Chinchilla
1. Chinchilla dust bath guide
2. Chinchilla food and treats
3. Chinchilla lifespan
4. Fun chinchilla facts
5. How much does chinchillas cost
6. Adopting a chinchilla baby
7. Reasons to keep a pet chinchilla
1. Basic Information about chinchillas
1.1 Physical characteristics
If you have seen how cute a hamster, a ferret, or a guinea pig is, then you will absolutely love a chinchilla!
Chinchillas have short forelimbs and long, powerful hind legs that help them jump up to six feet at a time. They have big eyes, typically black or dark ruby red in color. Their ears are large and rounded. Domestic chinchillas usually have long, bushy tails.
Chinchillas are part of the rodent family and are similar in size to guinea pigs. Domestic chinchillas are slightly larger than their wild relatives. They are typically 23-38 centimeters (9-15 inches) long and weigh between 600 to 1000 grams (1.3 to 2.2 pounds).
In the wild, chinchillas are primarily brown and grey with yellow tinged bellies. In captivity, selective breeding has produced many color variations. The most popular color is the “standard grey”, where the body of the animal is a dark grey and the belly is white. Beyond that, there are seven other main color patterns: white, heterozygous beige, homozygous beige, violet, sapphire, charcoal and ebony. Some breeders have developed other color mutations, though all stem from the main eight.
The average life span of chins can vary between habitats. Domestic chinchillas live quite a bit longer than wild chinchillas. In the wild, chinchillas usually only live about five years of life span. On the other hand, in captivity chinchillas typically live at least 15 years, sometimes upwards of 20 or more.
Chinchillas are very curious and vocal animals. There are at least seven types of vocal sounds that chinchillas use to communicate. Chinchillas are crepuscular and nocturnal, meaning they are most active at dawn and dusk and sleep during the day. Chinchillas are also incredibly social, which we will go over in more detail shortly.
There are many options for housing your new chinchillas. If you have the space, a whole room would be ideal as chinchillas need lots of room to jump and play. However if that isn’t possible for you, a cage will suffice.
When trying to select the best chinchilla cage, look for one that is made of metal, or other chew proof material. A wire cage can do the job too. You will also want a cage that is multilevel or that is large enough to install platforms that the chinchillas can use to jump around. In their native habitat, chinchillas are constantly moving throughout the rocky, mountainous terrain which is why it’s important to recreate their natural environment as close as possible.
2.2 Chinchilla habitat
Chinchillas are very sensitive to their environment, so mimicking their natural habitat is important. There are several factors to take into consideration for chinchilla care, so keep the following in mind.
In the wild, chinchillas live way up high in the Andes mountains. Due to the elevation, the temperature can drop down to -5ºC or 23ºF. This is why chinchillas evolved to have such thick fur and why they do not tolerate heat well. When setting up your new chinchilla habitat, make sure it is in a place where the temperature does not go over 24ºC or 75ºF. Any temperature over 27ºC or 80ºF and/or high levels of humidity, and your chinchillas are at risk for heat stroke and death. You should also avoid anywhere that your chinchillas would be in direct sunlight for prolonged periods, as this can cause their body temperature to spike as well. Keep the chinchillas away from anywhere that experiences drafts too.
In the wild, chinchillas are not exposed to humidity as the air is thin, dry and cold. This is why similar to high temperatures, chinchillas cannot tolerate high levels of humidity. Keep your chinchillas away from damp areas, and make sure the room has sufficient air flow. It can be helpful to invest in a small device that monitors the temperature and humidity levels of whichever room your chinchilla habitat is set up in. That way you will never have to worry about your chinchillas overheating.
Because chinchillas are nocturnal, it’s important to mimic their natural habitat with lighting as well. At dawn and dusk, natural light is best as this will encourage your chinchillas to forage and eat as they would in the wild. During the day, chinchillas would typically be sleeping in their burrows or rock crevices away from the sunlight. This means that a room where you can somewhat block the natural daylight would be best. At night, keep the room dark just as how it would be in the wild. Always make sure your chinchilla cage or habitat is placed away from any direct heat sources.
2.2.4 Accident proofing
Chinchillas are avid chewers so it’s important that they don’t have access to anything that could potentially harm their fragile bodies. Make sure there are no electrical cords or toxic plastics that the chinchillas can reach either in their cage or in the room at all if they are free roaming. Chinchillas are very smart creatures and will grab anything within their reach.
Chinchillas love auditory stimulation in the form in music and sometimes television. It can help them fall asleep and is an added bonus to their environment. Stimulation on many levels will help to keep your chinchillas healthy.
