Chinchillas in the Wild
Chinchillas are native to the Andes Mountains in Chile. They have been long valued for their extremely soft and thick fur, which has sadly made them almost extinct in the wild. Originally 11 chinchillas were brought into the United States in 1923 by Mathias Chapman. He established a breeding colony in California. All chinchillas in the U.S. trace their roots back to this original colony.
During the 1950's, breeding chinchillas for fun and profit was a very trendy way to create a second income. By the 1960's there were thousands of chinchilla ranches across the country. The problem with raising chinchillas for fur was that the animals were so cute many would-be entrepreneurs couldn't bring themselves to "harvest" them. Most people today care for their chinchillas as pets.
Chinchillas as Pets
Healthy chinchillas are shy at first, but once they become comfortable with their surroundings and accustomed to their owners, they make very active, intelligent pets. Chinchillas have specific personalities and a great memory. They resemble people in their ability to feel emotion, have thoughts, and hold opinions, and these qualities make each one unique with a different personality.
However, they aren’t suitable pets for children because they are small and fragile and they will bite if they are mishandled. They also aren’t suitable pets for busy people, as they require a set routine and frequent handling for their health.
Chinchillas are a species that are best housed as a single pet or as pairs, but you shouldn’t house two of the opposite sex in the same cage unless you want to breed them. Having two chinchillas allows them to interact with each other, which can relieve boredom and provide socialization while you’re not there.
They are somewhat high-strung, so they need to be handled and petted frequently after they are born or they will grow up skittish and aggressive. An ideal age to purchase your chinchilla is 10 weeks. When you first take your chinchilla home, they will be understandably skittish and scared. However, with a good routine and regular handling, your chinchilla will begin to feel safe and will start approaching you with curiosity and willingness.
Chinchillas are herbivores (plant-eating animals) and in the wild, they feed off seeds, roots, leaves, fruits, berries, bark, alfalfa, and various grasses. Chinchillas have sensitive stomachs and require specific foods to maintain their health. In captivity, chinchillas thrive when they are given a properly balanced diet of pellets and hay.
A good pellet food designed for chinchillas is the best way to ensure your pet is getting proper nutrition. Pellets are designed to include the correct amounts of protein, fat, fiber, and other nutrients. Exotic Nutrition’s Chinchilla Diet with Rose Hips is a great choice. It contains all the necessary nutrients needed for healthy chinchillas.
Hay provides the fiber your chinchilla needs and is a very important part of his daily diet. It also helps maintain dental health by helping wear down their teeth. Timothy hay is a good choice, and is available as loose hay or as Timothy Pellets or Timothy Hay Cubes. Always use fresh, clean, and dry hay and use a hay rack or other dish to prevent the hay from getting dirty or wet.
Chinchillas should always have a source of fresh water. A glass stoppered water bottle is an easy and convenient way to supply clean water. Check out Exotic Nutrition’s Glass Thirsty Critter Water Bottle.
Chinchillas love treats, but they should only be fed occasionally. There are a variety of treats available that a chinchilla will love. Dried Rose Hips, Hibiscus Flowers, and Salad Essentials all make wonderful treats.
A chinchilla needs a safe home that gives him places to play, explore, and sleep. With the correct cage, bedding, toys, and other accessories your pet will enjoy his home and will be happy and healthy.
Chinchillas are very active and love to move around and play. Therefore, the bigger the cage, the better. The minimum size cage for one Chinchilla is 16″ x 18″ x 16″, but if you have space for a bigger cage, your chinchilla will definitely benefit. When choosing your new chinchilla’s home, remember that they love to jump and climb. The more ledges there are to sit on, the happier your new pet will be. If space isn't a limitation, Exotic Nutrition’s 4-Level Mansion Cage is a great choice. The 2-Level Mansion Cage is also a good option for smaller spaces. If you have more than one chinchilla or want to breed them, the Borneo Version II is great because it has twice the amount of floor space and can be customized with additional shelves and platform.
There are many wire cages with solid floors that make excellent homes. If it is tall, it is a good idea to place ledges and hammocks strategically so they won’t fall. Avoid cages with wire floors since they can hurt a chinchilla’s feet. The best kind of cage has a removable pan that allows for easy cleaning.
Chinchillas are sensitive to heat, humidity, and drafts. Extreme heat can even cause heatstroke, which can be life threatening. They do best between the temperatures of 60ºF - 70ºF. Position the cage away from direct sunlight or other heat sources so your chinchilla stays cool and dry. A slab of granite provides a cool place to rest on a warmer day.
Cage Accessories & Cleaning
Your chinchilla will also require ample bedding, accessories and toys to occupy themselves with while you’re away. Accessories like platforms and tunnels encourage a chinchilla’s natural jumping and burrowing behaviors. Toys encourage interest, curiosity, and movement, and come in many different types, from forage toys to interactive toys. Chinchillas also require a way to exercise. Exercise wheels are the best way to ensure a pet chinchilla has a way to exercise. Exotic Nutrition’s Chin-Sprint is a specially designed wheel made specifically for animals like chinchillas.
