The chinchilla, a medium-sized rodent native to South America, is known for its fur, one of the most expensive kinds in existence. Nowadays people have another reason to love chinchillas; they’ve begun to realize that these are cute creatures that make adorable pets. Nearly every pet store stocks chinchillas these days and finds plenty of willing customers. If you decide to own chinchillas, you should know these important tips for caring for them.
1. Buy a good cage
The best chinchilla cages are made of strong wire mesh with well-made wooden shelves at multiple levels. Chinchillas need these shelves to hop about on. Buying cheaper cages that come with plastic shelves is a bad idea, because chinchillas can chew through plastic in no time. Poorly designed cages come with floors fashioned out of wire, too. Wire floors may seem like a good idea at first since they let the chinchilla’s droppings fall through. Cleanliness isn’t the main concern here, though. Regularly walking about on wire floors can damage a chinchilla’s delicate paw pads. It’s important that the cage you get has a solid floor, even if it turns out to be difficult to clean.
2. Get a safe playpen
Chinchillas need to be allowed to run around in a large and safe play area for a few hours in the evenings as they get particularly active at this time. Ideally, you should build a safe playpen that attaches to your chinchilla’s cage. You should be able to open a door of the cage and have your chinchilla run to its playpen.
3. A chinchilla-proofed room is the best playpen possible
Giving your chinchilla a whole room to play around in can be a very good idea. You do need to make sure that the room is chinchilla-proofed, though. You should put away any materials or objects that your chinchilla could chew up such as furniture, electrical appliances, etc. Electrical outlets are dangerous since your chinchilla’s tail or paws could easily fit into a slot. All electrical outlets need to be blocked off. Rooms with nooks and corners are a bad idea, too. If your chinchilla gets into a tight area under a cupboard, you will have to work hard to get it back out.
4. Design a play area that’s mentally challenging
Chinchillas are intelligent and inquisitive creatures. They need interesting environments that challenge them both mentally and physically. They also need their environments to allow them to act out in ways that are natural to them – hiding, hopping, jumping and chewing.
When you design the environment in your chinchilla’s cage, you should try to put in large tubes that your chinchilla can run through, pretending to be in a burrow that it’s just dug. You also need to put in wooden branches for it to chew on and spots for it to hide out in. Its bedding area, especially, should be built in a way that shields it from view. A chinchilla can never sleep well in an exposed sleeping area.
5. You can’t have other pets in your home if they scare your chinchilla
Chinchillas are a prey species. Out in the wild, they are commonly hunted by a number of predator species – dogs, large cats, owls, eagles, etc. If you have a pet dog or cat at home, your chinchilla can be terrified. Since chinchillas have evolved to look out for large birds of prey, they can be especially scared by sounds coming from above. It isn’t a good idea to house your chinchilla in a noisy environment, in general.
6. You need to give your pet chinchilla a temperature-controlled environment
Chinchillas tend to be very sensitive to temperature fluctuations. You should make sure that your chinchilla’s cage is in a draft-free area that’s always between 15°C and 25°C. Air-conditioning is a good idea as chinchillas do well in low humidity.
7. You need to make sure that your chinchilla gets a carefully controlled diet
Chinchillas are herbivorous; they only eat plant material. On occasion, these creatures are also known to eat their own feces. This is nothing to be alarmed about and it’s important to a chinchilla’s health. If you want your chinchilla to be healthy, you need to give it a diet that is rich in plant fiber. In particular, chinchillas need access to fresh hay at all times. They also need to be able to eat small quantities of fresh herbs and leafy greens. Most pet stores sell ready mixes made of all the different herbs and plant material that chinchillas need. Never give your chinchilla foods that are rich in sugar and fat. Chinchillas rarely come across fruits in their habitat. Their bodies aren’t evolved to handle them.
8. Socializing with your chinchilla
Chinchillas tend to be most receptive to learning socialization skills when they are younger than six weeks. Chinchillas that exclusively experience friendly human contact at this stage end up being incredibly friendly. If they are exposed to unpleasant treatment at the hands of the humans at this stage, they never manage to completely enjoy human company.
9. Give your chinchilla a chance to socialize with other chinchillas
Out in the wild, chinchillas are social creatures that live in large groups. It would be unnatural to keep a chinchilla by itself. It can be difficult to keep unrelated chinchillas in the same cage, though. If they haven’t been together for a long time, you can’t expect them to tolerate one another. If you plan to raise multiple chinchillas together, you should make sure that you get them at a young age.
10. Be careful about how you handle your chinchilla
Chinchillas have fragile bodies. For this reason, they tend to interpret anything but the most sensitive handling as aggression. It’s important to train your chinchilla to see handling as a happy and friendly activity. You need to take your time introducing it to handling. You can start by gently feeding it. As it grows used to being close to you, it can gradually learn to trust you enough to allow itself to be touched.
Do you own chinchillas? Do you have any other tips for caring for chinchillas? Please share them with us in the comments section.