What is a chinchilla
At first glance of a chinchilla most will say it is a giant mouse. Actually they are incorrect on several
fronts. A chinchilla is not mouse, nor it is giant and it may not even be a rodent. A chinchilla
is actually a member of the (you guessed it) chinchilla family. The chinchilla family is part
the the caviomorph sub order of rodentia (or order on it's own. More on
that issue later). Caviomorphs are all native to south America.
Status In The Wild
If you have ever touched a chinchillas coat it becomes obvious how luxurious their
coat is. Because of this they have been hunted for their fur to near extinction in
the wild. In Chile (pounced chill-eh) it is now illegal to hunt them, the penalty for hurting a
chinchilla is nearly as severe as the penalty for killing a human. Unfortunately in
reality only about 50% of them are protected. Other measures are being taken to
protect them. The others however are still very vulnerable to the genocide that has
taken place against their species. It is critical that we do everything in our power
to save them.
Are they rodents?
Over the past couple of years or so debate has begun to emerge on whether or not members of the
caviomorph sub order or rodentia are really rodents or not. Genetic testing has begun to indicate
that they may indeed not be rodents at all. There are some people that think that they should be
classified along with rabbits and hares. However due to differences between them and lagomorphs (the
scientific name for rabbit order) many have proposes making a new order of animals, called
caviomorphia for caviomorph animals such as chinchillas , guinea pigs , degus etc.
Chinchilla behavior is one of the things that makes them unique in the animal kingdom.
Chinchillas are nocturnal, which means that they sleep during the day and come out
at night. If your cage has a place for them to sleep, and there is more than one in
the cage then it is not uncommon for one to sleep in it and the other to sleep in
front of it as if standing guard. They are very intelligent and can and will adapt
their sleeping patterns to you. When you are away they sleep and when you get home
they always seem to wake up at that time as they want to play.
They love running around and playing and hopping just about anywhere. It is
important to allow them to run around on a daily basis. When you do get them out it
is also important to make all wires and other things that care harmful to them out
to reach. Make sure any areas that they can get themselves into are closed in.
Usually the best place to allow them to run in, is in an empty room if possible.
Part of their running is normally to bounce off of walls. They will stand facing the
wall run towards it and jump just before it and kick off of it. They are also
excellent jumpers and have been known to cover 2 meters in a single bound.
Chinchillas come in several different colors. The
chinchilla pictures page contains an image of almost every kind of chinchilla.
Two of these colors are gray and white. They are also available in black velvet and
violet. It is not uncommon for the more exotic colors to be smaller than the Gray
Keeping a chinchillas coat clean is important, so it must have regular dust
baths in order to keep out dirt and stuff. Chinchilla dust is available in most pet
stores, it's best to put it in a large bowl that's big enough for the chin to roll
around in. They do enjoy the dust baths and once they learn how to take them they
will happily do take them. It's probably a good idea to allow them to bathe daily.
Normally chinchilla are healthy but their are circumstances under which they can have
health problems. One of the main keys seem to be to keep them from having these
problems. However because chinchilla have some special needs some of these methods
of prevention may not be obvious.
One thing that is very important is to make sure that before you get a chinchilla
that there are vets in your area that are knowledgeable of them. If this is not
possible then it may be necessary to find vets within reasonable distance that know
about them. This is very important as if they require medical attention you'll want
to make sure they get it. If you have a chinchilla and don't know of any vets that
know about their care then then try asking around.
Of course one of the best methods for keeping a chin healthy is to avoid certain
things that can harm them. Their diet is critical in sustaining good health, poor
diet (as with degus) is a common cause of health afflictions. Try to avoid sugary
foods, they cannot digest sugar too well so it's best to give any thing with sugar
sparingly if at all. For example many many chinchilla owners will give their chins a
raisin or two daily as a treat which has been observed to be fine. What is important
to remember is that a raisin is a treat and is not part of the normal diet, so for the
sake of the chins health it's best to keep it this way. Raisins have been reported to
act as a laxative for them (in the way chocolate does for a lot of people (perhaps
this is the result of the lack of ability to properly assimilate it?)). If your
chinchilla is constipated then I have been told that giving them a raisin or two or
three can help to fix em up.
