Caring for Chinchillas

A chinchilla can be a delightful pet for the right owner. Chinchillas have delicate skeletons and love to chew on things like electrical cords, so a safe environment is essential. Keep your chinchilla’s health on the right track with a healthy diet, lots of safe exercise, and regular veterinary care.

Biological Facts

  • Long-tailed chinchilla: Chinchilla lanigera
  • Native to the Andes mountain ranges of northern Chile; live in rock crevices and holes on relatively barren slopes
  • Life span: 10 to 15 years
  • Adult weight: 14 to 28 oz (400 to 800 g); females are larger than males
  • Very delicate bone structure; not an ideal pet for small children
  • Sexual maturity: 7 to 10 months
  • Gestation: 105 to 115 days   

Behavior

  • Primarily active at night, dawn, and early evening
  • Fast, agile, active; good at climbing and jumping
  • Females are dominant and more aggressive than males
  • Difficult to litter train
  • Very clean; virtually odorless
  • Highly social; should be housed in pairs or small groups when possible
  • Rarely bite; enjoy being petted, but may resist cuddling
  • They chew everything; the chinchilla’s environment must be “chinchilla proof” to prevent injuries and escape

Diet

  • Must be high in fiber, low in carbohydrate, and low in sugar to prevent dental disease and digestive problems
  • No breads, cereals, or nuts should be fed
  • Feed free-choice quality grass hay, such as timothy, brome, and Bermuda grass
  • Feed 1 to 2 tablespoons of commercial chinchilla pellets daily
  • Feed small amounts of alfalfa or clover hay, dried fruit, and fresh vegetables as treats; feed treats sparingly to prevent obesity
  • Diet changes must be gradual to prevent stomach upset
  • Provide fresh water daily

Environment

  • Provide a large, multilevel cage with shelves for perching, plenty of room for running, and a cage floor of welded mesh wire with smooth areas for resting the feet
  • Place the cage in a quiet location
  • Maintain a humidity level of 40% or lower and a temperature of 50°F to 75°F (10°C to 24°C); temperatures higher than 80°F can be fatal
  • Provide a nest box (one for each chinchilla) for sleeping and for shelter from aggressive cage mates
  • Provide wooden cage furniture, chew sticks, and pumice stones for chewing to help keep teeth healthy
  • Provide an exercise wheel with a smooth running surface to prevent injuries to legs/feet

Preventive Care

  • A complete physical examination is required every 6 to 12 months
  • An annual fecal examination is necessary to check for internal parasites
  • Examine males monthly for penile hair rings
  • Allow regular, supervised exercise in a chinchilla-proof enclosure to prevent obesity
  • Allow a 10- to 15-minute dust bath at least twice weekly

Common Medical Disorders

  • Dental disease
  • Drooling
  • Problems eating
  • Eye irritation
  • Conjunctivitis
  • Fur/skin disorders: ringworm (fungus), fur chewing, loss of fur
  • Gastrointestinal disorders (diarrhea, bloat, stasis)
  • Hair ring accumulation in males (a constricting injury to the penis)
  • Heat stress
  • Respiratory infection
  • Trauma