Chin history * Bringing Home a New Chin * Diet * Housing and Environment * Chin Hygiene * Health * Colors
Is a chinchilla the right pet for you? The following are questions you should ask yourself before purchasing a chinchilla:
Are you willing to provide for the needs of a chinchilla for the next 15 years or more?
If your chin becomes ill, are you willing and able to take him to the vet? My philosophy is “if you can’t afford the vet, don’t get the pet.”
Will you be able to provide him a stress-free home where he can sleep peacefully throughout the day and get exercise and attention at night? Chins are very social creatures but they need their rest during the day.
If you answered YES to these questions, then you’re well on your way to responsible ownership of a chinchilla. But before purchasing a new chin, please do your research! A chinchilla should not be a spur-of-the-moment purchase!
The chinchilla is a rodent native to the cool arid regions of South America, primarily in the Andes Mountain region. The indigenous Incan tribes were the first to capture the chinchilla and use its plush fur as coats due to its density and insulative properties
The chinchilla soon became very scarce in its natural habitat as they have long gestation periods and small litters, making it difficult for the chinchilla to maintain its population. By the 1920s, chinchillas had become virtually extinct in the wild. In 1918, the Chilean government banned the trapping of chinchillas and the exportation of their fur.
As the chinchilla became difficult to find in the wild, farmers attempted to breed the animals in captivity. They experienced little success until 1930 when M.F. Chapman, a former mining engineer, left the Andes and returned to America with 12 chinchillas to begin a breeding program. Chapman was able to develop husbandry skills that allowed the chinchillas to thrive and reproduce. With this, Chapman had begun the profession of chinchilla ranching.
Today, the breeding of the domestic chinchilla is well established and the ranching industry flourished. Now the chinchilla is also a popular pet, kept by animals lovers in Europe and North America.
Bringing Home a New Chin
Bringing home your new chin can be very exciting but may be very stressful and traumatic for your chin. He is in a completely new environment with new smells and new sights. As much as you’ll want to handle your new pet, please resist the urge to handle him at first. Give your chin some time to settle into his new home. A new chin may remain calm but because they are prey animals, they typically do not show signs of stress until they are extremely ill. Keep in mind that a chin’s health can also plummet very quickly.
We recommend giving your chin a week to settle into his new home, get used to the placement of items in the cage and the daily feeding/attention routines. Your chin does not have to be outside of his cage to bond with you. Just talking with him and spending time around his cage will help him get to know you. After the first week, you can rest your hand in the cage and eventually gain his trust. Be patient. It may take time for him to overcome his fears and approach your hand. Whatever you do, do not attempt to grab your new chin! He will become easily frightened and may bite (or spray you with urine if it’s a female!). Your goal is to become friends with your new chin and chasing him around the cage will not put you off to a good start!
If you currently have another chin at home, it is wise to quarantine your chin for one month in a separate room before housing your chins together or allowing playtimes together. Hands should be washed before and after handling either of your chins. The quarantine is to ensure that your new chin does not have any illnesses that can be contracted to your other chin(s). Also, every chin harbors its own balance of harmless intestinal flora (a very delicate balance of bacteria) and every herd has a different balance of these. However, being suddenly subjected to a new environment with other chins (as well as a different balance of bacteria) can distress a chin and the bacterial balance can be thrown off causing illness. During this quarantine period, your new chin’s intestinal tract has ample time to adjust to the new environment with the old bacterial colonies being slowly replaced by those which your home will harbor. NOTE: IF YOU ARE A CURRENT CHIN OWNER AND PURCHASE A CHINCHILLA FROM US, QUARANTINE MUST BE DONE FOR 30 DAYS IN ORDER FOR THE HEALTH GUARANTEE TO APPLY. IF YOU ALLOW YOUR NEW CHIN FROM CHINCHILLA CHATEAU TO PLAY WITH, COME IN CONTACT WITH, OR SHARE A CAGE WITH A CURRENT CHIN WITHOUT PROPER 30 DAY QUARANTINE, THE HEALTH GUARANTEE IS NULL AND VOID.