A common health problem is diarrhea (please forgive my spelling) . This can be the
result of too much treats like raisons (especially prunes they are a no-no). The
most common indication that they have this problem is there droppings becoming soft
and sometimes even green. If this happens then try decreasing the amount of treats
that they receive. There is also the possibility that it could be caused by
something else in their diet. If decreasing or eliminating treats does not help and
it does not appear to be a diet problem then you should seek professional help.
Another common health problem is problems with teeth. Because chins teeth grow
continuously like any other rodent they must have a way to file them down to keep
them from growing too long. Many people report that pumice stones are of great help.
Pumice stones can usually be acquired from body shop types stores. You must make
sure that a chins pumice stone has no dyes or chemicals, it should say all natural
or something like that on the label. They will enjoy chewing at the stone and it
does seem to help their teeth quite a bit. Should their teeth have problems that
require medical attention then common symptoms and drooling and watering eyes, if a
pumice stone does not get rid of these symptoms then they need to be taken to the vet.
This is where it's critical for a vet to be fully knowledgeable of chinchilla care and
treatment. Should the teeth need to be operated on then they need very
specific anesthetic amounts as they are extremely vulnerable to too much of it.
Finally one easy way to see how a chins health is to check the color of it's teeth,
a chinchillas teeth should be deep yellow or orange. This is normal and is not the
result of tooth decay. A chinchilla with white teeth is a sick chin and the cause of
it's sickness needs to be immediately looked into.
A chinchillas diet is perhaps the most important part of it's life and could certainly be the
biggest factor in the quality of it health. Chinchillas like their kin the degu are not capable
of digesting sugar. Too much sugar can lead to diarrhea and even diabetes. As a result it is important
to feed them a diet that does not have sugar in it. They do require vitamin c however so they need
a diet that does not include sugar but does include c.
A good diet is chinchilla pellets mixed with guinea pig pellets, and timothy hay. The guinea pig and
chinchilla pellets have plenty of vitamin c and other vitamins. The timothy hay provides needed
'ruffage' as well as bedding material for them as they like to use it to make nests.
For treats many people will give them a raisin a day. raisins do contain sugar, but only one a day should
be fine. If you find your chins developing diarrhea then decrease the raisin amount or eliminate it.
Like Guinea pigs and degus, chinchilla babies are born with their eyes open and fully
furred. These two in the picture are less then an hour old. A chinchillas gestation
is about 110 days, the average litter size is 1.5 babies, so they are not very
prolific. In the wild the male will assist with the upbringing of the babies but
because it is possible for the female to get pregnant right after having her babies
it is best to separate the male until she is not receptive. This usually takes a few
days. It will be several months after that before she can get pregnant again. For
the sake of the health of the female and babies a female should not be bred after
giving birth, the results can be tragic for both. Mothers should never be bred with
babies and the same goes for fathers. Inbreeding has been known to cause a number of
problems for the babies and should not be attempted.
Each babies genes and characteristics will be 50% from the father and 50% from the
mother. Because the genes for the special colors are special mutated genes and are
recessive; in order for the baby to be a special color that is the same as the
parents both parents must pass a special gene onto the baby. This is only possible
if that special gene in them is the dominate one. Which in turn means that to get a
baby a special color both parents must have one one them and it must be the
Chinchillas make a variety of sounds. The sound they make depends on their mood. Go
over to the sounds page to download a file
with 3 different ones. The first one babies.wav is the sound babies make when happy.
The second madbaby.wav is the sound they make when annoyed. The third one playful.wav
is of a playful adult who wants attention.
When you let your chinchillas out it is important to make sure they cannot get into
things they shouldn't. They can and will get into anything they have access to. They
will also chew wires and wallpaper and even paint.
The room that they run in should have water based paint and not any oil based, preferably
no wallpaper they can get their teeth on and no loose wires. They can easily get a nasty
shock from any wire when they chew thorough them so wires should be kept out of their reach.
Any access to a refrigerator should be blocked off, as should any access to ovens and dishwashers
etc. They can get into any space that is only 1 inch. Toilets should also be covered as they
can get into them and drown.
The best way to chin proof a room is to give them a room to themselves with nothing in it,
this way they will not be able to chew anything or get trapped anywhere.