Chinchillas are among the most amazing animals that you can keep as pets. They’re smart, loving, and as cute as they come! However, like all pets out there, having one at your house can be quite a responsibility, as you’ll need to take care of a lot of things!
For that reason, you need to be fully prepared with ample knowledge about chinchillas and what they need before owning one. If you’re about to get one of these lovely furballs for the first time ever, you’re in for a treat!
In today’s article, we’ll walk you through the complete guide before owning a chinchilla, which includes everything you need to know about them, including their behaviors, requirements, caring tips, and more. So without further ado, let’s dive right in!
What Are Chinchillas?
Chinchillas are small to medium-sized rodent species that belong to the family “Chinchillidae”. Scientifically, there are two species of chinchillas out there, which are Chinchilla lanigera and Chinchilla chinchilla.
Chinchillas are known for their cute looks that combine elements of hamsters and rabbits. The furry pet has a very dense coat of fur that covers the vast majority of its body.
In fact, a single follicle in the chinchilla’s body may have as many as 60 tiny hairs. This makes their fur coat extremely soft to the touch with a velvety feel and look. In fact, the chinchilla has the thickest fur coat of all land mammals and is only second to the sea otter.
The original wild chinchillas all had the same fur coat color, which was a shade of bluish gray. But today, modern chinchillas are being selectively bred so that they have a wide range of fur coat colors.
These include white, black, dark gray, buff, or beige, as well as a combination of all these colors with patterns and streaks.
The main point of having a thick coat is to protect the chinchilla from cold weather and keep them warm. However, it also serves as a primary barrier against lice, fleas, and even some predators.
Chinchillas, in general, are relatively rounded with short legs and a long fuzzy tail. They also have large ears that are similar to the ones that mice have.
Despite the large ears, they have almost the same auditory range and inner ear anatomy as humans, so they’re used as substitutes for human ears in audio-related studies and research.
Ideally, an adult chinchilla should weigh anywhere between 15 to 25 ounces (453 to 680 grams). However, a healthy baby should weigh as little as 2 to 2.5 ounces (56.7 to 71 grams). Although both males and females weigh about the same, females can be very slightly larger than males.
Lengthwise, a mature chinchilla’s body can reach about up to 16 inches (40.5 cm) long, with the stretched tail making up to 45% of its length.
Where Are Chinchillas from?
Chinchillas are originally small rodents that come from Western South America, particularly the Andes Mountain region that covers parts of today’s Chile, Bolivia, Argentina, and Peru.
The word “Chinchillas” translates to “Little Chinchas” because they were named after the “chinches”, which is a group of people that used to live around the Andes and used to wear chinchilla’s fur.
Due to their thick fur coat, chinchillas have been over-hunted for over a century now. It takes up to 150 pelts of chinchillas fur to make a single full-length coat, which is the reason why chinchillas are quite a few in the wild and their population has seen a dramatic fall recently in history and the extension of one of the two species.
Most chinchillas that are kept as pets are raised either domestically on chinchillas farms or coming from the breeding of pet chinchillas at homes.
In the wild, chinchillas live in relatively large social groups that are called “herds”, although they mostly resemble colonies. Each group typically consists of anywhere between 14 and 100 chinchillas.
These herds are both formed for protection against predators but also because chinchillas are daily social and like to interact with each other.
[Related Article: Do Chinchillas Camouflage In Different Countries?]
What Are Chinchillas Traits and Behaviors?
The key to keeping your chinchilla happy is to have a better understanding of their behaviors and traits. In this section, we’ll take a look at some of the essential aspects that you need to be aware of:
Chinchillas are extremely playful and active with a lovely personality, especially if you have them since you have them as recently born babies.
However, with time and patience, even adolescent chinchillas can easily bond with their owners and become decently tame with enough consistency and patience, as they don’t like changes in routine.
You should also know that chinchillas are loving pets. However, they show their affection in different ways from cats and dogs. So, if your chinchilla isn’t keen on being cuddled or held, don’t take that as a sign that they don’t like you.
Chinchillas make sounds but they’re quite low and sound like purring. In fact, this is one of the tell-tale signs that your chinchillas are happy, relaxed, and like you.
Another sign that your chinchilla likes you is that they explore their surroundings in your presence and climb you. The most important thing while dealing with chinchillas is to always be calm and move slowly so that you don’t freak them out.
Intelligence and Training
Although measuring the level of intelligence of animals isn’t as simple as humans, chinchillas are surprisingly smart and they’re able to show that in a variety of ways.
They mainly learn through repetition and consistency, whether you’re trying to teach them to maintain a specific behavior or pull off a simple task.
The main reason behind that is that chinchillas have a solid memory and they take a much shorter time to learn things when compared to other rodents. In fact, some claim that the level of chinchilla’s intelligence is comparable to those of smart pets like dogs and cats.