Pellets: Chinchillas should be fed a high quality chinchilla or show rabbit pellet. The pellet is the staple of a chin’s diet, providing all the nutrients the chin needs. Please stay away from feed with treats! The chinchilla digestive tract is very sensitive and the treats found in these feeds can cause long-term health problems. I have yet to meet a chin who was fed a treat-filled pellet who actually lived close to the average chin lifespan. Some pellet brands I recommend are Oxbow, Tradition, American Pet Diner, Mazuri, or Manna Pro Sho. Our breeding chins are fed Manna Pro Sho and our pet chins are fed Oxbow. When buying pellets, make sure they are fresh! Check the mill date of the pellets (typically found on the tag or the bottom of the bag). Vitamin content of pellets remains potent for only 6 months. If your feed is 6 months over the mill date, toss it.
If you decide to change your chin’s feed, do so slowly, mixing the new feed with the old and gradually increasing the amount of new feed. The entire process should take about a month. Any sudden changes in diet can cause digestive disturbances. Offering an acidophilus supplement during a feed change can also help your chin's digestive tract to adjust more easily.
Hay: Chins should always have a free supply of fresh, quality hay. Hay is an excellent source of fiber, necessary for keeping their intestinal tract healthy. Also, chewing on loose hay prevents back teeth from becoming overgrown, developing "points", and causing dental problems. A good blend for healthy teeth includes a variety of grass hay (timothy, bermuda, orchard grass, brome) in first and second cuts (Oxbow timmy has both 1st and second cuts) and small amounts of a coarser grain hay (oat, wheat, barley). Hay cubes can also be used but should be provided in conjunction with loose hay as the cubes do not help nearly as much with the grinding of the back teeth.
If your chin’s pellet is alfalfa-based, a grass hay should be offered. Timothy, orchard grass, and bermuda are all grass-type hays. We feed Oxbow timothy hay to our chins in addition to orchard grass, bermuda, brome, and oat hay. If the pellets are timothy-based, then alfalfa hay can be fed in conjunction with the timothy. Alfalfa is a legume hay and should not be fed with alfalfa pellets as it is too rich and too high in protein. Pregnant, lactating, or growing chins can be fed some alfalfa in addition to timothy but in all other situations, timothy is the staple hay.
Water: A fresh supply of water in a bottle should be available at all times. Water bottles should be cleaned and fresh water replaced daily to prevent any bacterial growth. We recommend bottled purified water (not distilled). If tap water is to be used, be sure it is filtered with a system that filters out Giardia, a water-borne parasite. A reverse-osmosis filter generally works the best at filtering out any microorganisms and leaving the important trace minerals (iron, for example).
Treats: Treats are not a necessary part of a chin’s diet and can actually cause more harm to good, leading to poor eating habits and health problems. If treats must given, please give healthy treats! Most treats at the pet store are not chin-safe or healthy. Some acceptable treats are an unfrosted shredded mini-wheat, plain Cheerio, rosehips, whole oats, or dried dandelion greens. These can be given once every 1-2 days. Raisins and dried papaya are loved by chins but I do not recommend giving these types of sweet treats. The excess sugar in these are not the best for your chinnie and personally, I DO NOT give any dried fruit or sugary treats because they are not necessary and chinchillas do just fine without it. Chins under 6 months of age should never be given treats – stick to the staples during this time.
Housing and Environment
Caging: For a single adult pet chin, a minimum cage size is 24”x24”x18” but you can always go larger. The wire spacing for adult chins should be 1” x 1” or 1” x 2” and if there are any wire floors/shelves, wire should be ½” x ½” or ½” x 1”. Kits should be housed in cages which have wire spacing of 1/2" x 1/2" or 1/2" x 1" or smaller in order to prevent them from escaping. I prefer solid floors and shelves to prevent any broken toes and limbs. For easier cleaning, slide-out floor pans are best and should be lined with a safe bedding. Kiln-dried pine, aspen, or Carefresh bedding are all recommended as safe. DO NOT USE CEDAR! The oils in cedar are toxic and will cause respiratory illnesses.