2.3 Size of space
When creating a new chinchilla cage setup, the bigger the space the better. Chinchillas are playful, love to run around, and jump from ledge to ledge so the more room they have to do so, the happier they will be. If their environment is too small, they can become depressed and neurotic.
At minimum, the Veterinary Center for Birds and Exotics recommends a cage that is 3’ x 2’ x 2’. Even this is still incredibly small and will not allow the chinchillas to move as freely as they should be able to.
2.4 Floor type
If you are planning to house your chinchillas in a cage, there are two floor types: solid and wire. While wire bottomed cages are the most hygienic option, as waste will fall through to a tray underneath, if chinchillas spend too much time on the wire their feet can develop sores. By providing several other platforms and levels for the chin to spend the majority of their time on, you can avoid this issue. If you decide to opt for a wire bottomed cage, make sure the wires are not too far apart as they can potentially trap the chinchillas’ limbs.
The other option is a solid bottomed cage. These cages are more comfortable for the chinchillas but are harder to keep clean. Solid bottomed cages mean there is no where for the waste to go so the chinchillas will come in direct contact with it. You will need to clean the cage daily to prevent your chinchillas from getting sick.
Chinchillas need high levels of mental stimulation. It’s important that you include lots of chinchilla toys and chews for your pet to choose from. Your local pet store should have a wide selection. Common toys are tubes, an exercise wheel and hanging toys with wooden pieces/bells. Popular chewing toys include wooden blocks, tree branches, wooden ladders and pumice stones. It’s important to include a variety of options so that your chinchillas don’t get bored. Rotate the chew toys every time you clean the cage.
video credits to chintubeHD
2.6 Chinchilla dust baths
2.6.1 Why do chinchillas need to take dust bath?
Chins are unique in the fact that they cannot get wet. This means that you never want to bathe your chinchillas like you would a cat or dog. The reason they cannot get wet is because chinchilla fur is so thick that it prevents it from being able to dry properly. If chinchillas get wet, fungal infections and even mold can occur. It’s imperative that you provide dust baths for your chinchillas in order to prevent excess oil from building up in their fur.
2.6.2 How to dust bath your chins
Rather than water, chinchillas use dust to roll around in it. In the wild, chinchillas use volcanic ash. Most pet stores will sell chinchilla dust that is made from volcanic pumice or something similar. Provide a bowl or a special ‘bath house’ (also sold in most pet stores) for your chinchillas, put a small amount of dust in said object and the chinchillas will take care of the rest. It is their natural instinct to take these ‘baths’ so don’t worry about training your animals to use the dust.
2.6.3 Equipment Needed
Visit your local pet store and see what they have available for dust baths. Although this will bring up your chinchilla cost, but having a dust bath is important for the chinchilla’s fur. Typically, there will be plastic houses with small rounded openings on the front available for purchase. These contraptions allow the chinchilla pet to feel safe while ‘bathing’ while simultaneously keeping the rest of their environment dust free. You will also need the aforementioned dust. Some stores sell dust in small packets, others in large containers. This is all the equipment you need.
3. Chinchilla food and diets
Most pet stores will sell specialized chinchilla food in the form of pellets. These species specific foods will contain the exact amount of various nutrients that chinchillas need to thrive. Popular brands include Oxbow and Gold. The pellets are typically alfalfa based with added vitamins and minerals. Try to avoid buying pellet mixtures with added extras such as dried fruit. This is because chinchillas are can be very picky and will tend to pick out the extras and leave the pellets untouched.
On average, a chinchilla will eat about 20 grams or one to two tablespoons of pellets a day. They won’t overeat, so make sure fresh food is always available. Pellets are essential in helping to wear down a chinchilla’s teeth. Chinchillas have open rooted teeth, meaning they are constantly growing. This is why it’s essential to provide pellets and various items for them to chew on.
Hay is the other crucial component to a proper chinchilla diet. There are several types of grass hay to choose from. Typically the best varieties for a chinchilla’s specific dietary needs are alfalfa hay and timothy hay. Hay needs to be stored in a cool, dry place to avoid any fungus or mold growth. If your hay gets damp at any point, it must be thrown out immediately. Your chinchillas should have access to fresh hay in addition to the pellets at all times.
There are several kinds of treats you can give to your chinchillas, though they should be given sparingly.
3.3.1 Fruits & veggies
Many ‘human’ foods such as various fruits and vegetables are suitable for chinchillas. Be sure to research any new foods before giving them to your chinchillas to make sure they are safe. Generally speaking, small amounts of dried fruits and root vegetables are okay.
