February 9, 2023 by Umair Shahid
Chinchillas belong to the Chinchillidae family of the order Rodentia. They resemble ground squirrels in appearance but are more robust & larger. Native to the Andes
Mountains of South America, most of the chinchillas are descendent of a relatively smaller group of only 13 animals. In the 1920s, they are imported to California and now possess several variations in their fur and coat color.
According to recent studies, chinchillas can live up to 20 years with an adult weight of 400 to 800 grams.
They are docile animals having short body structures, delicate limbs, a bushy tail, and hairless ears. Chinchillas have bluish to brownish-grey fur and are generally nocturnal with herbivore feeding behavior.
Let me tell you another fun fact! Do you know chinchillas are the only kept rodent species that have the longest gestation length? T
hey have a gestation period of 110 days and a litter of 1 to 3 precocial offspring. Another study reveals that the chinchillas have the densest fur of all land mammals.
As a veterinarian, I’ve seen both species (Chinchilla lanigera & Chinchilla chinchilla) being used in biomedical & scientific research since the 1970s.
The favorable habitat reduction and illegal hunting is putting a drastic negative effect on the chinchilla population. Now, they have been declared a critically endangered species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
Top Facts about Chinchillas
1. & Habitat
Filled with a lot of energy, chinchillas possess a very inquisitive & socializing nature. They acclimatize to new environments well. Based on the veterinarian’s experience, people love to make chinchillas their friendly pets because of their cuddly nature.
They roam around and are highly active at dawn and dusk and have a nocturnal behavior. With leaping long hind legs, chinchillas are natural athletes with an amazing jumping height of over six feet. They love to stay in groups and are observed to live in colonies in the wild.
Talking about their habitat, chinchillas are adapted to live at elevations of over 4000m in a mountainous environment.
They occupy the hills and coastal regions of Peru, Chile & Bolivia. The dense fur assists them in surviving the harsh and cold environments of South America. According to a study on thermoregulation in chinchillas, they possess 60 to 90 hair per hair follicle.
The hairless footpads help in the navigation over the rocky mountain surfaces by maintaining a frictional grip. Chinchillas can tolerate the low oxygen levels in high altitude habitats due to their higher RBCs count with more oxygen-carrying capacity.
2. Feeding Behavior & Diet
Chinchillas are herbivores in nature and their main diet consists of plant leaves and fruits. Just like other rodents, they can also feed on seeds and small insects.
As a veterinarian, I’ve observed the digestive mechanism of chinchillas to be very unusual. They require a very high fibrous diet which passes through their digestive tract producing a special type of droppings termed caecotrophs.
Chinchillas then again consume these droppings to digest and absorb the nutrients. The requirement of high fiber in the diet is important to create an abrasive effect. This is required to wear down the consistently growing teeth of chinchillas.
If you want to be a pet parent of a chinchilla, make sure to follow the feeding requirements.
According to my expert opinion, chinchillas must be offered grass hay such as orchard grass, meadow hay, or Timothy hay. The hay must be available ad-libitum throughout the day with or without the addition of alfalfa.
There are many commercial feed formulations available for chinchillas in pellet form. Alfalfa must not be used as the main hay source as I’ve seen cases of calcium stones in the bladder with prolonged use.
Apart from that, you can also use green vegetables and make sure the water is always available in surplus amounts throughout the day.
3. Exercise & Grooming
Chinchillas often require a lot of activity to allow them to stay mentally stimulated and physically active.
I always recommend getting toys for chinchillas if you are keeping them as your pets. These toys assist them in doing playful activities and keep them busy most of the time.
Additionally, there are many chewing items available to keep their teeth in the best shape and health. To make them more physically fit, veterinary experts suggest getting a willow ball and rings to help them keep their limbs stimulated.
Belonging to an arid climate, chinchillas don’t need water to bathe themselves and I never recommend it to anyone.
They prefer dust baths to get rid of the excess oils and dirt from their fur. Thankfully, there are many dust baths available commercially that you can place in the enclosure for 10 minutes per day. Make sure you must change the dust every week to keep it clean and fresh.
