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Chinchillas

I am Klaudia, and I am a registered veterinary nurse at Northdale. I own 2 chinchillas, named Apricot and Fig, who I love to bits. They have completely different personalities, one is fussy and skittish; the other one will love anyone as long as they have snacks. They are a hard work, and their high intelligence means they want to be constantly entertained with my attention or toys.

If you are thinking about getting a chinchilla, here is my advice - do tonnes of research, contact reputable breeders, keep treats to minimum and invest in air conditioning! They aren't easy pets, but I would never swap them for anything else!  

Chinchillas - rodents, herbivores originated from Chile, very intelligent and sensitive animals, ideal for experienced pet owners.

They can be great companions, and for a long time! Average chinchilla lives between 10-15 years but they can live up to 20 years! They are sensitive to many things, including some foods, temperatures and diseases. Read this article to see whether chinchilla is the right animal for you.

Common myths:

MYTH - "chinchillas love cuddles and love to be held" - the reality is, every chinchilla has their own personality - some will love the cuddles all the time, and some will do anything to escape from humans if they don't fancy the fuss. This can be quite frustrating for young children, but forcing a chinchilla to be held can cause stress, and many health problems can arise from stress. Accept your companion as is and show them patience, and they will open up to you in their own ways.

MYTH - "chinchillas love fruits and veggies" - this information is untrue, but still spread out by most pet shops and some veterinary professionals. Recent research shows that giving ANY kind of fruit, vegetable and even seeds or nuts can lead to diabetes, seizures, urine infections, teeth issues and most commonly bloat, which can be fatal. Instead, safe treat options include dried marigolds, roses, raspberry leaves, apple sticks and many other products not containing the harmful ingredients.

MYTH -"wild chinchillas live in a desert so they love hot weather" - deserts in the mountains of Chile are very cool actually. Chinchilla coat contains around 50 hairs per follicle (in comparison, humans have only 1 hair per follicle), so their coat is dense and they cannot sweat. This means that any temperatures above 23*C can be fatal for these fluffy pets. It is important to ensure the room is cool in the summer to keep them happy and healthy.

       

The truths:

TRUE - "they are very soft" - chinchilla fur feels like a cloud, but because it is so dense, it should never get wet as it will take very long to dry out, and it can even invite mould! if you want to keep your chinchilla clean, make sure they have a dust bath to use 3 times a week.

TRUE - "they are very fast and jumpy" - they can jump up to 6ft high, from a standing position, so yes, they will jump on top of your sofa, kitchen counters and desks! make sure their cage is large and has plenty of wooden shelves to jump on. Cages for chinchillas can be quite expensive, starting from £200, plus shelves, toys, bowls and extras. They are not cheap pets!

TRUE -"they are herd animals" - in the wild, they live in groups up to 500 individuals, so keeping at least 2 at home will make them happy and will reduce stress. They need to be kept in groups of the same sex, as breeding chinchillas is extremally risky.

Veterinary advice:

  • vet check once a year - chinchillas are prone to many diseases, especially malocclusion which is a teeth issue, usually untreatable once showing symptoms. This can be prevented by regular teeth checks. X-rays of the teeth are recommended by breeders every 5 years to ensure healthy growth of teeth roots
  • monitor the droppings! - as chinchillas have sensitive stomachs, you need to be on a constant watch for irregular (especially small) sizes of their droppings which can indicate bloat. Contact your vet if you're worried your pet is bloated to receive urgent treatment
  • wash your hands between petting different species - chinchillas are prone to fungal infections, like ringworm which can be transmitted between species, including humans. Wash and dry your hands before handling your chinchilla to prevent any contamination
  • not all products that are advertised safe for chinchillas are safe! always check the ingredients and ask your breeder