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Does a Chinchilla Make a Good Pet

Are you thinking about owning a pet chinchilla? To find out if a chinchilla is the right pet for you requires doing a good amount of research in order to learn all of the necessary information. Only after this research can you make an informed decision about whether a chinchilla is the right pet for you.

Before I start with some information about chinchillas, I want to let you know that I am not writing the 'chinchilla bible' here; I strongly suggest you do much more research on this animal to see if you can care for a chinchilla in the proper way and meet all of its needs.

If you (1) want a chinchilla because they are cute and soft, (2) want a pet that does not require a lot of attention, (3) are not home a lot, and/or (4) want a pet that is super easy to take care of, then a chinchilla is not the pet for you.

When purchasing your chinchilla, you should always go to a reputable breeder. A reputable breeder, whether big or small, will not breed a chinchilla with any type of health problems. A good breeder can tell you about the ancestry and pedigree of their chinchillas, unlike a pet store chinchilla. A good breeder can also answer any questions you may have. Basically, you will be getting a healthy pet that you can enjoy for many years to come. If you would rather bring an abandoned chinchilla into your home, there are chinchilla rescues out there that are always trying to find good new homes for abandoned chinchillas.

Lifespan

A chinchilla will live 15-20 years when properly cared for.

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First Things First

Small Kids and Chinchillas

If you are looking for a pet for a small child, a chinchilla is not the right pet. Children do not understand that you cannot squeeze a chinchilla, and in doing so, children have been known to kill them. Their tiny bones are very fragile, about the size of a tooth pick, and so chinchillas have to be held carefully and gently. Also a small child will not understand many of the important steps that are needed to keeping a chinchilla from harm's way.

Cost

One important factor to consider before getting a chinchilla is cost. Don't think that because they are small rodents they are cheap pets to own. Before you even bring one home, you will be spending a good amount of money, not including the cost of the chinchilla. For instance, a good cage will cost around $200, then add in the cost of: ledges, hidey house, food, hay, chew toys, bedding etc. It adds up quickly.

You also need to know chinchillas are nocturnal. They are up all night long playing and making noise.

If your chin gets sick, vet bills can be costly. Around the second year of owning chinchillas, I spent close to $1,000 in vet bills. I also spent over $1,000 from the summer of 2011 to April 2012 for a chin with malo, only to lose him.

If it sounds like I'm trying to discourage you from getting one, I'm not, I just want you to realize how costly they can be. Some people might not be able to afford the vet bills.

Veterinarian

One of the first things you will want to do before bringing home your new pet is to find a knowledgeable exotic chinchilla specialist [exotics vet]. This is very crucial because when you need to make an emergency vet visit, it is vital to go to the vet immediately, instead of wasting valuable time looking for one.

You should also get a chinchilla safe carrier. I will list a link to one such carrier on the link page.

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Handling Your Chinchilla

When you first bring home your new pet, it is very likely you will not be able to handle him. Chinchillas are animals of prey, so they may be nervous/scared, jumpy, or even terrified of you. They need time to build trust up for you; this can take a few weeks, so be prepared, and be patient.

The best way to build up trust is to just sit by the cage calmly and quietly, yet sometimes talking in a calming voice. By doing this after a while your chinchilla will realize you are not going to harm him. After a few weeks you can start to slowly put your hand in the cage and let the chinchilla come up to you. As he does, slowly try to touch him. The first time you do this, he will more than likely scurry away, but he will get used to it with time.

When you get to the point where you are able to pick up your chinchilla, remember that chinchillas need to be handled very gently, as their bones are very fragile. If your chinchilla bites you, please do not hit it, hitting your chinchilla will only make him more afraid of you [not to mention, you could injure him]. The best thing to do is to ignore that your chinchilla bit you and do not put him back in his cage. Chinchillas are very, very intelligent. If they learn that they will be put down after they bite, this could become a habit, like a baby crying to be picked up.

The best way to pick up a chinchilla is to slide one hand under the chinchilla's stomach and place your other hand on top. Remember to support the back end so that they feel safe. Hold the chinchilla snug, but do not squeeze! If your chinchilla should get lose, please do not chase it, that will only make him stress out and too much stress can also kill a chinchilla.