4. Chinchillas as Pets
Chinchillas can be kept as pets because of their friendly and docile nature. In my opinion, you can be a great pet parent by maintaining their exercise and dental requirements.
As mentioned, the dental requirements can be met by providing a high fiber diet, wooden blocks, & mineral chews.
Naturally, chinchillas don’t have sweat glands so they need a specifically temperature-controlled environment.
These furry animals prefer to clean their fur using dust baths. I recommend using a dust bath made of special dust comprises of fine pumice three to four times a week.
As a veterinarian, I don’t recommend you bathe your chinchilla in water. Chinchillas’ thick fur is especially resistant to parasites and also helps them to reduce dander buildup.
There are still many studies being conducted on the care of these animals as there is no perfect hard and fast rule of care for them.
Chinchillas can be kept in pairs making sure they are friendly and comfortable with each other’s company. The next boxes must be placed at suitable locations to provide them with hiding and resting areas.
Consult a veterinarian immediately if you observe any signs of illness such as sore feet, fur loss, lack of fecal pellets, or wetness around the eyes.
Their normal and abnormal behavior can be observed more accurately during the night. As a veterinarian, I don’t recommend treating your chinchilla at home and rather using the medicines prescribed by your consultant veterinarian.
Keeping a regular check on the health of your chinchillas and maintaining their feeding and behavior requirements is compulsory. This enables them to get adequate good health, socialization, and playfulness.
Chinchillas are fairly quiet and interesting animals if you want to keep them as pets. They are entertaining to watch and don’t require much space.
These nocturnal furry animals are super-friendly in socialization with many playful habits. However, you may need to put considerable effort into the process of taming them and making them accustomed to the new environment.
Make sure you get one from a reputable breeder with a complete history of the animal’s temperament. Chinchillas must be kept in a clean sanitary environment so that they can maintain their good body condition and health status.
Are chinchillas nocturnal?
Yes, chinchillas come under the category of nocturnal and crepuscular animals. Their active behavior mostly shows up in the evening or at the night. They prefer to sleep during the day.
Can chinchillas eat carrots?
Yes, apart from dried fruits and root vegetables, chinchillas can eat carrots. I, as a veterinarian, suggest you gradually introduce carrots to your chinchilla to avoid their stomach getting upset.
Fruits are generally high in sugar content and should be used only as a treat. Chinchillas can eat apples but you must not give them one to two small pieces a week. The greater consumption of such fruits can result in digestive tract problems.
Do chinchillas like to live in pairs?
Recent studies have shown that chinchillas have a more friendly temperament when kept as pairs. They live in bog colonies in their natural wild habitat. Unless advised by a veterinarian, another friendly chinchilla of either the same or opposite sex must be kept with the other.
How to litter train chinchilla?
Litter training is a process of patience and time taking. However, you can train your chinchilla to defecate and urinate in the litter box with consistent effort. They are highly intelligent animals but they are a little more of a hassle when it comes to litter-training.
How many babies can a chinchilla have?
Chinchillas can breed throughout the year and have been observed to produce an average of two to four babies per litter.
Chinchillas are docile and friendly but they can be aggressive to their cage partner. They may produce specific signs of aggression such as biting, lunging, and vocalizations towards their owners.
Due to a very dense fur having 60 to 90 hairs per follicle, the hair clumps up and mats. My expert opinion is not to wet your chinchilla or it could lead to body heat loss and potential illness.
Can chinchillas eat a banana?
Bananas although contain vitamin and fiber, is not an ideal food for your chinchilla. Bananas are a very sugar-dense fruit that can disturb your chinchilla’s gut health. Veterinarians always recommend avoiding bananas completely in chinchilla’s diet.
Can I adopt a chinchilla?
It is always a wonderful thing to provide a second chance in a much more caring environment. There are many adoption shelters and pet rescues available where you can easily adopt a chinchilla. Chinchilla adoption can be possible if you’re already experienced in taking care of them or willing to research their living and feeding needs.
I am a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine and have a keen interest in animal health care. Working as a veterinary content writer, I intend to stay with professional approach in producing quality content. I like research-based reading and currently seeking my veterinary profession. My hobbies are travelling to exotic places and observing nature to the fullest.