A Guide to Chinchilla Care, Part 2: Health and Behavior

Seek veterinary care at the first sign of illness in your chinchilla.

Socialize your chinchilla from a young age. By: Haje Jan Kamps

Editor’s Note: This is Part 2 of our guide to caring for chinchillas. To read Part 1, click here.

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Recently, we talked about one of the most important aspects of chinchilla care.


 

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Here, we’ll discuss their feeding, socialization, medical requirements and habits.

Socialization With You

When it comes to dealing with people, chinchillas enjoy being handled and cuddled, provided they are well socialized.

Socializing chinchillas is most successful when they are young. “A baby chinchilla can be socialized to accept handling, but physical contact between humans and adult chinchillas that haven’t been trained to interact this way can be extremely stressful for the chinchilla,” says Eve Adamson in Adopting a Pet for Dummies. “An adult chinchilla may never be comfortable with being handled.”

With young chinchillas, a little patience goes a long way. Invest a little time every day toward socialization. Start small — simply sit outside their cage and talk to them. Gradually begin offering treats, like small pieces of carrot, first placed on the floor and then on your hand.

As they become more comfortable with you, you can begin touching and picking them up. Just be careful not to squeeze — chinchillas have fragile rib cages and squeezing too hard can cause injury.

Small children and people who cannot be trusted to be gentle should never handle chinchillas.

Socialization With Other Chinchillas

In the wild, chinchillas can live in colonies of up to 100 animals or more, but their territory is much larger. Obviously, there is limited space when they are in captivity.

“A male chinchilla may accept a male cage mate if they are introduced to each other at a very young age; less than 9 months is ideal as chinchillas reach maturity around that age,” advises K. J. Tenny in Lovely Chinchillas: A Guide to Pet Care and Breeding. “Female chinchillas may accept another female chinchilla as a cage mate if they have been introduced at a very young age; less than 9 months is ideal.”

Chinchillas love good-quality hay, dried fruit and vegetables to eat. By: Micah Sittig

Habits

Chinchillas are nocturnal animals, meaning that they will be most active at night (factor this in when you determine where to place their habitat).

They are also tremendous chewers, which is why you should steer clear of anything plastic. Wooden blocks, cardboard tubes and specially made chinchilla toys are your best bet. Chinchillas will need to have items to chew on at all times — this is how they maintain their teeth.

Unlike mice and rats, chinchillas can live 10–20 years, so be sure you’re ready for that before committing to the little guys.

Chinchillas, as a prey species, tend to be nervous. Providing nesting boxes for your chinchillas allows them a safe place to hide and peek out at the world when they get scared. Be patient with them, and never allow anyone to handle them if they are scared, may handle them roughly or might shout or otherwise harm your chinchilla.

Feeding and Nutrition

Chinchillas must have access to clean water, preferably in a glass bottle mounted outside their cage. This water should be checked at least a couple of times a day to ensure freshness and that they have enough. According to the RSPCA, the chinchilla has a few other dietary requirements as well:

  • Good-quality hay
  • 1–2 tablespoons of grass-based chinchilla pellets per chinchilla daily
  • Small amounts of dried fruit and root vegetables
  • Avoid nuts and seeds; they are high in fat

The RSPCA also advises to avoid sudden dietary changes and to monitor chinchillas’ food intake versus their elimination output daily. “If your chinchilla’s eating or drinking habits change,” the RSPCA says, “the number or size of droppings gets smaller or they stop, talk to your vet straight away as they could be seriously ill…. Chinchillas produce two kinds of droppings — hard dry pellets, and softer moist pellets that they eat directly from their bottom and which are an essential part of their diet.”

Here are some more helpful tips on chinchilla care:

Medical Issues

Chinchillas tend to keep themselves relatively healthy when they are provided with the right tools. Good chewing blocks will help chinchillas maintain their own teeth while the right diet will contribute to overall health. A healthy chinchilla will eat, drink, eliminate, play and socialize normally.

A sick chinchilla, however, may display some of the following symptoms:

  • Weight loss
  • Hair loss
  • Diarrhea
  • Depressed or struggling respiration
  • Lethargy
  • Discharge from the eyes or nose
  • Skin lesions
  • Overgrown teeth

If your chinchilla is displaying 1 or more of the above symptoms, you should seek veterinary care. However, so much of the chinchilla’s health depends on you. By placing their habitat in the right temperature-controlled area, providing them with their dust to keep clean, offering plenty of clean water and feeding them the right foods, your chinchilla is likely to stay healthy.

Before bringing your chinchillas home, research their requirements and determine whether your lifestyle will allow you to comfortably fulfill them. It would be difficult to rehome these little guys, so make sure you’re ready to commit. Part of that homework includes finding a veterinarian who is comfortable and qualified to handle what is considered an exotic pet.

These creatures are fascinating, intelligent and fun. They deserve the very best home we can offer them. If you have chinchillas or you’re about to add some to your household, have fun and enjoy these wonderful pets.

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