CARING FOR YOUR PET CHINCHILLA
Chinchillas are native to Peru, Chile and Argentina. With their inquisitive disposition, adorable looks and luxurious soft fur, chinchillas have stolen the hearts of small animal lovers. The common colour is grey, but colours can range from black, silver, white, brown and beige. Chinchilla babies are born with all their fur, their eyes open and have the ability to eat food very soon after birth. When fully grown they measure approximately 12 inches (30 cm) in length. Females typically are larger than males.
Chinchillas are small and their easy care and simple feeding make them an ideal family member. Chinchillas will provide you with hours of entertainment, since they are natural acrobats that love to climb. They are a nocturnal animal and should be given a quiet, dark place to rest during the day should they wish to do so.
One or Two Chinchillas?
In the Chinchilla’s natural habitat, they live in large colonies consisting of many family groups. This should be sufficient reason to keep more than one. There is conflicting documentation as to what sexes get along. Mother/daughter, two females from different litters (no older than four months) or a male-female match are all acceptable (any match, but two males). The living quarters must be roomy enough to provide hiding spaces to keep any squabbles to a minimum. Chinchillas breed readily, so if you have a male and a female, it is best to have your female altered. Male chinchillas do not seem to do well after they have been neutered.
Handling Your Chinchilla
When picking up your chinchilla, care should be taken to not grab him suddenly. Chinchillas have a defensive mechanism that allows them to “drop” their fur to evade a predator. This is called “fur slip.” Chinchillas respond well to a soft voice and slower movements when first approached. Chinchillas will nibble or nip at times especially if your scent is not familiar to them. Before picking your chinchilla up, let him smell the open palm of your hand. Once acquainted, lightly grasp the base of his tail while scooping him up quickly with your other hand. Hold him against your body to alleviate anxiety.
To provide a happy, healthy atmosphere for your chinchillas, Petland recommends the following necessary, and fun accessories. We have listed them as your new pet’s four basic needs: Nutritional, Environmental, Maintenance and Behavioural. When you meet these needs and provide a loving environment, your chinchillas can live a long and happy life. Typically, a healthy chinchilla may live 10 to 15 years (some up to 22 years).
Your Chinchilla’s New Home – Your chinchillas will need a place of their own where they can find security and quiet time. A large cage with two or three levels is important to satisfy their natural urge to hop and climb. Your chinchillas will need physical and social stimulation, which no cage can provide. Take your chinchillas out daily and this routine will become a much loved event for all of you!
Hammock – Chinchillas love heights! A hammock satisfies their natural instinct to climb and be up high, They may even find it cozy enough to have a snooze in.
Hiding Place – Every creature needs an area to call their own. Hideaways are necessary to reduce stress and help make them feel secure. We recommend at least two hideaways. Nesting boxes, goldfish bowls and fish ornaments, such as clay pots are all popular hideaways.
Hay – Your chinchilla is a herbivore, which means he only eats plant food. Grass hay is absolutely vital to the digestive health of your chinchilla, and will make up the majority of your pet’s daily diet. It helps prevent obesity, dental disease, diarrhea and boredom. The bonus is that they also love it. Chinchillas should have unlimited access to grass hay, and eat a pile of hay twice the size of his body everyday. Chinchillas, less than six months old, must also receive alfalfa hay, as it has additional calcium and protein. After six months, alfalfa hay should be used only as a treat. All grass hays, timothy, orchard grass, oat and botanical (timothy blended with herbs) are exactly the same nutritionally; they are just different in taste and texture. Resist offering the same type of hay, thus ensuring that your pet won’t refuse hay if the colour or texture changes, which does happen naturally.
Chinchilla Pellets – Chinchilla pellets made from hay must be offered free choice until your chinchilla is approximately six months of age. Rabbit pellets may not be used. It has been found that long-term feeding of rabbit pellets to chinchillas is harmful. Once they have reached adulthood, 1 ½ Tbsps twice a day is the approximate serving suggestion. Provide mixes with nuts, corn, seeds and fruits as a treat only. Chinchilla’s have a habit of selecting these tempting morsels and leaving the healthy pellets.
Vitamin and Mineral Supplement – This should be added to the drinking water according to bottle directions. You may also add it to your chinchilla’s favourite vegetable or treat. Watch that your chinchillas don’t reject the food the supplement is added to though. In the wild, animals may choose the foods their bodies require. With domesticated pets, even if you give your chinchillas a wide variety of foods, you may not be providing them with certain vitamins and minerals that they need.
