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Keeping a Chinchilla as a Pet


Written by the Dungeon Master

 

Before I start to tell you about keeping a Chinchilla as a pet there are a few basic things you need to know. Chinchillas are not like hamsters or mice which only live a relative few years. Looked after properly, a Chinchilla will live long in excess of 9 to 10 years. That in itself is a long term commitment. No good buying one for a small child. The child will have grown up long before the animal dies! Let's now look at their basic requirements.

Housing

Chinchillas bred in captivity are indoor animals and unlike Rabbits cannot be kept outside in a shed or hutch; they require a spare room or a similar large space within your home and a suitable cage. You can buy what are termed 'chinchilla cages' from most large retail pet outlets, cost around the £80 mark. The cages are made of stainless steel wire mesh with similar shelving with a mesh bottom with a slide out stainless steel tray for easy cleaning. These are adequate but with one major reservation; the shelves should be straight away covered with wood, preferably untreated pine, cut to size and covering the entire area of the shelves. Do not however cover the mesh bottom of the cage. This is kept clear to allow droppings and urine to fall onto the stainless steel tray below. It is however a good idea to line the bottom tray with either wood chippings or newspaper for easy cleaning. Look at Pic1 below and get an idea of what I mean. This picture features 'Herbie', a classic grey male and the father to all the rest of the family we have. Crystal, his "mate", an all white female is hiding in the blue cardboard tube. It is also very important to use cage locks to keep the doors of the cage secure, because they will open them and escape!

Pic1

Basic Food

Proprietary Chinchilla pellets are cheaply and easily obtained from most pet shops or larger pet outlets along with hay which makes up their basic diet. You can see in Pic1 the cages built in hay rack on the top left hand side. Calcium is also very important. I provide rodent calcium blocks (that's the two white balls you can see at the front of the cage), Cuttlebone is also a good calcium alternative and they just love to gnaw on them. Fresh water changed daily is all you need to keep your pet alive and well. I boil the water, let it cool and store in the fridge until needed.

However, all pets love treats and here you need to be careful. Chinchillas have a very unusual dietary tract and you need to be aware of this at all time and only give treats in small amounts. All my Chinchillas love peanuts (not roasted) in shell. One peanut per Chinchilla once a week is sufficient. They go mad when it's peanut time, bouncing around the cages and all wanting to be the first one to get a nut. They all also love raisins. Again care is needed as raisins are very high in sugar content which in large amounts would be harmful. I buy a packet of dried Californian raisins from my local supermarket, keep in an airtight jar and feed no more than a couple of raisins per animal per week.

There are many other treats that Chinchillas enjoy, but it will depend on the individual animal as to whether or not they like it. Some of mine enjoy a slice of apple, but it must be a Granny Smiths and they will only eat it in the summer months. I am told that Chinchillas love a segment of fresh orange but none of mine will touch it. One other treat they all love is Apple wood. If you have an Apple tree in your garden, cut a small branch about as thick as a pencil, chop into 4 inch pieces and soak in salt water overnight to clean them. Let them dry for a few days and then feed to the Chins, they will be demolished within hours.


Recreation

Permanent containment in a cage is wrong. Although the Chinchilla is small, it is very athletic and they need a large space to jump and run around in. In the wild they can jump twenty to thirty feet in one bound. I found out the hard way that my domestic Chins could jump six feet with no problem, straight out of their play pen! I had to make a top for it!

Pic2

As you can see in Pic2 above there are plenty of toys for them to pay with and keep them happy. Don't expect the wooden toys to last; it's amazing how fast they can chew them to destruction.

Hygiene

Chinchillas are very clean little animals and do not smell. Their droppings are dry and resemble grains of burnt rice and have no smell. Because Chinchillas drink very little water there is very little urine to contend with. Provided you clean out the cage on a weekly basis you should have no problems at all. They do however like to bathe, but NOT in water; they bathe in Volcanic Dust as they would do in their natural environment. Chinchilla dust can also be purchased cheaply in small bags along with a suitable bath at a larger pet store. The dust can be reused many times over. I just run the dust through a fine flour sieve to filter out any droppings. They won't go and bathe in dust that has droppings in! Fair play there! Would you want to go and take a bath if someone had pooed in the water? Below in Pic3 you can see Crystal enjoying her bath.

Pic3

Well that gives you a brief insight to keeping a Chinchilla as a pet. In later articles I will discuss health problems and breeding for profit. Until then I will say Chin, Chin.





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