3.3.2 Purchased from store
There are lots of treat mixes available at pet stores for chinchillas. However, this does not mean that all of them are healthy. Avoid any mixes with nuts and seeds as they are high in fat, and chinchillas require a very small amount of fat in their diet. Dried fruit mixes are generally safe, but only feed in moderation.
Fresh water needs to be available to your chinchillas at all times. A glass water bottle with a stopper feature is generally the best option. If you can attach a water bottle from the outside of your cage then plastic is an option too. Chinchillas will chew up plastic water bottles if they are able to reach them, rendering them useless. Remember to clean the water bottle thoroughly every other day to prevent any bacteria or fungus from growing.
Chinchillas partake in a process called caecotrophy. This means that they digest most of their food twice. First, they eat it in its whole form. After it is excreted, they will eat their waste so they can absorb even more nutrients. However, chinchillas will not eat all of their waste. The waste they prefer is known as caecotrophs. Caecotrophs are nutrient dense deposits, typically produced at night.
4.1 Social patterns
In the wild, chinchillas live in colonies of hundreds or more. This is why it’s incredibly important to have more than one chinchilla. When kept alone, chinchillas can become severely depressed and even die.
4.2 Male, female or both?
Both sexes can be aggressive towards animals of the same sex. In some cases, if chinchillas of the same sex were raised together they will be able to get along well. In general, it is usually best to get a pair of chinchillas, one male and one female. However, keep in mind that it is incredibly difficult to spay and neuter chinchillas. This means that it is highly likely you will have a baby chinchilla at some point.
4.3 Introducing a new chinchilla
If at any point you want to add another chinchilla to your group or are introducing your male and female to each other for the first time, there are a few things to keep in mind.
4.3.1 Step one: separate chinchilla cages
First, keep the chinchillas separated from each other in different cages. Keep the cages a couple inches apart so that the chinchillas aren’t able to fight or bite each other through the wires. For the first day or two there will probably be a lot of activity between the two chinchillas. They may be upset that another animal is in their space. Oftentimes, female chinchillas will spray urine at the other chinchilla to mark their territory. Within a few days, the chinchillas should calm down and start to simply observe the other animal(s). If they don’t calm down, move the cages further apart and repeat the process.
4.3.2 Step two: neutral space
Once the animals have been calm in each others’ presence, they are ready to meet. It is usually best to introduce the animals in a neutral territory. One of the best ways to introduce new chinchillas is through dust baths. Place a dust bath container in the neutral location and let both animals interact. It’s important to monitor the interactions closely and separate the animals at first sign of aggression.
Make sure there are places the chinchillas can hide or run away from their new companion in the neutral space as some animals can get overwhelmed easily. Only place the animals back in their respective cages if a fight occurs. Once the animals are comfortable with each other they are ready to be housed together.
4.3.3 Step three: housing
Ideally you should house your newly acclimated chinchillas in a new cage. This way you can avoid any residual territorial behavior. If you have to house your new group in an old cage, choose the male’s cage as they are less territorial than females.
Keep a close eye on your new group or pair of chinchillas over the next few days. Take note if they are grooming each other and nuzzling, as these are signs that the chinchillas are bonding well. Placing a new dust bath in the new cage will help them to bond further.
4.4 Gaining trust from your new pet
Before you attempt to handle your chinchillas, you will need to gain their trust. Don’t try to hold your chinchillas right away after you bring them home, unless they are incredibly well socialized. For the first few days after you bring your chinchillas home, simply let them get used to their new environment. It can help to talk to them so they get used to your voice.
After a few days, start offering treats to your chinchillas to get them to come to you during playtime. Start with your palm flat and let the chinchillas take them at their own pace. Let your new pets come to you, rather than you forcing your hand closer to them. After a few days of this, use your fingers to give them treats. Once they are comfortable coming to you for treat, you can try handling them.
4.5 Chinchilla care and handling
Chinchillas are prey creatures, so naturally anytime they are held they will feel like they need to escape. If your animals trust you, they won’t feel this way. Once you have established a relationship with your chinchillas, you can begin handling them.
To handle your chinchilla it’s important to make them feel secure. Approach your chinchillas slowly so as not to scare them. Talk calmly and lightly stroke their fur to comfort them. If your chinchillas run away, do not chase them as this can break any trust you have gained.
4.5.1 The actual lifting
When picking your chinchilla up, start by gently placing your hands around their chest. As you lift them off the ground, move one hand to support their hind legs. Lift your chinchilla up toward your torso or chest, as this will help them feel more secure. Listen to your chinchilla, they will tell you if they are uncomfortable. Some prefer to only have support under their hind legs so they can sit upright, others like to be cradled. Every chinchilla is different, so learn how your chinchillas prefer to be handled.