Your pet chinchilla’s cage should have many ledges for jumping on. These should not be made of plastic as your chinchilla will chew and ingest the plastic, which can be fatal! In addition to ledges, a hide box should be provided so the chin has a safe retreat when scared or tired. These should be made out of kiln-dried pine for safe chewing. Please DO NOT purchase plastic igloos for chins. Most chinchillas will chew them and this poses a risk for impaction!
Temperature: Because of their dense coats, chinchillas need a cool environment. Any warmer than 75 degrees F and your chins are in danger of heat stroke. Chinchillas keep cool by losing heat through their ears so if your chinny’s ears are pink and the blood vessels are enlarged and bright red, you need to cool him down. An air conditioner is necessary for chinchilla ownership here in California due to our high temperatures.
Some helpful cooling items in emergency situations (power outages, broken A/C, etc.) are Chinchillers, marble slabs, which can be kept in the refrigerator and given to chins to lay on or frozen water bottles wrapped up in a cloth or fleece bottle holder. These should only be used in emergency situations though as they will only provide short-term relief from the heat.
If it is warm in your chin’s room and he is lethargic, laying stretched out, or panting with bright red ears, cool him off and get him to the vet ASAP!
Humidity: Chins cannot tolerate high humidity as it prevents them from losing the heat from their ears to cool off. Coupled with high temperatures, high humidity can make a chin especially susceptible to heat stroke. In extremely humid climates, a dehumidifier may be necessary. In less humid climates, just having an A/C may work well enough to keep the humidity at bay.
Chin Hygiene and Exercise
Bathing: Chins do not take baths in water like most animals. They take dust baths! Chins should get dust baths at least a couple times a week. The dust adheres to and removes oils in their fur to keep their fur plushy and mat-free. It truly is a sight to see a chinchilla roll about in a dust bath! In humid climates, dust baths may need to be given more often and in drier climates, less often. If your chin’s skin starts getting flaky and dry (most notable on the ears), you might want to cut back on the frequency of the dust baths.
If your chin happens to get something sticky or wet on its fur, an unscented baby wipe or damp washcloth can be used to clean up the area but make sure his fur dries completely. Their dense fur takes a long time to dry and the moisture can cause unwanted fungal growth.
Cage Cleaning: Shelves and hide boxes should be brushed off daily to prevent dust and chinnie poos from accumulating. Cage bedding should be changed once a week although it may be necessary to "spot-clean" soiled areas between bedding changes. Once a month, the entire cage should be disinfected with a safe cleaner such as diluted vinegar solution. Wood items can also harbor bacteria and fungus; I do once monthly scrubbings of wood items and bake in the oven for an hour or two at 225 degrees F.
Exercise: Chinchillas are very active animals and need room to jump and play. They are notable for “popcorning,” hopping straight up into the air like popcorn and “wallsurfing”, jumping and ricocheting off the walls. A large cage is good for exercise but out-of-cage-time (I call them romps) are the best way to give them room the exercise and interact with your chinny at the same time. Chin-safe wheels are also a good investment so they can run on their wheels all throughout the night. Chinchilla exercise wheels should be solid metal (no plastic!), have no crossbars (which can easily amputate a limb) and larger than 14” in diameter (any smaller will lead to spinal problems – chin spines do not curve the way hamsters and mice do). I recommend the Quality Cage Flying Saucer and Chin Spins. They are a bit pricey but are extremely durable and silent – my chins run full speed on these without making a sound!
I do not recommend using plastic runabout balls. These balls provide very little ventilation and it doesn’t take much for a chinchilla to become overheated in one of these. Also, chinchillas do not run the way hamsters do. Chinchillas hop and these exercise balls prevent them from moving naturally.
*DISCLAIMER* None of this advice is meant to replace the advice of an experienced chinchilla veterinarian. These is simply advice that can be taken until one can seek vet care.
Dental Health: Because chins are rodents, they have teeth that will grow continually throughout their entire life. In addition to hay, chins must be provided with items to chew on, otherwise their teeth will become overgrown, leading to loss of appetite and inability to eat. A chin with overgrown incisors will need to see a vet to have the teeth filed or trimmed. In severe cases, lack of chewing can cause the open roots of the teeth to grow downward into the jaw and upward into the eye socket, which can be fatal. Some common safe woods for chins to chew are apple, aspen, cholla (actually a cactus), manzanita, pear, kiln dried pine, pecan, and poplar. Many chin toys are made out of these woods. Also safe for chewing are pumice stones such as the Super Pet Lava Bites. Providing your chin with chew toys will lead to good dental health.
