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Chinchillas--What are they and How are they as pets?

Updated on January 17, 2012

What a little cutie

A hetero beige female chinchilla. Not a standard grey chinchilla.
A hetero beige female chinchilla. Not a standard grey chinchilla.

What Are Chinchillas? Where Do They Come From?

Chinchillas. They are the most fluffiest, funny, playful rodents in the animal kingdom. They can be your best friend and best form of entertainment. But what are they and where do they come from? Are they just like every other rodent? I thought that a "chinchilla" was a type of fur! Well, sit on back and keep on reading. You will be surprised to find out all about chinchillas, from their habitats to their variety of colors.

Chinchillas are found in the mountainous regions of Peru. Up there, the chinchillas adapted to withstand temperatures ranging from 52 degrees Fahrenheit to 78 degrees Fahrenheit. They keep their extremely thick and soft fur clean by rolling around in the volcanic dust in the region. They eat various grains they can find as well as hay and various types of grass to help them digest, much like a rabbit. The lifespan of a chinchilla ranges from twelve to twenty years, making an old chinchilla appear ancient in comparison to a hamster, whose lifespan is only about two years.

Wild chinchillas are all a grey color, speckled with lighter or darker grey areas. (You probably have seen a chinchilla fur jacket before. Just think of those colors on a living animal.) But all chinchillas have big round ears like a mouse, long back feet like a rabbit, the body like a rabbit, a tail which resembles a squirrel, and bucked teeth.

Chinchillas can jump pretty well. They can jump three feet in the air as well as do twists and turns. Chinchillas can hop/run very fast to escape from predators as well as do flips. A lot of their jumping is normally for play.

These cute little balls of fur live in packs. They also pair up with each other as mates. The males can get aggressive with each other around females, but that is normal behavior for any male animal in the world. The males are also a bit smaller than the females. When they reproduce, the female's litter can have one to three chinchillas usually.

Chinchillas as Pets

If you're thinking of getting a chinchilla, it is better to set up some things first. A cage is definitely something that should be set up before you bring your little fluff ball home. A chinchilla, like many other rodents, needs some space to be alone after being brought into a new environment. The last thing you want to do is stress out your new friend by setting up a cage while the chin is in a little carrying box. Once you have the essentials, then you can start to decide who to bring home.

The Cage

Chinchillas require a lot of room. An okay sized cage for one chinchilla is about 24 in. X 24 in. X 36 in. The roomier the cage, the better. An added note, the taller the cage, the better. Chinchillas love to jump and explore and a cage with good height is a good habitat. If you want to have two or more chinchillas, you need a bigger space; at least another foot expanded in all directions. The cage should be off the floor an inch or two to allow air circulation and away from direct sunlight and heavy wind movement (like a draft from a window). Also, the cage bars should be no wider than an inch.

Shelves and ledges are essential for the chinchilla to hop around on. Little ledges, big ledges, and narrow ledges can all be used. It is better for the ledges to be made out of wood as an extra for chewing. But do not get scented wood or chemically treated pine. Willow and pine are good for chewing for chins.

A final thing to have in the cage is a nesting box. This is just a wooden box with a hole in it to allow the chinchilla to go inside. It should be wood to allow the chin to chew on it. (Chinchilla's teeth do grow like many other rodents and thus chinchillas need to chew to wear their teeth down.) If you have more than one chinchilla, try to get a nesting box to fit two or three of your chins. They like to sleep together.

Bedding can be any. If it is in direct contact with your chin, try to not buy cedar or pine shavings. They can cut up your chin's feet and your chin may chew them, which can be bad for their health. If your chin is in direct contact, try the more expensive but safer recycled stuff. Change and clean the cage once a week. Do it more if the cage starts to smell. Keep in mind that if the cage is smelly, you are not cleaning it enough.