Chinchillas are also quite trainable and you can teach them several tricks. This includes standing on their hind legs, holding things in their hands, running towards you, recognizing their names, pause, and lay down.
Moreover, the chinchilla is fairly clean and is very easy to potty train. This means that they’ll consistently urinate in a specific box, which makes it easy to clean.
Chinchillas are among the types of rodents that can breed almost all year round. However, unlike other rodents, they have a rather long gestation period that usually lasts for 111 days.
In fact, that’s another reason why the chinchilla population couldn’t keep up with the overhunting in the early 20th century. Another reason for the low numbers is that each chinchilla litter typically consists of a small number of baby chinchillas, which is usually 2 or 3.
The long pregnancy period is also the reason why baby chinchillas are born mature. While most other rodents are born without fur and closed eyes, litters of chinchillas are usually born with a full coat of fur as well as open eyes.
Chinchillas are quite active as well, so they need plenty of exercise and playtime on a daily basis. In fact, this is one of the biggest responsibilities that you need to keep in mind before getting a chinchilla, as you need to allocate the time necessary to socialize with them every day.
Chinchillas aren’t diurnal animals, but they aren’t nocturnal either. Instead, they’re known as crepuscular animals. This means that their activity levels peak during twilight times, whether it’s dusk or dawn.
This specific activity time has evolved as a defense tactic that chinchillas use to avoid being preyed upon by active predators. This is another point that you need to keep in consideration, as they’re most active during these times. These predators include wild cats, canines, skunks, birds of prey, and snakes.
Biting Defensive Tactics
Speaking of defense tactics and activity, chinchillas also use their agile body and strong legs to jump very high. In fact, chinchillas can jump as high as 6 feet (about 1.83 meters).
Moreover, they can spray urine on predators and break off their fur when they’re bitten to escape predators’ grasp.
Of course, their teeth are also part of their wide variety of defense tactics and they can bite when they’re extremely stressed. However, they typically avoid biting their owners and would only nipple on their hands as a warning.
Similar to rabbits and some rodents, chinchillas’ teeth don’t stop growing, so they must wear their teeth down by chewing and gnawing on sticks and wooden objects. But more about that later.
[Related Article: How Harmful Could It Be for Chinchillas to Bite Their Cages?]
How Long Do Chinchillas Live?
When it comes to lifespan, chinchillas have a remarkably long one when compared to similar pets. For example, hamsters live anywhere between 2 to 3 years while Guinea pigs live for 4 to 7 years.
On the other hand, the average lifespan of a chinchilla in the wild can extend anywhere between 8 to 10 years. However, in captivity with proper care and nutrition, the chinchilla’s lifespan may stretch as far as 15 to 20 years.
The current world record for the oldest one that has ever lived went to a chinchilla in Germany called “Radar”. This little guy was born in 1985 and died in 2014 at the age of 29 years and 229 days.
On average, chinchillas enjoy good health and don’t have a lot of genetic health problems or morbidity factors. The majority of health concerns for chinchillas revolve around:
- Dental issues (if the teeth aren’t worn down regularly)
- Diarrhea and bloating
- Heat strokes
- Bite wounds
- Skin problems
How Much Are Chinchillas?
The price of chinchillas will vary greatly according to the place where you live and the availability of chinchilla breeders there.
In most cases, a chinchilla is surprisingly affordable, costing anywhere between $100 to $350 if you buy them from a reputable breeder at a young age. Colored chinchillas are usually on the pricier end of the scale than black, white, and gray ones.
However, uniquely colored and show-quality chinchillas will typically cost you up to thousands of dollars, depending on the case.
Where to Buy Chinchillas?
If you’re looking forward to getting a chinchilla, there are plenty of options that you can choose from.
Let’s have a quick look at each one of them, so you can pick the one that appeals the most to you:
Ideally, the most convenient option to buy a chinchilla would be through local chinchilla breeders in your area.
The best part about buying a chinchilla from a chinchilla breeder is that they have a lot of experience in dealing with such an exotic pet. The prices of breeders are usually slightly higher than other options but you’ll be able to benefit from the seller’s knowledge on how to take care of your chinchilla.
Moreover, you’d be supporting a local business and helping the local chinchilla breeding community. The only downside of buying from breeders is that they depend on their availability in your area.
For instance, it’s fairly easy to find chinchilla breeders in big cities in most of the United States, Canada, and Western Europe. However, in smaller towns, your chances of finding chinchilla breeders are slightly fewer.
Pet shops are the easiest way to find chinchillas, and they’re available both locally in most towns and cities as well as online, such as PetSmart, PetCo, and more.
In most cases, the buying process of a chinchilla from a pet store is pretty much the same as any other pet.
They’re slightly less expensive but it’s less likely to find the variety of chinchillas you’d have from a breeder.