4.5.2 No stress
Start with short handling sessions and work your way up to longer ones. At any point if your chinchilla begins showing signs of distress, put them back into their cage or room. Once your chinchilla is ready to go back home, slowly place them back into their habitat. If you’re putting them back into a cage, lower the animal down to the opening of the cage and open your palm. Let your chinchilla go back into their cage at their own pace. You want the cage to be a welcoming place, not seen as a punishment.
4.6 Fur slip
Chinchillas have developed a trick to get away from predators called a ‘fur slip’. Similar to how many reptiles are able to release their tails if a predator gets ahold of them, chinchillas will release clumps of fur in order to escape when they feel threatened. If you try handling your chinchillas before you have established a bond with them, they may use this technique to run away from you. When fur slips occur, they can leave bald patches that take months to regrow.
5. Reproduction and breeding
If you have a male and female chinchilla, chances are you will have babies at some point. This is relatively unavoidable as spaying and neutering chinchillas is very difficult. Most veterinarians are unwilling to do it.
The gestation period for female chinchillas is roughly 111 days. You will notice that the female will appear more “fluffy” than usual towards the end of the pregnancy. Chinchillas do not require any special pet care during pregnancy as they are very self sufficient.
Baby chinchillas are called kits. A litter can consist of anywhere from one to six kits, though the average is two or three. The kits are born fully developed, meaning they have all their fur and their eyes are open. In the wild, this puts them at an advantage to survive the harsh elements. They will nurse from the mother chinchilla for six to eight weeks. One unique aspect of chinchilla behavior is that the male will actually help care for the young, quite the opposite from many other species. This eliminates the need to separate the male from the female and young.
After eight weeks, the kits will be ready to wean from their parents and off their mother’s milk. At this point they are considered sexually mature as well. You will need to separate the kits from their parents and siblings of the same sex to avoid any potential inbreeding. Not only will inbreeding increase the risk for birth defects, but if a female chinchilla is mated too young she will be at risk for pregnancy issues and could suffer severe injuries giving birth.
6.1 Signs of health problems
Because chinchillas are prey animals, they typically hide any health issues until it is too late. This is why you should constantly monitor your chinchillas and keep an eye out for any significant behavioral changes. Common signs of health problems are weight loss, lackluster/dry fur and dull eyes. A sick chinchilla will not move around their habitat and will seem indifferent to their environment and food, water, toys, other animals, etc.
If you are able to check their body temperature, usually through the rectum, you will also easily be able to tell if anything is wrong. A normal chinchilla’s body temperature will range from 36° to 38°C or 97° to 100°F. Any temperature above 38°C or 100°F means that the animal has a serious health concern and should be taken to the veterinarian right away.
Other signs of potential health concerns include:
• Watery eyes
• Nasal discharge
• Pawing at mouth
• Fixation on a particular area of the body
• Red and/or warm ears
The best way to treat health issues is to prevent them in the first place. Proper diet and husbandry should allow your chinchillas to live long, healthy lives.
6.2 Common health problems
Chinchillas are generally a fairly healthy species, but there are a few health problems that commonly arise:
Bloat is caused by an excess of gas built up in the gastrointestinal tract. Causes can be from ingesting gas producing foods, sudden change in diet, or an infection/obstruction in the GI tract. Visible symptoms include laying down, rolling, reluctance to move and gurgling noises coming from the stomach.
Chinchilla bones are very thin and fragile. Rough play, improper handling and a limb getting caught in the cage are common causes. The hind legs are the most common bones to break. Veterinary chinchilla care is required with broken bones.
Chinchillas are unable to vomit or regurgitate their food, so if something gets caught in the esophagus or windpipe they are at risk for suffocation and death. Visible symptoms include drooling, hacking or retching noise, difficulty breathing and refusal to eat.
This issue is typically caused by a fiber deficiency in the diet. Visible symptoms include straining to pass fecal waste and/or especially hard and dry waste that may have blood in it. Increased fiber in the diet will help remediate symptoms.
This is a common condition caused by excessive heat, diarrhea and other illnesses. Make sure your chinchillas always have access to fresh water in order to prevent dehydration from occurring.
Diarrhea can quickly lead to dehydration if not treated. Visible symptoms include loose/watery stool, lethargy and dull fur.
A common occurrence in chinchillas that don’t have access to proper husbandry and diet. Visible symptoms include rubbing the ears, head tilting and loss of balance.