Chinchillas are very clean animals and do not like to be in a dirty cage. The bedding will most likely need to be changed at least once a week. Wash the water bottle, food bowl, and any cage accessories or toys that get dirty with a safe cleaner like our Kage Kleen spray. Make sure everything is dry before returning items to the cage.
Chinchillas are creatures of habit with strong internal clocks. They do well with a set routine that allows time for bonding, playing and bathing. These three things are necessary for a chinchilla’s overall health and well-being and shouldn’t be overlooked. Leaving your chinchilla to its own devices is fine for short periods of time - like when you’re at work or school - but they shouldn’t be left alone indefinitely.
Your chinchilla will learn to be comfortable with you if you handle it from an early age. If your pet is new to you, get him settled into his new cage. Give him a few days to adjust to the household. Once your chinchilla has had some time to get settled in his or her new home, you can talk to your chinchilla in a soft voice and also sit by the cage. You can also use food to introduce yourself in a friendly manner to your chinchilla. Hold a chinchilla treat in the palm of your hand, keeping your hand flat. Your chinchilla will come to investigate. Let him sniff your hand and pick up the treat on his own. Try not to make any sudden moves. Chinchillas are prey animals, so if they feel threatened their first instinct is to run!
If your chinchilla seems comfortable with your hand and arm, when they come near you you can slowly try scratching them under the chin or behind the ears. Be careful not to touch the whiskers as you are scratching or you may irritate your pet. When you are ready to try holding your chinchilla, there is a proper way to support him so you won’t cause injury or stress.
How to Hold your Chinchilla
Place your palms under the belly, with your fingers extending up towards the back. As you lift, shift one of your hands so that it is supporting the hind legs and hindquarters Hold them secure between your chest and your hands. Make sure that one of your hands continues to support the feet and bottom. Be careful to not squeeze your chinchilla. Their bones are fragile and can easily be broken. Try not to grab the fur, because chinchillas have a defense mechanism that cause their fur to fall out if they are grabbed by a predator. It’s a good idea to sit down while holding your chinchilla because there is a chance they may try to jump away. You also will want to be in an enclosed space whenever your pet is out of the cage to minimize the chance of them getting away from you and getting lost. Once your chinchilla is comfortable around you, you can let them out to play on a regular basis.
Boredom can be a killer for any species, especially for intelligent, active, caged chinchillas. Stimulation is critical for their health and happiness – physical activity can help ebb the issue of containment or inactivity. Chinchillas are active creatures that run, jump, and climb, so letting them out for a few hours to play every night helps them get the exercise they need. A large, carpeted, cool, temperature-controlled room is best. If you aren’t able to chinchilla-proof an entire room, consider a large playpen for their activities.
Setting up the Room
Before letting your chinchilla out, there are necessary precautions to take to ensure their safety. Shut all doors and windows. Even under constant supervision, it only takes a moment for your chinchilla to scurry out of the playroom. Remove cords from electronics or wrap exposed electronic cables and wire in a towel/cloth or hard casing. Chinchillas chew and gnaw on just about anything, so protect or remove any furniture in the room. Also look for any small, potentially dangerous spaces your chinchilla could hide.
Fill the room with toys they can chew on and places to play and hide. Cat towers are great places for chinchillas to safely climb, jump, and hide. Chew toys, tunnels, and hideouts also provide a stimulating environment. Large exercise wheels are another option for keeping your chinchilla active.
Your chinchilla absolutely requires supervision when it's out of its cage. Remember that chinchillas are sensitive and curious creatures, and leaving them alone, even in a chinchilla-proof area, can be potentially harmful.
Along with toys and fun, hay, treats, and water are good to have on hand in the playroom so your chinchilla can recover from exercise. Due to the amount of exercise they get during playtime, chinchillas can experience blood sugar crashes. If they seem to have trouble standing up or start to sway, give them a snack.
A regular dust bath is an absolute necessity for all chinchillas. Taking a vigorous dust bath is one of their natural behaviors and it is how chinchillas keep their lush coats clean and healthy. Dusting powder and bathing bins, like our Chinchilla Dust and Acrylic Bath House, are used to allow chinchillas to bathe themselves.
Chinchilla dust is made to mimic what they would have access to in their native habitat. When the chinchillas roll in this dust, it penetrates their coat down to the skin and absorbs oil and dirt from the fur which in turn keeps the coat clean. Let your chinchilla take a dust bath at least twice a week by placing the bath bin with the dusting powder inside the cage. The dust should be at least an inch deep so that the chinchilla can effectively roll in it. After 10-15 minutes, remove the bin from the cage and store it for next time. The dusting powder should be replaced once it’s soiled, usually after 1-2 weeks. In humid weather, baths should be offered more frequently. If your chinchilla has dry, flaky skin or seems itchy, decrease the bathing time and frequency a bit.
Notice: Exotic Nutrition cannot provide specific care guidelines on an individual basis. Please consult a veterinarian or experienced breeder.
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