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Chinchilla Cage(s)

Most places will say a chinchilla cage should be no smaller than 3 X 3 X 3 feet. Personally, I do not buy cages that small; I recommend a decent size cage to insure your chinchilla is happy while in their cage. The bigger the cage is, the more exercise your chinchilla can get and the happier the chinchilla will be. You can add houses [they like to hide in these to feel safe], accessories, toys, a safe wheel, and shelves [kiln dried pine or other safe woods only]. When you are deciding on a cage, please remember these things:

* no plastic. Since they are rodents, they constantly chew everything they can get to, and when they chew plastic it can cause major problems in their digestive tract [such as impaction] and even cause death.

* no metal ladders. A chinchilla can very easily get their paws and feet stuck in the wire ladders and break a foot or leg.

* do not use an aquarium. Chinchilla's need air flow, putting a chinchilla in an aquarium can lead to overheating, which can cause death.

*many cages come with wire floors and should be avoided. These cages are very hard on the feet of a chinchilla, but if you do find one, make sure the bar spacing on the bottom of the cage is not bigger than ½ x ½ inch. You should also make sure you put some type of [safe] wood or flooring on the bottom of half of the cage so the chinchilla will have something flat to rest on.

*make sure the cage wiring is not coated with plastic or painted, because the chinchilla could very easily ingest this and end up having health problems.

Some of the cages people use are: Martins Cages, Quality Cages, and Ferret Nation 141 and 142. I have the FN 142 and love it. If you choose to use either FN cage, you have to chin proof it. They come with plastic pans but they need to be replaced with metal pans, which can be purchased at Bass Equipment.

Links to cages are available. Plus, I also sell Quality Cages.

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Cage Location

Chinchillas cannot be caged outside; they will not survive. It is very important to find a spot in your house that is quiet to house your chinchilla. A good place for a chinchilla cage is a place that is NOT: in direct sunlight, in front of a window, too close to hot or cold drafts, in front of a heat vent, or in front of an air conditioner or fan. However, it is important to be housed in an area that has good air flow, good ventilation, and where the temperature range is within their safety range. Another important factor in placing the cage is to make sure it is not flush up against something that a chinchilla can get at. Chinchillas do stick their paws [and teeth!] out of the cage and if they can reach something they will and chew it [i.e., electric wires].

If you have any rabbits, it is also important to keep these pets separated, preferably in separate rooms of the house. Rabbits can carry Pasteurella which is a bacteria that can very easily spread to a chinchilla, causing death.

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Temperature Conditions

Chinchillas do not sweat; therefore, it is important to make sure they do not overheat, go into a heat stroke, and die. The temperature range that they can live at is 65-70 degrees Fahrenheit; anything higher than that is dangerous and can be fatal. Most people keep the temperatures on the cooler side and offer air conditioning, without having the air condition blowing directly on the chinchilla. Having chinchillas in a draft can cause illnesses.

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Chinchilla Exercise

Since chinchillas have a lot of energy, they need lots of exercise. Please use caution with toys: Run around balls are not a good way to have your chinchilla exercise. They can overheat in them, causing a heat stroke and death. Adding a wheel in their cage will aid in exercise. Wheels are great for chinchillas, but you need to be careful which type you chose. Wheels should be solid (no wire or plastic, like the pet store wheels) and fit securely to the cage. Not all toys in the pet store are safe. Please use good judgment when purchasing toys.

You should also set aside one hour per day for out-of-cage time for your chinchilla to exercise in a chinchilla-safe environment. During this time, if you do not have a chinchilla-safe play area that your chinchilla can be contained in without any type of injury, it is vital that you stay with your pet to make sure he does not get into something. A lot of people choose to use the bathroom, taking everything out of harm's way, and putting the toilet seat down. If the toilet seat is left up, there is a good chance that your chinchilla will jump and land in the toilet, which can be very hazardous to their health.

The last thing I will mention about exercise time is very crucial. A chinchilla cannot be brought outside for playtime or anytime [going to the vet is okay]. This means no walking on a harness (which, even inside, is a no-no, as their floating rib cage is easily harmed by a harness), setting up a play area outside, or going on a walk with your chinchilla in a carrier.

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Chinchilla Bedding

The safe bedding choices for chinchillas are kiln dried pine savings, aspen, carefresh [as long as it does not get eaten], and fleece [as long as it is not eaten]. Cedar is not safe to use with chinchillas and neither is newspaper. The fumes from both cedar and newspaper [when exposed to liquid] are lethal.

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Chinchilla Diet

You should supply your chinchilla a diet that is made of a good nutritious pellet and hay. Most pet stores do not carry nutritional pellets, so you might need to do some research on where to get your food from. Some examples of unhealthy pet store chinchilla pellets are: Kaytee Fiesta, Kaytee Forti-Diet Pro Health Chinchilla Food, Supreme Charlie Chinchilla, Sun Seed, FM Browns Nutrition Plus and Vita-Vittles Chinchilla Diet. Pet stores also do not carry very many chinchilla safe treats {see list below}. Some names of safe nutritious chinchillas foods which you can buy off the internet from many breeders are: Tradition Chinchilla Food, Mazuri Chinchilla Food, Oxbow, PANR, Kline Diet, Nutrena, Manna Pro and APD. You may be able to find Oxbow at Petsmart or Pet Supplies Plus, or Mazuri at a local feed store. Chinchillas do not over eat. The rule of thumb is about two tablespoons of pellets per day. If the dish is empty in the morning, please add more; chinchillas will not overeat. Timothy hay is their base hay which should be available to eat at all times. Make sure the hay is not moldy, wet, or filled with weeds. Some other safe hays/grass are Brome, Oat, Botanical, Orchard, and Meadow. I suggest adding some of these other hays/grass in a few times a week because their teeth are always growing. Since each hay has a different texture, each hay must be chewed differently. This helps wear all of the surfaces of the chinchilla's back teeth down so no teeth spurs develop.

Please remember to wash your food bowls and water bottle out at least once a week to keep bacteria from building up and causing health issues.

Treats

Chinchillas just love treats. They would pick a raisin over their healthy food, just like a child would pick McDonald's over your home-cooked meal. But just like having too much fast food is unhealthy for a person, having too many treats is unhealthy for a chinchilla. Because of the way a chinchilla's digestion system works, unhealthy treats and over-treating can cause health problems. This cannot be stressed enough. Treats should be given very sparingly; do not give more than 1 per day. Chinchillas under the age of 6 months should not have any type of treats at all. Remember, their digestive system is very different than a human's, and they are not able to have such a variety of foods as we can without severe repercussions. Please read the chinchilla safe treats and unsafe treats listed below.

Chinchilla Safe Treats:

* old fashioned rolled oats [not the quick-cook kind] (since these are small you can give a pinch)
* non-frosted shredded wheat or cheerios
* rosehips, rosebuds, Hibiscus, Oat Straw, others listed on my treat page
* certain herbs

Unsafe Treats:

* anything with sugar or high fat i.e., raisins
* green foods which cause gas [broccoli, cabbage, cause bloat and kill a chinchilla]
* nuts
* anything with corn

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Teeth

Since chinchillas are rodents, their teeth grow continuously. It is very important that chinchillas have a constant supply of chew items. A few safe chew items are super pet lava bites, pumice stones, loofah, and wooden toys [as long as they are on the safe wood list]. A few safe wood types for chinchillas are cholla, yucca, apple, and mulberry; but they must be prepared correctly.

While kits have white teeth, the color of the adult teeth should be dark orange. If the teeth of an adult chinchilla are white, the chinchilla is lacking in calcium. This should be addressed to prevent problems from developing. If you are using a good quality feed, the chances of a calcium deficiency are greatly reduced.

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Dishes/Water Bottles

It is best to use a glass water bottle, because chinchillas can reach through the cage wire to chew on the plastic bottles. Dishes should be heavy, otherwise they may get knocked over, and they should be made out of chinchilla safe materials [no plastic]. Dishes and water bottles should be emptied and refilled daily to prevent build up of bacteria.

Cleaning

The cage, dishes, and water bottles should be thoroughly cleaned at least once a week. This prevents build up of bacteria which can cause illness. A great, safe cleaning agent for the cage is a mixture of white vinegar and water. The dishes and water bottles can be put in the dishwasher [top rack], as long as you make sure there is no soap residue left before they are put back into the cage.

Wood List

Chinchilla Safe Wood

apple, arbutus, ash, aspen, bamboo, birch - white, grey, broadleaf,silver and common birch, blackberry, black currant, cholla, cottonwood, crabapple, dogwood, elm, grapevine, hawthorn, hazelnut, kiwi, magnolia, manzanita, mulberry, pear, pecan, pine [kiln-dried], white poplar, quince, rose, hip, sycamore, willow [but not white willow]

Wood has to be prepared correctly, no chemicals, etc. can have ever been used on the tree, so if you come across a tree {any of the ones listed as safe}, please do not take a branch home for your chin to have.

Chinchilla UnSafe Wood

almond, apricot, beech, black locust, black lotus, blackwood, box elder, buckthorn, cashew, cedar, cherry, chestnut, china berry, Chinese snake tree, chokeberry, citrus woods - orange, lemon, grapefruit, etc., cypress, ebony, elderberry, eucalyptus, fir, ginkgo, hemlock, holly, honey, locust, hydrangea, juniper, kumquat, laurel, mahogany, mango, manufactured/glued woods like plywood or fiberboard, maple, mesquite, myrtle {there may be others, so always check if you are not sure}

Safe Toys/Chews

Some safe items include the following: bagel bites/items, vine [willow] items, unpeeled willow items, pumice stones, loofahs, chollas, palm shredders, woods from the safe wood list, and finger traps, to name a few. When purchasing supplies to make your own toys, always make sure these items are not treated with anything. Never assume anything and never assume that items are not treated--call if you are not sure and express how important it is that you know if these items meet your specifications. Also, when purchasing metal items to make toys, nickel plated (NP) and stainless steel (SS) are the safest metals. NP is cheaper, but works just fine. For foot toys, coconut rope and seagrass rope will work great and is safe. I have heard from a reputable breeder that chins can have problems with sisal rope, so please be careful.

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Possible Chinchilla Health Problems

Chinchillas are prone to many health issues, some of them are genetic. For that reason, it is always best to get your chinchilla from a reputable breeder. Some issues you might run into and should learn about are:

Fur Biting:
Fur biting can occur when a chinchilla is nervous or bored. You may notice spots of fur which are shorter than others, or even baldness.

Diarrhea:
If a chinchilla's droppings are slimy and stick if stepped on or squished, or worse, it has diarrhea. Diarrhea can be caused by many things, some examples can be a change in food, too many treats or a dirty water bottle [it may have bacteria in it]. Make sure you chinchilla is drinking so he doesn't dehydrate.

Constipation:
Droppings will appear small, thin, hard and may have an unpleasant odor. Some people with home treat with a few raisins, If you notice your chin straining to go, please call your vet, they can end up with rectal prolapse from pushing.

Fungus:
The strain of fungus chinchillas can get is ringworm. It usually appears around the eyes or nose as a bald spot, then spreads.

Bloat:
Affected chinchillas have no energy, difficulty breathing, roll or stretch and their stomach may be swollen. If you suspect your chinchlila has bloat, call your vet immediately, this is something that is very dangerous, bloat can cause death.

Malocclusion:
Overgrown teeth or roots. This is very painful. It can be hereditary or environmental. If they have a tooth spur, it can be filed down, having root problems is a much more serious problem.

Eye Infections:
Swollen, dull, weepy, and red with a discharge is a sign of an eye infection.

Upper Respiratory Tract Infection
Humid, over-crowded and poorly circulated housing conditions can contribute to an incidence of respiratory disease. Signs of this infection are include sneezing, nasal discharge, and conjunctivitis. Left untreated, it can progress to pneumonia or death. In acute cases, chinchillas have been known to die immediately. If you suspect your pet has this infection, please call your vet immediately.

Giardia Parasite:
All chinchillas have a small amount of the Giardia parasite already existing in their body, but if a chinchilla gets stressed out, lives in a poorly kept cage, or fed dirty water or food, the parasite can become a problem. If not caught in time, this parasite can cause the death of a chinchilla. Some symptoms are anything from increased appetite, to decreased activity, diarrhea [or constipation], smelly feces, and even collapse.

Hair Rings:
Male chinchillas can get hair rings. Hair rings are caused by lose fur that sticks around his penis. Male chinchillas clean themselve's for hair rings, but it is also important for you to check for hair rings also. Personally, I like to play it safe and check once a week. If a hair ring is stuck on, it will stop blood flow and cause serious problems to your chinchilla. The hair ring will need to be taken off.

Digestive Problems:
Digestive problems can cause serious and even fatal problems for a chinchilla. For this reason, it is important to take measures to prevent any problems that may incurr. In the wild chinchillas eat a diet of vegetation that is high in roughage. Their digestive tracks are not able to tolarate rich or fatty foods. For this reason, it is highly recommend feeding your chinchilla quality chinchilla pellets supplemented with plenty of fresh hay and safe treats.

Heat Stroke:
Since chinchillas are are native to the Andes Mountains, they have very thick fur for survival. It is unfortunate that this thick fur can be very dangerous for the domesticated chinchilla. If the temperatures go over 70 degrees Fahrenheit a chinchilla is very likely to suffer a heat stroke and die. You can buy a "Chin-Chiller", which is a cooling item, and place it in the cage. Some systoms of overheating are panting hard, laying on his side, The chinchilla has a thick coat of fur that is necessary in the Andes Mountains where they originate. Unfortunately, this can cause a chinchilla to suffer heatstroke when the temperature is over 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Symptoms of overheating include panting and lying on its side. As an active animal, it can be very obvious when these symptoms occur. There are cooling rocks available to help prevent over-heating. They will often be the most popular accessory in the chinchilla cage. If these symptoms appear, the pet must go to the vet, as this can be fatal.

Enteritis:
Diarrhea that is coated wth mucus and stuck together in long strings and is surrounded by a jelly-like substance. Please call your vet.

Definate Signs of Chinchilla Illness:
Changes in disposition
Watery eyes or runny nose
Inactivity or lethargy
Loss of appetite or weight
Change in droppings
Trouble breathing
Drooling
Wheezing
Seizures
Discharge from the eyes, mouth, nose, or rear
Sad type look

I am not trying to scare you with this information, but rather inform you to avoid unnecessary complications/problems. Some illnesses can take a chinchillas life very quickly. It is very important to call your vet whenever you notice something is wrong. Your vet will advise you on the best thing to do. I also believe it is imperative to register with an exotic specialist before your chinchilla gets sick. You do not want to be wasting valuable time looking for a vet at the last minute, when one is needed immediately.

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Force/Hand Feeding

If there comes a time your chinchilla gets sick and you need to hand-feed, it is very important to do this correctly or you can choke or aspirate [get fluid in the lungs] your chinchilla. Please research the correct methods of doing this, so you are prepared in the event you ever need to hand-feed.

Basic Emergency Kit Items

Oxbow Critical Care - used to feed a chinchilla when sick or after surgery
Syringes [different sizes] - used for forced feeding critical care, fluids or meds
Acidophilus
Blue-kote - can be used for a scrap or small cut, helps so an infection won't set in
Bag Balm - used to treat dry, cracked feet and/or ears
Pedialyte - helps replace electrolytes lost from diarrhea or heat stroke
Tinactin, Desenex Foot Powder - put a small amount into dust bath to fight fungus
Neosporin [NOT the one that also numbs pain]
Simethicone Drops [baby gas drops] - used to help when a chin has gas, but always seek a vet for help
Cotton Swab, Q-tip - used for cleaning up scraps
Activated Charcoal [I like the capsules] - helps with diarreah
100% Pumpkin - helps aid in constipation and to persuade a sick chin to eat
Tums - great if a chin is low on calcium. only a quarter to half a piece daily.

None of this information is meant to replace professional care. Please always seek professional help when a chinchilla is sick/hurt.

Are You Overwhelmed Yet?

Don't be. This may sound like a lot to grasp, and it may sound scary, but it is all easily learned. Remember to follow the health care guidelines for chinchilla and your pet should be healthy and safe. You will be delighted with many hours of enjoyment with your new pet. A few things I enjoy are: listening to them talk, the way they grab and hold onto your hand with their little paws, the wall surf, and mostly just sitting there holding my chin and cuddling [getting a chinchilla to sit still on your lap or in your arms takes time and might never be accomplished].

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Interesting Chinchilla Facts

**Chinchillas are native to the Andes mountains in South America.

**It took Mathias F. Chapman three years to capture 11 chinchillas in 1918.

**Then it took Chapman a period of 12 months to climb down 12,000 feet so the chinchillas could acclimate to the changing environment.

**Chinchillas can jump very high, up to 5 feet.

**In the wild, chinchillas live in groups which are called herds.

**During the 1800s in the wild, chinchilla herds were hunted almost to extinction.

**Chinchillas are crepuscular or nocturnal and typically do not like to be disturbed during the day

**Chinchillas have about 90 hairs sprouting from each hair follicle.

**Chinchillas can live 15-20 years in captivity, some have lived longer.

**Because chinchillas do not sweat if the temperatures raise above 73 degrees [F] they can suffer from heat stroke.

**Chinchillas do not get wet, and take dust baths to get clean.

**In the wild, chinchillas have been known to eat plants, seeds, insects and fruit.

**In captivity a chinchillas diet consists of a quality chinchilla pellets and timothy hay.

**Chinchillas need to constantly chew on safe chew items because their teeth constantly grow.

**Chinchillas are born fully furred, with teeth and open eyes.

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