The Diva Department
Chinchillas are exceptional pets that require unique grooming, habitat and diet products.
If ever there was a diva of the pet world, it is the chinchilla. With that luxurious fur coat, there is no doubt that chinchillas are one of the most beautiful animals on the planet. Most people are attracted by the chinchilla’s gorgeous good looks and assume its soft fur coat was made just for cuddling. However, chinchillas have diva personalities and cuddling only takes place on their terms. In fact, most chinchillas aren’t cuddly at all. They would rather spend their time bounding about the house than sitting in a lap.
But while chinchillas are not the cuddle-bunnies they appear to be, they are still fascinating pets that offer a lot of entertainment to potential owners. While they are fun to watch inside their cages, the real show starts when chinchillas are let out of their cage to start leaping around the room. They often go so fast they actually ricochet off the walls. They are extremely active animals and need at least an hour a day outside their cage in a chinchilla-proofed room for exercise and mental stimulation. And all this enjoyment will last a long time, because chinchillas live an average of eight to 10 years.
Fur Coat Care
The chinchilla’s grooming needs are unique. Their fur is so dense that it cannot be brushed or combed. Instead, chinchillas must take a dust bath. The dust absorbs and removes the skin’s natural oils, which trap dirt in the coat. Chinchilla owners must buy a special fine dust for this purpose, as well as a container for the dust bath. A glass fish bowl works well for this as it allows owners to enjoy watching their chinchillas roll and kick in the dust.
It is best if a chinchilla is allowed to dust bathe daily or every other day. At the very least, they must bathe three times a week. The bath will take about 10 to 15 minutes and should take place outside the cage to keep the habitat free of the fine dust. Retailers should caution owners to wear a respiratory filter, such as a painter’s mask, while watching their chinchilla’s dust bath to avoid breathing in the fine dust. Consider selling painter’s masks right in the chinchilla aisle.
Their heavy fur coat also makes chinchillas sensitive to warm weather. Temperatures above 80° F can cause fatal heatstroke, one of the most common causes of death in chinchillas. To make it easy for chinchilla owners to monitor the temperature in their chinchilla room, retailers can offer easy-to-read thermometers for sale.
One product that can help keep chinchillas cool and comfortable is a small slab of polished granite. The stone surface naturally stays cooler than the surrounding air, giving chinchillas a place in their cage where they can hang out and stay comfortable.
A chinchilla habitat should be at least two feet long, two feet wide and two feet tall. A larger cage, three feet wide and three feet high, is even better. Chinchillas are also social animals and do best in pairs. A cage three to four feet wide is large enough for two chinchillas. A large exercise wheel is also highly recommended. Solid-surface wheels are best and they must be at least 14 inches in diameter.
Chinchillas are good jumpers and climbers, and therefore enjoy different levels and ramps in their cage. Because they are so agile, they can use and enjoy small wooden shelves and perches attached to the sides of their cage. However, a cage with high shelves is a danger to baby chinchillas, and sometimes even to older animals if they fall. Shelves should be staggered to eliminate long drops. Hanging a hammock slightly below the edge of a shelf will also provide a safety net in case of a fall.
Chinchillas also need a nest box where they can sleep and hide. They are also big chewers and need wood chew toys to keep them busy. They enjoy branches in their cage to chew and climb on. They also like scampering through large tubes, and some chinchillas enjoy exercise balls. Most chinchillas will use one corner of the cage for a bathroom, so a litter box can be placed there to make cage cleaning easier.
Chinchillas have a sensitive digestive system so should receive only a limited number of treats low in sugar, starch and fat. The best treats for chinchillas are dried vegetables and twigs of willow, pear and apple, such as those that are marketed for rabbits. Chinchillas can also be given a small amount of fresh greens every day. Each chinchilla can receive one raisin per day.
The main diet should be pellets specifically made for chinchillas fed free choice from a food hopper or non-tip dish. Chinchillas also require free-choice access to grass hay to make sure they have enough fiber in their diet. A small amount of alfalfa hay can be given occasionally as a treat. A hayrack is recommended to keep hay off the floor of the cage.
A large water bottle should be provided on the outside of the cage. Chinchillas will chew on plastic bottles even through the cage wire, so plastic bottles must be protected with a bottle guard.
Debbie Ducommun has a B.A. in animal behavior and has worked in the animal field since 1982. She is the author of the book Rats!, the booklet Rat Health Care and, her most recent book, The Complete Guide to Rat Training: Tricks and Games for Rat Fun and Fitness.