Is a chinchilla the right pet for me?

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Staff member
Jan 28, 2009
South Dakota
Is a chinchilla right for you and your family?

Do you want a pet that will snuggle with you and be carted around like a cat, constantly being bundled up and mauled? If so, then a chin is probably not the right pet for you. Think of chins as "chinavision." Hysterical to watch, but often times not real interactive. Chinchillas make wonderful pets, as long as you understand that each chin has their own temperament, their own personality, their own style. Some love to sit with their owners and watch TV, others want to run the entire time they are out of their cage, using their humans only as a perch for a few moments or a jungle gym. Some don't like to be handled at all and will cack at you and bark in their cage. As with any other species (including humans), chins each have their own quirks and it's important that you accept them for who they are.

Chinchillas can live up to 25 years. Generally they live 10-15 years, but they can go quite a bit longer. Are you prepared to have a pet for that long? They will still need attention regardless of school work, prom, college, dating, marriage, or children. They do not have to be all consumign and take over your life, but they do require basic needs being met each day and they do require your attention. It would hardly be worth having a pet, if you're just to ignore it and not interact with it. So remember that a chinchilla can be with you for a very long time, and understand that the commitment isn't the same as with a hamster or a gerbil.

Chins are very active. They love to jump, climb, and perch. Run time in a controlled environment is enjoyable for both them and you. Chins are crepuscular, which means their busy times are dawn and dusk. That doesn't mean they won't run on their wheels all night long, but just that their "usual" busy time is pretty predictable. Chinchillas require a maximum temperature of 75 degrees in their habitat, but it's much safer to keep them at lower temps, in case something should happen to the air conditioning, like a power outage. You also have to factor humidity in to any temperature. A house that sits at 75 with 75% humidity is a death trap for a chin. An air conditioner is an absolute must in areas where you get high heat and humidity.

Chinchillas may be allowed to free roam but there are two very important points to consider:
1. They cannot be litter boxed trained. If a chin is breathing, it's pooping. Most only urinate in their cages, but there is no controlling the poop. Not to worry though, it's very easy to clean up and it's not wet or squishy.
2. Chinchillas chew. If they can get their teeth on it, they are going to chew it. They can chew walls, furniture, electrical cords, toys, wood, anything and everything they can find. When providing run time, you need to be sure that the area they are in is secure and safe for them. This requires removing or covering all cords, covering baseboards you don't want chewed, and blocking tight spaces they might get into that you can't get them out of. A playpen takes care of this nicely or using your bathroom with chemicals and unsafe objects being tucked away safely.

Chinchillas are also very adept at squeezing into tight spaces. They can squeeze in to any small space and you may not be able to get them out. Keep that in mind when you think of areas where you would let your chinchilla run.

Chinchillas are really not a good pet for small children. They have a very delicate bone structure and should only be handled by children with intense supervision. Children have been known to crush a chinchillas ribcage by handling them too roughly and without proper supervision, resulting in the chinchilla's death.

It can be very frustrating to buy a Chinchilla and then find out they are not what you expected. Proper research can go a long way in helping you to avoid that disappointment. Find a good breeder or rancher that will allow you to visit their animals, see how they are in person and hold a few. Understand though, that chinchillas will act differently in their "home" environment than when they get to your home. So don't be surprised if there is some personality change until they settle in and grow used to their new surroundings.

Chinchillas are social animals. In many cases, they get along very well with a cagemate. It is easier to place two already familiar cage mates together, or to purchase two kits of the same sex and start them out as cage mates early, but some chins may prefer to be alone and if your Chinchilla is one of those that prefer to be alone they may spray urine, bite the other Chinchilla's fur, or fight with them, causing severe injury and even death. For this reason, if you have more than one chinchilla, you should always have a spare cage handy for those "just in case" moments. If a fight breaks out, you may not have time to go get a spare cage or a carrier before the fight ends up in severe injuries or death. Having that spare cage/carrier handy could make all the difference.

Chinchillas may be in need of vet care from time to time, though they are usually fairly hardy animals. But, like any other animal (dog, cat, horse) they are deserving of veterinary care and it should not be withheld because "they are just a rodent." If you cannot provide proper veterinary care, should it be needed, then any animal should be given careful consideration before you bring it into their home. A chinchilla with a upper respiratory tract infection isn't going to care if you want to go to the movies Friday and don't have money for both the movies and a vet call. The vet call comes first.

Your chinchilla will require a decent sized (buy the largest you can afford first, rather than upgrading later and paying more) and some fun stuff for in the cage. Most people choose to put wood shelves, wheels, fleece covered tubes, hammocks, bridges, and hanging toys in their cages; either one or all of the above, or a variation. Be creative. Make your chins habitat stimulating and fun for him.

You will need to provide your chin with proper nutrition. Generally accepted foods are:
Nutrena Nature Wise 16%

Generally approved treats are:
Bite sized, nonsugared shredded wheat.
A pinch of old fashioned (not quick) oats.
Dried rosehips.
Organic rose buds.
Chin safe wood chews:

Chins should never be bedded down on cedar or kitty litter. Instead, kiln dried pine, aspen, and carefresh ultra are better alternatives. Many people are now also lining their cages with fleece liners that can be changed out every couple days, replaced with a fresh one, then washed and reused.

If all of the above sounds as though it's something you are willing to take on, welcome to the wonderful world of chinchillas. :)
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