Chinchillas are popular pets which originate from the Andes mountains in South America. Domesticated chinchillas have been known to live for up to 20 years. A chinchilla's appearance is larger and more robust than a squirrel, with big eyes, large ears and a plume-like tail.
As chinchillas are natural prey animals, they have the ability to lose fur if their attacker grabs them, so they can run away and leave the predator with only a clump of fur in his mouth! Chinchillas can be found in a variety of colours, such as white, black, beige, ebony, violet and sapphire, and of course blends of all of these.
Chinchillas are good at jumping and are very active animals, so require plenty of exercise and opportunities to jump and climb. They are social animals and would naturally live in a large group of other chinchillas. Chinchillas can breed at any time of the year and pregnancy takes around 111 days, meaning baby chinchillas are born fully furred and with their eyes open. Chinchillas are best kept within same-sex pairings or groups to avoid breeding.
Chinchillas have teeth that continuously grow, so they will always need to have something to chew to wear them down. Chinchilla fur is known for being extremely soft, as they grow 60 hairs from each follicle — and sadly they have been bred and farmed for their soft, dense fur. Their fur is also very thick, and in the wild this helps to keep away parasites — meaning a chinchilla is hypo-allergenic! Chinchillas require dust baths several times a week, and this helps to absorb oil and dirt. They cannot be bathed with water because the dense fur does not dry properly and can cause fungus growth or fur rot.
Chinchillas can make a variety of vocal sounds, so don't be surprised to hear him making different noises now and again. The noises can range from a high-pitched alarm-like shriek, to gentle chirps, so it all depends on how your chinchilla is feeling!
Chinchillas are very active animals so as well as having plenty of space in their enclosure, they ideally need some time outside of their cage in a safe environment to get some exercise. If you do let your chinchilla out of his cage, he needs to be supervised at all times and the room needs to be safety checked (any wires hidden away etc). Chinchillas may chew things such as skirting boards and other objects within their reach, so a room where they can cause as little damage as possible is ideal.
Chinchillas have very fragile bones that can easily be broken if not handled correctly. Young children run the risk of squeezing too tight and causing damage, so it isn't advised that you choose a chinchilla as a pet for a small child.
In the wild, chinchillas would live in social groups, so they love company and will be much happier if they are housed with another chinchilla. Same sex pairing is ideal as this will reduce the risk of fighting and breeding. If you house a chinchilla on his own he is more likely to become stressed and lonely.
You'll need to put aside some time to give your chinchilla's cage a quick clean each day, removing any wet or dirty bedding and uneaten food and water. The food and water containers will also need to be cleaned each day to avoid the build up of germs. Once a week you will need to give the whole cage a more thorough clean and disinfect (using a pet-friendly disinfectant) to keep it hygienic, removing all used bedding and replacing it with fresh new bedding.
Chinchillas do not have the ability to sweat, so any temperatures that exceed 25°C will cause him to overheat. If temperatures were to exceed 30°C, your chinchilla could die. Always check the ears as any red colouring can be a sign that your chinchilla is too hot. Keep your chinchilla's enclosure out of direct sunlight and away from cold draughts, in a quiet area.
Chinchillas are more active during the night so are most likely to sleep while you are out during the day, and be more active and noisy during the night. This is another reason why they may not be suitable pets for young children, as they won't be much fun during the daylight hours.