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Caring For Your Pet Chinchilla

Chinchilla

Basic Husbandry

General Information –

Vital Statistics

  • Body Weight: 400-700g

  • Life Span: 10 years (up to 20 years reported)

  • Sexual Maturity

    • 7-10 months of age

Behavior and Handling

  • Chinchillas should always be held gently with two hands. When picking up a chinchilla, be sure to support its chest and hind end.

  • When handling your chinchilla, try to avoid excessive noise, needless excitement, and overhandling.

  • Children handling chinchillas should sit on the floor and hold the chinchilla in their lap. Children should only handle chinchillas under adult supervision.

  • When frightened or handled roughly, they can shed patches of fur, a condition known as “fur slip.” These hairless patches can take 6–8 weeks to fill in and up to several months for the fur to appear normal again. Hair barbering (chewing of the fur) may also occur in situations of stress and overcrowding. If this occurs, please contact your veterinarian.

  • Do not pick your chinchilla up by the tail, as this can lead to serious injury.

  • Chinchillas have long hind limbs and feet adapted for leaping, but because of their delicate bones they should be handled very gently to prevent fractures and other injuries. Do not allow chinchillas to leap from heights!

  • In the wild, chinchillas are usually active at dusk and at night; however, in captivity, they can be active during the day.

Reproductive Information

  • Sexual maturity occurs at 8 months in most male chinchillas and at 8 ½ months in females but could occur earlier (range, 2–14 months).

  • You may consider spaying or neutering your pet chinchilla to prevent reproduction or other hormone-related diseases. Please consult with your veterinarian.

Housing

  • Chinchillas are very active and acrobatic and require a large amount of space.

  • The enclosure should be at least 3 x 3 x 2 ft and constructed of 15 x 15 mm wire mesh with an area of solid flooring. Large, multilevel cages that provide sufficient space for climbing and jumping are ideal for housing chinchillas.

  • Paper or pine shavings may be used for substrate. (Avoid cedar, it’s toxic!)

  • Chinchillas can be housed one to two pets per cage and while they are social pets, injury or death can result from fighting. It is best to introduce new pets when they are young.

  • Since chinchillas are shy animals, they should be provided a place to hide within their enclosure. Plastic igloos or wooden hide boxes are found at many pet stores and make ideal hiding places.

  • Chinchillas do best in dry environments at relatively cool temperatures. A recommended temperature range is between 50 ºF and 68 ºF. Temperatures lower than 65 ºF and relative humidity less than 50% promote good fur growth.

  • Chinchillas do not tolerate dampness and are prone to heat stroke at environmental temperatures greater than 82 ºF

Dust Baths

  • Access to dust baths should be provided daily, if possible, or at least several times per week.

  • Sanitized commercial dust bath is available commercially at pet stores and should be used. Beach or playground sand is not suitable for dust baths.

  • The dust is placed at a depth of 2–3 inches in a pan big enough for the chinchilla to roll around in. A chinchilla should be allowed at least 10-15 minutes but may spend up to an hour in a dust bath.

  • The dust bath must be kept clean and free of feces by removing it after each use.

Diet

  • Timothy hay should be offered as “free choice”. (as much as they can eat). Hay should consist of 75%-80% of the diet.

  • Timothy based chinchilla or rabbit pellets should be offered, about 1-2 tbsp per day

    • Pellets should always be uniform and not a mix of seeds, nuts, and fruits. When given the option, a chinchilla will choose the things they like of those mixes which can predispose them to obesity and dental disease.

  • Fresh veggies and greens may be offered in limited quantities daily.

  • Small pieces of apple, bananas, berries, melon, or carrots may be offered, only in small quantities (less than 1 tsp in a day) and only as treats. They can be given a couple times a week. Avoid giving them daily.

  • Fresh water should be offered at all times in either a sipper bottle or spill proof bowl.

  • Clean food and water dishes every couple of days in the dishwater or soak them in a dilute (1:30) bleach to water solution.

Common Medical Conditions

Conditions Requiring Veterinary Attention

Gastrointestinal Stasis (GI Stasis)

  • This is a common syndrome in chinchillas. Most commonly, these animals have decrease in appetite or stop eating completely. The stools will become smaller and drier. The chinchilla may even stop producing stools altogether.

  • Immediate medical attention is necessary to maximize chances for a successful recovery. Without proper treatment, GI Stasis can be fatal. Chinchillas often have an underlying cause of GI stasis which must be identified for complete resolution of clinical signs.

  • Common examples include respiratory infection, reproductive or urinary tract infection, dental disease or gastrointestinal parasites

Malocclusion of Premolar and Molar Teeth

  • This is a very common problem in chinchillas. Like our other small herbivores, they have continuously growing teeth. If they cannot chew to maintain their teeth or if they grow abnormally, dental disease occurs.

  • These animals may become picky about what they eat, stop eating and may drool. They may also have drool on their front legs from wiping their mouths. Weight loss is common.

  • Treatment includes sedation to trim the molars. This can be a reoccurring problem and may require regular dental procedures.

Respiratory Infections

  • Symptoms include; sneezing, difficulty breathing, runny nose, runny eyes, and decreased appetite. Treatment usually includes oral antibiotics.

  • If untreated or clinical signs are subtle, respiratory disease can rapidly worsen resulting in a pneumonia. Chinchillas are obligate nasal breathers (breathe only through their nose). If you ever notice your chinchilla breathing through their mouth, this is a sign of severe respiratory distress.