It is also important to check the color of your chin's teeth, an indicator of calcium deficiency. Chins should have burnt-orange/yellow-colored teeth. Chins on a high-quality pelleted diet will get the calcium they need from their feed but pregnant/lactating chins may need a supplement. A chin with pale yellow or white teeth is in need of calcium and a vet should be consulted for a safe way to provide calcium for your pet.
Diarrhea: Chinchilla stools should be moist and solid but NOT squishy. Diarrhea can be caused be excess treats, a change in diet, parasites, bacterial infections, or even stress.
If your chin has soft poos, remove all pellets and feed only hay and water for a few days. No treats should be given during this time! Also helpful is plain shredded wheat and activated carbon (available at a health food store) which helps firm up the stools and bind to any toxins. Acidophilus or Benebac can also be given to support your chinchilla's digestive flora. If your chin's poos are runny, a dose of Kaolin Pectin can also help. However, these reccommendations are not to replace a vet visit - diarrhea is NOT normal and can be a secondary symptom of a GI problem or parasites. If your chin has diarrhea, please take him to the vet for an examination.
Hair Rings: Hair rings are a problem that occur only in male chinchillas. A hair ring is a ring of fur that gets matted around the penis and can constrict over time if not removed promptly, causing loss of circulation and damage. I do hair ring checks when I notice that a male is excessively cleaning his genital area.
It is easiest to perform a hair ring check if there is someone to help you: one person to hold the chinchilla and the other to remove the hair ring. With the chinchilla held firmly, use two fingers to apply pressure on either side of the penis, causing the penis to extend out. Gently pull the penis out of the sheath so that it is completely extended. Apply a water-based lubricant such as KY jelly onto the penis and if a hair ring is present, gently roll the hair ring toward the tip of the penis until it is completely removed. Once the hair ring is removed, ensure that the penis is lubricated and it will retract on its own. You can also gently pull the foreskin back over the penis until it is covered once again. Be gentle throughout this whole procedure so as not to cause any damage.
Ringworm: Ringworm is a contagious fungal infection causing reddened scaly patches and hair loss, normally around the face. A damp environment or wet chin is the perfect host for the ringworm fungus so keep your chins and chin environments dry! Chins with ringworm can be given dustbaths with a teaspoon of Tinactin powder. This dust bath can also be given to new chins during quarantine as a preventative measure. Do not allow new or infected chins to share used dust! Blu-Kote (found at any feed store) can also be applied as a topical treatment.
Ringworm is difficult to get rid of and all of the chin's belongings should be disinfected. A 10% bleach solution can be used on the cage and non-porous materials. Porous materials should be thrown out and replaced. Make sure to wash your hands after handling the infected chin and belongings to prevent cross-contamination. Also, make sure to vacuum daily to make sure there are no spores left in the room.
Seizures: Seizures are characterized by an involuntary contraction of the muscles which may last from a few seconds to minutes at a time. Although seizures are not common, some chins are prone to seizures caused by hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) and others (specifically, pregnant or lactating animals) are prone to seizures from low calcium. Bacterial and viral infections, exposure to toxic substances, and overheating can also cause seizures. If your chinchilla has seizures which do not coincide with playtime, I highly recommend taking a trip to the vet.
If you observe your chin having a seizure during playtime and you know he is not overheating (the temperature in the room is well below 75 degrees Farenheit), the seizures may be caused by low blood sugar. A bit of Karo syrup or Nutrical can be put on his gums to quickly increase his blood sugar. He should perk up soon after and it would probably be best to limit that particular chinchilla's playtime to reduce the risk of his blood sugar dropping too low. If your chinchilla does not respond to the Karo syrup treatment, get him to the vet ASAP.
Although the most common chinchilla color is the standard gray with a white belly, chinchillas come in many other colors such as beige, ebony, violet, sapphire, and white. For pictures and more information on the mutation colors, visit our Chinchilla Colors page: