Caring for Your Pet Chinchilla
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 friendly and their simple feeding make them an ideal pet. Chinchillas will provide you with hours of entertainment, since they are natural acrobats that love to jump. 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. Same sex pairs can live together, though they should be introduced while young unless it is a mother/daughter relationship. If keeping two males, they will both need to be neutered. Chinchillas also breed readily, so if you have a male and a female, it is best to have your male altered. The living quarters must be roomy enough to provide hiding spaces to keep any squabbles to a minimum.
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 about 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 jump. Your chinchillas will need physical and social stimulation, which no cage can provide. Take your chinchillas out daily, and with close supervision, this routine will become a much loved event for all of you!
Hammock – Chinchillas love heights! A hammock satisfies their natural instinct to be up high. They may even find it cozy enough to have a snooze in. Please ensure your pet does not eat the material. If he is so inclined, please do not use the hammock or any other similar items made of cloth.
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. Grass, wood, pet safe plastic hide outs or a nest box 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. Young chinchillas, less than a year old, can benefit from eating alfalfa hay, as it has additional calcium and protein. After one year, 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.
Chinchilla Pellets – Chinchilla pellets made from hay must be offered free choice until your chinchilla is approximately one year 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, 1-2 tablespoons a day is the approximate serving suggestion. Provide mixes with nuts, corn, seeds and fruits as a treat only. Chinchillas have a habit of selecting these tempting morsels and leaving the healthy pellets.
Many small animals are susceptible to diarrhea, especially when new foods are introduced too quickly or they encounter a stressful situation (i.e. being adopted). By providing food that is familiar to them, their digestive systems will prevent this type of health problem.
Fresh Foods – 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. 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), parsley, 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.
Moss Hollow Adapt – Using Moss Hollow Adapt, while minimizing stress, can help your new pet adapt to their new home by promoting relaxation from stress caused by the environment (Echinacea), offering a prebiotic for building gut flora (Burdock Root), easing diarrhea (Psyllium Husk), increasing palatability (Wheatgrass), providing a natural dewormer (Diatomaceous Earth), and nutrient rich clay (Bentonite). This veterinary health product uses natural ingredients which can aid all small animals before symptoms emerge.
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!)
Treat foods are enjoyed, but offer only very small amounts, about ½ teaspoon 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 very small piece of apple 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. Water bottles need to be kept clean of not only any bacterial growth, but also of sediment that may be caused by using nutritional supplements. Use a bottle brush set to clean both the inside of the bottle and the inner surface of the stainless steel drinking tube. Brushes may be used with dish soap. Be sure to rinse bottles and tubes well and to wash and rinse brushes themselves following use.
Crock Dishes – 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.
Bedding – Soft bedding made from natural fibres (e.g. CareFRESH®), aspen, or fleece blankets are recommended for your chinchilla. Cedar or other aromatic litters may irritate their respiratory tract.
Cage Cleaner – There are pet safe stain and odour removers available for small pets. Many are enzyme-based formulas that work naturally to permanently break down stains and odours. Once a week, you should clean his cage with a pet safe cleaner, or hot water and mild soap, rinse well and dry. Do not use bleach, or other household cleaners, which will irritate your chinchilla’s respiratory system, or even cause worse problems.
Chinchilla Dust Bath and Bath House – Chinchillas need regular baths three times a week 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 chinchilla bath house or a large ceramic dish and offered at least twice a week for 10-15 minutes. Since chinchillas are nocturnal, a good time to offer the bath is in the evening. Sift through after each use and replace as needed.
Comb – Grooming your chinchillas will help to remove loose fur. A fine tooth comb every few weeks works wonders. Chinchillas will shed their coat about every three months, so this routine helps to keep their fur from flying!
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, ladders and blocks (some located in the bird department) are a necessity in their home to encourage exercise. Provide lots of sitting platforms of different heights in the cage. Arrange the cage furnishings so that they are sturdy and won’t shift or fall when they climb on them.
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, a solid surface large wheel attached to the side of the cage is an excellent outlet for your chinchilla’s abundance of energy! It also helps to keep them in shape too!
Please ask your pet counsellor what other items pertain to your particular pet’s needs.
Cleanliness and Safety
All pets can potentially carry diseases that may be contagious to people. 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 environments. Regular cleaning of your pet’s environment with a pet safe cleaner may help avoid the spread of contaminants.
Hygiene procedures such as washing your hands before and after handling your pet and/or after having any contact with their habitat, is a necessary routine. Children should be assisted with hand washing and always have adult supervision when interacting with pets.