Reproductive Disorders

  • Pyometra: Infection of the reproductive tract is common in older intact females. Symptoms may include vulvar discharge, abdominal distension or pain, lethargy, and decreased appetite. Your veterinarian may recommend x-rays or ultrasound to diagnose the severity and location of the infection. Treatment includes antibiotics and ranges from medical management alone to surgical removal of the uterus and ovaries (spay).

  • Dystocia (difficult pregnancy): If a chinchilla is in labor longer than 4 hours, veterinary intervention is indicated. Chinchillas with dystocia may be recognized by extreme restlessness, frequent crying and constant attention to the genital area. In some cases, surgical treatment is necessary.

  • Fur ring: A ring of fur around the penis and under the prepuce that stops the penis from retracting. May lead to difficulty urinating, infection, or permanent damage to the penis.

Common Skin Diseases

  • “Fur slip” is a common condition resulting from stress and improper handling in which large areas of fur are shed or pulled. While this may require no treatment, it can lead to inflammation or infection. If redness or bleeding is noted in the area of fur loss, consult your veterinarian.

  • Cheyletiella (Walking Dandruff) and Sarcoptes (mange) are mites that cause generalized scaling and crusting of the skin. Treatment may include injections and/or powders that safely eliminate the parasites.

  • Ringworm is a highly contagious fungal infection of the skin that is transmissible to humans. Symptoms include raised, hairless, red patches that are often covered with a light-to-heavy crust. Treatment consists of the applications of topical antifungal medication and often oral antifungal medications.

  • Pododermatitis (“Bumblefoot”) is a pressure sore/swelling that can develop on the bottom of the feet in some chinchillas. This typically is seen in sedentary animals or older animals living in bedding that is damp or not cleaned thoroughly. Treatment consists of antiseptic soaks, pain medication, antibiotics, occasionally bandaging, and cleaning the environment thoroughly.

Emergency / Critical Care

All emergencies require veterinary assistance. Use the following guidelines to assist you in caring for your chinchilla until you can contact a veterinarian.

Traumatic Injuries

  • Broken Bones

    • Provide your chinchilla with soft bedding such as a towel or blanket.

    • Minimize handling.

    • Keep your chinchilla in a warm, dark, and quiet area.

    • Keep your chinchilla as calm as possible and contact a veterinarian or local animal emergency clinic immediately.

  • Skin Injuries/Blood loss

    • For any type of injury with blood loss, use direct pressure with a towel or clean gauze to prevent further blood loss. Contact your veterinarian immediately if you are unable to stop the bleeding.

Severe Illnesses and Other Conditions

  • Head Injuries and Head-Tilt

    • Provide your chinchilla with soft bedding such as a towel or blanket.

    • Minimize handling.

    • Keep your chinchilla in a warm, dark, and quiet area.

    • Keep your chinchilla as calm as possible and contact a veterinarian or local animal emergency clinic immediately.

  • Respiratory Distress

    • If your chinchilla experiences open-mouth breathing or gasping for air, remove all bedding and minimize handling and stress.

    • Keep your chinchilla as calm as possible and contact a veterinarian or a local animal emergency clinic immediately.

  • Heat Stress

    • Temperatures over 82°F and/or high humidity are uncomfortable to chinchillas and will cause your chinchilla to over-heat. It is better for your chinchilla to be kept indoors all year round.

    • Common signs of heat stress include extreme lethargy, dehydration, diarrhea, and difficulty breathing.

    • Remove your chinchilla from heat immediately.

    • Offer cool water or cool Pedialyte to rehydrate.

    • Keep your chinchilla in a cool, dark, environment and limit handling

    • Heat stress is a serious and potentially fatal condition for chinchillas. Seek veterinary attention immediately.

Health Recommendations

Things for your veterinarian to do:

Annual Physical

  • Always have an initial physical exam performed on any newly acquired chinchillas. During the exam, the doctor will check the teeth, eyes, ears, heart, lungs, and abdomen. The doctor will also check the hair and skin for external parasites.

  • You should have your chinchilla’s fecal sample checked for internal parasites.

  • Your chinchilla should have an annual physical done by a veterinarian every year. We also recommend a geriatric exam every 6 months for chinchillas over the age of 7.

Bloodwork

  • Your chinchilla should have its bloodwork checked yearly starting around 6-7 years of age. This will help to detect early signs of disease. When caught early enough, many diseases are treatable.

Things for you to do:

Hairball prevention

  • Give 0.5-1 cc’s of laxatone, petromalt, or other cat hairball preventative 1-2 times a week during heavy sheds.

  • A high fiber diet that includes timothy hay is that most important part of a hairball prevention.

Overgrown Nails

  • Chinchillas should have their nails checked/trimmed on a regular basis. If the nails get too long, they can become caught on the cage or toys and break off causing pain and bleeding.

  • If any of the nails break off and begin to bleed, apply styptic powder, flour, or cornstarch to encourage clotting, and apply direct pressure to the nail. If you cannot stop the bleeding, contact a veterinarian.

Over-the-Counter Medication

  • Over-the-counter topical triple antibiotic ointments or any other types of over-the-counter medications are not recommended without first consulting your veterinarian. Productions such as triple antibiotic ointment (for the use of minor skin injuries) can cause digestive problems if ingested and can potentially become toxic over time.