A running wheel is also nice to have in the cage for your chin. You need a big one, though, to not hurt your chin's back. Avoid buying the metal ones that are mesh or have little metal stands the chin needs to crawl through to get onto the wheel. Those are dangerous since they can break toes, tales, legs, and do other harm for your chin (or any rodent, for that matter).

Food and Water

Chins need to eat specifically designed chinchilla food. Some people feed their chins rabbit pellets, but that just leaves the chins malnourished or sick. Rabbit pellets do not have all the necessary nutrients that chinchillas need, and thus should not be given to a chin. A half a hand full is all that is really needed to give your chin. It is best to feed your chin at night, since chinchillas are nocturnal. They may not eat all the pellets at once, but will keep going back to their food bowl throughout the day for a "midnight snack". These pellets can be found in any pet store.

Please note, though, that you need to keep giving the same brand of chinchilla food to your chin. If you decide to go to a different brand, you need to spend at least a week adding the new brand to the old brand slowly. If you just change the brand suddenly, the chinchilla can suffer constipation.

It is best to have a ceramic bowl, as well. It will be heavy enough that the chin will have trouble tipping it over and it is also not something the chin can chew on. Plastic bowls can be chewed on and plastic is not good for anyone.

Hay is also needed for chins to help in their digestion. You can get the hay loose or in blocks. The blocks are less messy, but some chins can be picky. The hay that can be given to chins are timothy hay, orchard grass, or alfalfa. You can use the alfalfa as a little treat to give your chin every once in a while, since alfalfa is a good source of calcium for a chin.

Water is a no-brainer to give to an animal. But the suggestion is to have a glass water bottle instead of a plastic one. Your chin will find a way to chew that plastic water bottle. It will make a hole in the bottle and all that water will come rushing out and (perhaps) onto your chin. It is not good to get a chin wet because it is pretty likely the chin will not dry out and mold will start to grow in his fur. But refill the water bottle every day with fresh water and try to wash out the water bottle every month.

Snacks are kind of a no-no. Chinchillas do not overeat. They eat what they want and no more. However, if there are tasty treats to be had, they will eat the tasty treats. This means that those special chinchilla pellets filled with wonderful nutrients to keep the chin healthy are not being eaten in the amount needed. So give your chin a snack once a week, but no more. When you do give him a snack, give him a small raisin, a piece of shredded wheat, or some oatmeal.

Dust Bath

Believe it or not, chinchillas are pretty hypo-allergenic! They have so much fur that they lack dandruff. But the one thing that makes them difficult pets to allergy sufferers is their dust baths. Dust baths keep their coats healthy and shiny. Chins need to have a dust bath three to five times a week depending on the humidity. The more humid it is, the more dust baths.

It is important to use chinchilla dust-bath dust. Using any old dirt outside your house will not help your chinchilla. The dust is a special type of dust that is fine and volcanic. There are scented dusts out there, but that can be too fine and hurt your chin's respiration. You will learn which dusts make your chin's coat look best from the variety you can find in pet stores.

Other

There are other things you can get your chin. Toys are necessary to have around to entertain your chin. Chewing toys are especially good. Just be wary. Those cute little toys with a bunch of little snacks in it may have a chinchilla on the package, but they are not good for your chinchilla. Also, the type of wood can be dangerous. Pine and applewood are okay.

You can also get a dust bath house for your chin. This is a little house that you can put the dust in and the chin will roll around in the dust inside the house. This contains the dust a little better than just putting the dust in a bowl.

There is also a marble slat you can get to help keep you chin cool. Chinchillas can not be in heat above 78 degrees Fahrenheit. They can get heat stroke and die. The marble will be cooler than the air, so better for the chin. But if your area gets really hot in the summer, use an air conditioner or keep some frozen ice packs ready in case you see your chin breathing heavy and lying on his side.

Buying a Chinchilla

There are many different color variations for chinchillas. Because of this, the price of chinchillas can really vary. The more rare the color, the higher the price for the chinchilla. The next section lists the color variations.

