Chinchillas as Pets

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Chinchilla Facts

Life span: 10 - 15 years
Sexual maturity: 7 months
Litter size: 1 – 4 (average 2)
Pregnancy: 111 days
Adult Weight: 400 - 500g

Background

Chinchillas are members of the rodent family, found naturally on the slopes of the Andes in South America. They live in large herds in dry, arid conditions, burrowing and hopping between rocks. They were first introduced into England in the late 1950s, and although still not a common pet, have greatly increased in popularity.

Things to consider when buying a chinchilla.

  • Chinchillas are nocturnal.
  • They don’t like to be cuddled.
  • They are not generally good pets for children.
  • They love to chew.
  • Long life span, 10 - 15 years.

Housing

Pet chinchillas should be kept in a specific cage, which is all mesh (maximum mesh size of 3/4" square), with a raised floor. A lot of pet stores supply cages which are unsuitable for chinchillas, being too high, and risking injury from falls. An ideal cage for either one, or a pair of chinchillas, is: 36” wide x 17” deep x 20” high.

Cages should be sited out of direct sunlight in a fairly cool spot, away from loud noises, and ideally, not in a bedroom as they are nocturnal.

Cages should also contain: a couple of shelves to sit on, a bedroom box, toys, a water bottle, a hay rack and a ceramic food dish.

Toys

Chinchillas are intelligent animals and can easily become bored. Toys provide an excellent method of stimulation, as well as allowing them to gnaw. Good examples of toys include: toilet rolls inners, pieces of soft wood e.g. pine, pumice stone, cardboard, apple tree branches with the bark stripped. Plastic and metal objects should not be provided as toys.

Chinchillas should be taken out of their cage for ‘playtime’ for approximately 20 - 30 minutes every day. However, if the weather is warm, it is best to shorten this time, as Chinchillas can easily overheat. It is important to supervise Chinchillas closely to prevent them jumping off of high places, biting cable wires, or stripping wall paper.

Cleanliness

Chinchillas are very clean animals, and naturally have very little odour. Their cages should be cleaned out weekly and a sand bath should be provided for 10 minutes at least three times a week. This is essential for maintaining a good coat.

Diet

In their natural environment, chinchillas feed on very arid, poor quality vegetation. Therefore if rich feeds are given, they can overload their digestive systems, resulting in diarrhoea and a build up of gas, causing bloat. Both conditions can be fatal.

A chinchilla’s basic diet should consist of pellets (approx. 17% protein), fresh hay, water and treats.

Treats:

Once a week:

  • a grape or slither of apple;
  • a piece of dry toast;
  • a Shreddie or a Cornflake.

Once a day:

  • a raisin

Health

Chinchillas are relatively healthy animals so long as they are fed the correct types of food, in the correct quantities. Health problems include:

  • Dental problems;
  • Dietary upset;
  • Stress induced convulsion (low calcium);
  • Eye infections.