Caring for a Chinchilla
Origin: South America
Lifespan: 10-20 years
With curious personalities and soft plush fur, Chinchillas make appealing pets for all ages, though they sleep for most of the day and are most active in the evening. Chinchillas are natural acrobats and some find it hard to sit still, while others love to be held. It’s best to keep two Chinchillas of the same sex as companions, as they are very social. However, if given the attention they need from their keeper, they will do very well alone. When bonding with your new Chinchilla, avoid sudden movements and loud noises in order to build their trust in you. Chinchillas prefer to be held on their own terms - this means no grabbing. They are naturally inquisitive and may sniff or nibble your fingers, so children should always be supervised to avoid dropping or accidentally injuring the Chinchilla. Daily exercise in a ‘chilla-safe room is vital to their health, giving them time to really stretch out their springy little legs.
Chinchillas need room to exercise, so choose the largest cage you can afford, with preferably multi-leveled and with shelves added. Avoid wire floors and ramps which can injure your Chinchilla’s paws. Cover the floor with a layer of safe bedding such as Carefresh. Do not use cedar shavings, as they contain harmful oils that can cause skin irritation and breathing difficulties.
Chinchillas require a healthy diet based on specially formulated Chinchilla pellets, and Timothy or Alfalfa hay being kept available at all times. Adults may be offered the occasional raisin or slice of banana as a treat, but not on a regular basis. Fresh water should always be available in a water bottle.
Spot clean soiled areas of the cage daily and wash the cage bottom, food dishes, and water bottles weekly, being sure to rinse and dry them well before adding fresh bedding. A Chinchilla dust bath is recommended a few times per week to keep their coat in good condition (and they really like it!) Do not under any circumstances give your Chinchilla a water bath. Their fur is so thick and absorbent that their fur can begin molding before the animal dries completely!
Most importantly: your Chinchilla should be kept between 60-70 degrees at all times. Anything above 80 degrees is extremely dangerous, as Chinchillas are susceptible to heat stroke, which can easily result in death. A cool, air-conditioned room is a must during the summer months. Signs of heat stroke include lying on their side or sprawled out rather than their usual balled up position, labored breathing, and red ears. If you are uncomfortable at room temperature in a thick winter sweater, so are they.
Be alert and consult a veterinarian if you notice signs of illness or injury in your Chinchilla such as a lack of appetite, drooling, changes in droppings, bald spots, or discharge from the nose or eyes.