Getting Started with Chinchillas
So, you’ve been looking around a few pet shops for the newest addition to your family and spotted what looks to be an overly fluffy squirrel. This creature is known as a Chinchilla and is part of the rodent family, they are unique to the rest of the aisle due to their high pricing and care needs. What exactly could possibly go into these strange looking squirrels and just why are they so expensive to begin with?
Chinchillas hail from South America and originally were high altitude creatures that only existed in cold and dry climates at the tops of mountains. This is important to remember when providing a space for your Chinchilla. They require a water bottle to drink from, but otherwise should have no water near their home. They are also very temperature sensitive and should not be subjected to temperatures any higher than 80 degrees Fahrenheit, and are most comfortable between 60-70 degrees Fahrenheit. It is best to consider how easy it is to keep your home at the required temperature, and if you live in a very hot region be prepared to move chinchillas to somewhere cold during power outages and other incidents that could cause your flow of cool air to stop. This means Chinchillas are very high maintenance pets, but they are also very rewarding due to their high intelligence and high levels of interaction, not to mention the cute factor.
Chinchillas are some of the smartest pets around, and as such they need constant stimulation of their brain to stay happy. Chinchillas like puzzles, or interactive but basic devices to receive treats. They are natural problem solvers so providing a container they must get through to find treats will keep them entertained and happy. When buying a Chinchilla consider this as one of the biggest deal breakers as well, if you cannot interact with your new friend daily or afford a second Chinchilla, they will not be happy or stay completely healthy. Chinchillas require socialization as they are herd animals in nature and need companionship. If you can spend a couple hours with them a day, you won’t need to provide them a second Chinchilla. If you can afford to, buying two Chinchillas and allowing them to bond will mean they will still be interactive, but won’t require nearly as much human interaction to be happy. Also remember to get two Chinchillas of the same gender, as Chinchillas can breed continuously and quickly, some instances see immediate impregnation of a female chinchilla within minutes of entering a cage with a male. Also, if you decide to own multiple chinchillas, be sure to spend a fair amount of time researching their behaviors to ensure your new pets get along well enough to live happily together.
Chinchilla’s require a diet that will mostly consist of hay, but a more diverse diet is necessary for your new Chinchilla to have a long and healthy life. The best options are either a food supply that is mostly hay and includes various plants that offer many nutrients, or a focus on an all hay food source and daily treats such as the ever-popular yogurt drops to supply both interaction and additional nutrition. Chinchilla food producers have several types of all hay pellets, or you can provide your new friend with fresh hay bought in large bags. Higher quality hay is highly recommended, and providing home grown hay is not a recommended option until you become well versed in what exactly a Chinchilla needs from their hay and how to safely produce the food. Chinchillas also love fruits as treats, and they do provide great nutrition but can quickly cause health problems in too large of quantities so be sure to be aware of how much of any particular treat your chinchilla can have. Chews also often offer great nutritional value and double as a way for your Chinchilla to meet their chewing needs. As Chinchillas are rodents they do require a constant supply of chews to keep their teeth healthy. Wood chews are common, but Chinchillas prefer porous volcanic type rocks. Either type of chew is common and cheap, so it is more important to provide your chinchilla with their personal favorite.
Chinchillas need to be able to move around a lot to stay in shape. They primarily like to jump and hop, so a multi-level cage is more effective than a single level cage that is very long or wide. They also need soft spaces to sleep in and like to have bedding in their cage for this. Chinchillas will also naturally use the bathroom in soft areas, which means they will make their cage easier to clean if provided a proper living space. They also have sensitive feet, so wire platforms often cause severe damage to a Chinchilla that may cripple their movement forever, so be sure to provide a safe platform cage to your Chinchilla. Chinchillas do like to use wheels as well, and can greatly benefit from a hanging space to hide out in, as their natural instincts compel them to sleep in crevices or dark areas to avoid predators. One of the most important pieces in a Chinchilla’s home is the iconic Chinchiller, a slab of smooth rock that can be cooled in a fridge or freezer that a chinchilla can then use to keep cool if they get a little too warm. As previously stated, Chinchillas are very heat sensitive, so a Chinchiller is an invaluable asset to your pet’s health. Finally, they need to be provided a special type of dust to bathe in. As previously stated they cannot handle getting wet well, so their species cleans their fur with dust. Typically, they would use a dust composed mostly of volcanic material, but there are dusts produced that work just as well for a fraction of the cost. The best way to provide this is to get a dust house that is a cylinder on the inside, fill it with dust and let your chinchilla use it as much as they need, and refill it when necessary.
Chinchillas do require a lot more work than most pets. But, they are very intelligent and friendly creatures with a lot of personality that will often surprise you and give a memorable experience for years. Chinchillas can live up to 20 years in captivity, so make sure you’re ready for a commitment to a long-term friend when you take one home. There is a lot more to taking care of a Chinchilla properly as each Chinchilla will have slightly different needs. Like people, Chinchillas can be nervous or stressed by default, or even be confident and obvious leaders. Remember to provide all the basics your new pet needs and tailor their home to their specific tastes and needs. Like with raising any new type of pet, be sure to do plenty of research and preparation before bringing home a Chinchilla, and remember to enjoy the time you have with your new friend!