Adoption is one of the best ways to get a chinchilla because they’re technically free and you’d be sheltering an innocent and lovely soul at your house.
However, the problem with the adoption is that it’s a situational method that depends on being at the right time and place.
Luckily though, internet groups such as local Facebook groups and subreddits that specify in adopting chinchillas have made it a lot easier for both owners and buyers to communicate.
Where Do Chinchillas Live?
In their natural habitat, chinchillas like to live underground, where they dig burrows. They can also live in crevices between rocks.
However, house-raised chinchillas typically live in housing or cages with ample ventilation and a decent supply of water and food as well as bedding of aspen or pine shavings. Recycled paper-based bedding is also fine as long as the chinchilla doesn’t try to eat it.
To help you pick the best house for your chinchilla, here are some of the best options on the market:
You can also check out our guide to DIY your own chinchilla cage here.
It’s always recommended that you buy a pair of chinchillas, whether they’re the same sex or opposite sex if you’re planning to have more chinchillas in the future.
For that reason, the cage should be large enough with multiple levels for both chinchillas to move around and play without being overcrowded.
How to Care for Chinchillas
Now that you know more about chinchillas and where to find one, all that’s left is to figure out what they need to live happily and maintain good health. Let’s have a quick look at some of the chinchilla requirements.
Food and Water
The food that chinchillas eat in the wild is different from what they eat at home. For example, in the wild chinchillas are known to eat leaves, twigs, seeds, insects, and grass.
At home, you can feed them hay as a primary source of food in addition to commercial grass-based pellets that are made specifically for chinchillas. About 1 to 2 tablespoons of pellets are enough for each chinchilla.
The same goes for nuts because they’re high in fats and put the chinchilla at risk of becoming overweight.
Avoid sudden changes in diets because it can cause stomach upsets and can make the chinchillas ill.
As for water, chinchillas need a clean source of water and will become seriously ill if they don’t get enough water per day, so make sure that you supply them with drinking bottles with clean water and check it at least twice a day.
Always keep an eye on the chinchilla’s dropping and make sure that they’re dry and looking healthy. If you suspect a strange consistency, check with the vet immediately
Temperature and Humidity
Chinchillas don’t sweat, so their only means to cool themselves down is by heat dissipation through the ears. If the chinchilla is too hot, you’ll be able to tell from their red ears.
They’re built to handle the cold quite well but they can’t tolerate the heat. The ideal temperature to keep the chinchilla at is between 60 to 75 °F (15.5 to 24 °C). The spot should also have a humidity level of less than 60% to protect them from heat strokes.
- They like to live in a clean spot, so make sure that you always clean their housing and remove their dropping
- Always check for the safety of any treats before feeding them to chinchillas. For example, sweets like chocolate and sugar cubes can be quite dangerous to them.
- Make sure that you give them plenty of playtime outside the cage every day, which should be at least 30 minutes to 1 hour.
What Do Chinchillas Need?
Here’s is a list of all the items that should be on your shopping like if you’re planning to own a chinchilla:
- Water Bottle: The water bottle is an extremely critical piece of good chinchilla housing because chinchillas need to drink clean water on a daily basis to stay healthy.
- Dust Bath: Chinchillas like to stay clean, so they need to clean themselves at least twice a week or more. The dust bath should be suitable for the size of the chinchilla and contain a suitable type of dust to keep them healthy.
- Activities and Toys: chinchillas like to stay active and hold their playtime at very high status. That’s why it’s essential to keep them occupied with toys and activities in their cage so they’re not bored. A chinchilla-sized spin wheel is a must-have toy. However, you can always find a huge range of cage accessories and means of entertainment for your furry little friend.
- Pieces of Wood: As previously mentioned, chinchilla’s teeth are constantly growing and they need wood pieces to gnaw and chew on in order to wear them down and prevent them from overgrowing and causing dental and health problems.
- Hay Feeder: Hay is the main source of food for chinchillas and it should be available and in constant supply. The most effective way to achieve this is by using a hay feeder to keep the hay fresh and prevent it from making a mess in the cage.
- Hut Hideout: While Chinchillas are social and friendly, they still need a safe spot to sleep and/or hide when they’re freaked out. A small hut that resembles their natural habitat is an essential piece of the chinchilla care kit.
- Pet Carrier: The carrier is essential to keep your chinchillas safe while cleaning the cage or taking them to the vet.
With that said, the complete guide before owning a chinchilla comes to an end. We hope that this guide has helped you find out more about chinchillas and their lovely personality as well as the proper way to take care of them.
As you can see, chinchillas are among the smartest rodents out there and they’re capable of forming a social bond with their owner.
Chinchillas make great pets for the right person and their quirky and cute behaviors will never fail to put a smile on your face!
Luckily, chinchillas are widely available in a variety of colors and patterns and they’re fairly affordable and need inexpensive supplies!