Chinchillas are playful, friendly, and cuddly with soft, thick fur in a variety of colors – white, platinum, black velvet, sapphire, rose/apricot, chocolate brown and albino. Chinchillas are also very intelligent. Although they are instinctively nocturnal, they are so sociable that they will adapt their routine so you can play with them during the day. But because they are creatures of habit, it’s best to play with them at the same time every day. Please take note that Chinchillas live for a long time – 10 to 20 years! If you get a chinchilla, please understand that this is a long commitment that should be considered carefully. Although chinchillas can be kept by themselves, some prefer the company of a same-sex mate. Chinchillas thrive in large, multi-level cages with platforms, ramps and perches for exercise. Make sure to provide your chinchilla a sleeping hut of some sort, like a wooden box or plastic igloo – somewhere it will feel safe and secure while sleeping. Cages should be kept in an area that is fairly quiet and not too hot. Chinchillas need a variety of toys to keep them active, especially items for chewing to keep the incisor teeth in good condition. A daily dust bath is an absolute necessity for chinchillas to remove excess oils and keep their coats healthy. Place high-quality sand into a high-sided box or cat litter tray, and let your chinchillas roll around in it. Always remove soiled sand immediately, and change all the sand once a week. Note that chinchillas must not be bathed in water, since their coats are very difficult to dry. Also, water in the fur may cause hypothermia, which could be fatal.
Line the bottom of your chinchilla’s cage with paper bedding for added absorbency and odor control. Do not use cedar chips as aromatic oils in cedar bedding have been shown to have adverse health effects on small pets. Remove soiled bedding, droppings and stale food from the cage daily. Clean the cage completely once a week by replacing dirty litter and bedding and scrubbing the bottom of the cage and soiled accessories with warm water and a gentle soap. Make sure to rinse and dry everything completely before returning it to the cage.
Chinchillas need more consistency in their diets than most small mammals. Because a chinchilla’s microflora (microbes that reside in the intestines and play a critical role in digestion) are delicately balanced, your pet’s health may be seriously compromised if his daily diet is dramatically altered or if you offer him too many treats. A complete diet should consist of a good quality pellet-based food formulated specifically for chinchillas. The diet should be fortified with calcium and small amounts of vitamin C. Boosting your chinchilla’s immune system efficiency with a supplement such as Anise or Yucca will also help keep him healthy and happy. Supplementing your pet’s diet with dry hay to nibble on at their leisure is good practice. Chinchillas are naturally active around dawn and dusk, and although you can change their habits gradually, try to feed your chinchilla at around the same time each morning and night.
Most chinchillas will bond closely with their owners. However, like any animal, you must be gentle and consistent to gain the trust of your pet before he will let you handle him. Before handling, make sure that your chinchilla is awake and alert. Soothe him with the familiar sound of your voice, and let him come to you. Small mammals do not like to be approached from above, so crouch in front of him, presenting the back of your hand to sniff. Gently put your thumb behind the forelegs with your fingers over his back and lift with one hand while supporting his bottom with the other hand. Gently place your chinchilla onto your lap or hold him against your chest.
Take your chinchilla to the vet for a new pet exam, and again every six months for wellness exams. Healthy chinchillas are bright and alert. Examine your pet daily during handling for signs of illness. This is especially important for younger and older pets. Make sure he is eating and drinking normally. Any change in normal behavior may indicate an underlying problem. In particular, look for: