We have all seen those cute little balls of fluff in the pet stores, but what does it take to own a chinchilla; an exotic pet?
What is a chinchilla?
A chinchilla is a rodent native to the South American Andes Mountains; they have a rabbit-like body with mouse ears and a squirrel tail. They have very soft fur and because of that have been hunted for years because of their pelts, but hunting them in the wild is now illegal
Should I pick a female or a male?
This is personal preference, but please bare in mind that females will go into heat and they are more prone to spraying when they are scared. Choose a chinchilla you feel you can build a trusting relationship with.
How long do chinchillas live for?
Approximately fifteen to eighteen years, but some have known to have gotten even older than eighteen. This is a commitment pet!
What colour/breed should I get?
There are only two types of chinchillas; the ones that are primarily found in North America, which have longer ears and tails, and have narrower neck and shoulders, and the others found in South America, which have smaller ears and tails and flatter faces with longer hind quarters. There are many different colors of chinchillas, from standard gray to mosaic to sapphire. Some more rare colored chinchillas will need to be purchased through a breeder.
What do chinchillas eat?
There is mix you can buy at a pet store that should have pellets, raisins and banana chips, although there are variations. For treats (only to be given in moderation of up to two a day) chins enjoy dried raisin, papaya, cranberries, or even bran flakes. Males seem to be pickier and only like dried out fruits. They also enjoy chewing on hay and alfalfa cubes, and just about anything else they can chew on!
Can I travel with my chinchilla?
It is not recommended, because a change of location may upset them. Heat is also very hard on them, as they do not perspire. They absorb the temperature through their feet, and should never be in direct sunlight; heat can be fatal to them. If you are going to be traveling a lot, it is best that you do not get a chinchilla.
Do chinchillas have an odour?
No, chinchillas do not have a distinctive scent like hamsters or ferrets, although a smell could arise from needing his cage cleaned, but that is just the woodchips smelling. If your chin does have an odour, take him to a vet, as it can be a serious illness possibly involving his teeth.
Do they bite?
Any animal that feels threatened may bite you. When I first got my chinchilla he did bite, but he quickly warmed up to us. Chinchillas may nibble on your hand if they smell something good, or if they just want a taste because our skin is salty and they like that. As the animal becomes accustomed to you, the biting will stop, unless the animal is being abused. Chinchillas are very timid creatures and if they feel intimidated by you, you may get bitten.
Are they child friendly?
Generally speaking, no. Chinchillas do not like to be held, and will rarely want to cuddle up with you like a dog, cat or even a rabbit would. They are very hyper, curious creatures, but they are very delicate and some temperamental, so they do not make a good pet for a child.
Can I train them?
With lots of patience and love you can. To build their trust you must talk in a soft, almost cooing voice like you would to a baby. Reward good behaviour by giving out treats (in moderation, of course) Chinchillas are very intelligent for their kind of species. They remember certain events and any sort of fear could cause them to lose trust in you for a little and you must rebuild it again. Your training will eventually pay off as long as you use a positive reinforcement tactic.