A chinchilla’s eyes can become infected very easily. Causes can be dust, injury, irritation or a Vitamin A deficiency. Visible symptoms can include eye discharge, dull and/or cloudy eyes and squinting.
This is typically caused by chinchillas spending prolonged periods of time on a wire bottomed cage. You will be able to see sores appear on the feet if the chinchillas are not given other surfaces to stand on. Prevent this condition by providing your chinchillas with other solid bottomed levels and things like wheels for them to stand on.
Gastroenteritis is an inflammation of the stomach and intestines. Common causes include ingestion of bad/spoiled food and/or a sudden change in diet. Visible symptoms include diarrhea, weight loss and dehydration.
This is the most common health problem that chinchillas suffer from. Keeping your chinchillas in an area where the temperature does not go above 27ºC or 80ºF is the easiest way to prevent this health problem from arising. Making sure they are not in high levels of humidity will help prevent it as well. Visible symptoms include drooling, lying stretched out, rapid breathing and red eyes and/or ears. If it is not treated, the chinchilla can become comatose and die. If your chinchilla is suffering from heat stroke, submerge them from the neck down in cool, not cold, water. Although, this is best avoided as chinchillas have a hard time drying off due to their thick fur.
Chinchillas swallow a fair amount of fur while grooming. Sometimes, this can lead to the formation of hairballs. Visible symptoms include a lack of appetite, depression and lethargy.
This is typically caused by longterm gastroenteritis and/or constipation. It is a life threatening condition if not treated immediately.
Chronic diarrhea and/or constipation can cause your chinchilla’s rectum to protrude from the anus. If the area appears red and/or swollen, rectal protrusion may be the cause. This is a life threatening condition.
Respiratory infections can be caused by overcrowding, poor ventilation, drafts, high humidity and/or excess moisture in the cage. Oftentimes, commercial breeders will have animals with this condition. Visible symptoms include difficulty breathing, eye discharge, nasal discharge, sneezing and shivering. Bring your animal to the vet immediately if you suspect a respiratory infection as antibiotics will most likely be required to treat the illness.
Ringworm is a fungus that is highly contagious. Visible symptoms include hair loss, scabs and scaly skin patches. You will need veterinary care to cure this fungal infection.
Stress can induce excessive hair loss. While not a life threatening condition in itself, a stressed animal is likely to develop other health conditions.
Because chinchillas have open rooted teeth, they need to constantly have things to chew on to wear them down. Teeth can grow into the soft tissue of the mouth if not worn down. Visible symptoms of overgrown teeth include drooling, trouble swallowing, weight loss, lack of appetite, bad breath and protruding teeth. Chinchillas can starve to death if left untreated.
Stomach ulcers are typically caused by the ingestion of rotten and/or moldy hay. They can be difficult to detect as the only visible symptom is typically a lack of appetite.
Too much protein can cause a chinchilla’s hair to become wavy and weak. A proper diet will prevent this condition.
6.3 Finding a veterinarian
Chinchillas are considered to be “exotic pets”. Therefore, it is very important to find a vet that specializes in exotic animals and not just other small animals. Chinchillas differ greatly in anatomy from other rodents and many vets simply aren’t trained in chinchilla care anatomy and health. Finding a vet that treats exotic animals can be difficult, but it is imperative for the longevity and overall health of your chinchillas.
7. Rehoming a chinchilla
Remember that the adoption of any animal should be for life. Make sure you are committed to caring for your chinchillas for 15 to 20 years before you purchase them.
7.1 Peers in chinchilla community
Who else is the best person to take care of your chinchilla, other than existing owners? Again, we do not encourage you to give up on your pet chinchilla easily. However, in the event that rehoming becomes an inevitable choice, you should contact your peers in the chinchilla community and tell them about putting your chinchilla up for adoption. This way you can at least ensure proper chinchilla care is being given to your pet.
If you need to rehome your chinchillas at any point, find a rescue specific to exotic animals if possible. They will assist you in finding your chinchillas a new forever home and prevent the animals from going to a home where they may be mistreated.
7.3 Pet stores
If you buy your chinchillas from a pet supply store, you may be able to return them to the same store should the need arise. Chances are they may be separated so this option should be used as a last resort.
8. Final advice
Chinchillas are great pets and can thrive given the right environment, diet and husbandry. They take a significant amount of chinchilla care but make up for it with their inquisitive and intelligent nature. Before you adopt your chinchillas make sure you are very familiar with their requirements and that you are committed to caring for them for 15+ years.