Mineral Stone – Make this available to your chinchillas at all times. This is yet another way that chinchillas can get calcium and other minerals they require. (Plus, it’s fun to chew!)
Veggies and Treats – All chinchillas should be introduced to new foods gradually. Leafy greens are healthy and natural food choices; however, they must be given in moderation. The total amount of fresh foods daily is about 1/8 cup or the size of your chinchilla’s head. Carrot and beet tops, dandelion greens and flowers (that have not been subjected to spraying), kale, collard greens, romaine and leaf lettuce (not iceberg lettuce), parlsey, carrots and pea pods are some good choices. Large amounts of green foods should be avoided, since they are difficult to digest and can cause health concerns. Should your chinchilla get diarrhea, contact your vet. Do not give him any remedies or treat him with human diarrhea aid.
Treat foods are enjoyed, but offer only very small amounts, about ½ tsp daily. Offer treats to encourage interaction between you and your pet, but only after your pet eats his basic diet. Boxed crunchies and fresh fruits, such as a small piece of apple, a single raisin or a peanut are all treats, and should be offered as such, to avoid digestive disturbances.
Water Bottle – Use a large water bottle to keep your chinchilla’s water clean and to conserve the liquid vitamins. Fresh water must be available at all times.
Crock Dishes – These are easy to clean, cannot be chewed and are difficult to tip over. Pick up two dishes, one for food, and the other for hay. *Some hay racks can be hazardous to a chinchilla. If a chinchilla sits on it, when jumping off, it could catch his hind leg in the rack. Make sure if you pick up a rack or hopper that it is “chinchilla safe.”
Bedding – Pine or aspen bedding is recommended for your chinchillas. Cedar or other aromatic litters may irritate their respiratory tract. Once a week, you should wash their cage with hot water and a mild soap, rinse well and dry completely. Do not use bleach or other household cleaners, which can be a health hazard to your new pets! Periodically spot clean their home between weekly cage cleanings using a litter scoop.
Dust Bath and Litter Pan – Chinchillas need regular baths to remove excess natural oils and moisture from their fur. They don’t bathe in water, but in finely ground sand similar to the volcanic ash found in the Andes. Approximately 2 inches of dust should be placed in a litter pan or large ceramic dish. Since chinchillas are nocturnal, a good time to offer the bath is in the morning after an evening of play. Sift through after each use and replace as needed.
Comb – Grooming your chinchillas will help to remove loose fur. Wide and fine tooth combs work wonders. Chinchillas will shed their coat about every three months, so this routine helps to keep their fur from flying!
Deodorizer – Thankfully, since chinchillas do not produce much urine, taking in only one or two tablespoons of water daily, they produce very little odour; however, everyone has their own definition of what’s stinky and what’s not. There are products available made specifically for small animals. A product that has enzymes in it should be used. Enzymes eat up odours!
Chew Blocks – Your chinchilla’s teeth will grow throughout their life. Give them a variety of safe chewing aids to keep their teeth trimmed. Ask your pet counsellor for recommended products for chinchillas to chew. Check your chinchilla’s teeth regularly to be certain that they are not suffering from a condition called malocclusion (or under bite), in which the lower teeth slide over the top teeth. If you suspect your chinchilla has this problem, please see your veterinarian. A chinchilla’s teeth should be yellowish. White teeth are an indication of a calcium deficiency.
Ladders and Branches – Your chinchillas will enjoy hopping and climbing. Wooden branches and ladders (some located in the bird department) are a necessity in their home to encourage exercise.
Tunnels and Tubes – Chinchillas like to burrow and dig. Providing them with tunnels and tubes to hide and play in, will satisfy their fun-loving nature.
Exercise Wheel – In the evening, the wheel is an excellent outlet for your chinchilla’s abundance of energy! It also helps to keep them in shape too!
A Book About Chinchillas – Petland has excellent books on chinchilla care. Your pet counsellor can help you select a book that will best suit your needs.
Please ask your pet counsellor what other items pertain to your particular pet’s needs.
*Ask about the volunteer programs at your nearest Petland location.
Cleanliness and Safety
All pets must be kept in a clean environment to avoid the spread of dirt and contaminants to yourself and others. Always keep your pet’s home clean, and wash your hands before and after handling your pet or cleaning his home.
Please remember that all pets may bite or scratch, and may transmit diseases to humans. Young children, infants, pregnant women, people with compromised immune systems and the elderly are at greater risk of infections and should use caution when in contact with pets or their homes.