A member of the rodent family and descendants of the 11 chinchillas first brought to the United States in 1923, by Mathias Chapman; these furry, big eyed, 4 toed, bushy tailed critters, can make great pets for the right homes. They are related to guinea pigs and porcupines and originated in the Andes Mountains in Northern Chile. The colors we see today are typically gray or brown with black tips developed through selective breeding, but were originally from yellow mottled fur. They have long been prized and hunted for their fur, to the point of endangerment and now are a protected, wild species. The ones we see today are raised on chinchilla breeding farms for their fur or the commercial pet industry. They grow to roughly 10-14 inches in body length with the tail adding another 5-6 inches. Their life span is 15-22 years and is full of activity.
So, is a chinchilla the right pet for you? They are primarily nocturnal, meaning they spend most of their active time at night, while sleeping by day. Are you a night owl too? They like routine and stress easily over frequent changes or noisy conditions during sleep times. Their favorite times of day are dawn and dusk and have the most energy during this time. They are extremely playful and need a large area to be able to run around and play in. They love tunnels and hiding under or in things. Our furry friends like a lot of roughage, so their diet consists of quality grass hay and chinchilla pellets. They have sensitive stomachs, so their diet needs to be consistent with little to no change. Are you careful, precise and consistent? Do you like taking dirt baths? No, well Chinchillas do. Volcanic dust baths twice weekly is a favorite pastime of theirs. This dust bath helps keep their coat thick and clean by removing dirt and oil.
In the wild, Chinchillas live in large social colonies, but in captivity, they can do quite well as a single pet, if they are given plenty of room, activities, handling and toys. If they are raised from a young age, they will become quite friendly and tame. Do you like your own space? Chinchillas do too. They get selective about their amount of space and handling and decide if they want to be cuddled or not. They have teeth that continue to grow, so they need lots of safe things to chew on to keep the length of their teeth down. They are funny and curious little critters and are sure to make you laugh.
Still not sure if this is the pet for you. These pets need to be near a veterinarian that handles exotic animals, so they can get regular check-ups and vaccinations. They are also not recommended to be in homes with small children due to their want to handle and play with them. I suggest you learn as much as you can about any potential pet, prepare your home, and consider any potential needs for you and the pet before getting your pet, especially chinchillas. For more information on these wonderful animals full of curiosity and mischief; I recommend the following sites:
Find out if a chinchilla is for you!
Lorraine Fancher, LVT