Chinchilla Husbandry and Preventative Healthcare
Chinchillas are native to the Andes mountains in South America (Bolivia, Chile*, Argentina, and Peru). They live in colonies called “herds” and at very high elevations requiring them to have some of the densest fur of all land mammals.
Chinchillas are some of the longest-lived exotic mammals if cared for appropriately and can reach ages in their late teens to early twenties!
Caging: Wire mesh cages may be used, but a solid floor must be provided to prevent foot pad injuries. Shelves should be provided to allow for exercise Glass aquariums or solid walled plastic containers should be avoided due to poor ventilation. Wooden cages should be used with caution as Chinchillas like to chew and may escape. Paper based bedding is recommended as a floor covering.
Bathing: Dust baths should be provided several times a week to remove oil and dirt from the fur. There are many types of commercial chinchilla dust available. The dust bath should only be left in the cage for 15-20 minutes, as excessive use may lead to eye problems/injury.
Group Housing: Chinchillas may fight when housed together, with the females being the more aggressive gender. Solitary caging is typically recommended but when slowly introduced, pairs may live peacefully together.
Temperature: Chinchillas do not tolerate heat or humidity well. They should be kept in a cool, dry, well lit area with adequate ventilation. The optimal temperature is between 60-75 F. They can not be kept outside in the Northern Virginia climate.
Pellets/Hay: We recommend a commercially available chinchilla-specific pellet, supplemented with unlimited high-quality hay (timothy, orchard grass, meadow grass, and/or oat hay). Alfalfa hay can be fed, but we recommend using it more as a treat as it is lower in Fiber content and higher in calories than other hay.
Treats: Treats should comprise no more than 10 % of the diet. Dried rose hips, hibiscus, dandelion leaves, dried fruits, and fresh greens are excellent treats for pet chinchillas, but should be given sparingly.
Water: Chinchillas can learn to drink from sipper-type bottles. Water must be changed daily.
Chinchillas are easily restrained and rarely bite. Care must be taken to avoid injury like ‘fur slip,’ which is the patchy shedding of fur as the result of rough handling or tension on the skin.
Common medical conditions
Dental malocclusion: This condition is sometimes referred to as “slobbers.” It is characterized by excessive drooling or accumulation of food material under the chin. A decrease in size and amount of feces is another sign associated with this syndrome. The underlying cause is the overgrowth of the molar teeth and will most likely require regular molar trims with your veterinarian. Providing and encouraging the consumption of hay may aid in prevention/decrease of dental issues.
Heat stroke: High temperature and humidity are not tolerated well by chinchillas. Signs of heat stroke include extreme lethargy, panting and bright red mucous membranes. If these signs are seen, veterinary attention should be sought immediately.
Fur Chewing: Some of the potential causes for this behavior include stress, boredom, dietary imbalance, or hereditary factors. Providing chew toys and enrichment along with a proper diet may aid in decreasing this behavior.
Fur Ring: This is a condition when fur tightly wraps around a male chinchilla’s genitalia and may develop into a life threatening condition. Symptoms include, excessive grooming of the genitalia, straining to urinate or producing small amounts of urine more frequently. If any of these symptoms are observed, your chinchilla should be checked by a veterinarian for a fur ring.
Diarrhea: The most common cause of diarrhea is an inappropriate diet or decreased fiber intake, but bacterial and parasitic infections may also be present.
Respiratory Disease: Upper respiratory infections are commonly seen in pet chinchillas. Signs include an increased respiratory rate and an accumulation of mucous on nostrils and on the inside of the forearms.
Unlimited hay (timothy, meadow, and/or orchard grass), heat intolerant, frequent dust baths
Visit A Veterinarian
Healthy annual examinations, not eating/defecating (>8 hrs), sneezing, drooling, trouble urinating, appears painful, bloated, itchiness and/or hairloss, lethargy