There are two locations to get a chinchilla--the pet store, if they have one, and a breeder. Pet store chinchillas are like any other pet store rodent. They probably haven't been played with enough and are not that used to human contact. Chins from a pet store are usually male and usually from the same litter. If you are thinking you want two chinchillas that are male eventually, I suggest buying them together. Adult males can really fight if they are introduced to each other. Buying brothers is a safer bet that they will be friends. These chins in pet stores are usually standard greys, the most common type of chin. They can run from $115 to $150.

Breeders handle their chins better. The chins are used to humans and are also less expensive. For example, a standard grey can be anywhere from $75 to $95. But keep in mind you may not be in an area that has a chinchilla breeder and may have to travel a fair distance.

Chinchilla Colors

Standard Grey (Very Common)

Ebony (Very Common)

Charcoal (Including Charbrown)

Black Velvet

Beige (Both hetero and homo [lighter beige color])

Brown Velvet

Tan and Pastel

White (Pink White, Homo Beige Pink White, Mosaic, Ebony Mosaic, Tan White, White Violet, Wilson White)

Violet (Rare)

Sapphire (Rare)

Gold Bar (Rare)

Blue Diamond (Rare)

Chinchilla Noises

Chins make noises. Their first noise is a bark. They will bark when lonely, scared, angry, or saying that they don't like the new change (like the chinchilla always having a night light and then the night light turns off one night which will cause the chin to bark). It's pretty annoying when the chin won't stop barking, but it is definitely an unmistakable sound.

Chinchillas also have a sound they make when they are happy. They will grind their teeth together. At first you won't know what the sound is, but then you realize that it's coming from your chin. He is grinding his teeth, saying "I'm happy! I'm having fun!"

After Thought-Training

You can train your chin. You can train your chin to get up on your shoulder, dance, jump, or only urinate in one specific spot. It takes time, but it can be done. And if you are spending an hour of your evening with your little chin every day (which you should do), then this is easy. Most importantly, is the potty-training. If you notice your chin is peeing in only one spot, try putting a bowl of litter with a little of the already soiled litter in the bowl. Your chin will smell his scent and recognize that spot as the spot he goes to the bathroom. This makes cage cleaning a whole lot easier.


Chinchillas are wonderful pets. Yes, they can be temperamental when it comes to the heat and cold, and they require specific dietary needs, but they are great fun. Once you have one, you start to want to have others. And you also start to look at them as the cute animals that they are instead of a "left sleeve".

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    • Cammiebar profile image
      Author

      Cammiebar 2 years ago from Upstate New York

      A chinchilla is a rodent so they are capable of biting. Most of the time, they are bites that are just used to investigate whether or not the item is food. It doesn't hurt, it is just feeling teeth. To help prevent it, you should wash your hands before handling your pet.

      Socialization is also important. A poorly socialized chin is not used to human interaction and will feel as if you are attacking it, so it will attack you. A socialized chin is used to you and will only bite if you are rough with it and hurting it.

      If you are considering this pet for a child, i do say to stay away from it. Chinchillas are not suitable for young children. Teenagers are okay.

      And upon getting a chin, be sure to spend time with him, but do not force interactions. Speak softly and let the chin come to you. Especially when the chin is leaving the cage. Let your friend lwave the cage by himself.

      These things will help the chin become socialized and not bite aggressively.

    • profile image

      Bridgette 2 years ago

      will a Chinchilla bite you. Has that been known to happen?

    • Cammiebar profile image
      Author

      Cammiebar 5 years ago from Upstate New York

      Sorry the missus is anti-fluffy-chin. Some people get weird when they hear a chinchilla is a "rodent". You could always do what I did: Go at her with your information guns loaded haha

    • dipless profile image

      dipless 5 years ago from Manchester

      This is one pet that I have been trying to let the missus let me have for ages, but to no avail. Anyway thanks for sharing, a good thorough hub.