Pet Care Resources

Chinchilla History and Care Recommendations

December 3, 2016

History of the Chinchilla

The long-tailed chinchilla (Chinchilla laniger) is native to the mountains and foothills of the Andes in South America. These rodents are known for their large ears and soft, luxurious fur. Chinchilla fur has the highest density of any land animal with more than 20,000 hairs per square centimeter. Many mammals grow just one hair from each follicle, but the chinchilla has more than 50 hairs in a single follicle. The international trade in chinchilla fur goes back to the 1500s and by the end of the 19th century; chinchillas had already become quite rare. Today, the free-ranging chinchilla is listed as endangered because of hunting and trapping for its pelt. Chinchillas are currently captive-bred for both the pet industry and the fur trade.

Chinchillas make charming pets, but they are naturally skittish. Chinchillas are not considered to be good pets for small children because of their delicate bones and high-strung, hyperactive natures. Most pet chinchillas live 6-10 years. Female chinchillas tend to be larger than males, and the average body weight generally ranges from 400-600 grams (0.9-1.3 lbs).

Diet Recommendations for Chinchillas

Chinchillas are herbivores and they require a diet high in fiber.  At MedVet Hilliard, we recommend feeding and using Oxbow Animal products.  This includes hay, pellets, and dietary supplements.  Information for Oxbow is provided at the end of this care sheet and we can provide you with a catalog upon request.

  • Provide unlimited access to fresh grass hays, such as timothy and oat hay. Alfalfa hay is very rich in calcium and protein and should only be fed to young, growing animals (under 1 year of age).
    • Feeding hay is important in keeping their molars trim and GI tract healthy.
  • A high-quality chinchilla pellet should make up 30-50% of the diet.
  • Treats should never make up more than 5-10% of the diet. Provide fresh carrots and green vegetables in moderation.
    • Suggested greens: Beet greens (tops), carrot tops (and no more than 1-2 baby carrots per day), Cilantro, Clover, Collard greens, Dandelion greens and flowers (no pesticides), Endive, Escarole, Mustard greens, Parsley, Peppermint leaves, Raddichio, Radish tops, Raspberry leaves, Romaine lettuce (no iceberg or light colored leaf), Spinach, Watercress or Wheatgrass.
    • Nuts and dried fruit such as raisins are often favorite treats, however, these items should only be offered in small amounts. Never offer more than one teaspoon of raisin or nut treats daily.
  • Make clean, fresh water available at all times. Water is easily provided in water bottles placed at a level your chinchilla can reach comfortably. Rinse water bottles daily and clean bottles regularly.

Housing Chinchillas

Chinchillas are active, acrobatic animals that require a lot of space. A large multi-level cage is recommended since chinchillas like to climb and jump in both horizontal and vertical directions.

  • Provide a cage with minimal dimensions of 80 × 50 × 80 (length x depth x height).
  • Select a cage constructed of a very small welded wire mesh to prevent leg or foot injury. An area of solid flooring should also be available, as well as drop pans below the cage to facilitate cleaning.
  • Since chinchillas are shy animals, they also require a hiding place. Use something that is made of non-porous materials that can be cleaned and sanitized well or an item that can be easily replaced like a cardboard box.
  • In the wild, chinchillas are solitary creatures. If enough space is provided, pet chinchillas of the same sex may live peacefully together in a single cage, or a male can usually be housed with one or more females.
    • Male chinchillas will fight each other for a mate, and two females may also fight.
  • Place the cage in a well-lit, adequately ventilated environment that is cool and dry.
    • Chinchillas thrive at a temperature range of 18-22°C (64-72°F). Chinchillas do not tolerate heat or humidity. They cannot sweat, and they are prone to potentially fatal overheating. Chinchillas should generally be kept in an air-conditioned space in climates where temperatures exceed 26°C (80°F).
  • Provide wooden blocks and clean, dry, cardboard rolls for chewing.
    • Tree branches make good chinchilla toys as well, but choose non-toxic wood like mulberry or pear tree. Avoid toxic branches from cedar, cherry, or citrus trees.
  • Select exercise wheels with safety in mind. Wheels should be at least 38 cm (15 in) in diameter as smaller wheels can hurt the chinchillas’ backs.
    • Select a solid running surface to prevent limbs or toes from being caught.
    • Also avoid wheels with support bars (bars going from top to bottom on the wheel), as these can cause serious injury.

Dust Bathing Chinchillas

  • Chinchillas must regularly dust bathe to remove oil and moisture from their thick fur. Provide dust baths at least once or twice weekly for only a short time to prevent a perpetual dust cloud in the cage. Dust baths must be large enough and deep enough to allow the chinchilla to roll around in the pan.

Chinchilla Exercise

  • Any chinchilla let out of its cage for play and exercise should be fairly tame and used to being handled. Close supervision is required.
    • Chinchillas are curious, and many things are investigated by biting into them to see if they are edible. Supervise your pet closely in a room that has been checked carefully beforehand.

Chinchilla Behavior and Handling

If handled frequently at a young age, chinchillas adapt well to humans.

  • Restrain your chinchilla by gently grasping the base of the tail (close to the body) with one hand, while supporting the entire body on the opposite forearm and against your body.
  • Chinchillas may try to jump and run when afraid. Be gentle when handling your chinchilla because of the risk of “fur slip” or the patchy shedding of hair that occurs when the fur is grasped or roughly handled.
  • Chinchillas rarely bite though they are capable of doing so if they become agitated enough.
  • Ingestion of feces is also a normal chinchilla behavior. Chinchillas produce cecotropes or “night feces” which are loaded with plenty of vitamins and other nutrients.

Sources for Additional Information on Chinchillas

We hope this article gives your information about the care, husbandry, and behavior of Chinchilla’s.

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Pet Care Resources

For ways to ensure your pet lives a happier, healthier life, visit our Pet Care Resources library.

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