Chinchillas make great low maintenance pets. They can be given lots of attention or very little and seem to do equally well. You can recognize a chinchilla because they have a rodent shaped face with a squirrel-type tail and are incredible soft to touch. The chinchilla grows its fur so thickly that no parasites like mites and fleas can survive on them. So, one less worry to have about the pet. If kept healthy, you can expect to have your chinchilla for 20 years.
Chinchillas are vegetarian and really won’t bite you at all. If one seems to be biting you, it is just using its tongue to learn more about you. Once the chinchilla becomes acquainted with you and used to people, it will climb up on the side of its cage to greet you. If you give it an occasional raisin, this will become even more pronounced.
Chinchillas really like raisins. They will work hard to get one. If you put one in the bottom of the food dish, a chinchilla will throw all of the food out of the dish to get to it. Be careful here, more than 3 or 4 raisins per day can be too much for its digestive system.
The cage that houses your chinchilla is set up like a bird cage with a tray at the bottom to catch bodily waste. You put special wood shavings in it and need to change it about once per week. This is all that is required to keep the cage smelling fresh.
Your pet will do fine on a diet of pellets that look like rabbit food. However, they can get bored with the same diet all of the time. To add variety, keep some timothy or alfalfa hay on hand. You can buy this in pet stores in plastic bags or go to the feed store and buy a bale. A bag full lasts for weeks. A bale is overkill. Mix in some chinchilla food from the pet store with a mixture of types of things that chinchillas like to eat. Along with a few raisins, your chinchilla will be quite happy.
If you want to have fun, just toss a piece of paper that’s about 3 or 4 inches long and a couple inches wide into the cage. The chinchilla will hold it in it’s front paws and gnaw along the edge. It reminds me of a typewriter. In a few minutes, it will have consumed the entire piece. This won’t hurt the chinchilla, and they like it. Like everything with chinchillas, just don’t overdo it.
We have tried the exercise balls, but some chinchillas just don’t seem to care much for rolling around the floor inside a plastic ball. You may want to try it, but don’t expect too much. Some people have claimed that their chinchilla loved it. It’s fun to watch, but the chinchilla didn’t seem too thrilled.
Keep a cage large enough that the animal can move around a little. The kind with multiple stories are great if you have room. Make sure to either build a house out of pine or buy one. Chinchillas like to hide. A house gives them a place. They will also gnaw on it. This keeps their teeth in good shape.
Being rodents, gnawing is a natural act. You can even buy special blocks that they can gnaw on, but a piece of wood does just as good. They also like to get up higher. A wooden or metal shelf installed on the side of the cage will do nicely for this. The chinchilla will even shove its house over near the shelf to make it easier to get up on it.
Don’t let your chinchilla get wet or leave it exposed to excessive sunlight. These creatures live naturally in the dry cold climate high up in the Andes Mountains of South America. Being nocturnal, they hide during the day in the wild and rarely deal with rain. They also really like the cold. So, try not to let them get too hot.
Chinchillas need a bath a few times per week. This is done by put a box filled with a special dust into their cage. The chinchilla will roll and dive in the dust and fluff itself for about 3 to 5 minutes. If your animal escapes from its cage, a good way to catch it is to put its bath box within its sight. It will usually not be able to resist a bath. While it is distracted with the dust, you can catch it. Bath time is always enjoyable for owner and pet.
There is just one final word of caution. Chinchillas do have a defensive mechanism. They can urinate on demand and do it with precision. If it thinks it is in danger, a chinchilla will raise up a fire a few rounds. My experience is that they are accurate to about 6 to 10 feet. Don’t surprise the chinchilla!