For those who may have never heard of them previously, chinchillas are small rodents that originate from South America, often found in arid, rocky, areas up in mountain ranges. The larger, more durable cousins of mice and hamsters, these fluff balls can live between 15 and 22 years, measuring between 10 and 14 inches long with the tail adding five or six more inches. They have been known to make solid pets when allowed proper care and gentle handling, being fairly playful and active but also tame when given the chance to bond closely to their owners. While you shouldn’t presume that they enjoy being cuddled and held like cats and dogs, they do have other ways for expressing affection. To get an idea of what it takes to care for a chinchilla, continue reading and become enlightened on the subject!
Routine and Habits
Chinchillas are mostly nocturnal, sometimes being called “crepuscular,” which means their activity is greatest at dusk and dawn. Either way, they need a quiet place to be in the daytime. They also prefer consistent routines for feeding and handling and get stressed by any changes. Because of how active they are, chinchillas require roomier cages for exercise and daily playtime. Warmer temperatures can be a concern, so chinchilla owners must ensure their pets don’t get overheated.
Diet and Feeding
Feeding chinchillas shouldn’t be haphazardly done, as they have dietary requirements unlike those of similar rodents. They need quality feed designed specifically for them—otherwise their health suffers. Chinchillas also require much in the way of roughage, so their diet should consist of mostly quality grass hay and pellets specifically for chinchillas. Their digestive system is sensitive, so diet changes must be gradual and treats provided in moderation (a maximum of one teaspoon a day). All in all, pellet diets are the better choice rather than commercially-made loose mixes. Chinchillas are prone to selecting what they like in a mix, which makes it less balanced nutritionally.
Environment and Cages
Chinchillas are well-known for their thick, soft, and luxurious fur, which protects them in the wild but puts them at risk for overheating in captivity. This is why cooler, quieter areas within the home are the best spots for cages, kept at no more than 77 degrees Fahrenheit. Regarding cages, they must be large, tall, and multilevel (minimum floor space 24×24), with ramps, perches, and platforms. Wire cages are better, as anything plastic will surely be destroyed via chewing. Wooden nest boxes as well as access to dust baths should be provided as well. In terms of cage-mates, chinchillas can do fine alone, but a same-sex pair would be better, especially if they were introduced young or were litter mates.
Taming and Handling
To gain a chinchilla’s trust, owners must be consistent and gentle, but it will take a while before any chinchilla gets used to someone’s hands or being handled. Some may never get used to being held, preferring to climb on you or explore. Either way, handling and interacting with a pet chinchilla makes the relationship all the more rewarding. Be patient, calm, and slow-moving while taming chinchillas, and they should eventually respond.
Just as with every rodent, a chinchilla’s teeth will always be growing, meaning they require hard material to chew on. Whether it’s rodent toys or some apple wood, having something to nibble on can help prevent dental issues. Unfortunately, even well-kept chinchillas can develop teeth problems, and they can grow to be serious if untreated. A few things to watch for include drooling, hesitation to eat, runny eyes, and wetness beneath the chin. If pet chinchillas start displaying any such symptoms, it’s essential that owners have their vet examine the animal’s teeth. Be on the lookout for any cuts or bleeding caused by overgrown teeth as well, having antibiotic ointment and Manuka honey on hand just in case.
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