Chinchillas

Housing

Chinchillas are active and require a fair amount of space. They like to jump and climb and a large multi-level cage is recommended. A wire mesh cage is better than wood because they like to gnaw. The mesh must be small enough (15mm x 15mm) to prevent food and limb injury and part of the floor must be solid. A wooden nest box is recommended for hiding or sleeping, as they are nocturnal. Chinchillas are comfortable at cooler temperatures but must be kept out of draughts. They require weekly dust baths and commercial dust product are available. They must be housed indoors and females should be housed alone or in breeding pairs.

Biological data

Average lifespan 8 – 10 years (maximum 18 years)
Adult weight 400 – 600g (females larger)
Sexual Maturity 6 – 8 months
Gestation period 111 days
Litter size 1 – 6 (average 2)
Weaning age 6 weeks

Feeding

Chinchillas require a high-fibre diet. The recommended Chinchilla diet is good quality hay (e.g. Timothy) and a small amount of Chinchillas pellets. Because the diet must be high in fibre the sole feeding of pellets must be avoided. Fruit and small amounts of greens may be offered as treats.

Common Problems

  • Gut problems – diet change, stress and low fibre high fat diets can cause lack of appetite, colic, diarrhoea and other problems such as obstruction. Bacterial and parasite infections can also occur and any animal with diarrhoea needs a veterinary check.
  • Respiratory Problems – Pneumonia can occur and affected Chinchillas will show breathing difficulty. Treatment is with antibiotics but the outlook can be poor. Chinchillas can also develop heart disease and the signs are similar to pneumonia. We can use chest x-rays to help distinguish between these.
  • Fur Ring – Matted fur around the penis in males needs to be gently removed.
  • Head Tilt – caused by inner or middle ear infections. This can be difficult to treat.
  • Ringworm – Most important skin disease with small scaly patches of baldness on nose, ears and feet.
  • Skin Parasites are common in the Chinchilla because of its dense fur.
  • Fur Loss – Chewing fur can be behavioural and related to overcrowding, stress or nutrient deficiencies. Rough handling can cause the release of a patch of fur leaving the skin clear and smooth known as ‘fur strip’.
  • Dental Problems – These are common and signs vary from weight loss and difficulty in eating to excessive salvation. Most Chinchillas do not show any clinical signs until they have severe dental problems. It is important to pick up the problems early to have the best response to treatment.

Neutering

It is not common to neuter a Chinchilla. Chinchillas of both sexes can be neutered for population control only but there is no evidence to support neutering for health reasons.