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About Chinchillas and their Care

INTRODUCTION

The keeping of chinchillas as pets is relatively new, most people think of a cat when they here chinchilla.
Chinchillas are mammals and part of the rodent order along with rabbits, mice, rats and guinea pigs to name a few. There are 2 species of which we keep the chinchilla lanigera, this is the long tail species. Chinchillas originated in the South American Andes Mountains, captive breeding was carried out for the fur trade, most chinchillas in captivity are now kept as pets.

Chinchillas are not the pet for everyone, first consider the following before deciding to purchase a chinchilla.

  • They live for approx. 20 years.
  • They are nocturnal as are hamsters, and make a noise at night with their acrobatic movements.
  • They need a fairly large cage compared to hamsters, rats and mice.
  • Their dietary needs are quite specialized.
  • Chinchillas are more expensive than other rodents/pets
  • Can you get the right food?
  • Do you have time to clean their cage 2 to 3 times a week, the cage will not smell if cleaned regularly?

The correct chinchilla food is generally cheap and simple to feed. Chinchillas are soft, friendly and intelligent pets which do need care and attention.

HOUSING

Ouinchillas are housed in cages with a metal frame covered by sheet metal at the back and on top with 25 x 12.5 mm weld mesh on the other sides. The bottom is also weld mesh with a removable tray below. Part of the bottom is covered by wood to protect the chins small feet, there are wooden shelve placed at different heights as the chins love to jump around the cage and chew a the wood. All wood must be untreated, the safest is untreated pine, this is easily replaced when the chins have chewed holes in it. A wooden nesting box is also placed in the cage, the shelves and nest box will get nibbled and need replacing as the chins need to keep their teeth short. For bedding use teff grass although any dry clean hay will work, wood shavings are not ideal and will stick to their coat. Metal cages are easily cleaned and more hygienic than wooden ones.
Exercise wheels are also available for chinchillas, these can be made or bought.
Chinchillas should be housed inside in a largish cage with toys and platforms to make it interesting for your pet chinchilla. Cages should be kept away from damp drafty areas in the house. Chinchillas are noisy at night so place the cage away from bedrooms.
Chinchillas can be let out for interaction and exercise, but, never leave them alone, they move fast, will hide and could chew anything in the room, including electrical wires.

FEEDING

Your pet chinchilla needs at special nutritional and balanced diet to live a long and healthy life. Chinchillas SHOULD NOT be fed rabbit pellets. When I bought my first chinchilla, I was advised by a pet shop to feed a hamster and rabbit pellet mix. I now know that the pet shop staff are not always as knowledgeable about specialised pet needs.
Chinchillas will willingly eat just about any food you give them, but it may not be good for them. The problems caused by incorrect diet, especially rabbit pellets, will only show after a while, most time to late. There are also many treats available on the market, these are fine but must be fed in moderation or can be used as a training aid.
Many imported and local brands of chinchilla food are available on the market or over the net. Our chinchillas were fed on imported food, but unfortunately the manufacturer saw fit to change the food which caused many problems with the health of ours any other reputable breeders chinchillas. As a result of this we now only feed the Mini Magic pet food for chinchillas. This is a local brand and is also a lot cheaper. – See under Food for Sale
Feed your chinchilla about 2 tablespoons per day, soiled food should be removed daily and discarded. Soiled food must not be put back in the feeding bowl.
Feeding of rabbit pellets id harmful to their liver and can shorten the life span of your pet by half or more. Sunflower seed are also not recommended because of the fat content of most sunflower seeds. Raisins, nuts and cookies must only be given in the smallest quantities if you feel you really need to treat your pet chinchilla. Good quality, seasoned, dry hay can be fed as well, but make sure there is no mould on the hay as it can cause diarrhea in chinchillas.
Clean drinking water should always be available and should be changed daily.
NB. It is important not to suddenly change your chinchilla’s diet, this should be done gradually by mixing the two foods if it is absolutely necessary to change. Chinchillas have a very sensitive gut and may also stress your pet.
CARE

Coat Care

As part of your chinchillas daily care they should be give a dust bath. This may be a flat container or even a fish bowl with fine sand, chinchilla bathing sand, in which the chinchilla rolls around as if in a bath tub. This is their natural form of bathing, so chinchillas do not need to be washed. If a plastic container is used, remember chinchillas nibble at everything, a ceramic dish may also be used. The container should be a little bigger than the chinchilla and have a flat bottom the prevent it tipping over as the chinchilla rolls around. The dish should not be to shallow because although they are fascinating to watch while they bath, they do make quite a mess. Chinchilla bathing sand available under Food for sale.
Chinchilla bathing sand is available is South Africa, but if you need sand in a hurry or can’t find any, then clean playpen sand as sold by some baby shops can be used. Make sure the sand is dry, it can be placed in your microwave for a few minutes and then left to cool.

Dental care

Chinchillas teeth never stop growing, therefore they always need something to nibble on to wear down their incisors. For this reason chinchilla will chew the wooden shelve placed in their cage or even their nest box. A hide chew bone can be bought at your local pet shop which can be placed in the cage to chew on.

General Care

All in all chinchillas are low maintenance pets as they do not have to be bathed, dipped or have their nail clipped. If time permits their coat should be brushed once a week.
Cages should be cleaned at least twice a week and fresh food, water and grass changed daily.

BREEDS and MUTATIONS

In the wild there are two types of chinchilla, the Brevicaudata and the Lanigera. All captive chinchillas are thought to be Lanigera which have longer tails although the Brevicaudata has a longer body.
Colours or mutation are very limited in South Africa and only a few breeders have some of the colours.

The mutations we have are:

Standard Grey – All mutations originate from the grey chinchilla
Beige – These can be from light beige to dark beige and also tan. There are 2 main forms of beige, the Homozygous and the Heterozygous. These both have white undersides, but the Homozygous are much lighter in colour and have red eyes.
Tan – These chinchillas are generally browner than the beige and have colour on their bellies. They can vary from light tan to dark tan.
Mosaic – Mosaic are a cross between a white and any other colour. This cross generally produces a white kit with any other colour marking on the face or body.
Pink White – Normally a white chinchilla with pink ears and no other markings.
Black Velvet – Solid black with white belly
Black Ebony – Solid black

Some breeders have other colours but it is rare to find them for sale, if you do expect to pay a premium price. Some of these which we don’t have are, Violet, Sapphire and. Silver white.

SEXING

Sexing chinchillas is easy as the gap between the anus and genitals of the male is much larger.

BREEDING

This is not a discussion that should be taken lightly. Before attempting breeding a lot of research should be done. Chinchillas do not breed like most other rodents such as rats, mice and hamsters. I have decided not to go into the breeding of chinchillas at length as I feel it is not for everyone and as I said above please research carefully first.