Meet the Chinchillas: A Chinchilla Profile
The Fluffiest Acrobat - The Chinchilla
Chinchillas are energetic, acrobatic pets that can fit into a variety of life styles and home situations. Often better suited to families with adults and older children, chinchillas are pets that are always on the go and not necessarily ones that like to be held and cuddled. With the longest lifespan of any companion rodent, Chinchillas are a long term commitment and careful concideration should be taken before adding a chinchilla to your family.
Chinchilla History - The Origins of the Chinchilla
Chinchillas are native to the Andes Mountains in South America where they were hunted almost to extinction for their sought after fur. The first individual who attempted to breed chinchillas for profit was Juan Ignacio Molina, who is also credited with providing the first accurate description of a chinchilla in 1810. The first succesful breeding of chinchillas in captivity was recorded in 1900 by Frederico Albert, who succesfully breed them in captivity until an illness wiped out his entire chinchilla colony (then numbering 13) in a two month period.
Matthias Chapman applied for a grant to trap wild chinchillas in 1918 to the Chilean government and was granted permission to trap several chinchillas, then close to extinction, to transport them to the US as part of his breeding program for the fur trade industry. Over a period of three years, Matthias was able to trap 11 chinchillas and began the first recognized program of breeding domesticated chinchillas, then raised for the fur pelt trade. It is believed that the removal of these chinchillas has contributed to the status of the wild chinchillas as an endangered species today.
The domestic chinchilla as a pet has largely been attributed to the stock removed from fur breeding farms and a decline in the profitable trade of chinchilla pelts.
Besides those bred as domestic pets, Chinchillas are currently bred on fur farms where they are raised and killed for their pelts for fashion purposes. Chinchillas are also used in laboratory studies as their auditory system is fairly close to a human's, and they are also used in studies of gastrointestinal diseases and pnumonia.
Just the Facts: Chinchillas in a Nutshell
Chinchillas live on average for 15-20 years, although some chinchillas have lived to be 25+ years old in captivity. Chinchillas reach adult size at 12 inches long and generally weigh from 18-35 oz, with females being larger then males on average. Domesticated Chinchillas generally display crepuscular (awake around dawn and twilight, sleeping during the day and night) or nocturnal (awake at night, sleeping during the day) behavior, and are moderately adaptive to the schedule of their human family.
Chinchillas are herbivores and require a strict diet of primarily hay and hay based pellets, with treats being provided sparingly due to a sensative GI tract. Chinchillas are social animals and can be kept in same gender pairs, or male/female pairs where one or both chinchillas has been spayed or neutered.
Female chinchillas come into heat every 28-35 days and generally have a 111 day gestation period. The average litter size is 1-3 pups. Chinchillas can have multiple pregnancies occur at one time which can pose a health risk to the mother and the pups.
Living with Chinchillas - The Real Story
The cute, cuddly chinchilla is a less common pet then most companion rodents and other animals, and there is a lot of misinformation around about what type of pet a chinchilla really is.
Chinchillas do not often make a suitable pet for young children, and are recommended as pets for minors over the age of 15 or adults. By nature, chinchillas are skittish, fast moving creatures that do not like to be held for long periods of time and tend to bond best with patient, quiet humans who are able to interact with chinchillas on their terms.
Chinchillas do not have dander, but this does not mean they are a hypoallergenic pet. There are studies that indicate that animal proteins located in urine and saliva may be the cause of allergies in humans. Chinchillas also need access to fresh hay and a dust bath, which can be a problem for people who suffer from allergies.
Chinchillas do not have any odor to them, but they are not clean or mess free pets. Chinchillas are actually fairly messy pets, between rolling in their dust bath and the liklihood of chinchillas kicking poop out of their cage while they are playing. While they do not have an ammonia smell, their cages will still need regular cleaning to maintain a hygenic environment for them.
Chinchillas are destructive chewers and need chew toys to satisfy their need to gnaw. Chinchillas do need exercise time out of the cage, and as it is virtually impossible to completely chinchilla-proof a room against these clever acrobats, chinchillas should always be supervised when playing outside of the cage.
Attention to Detail: Important Parts of Chinchilla Care
Chinchillas are sensative animals and require special attention to detail in their diet, housing and environment to avoid health and behavioral problems.
Chinchillas need temperature controlled environments and should not be in areas where the heat climbs over 80 degrees. An air conditioned environment is vital for chinchillas who live in warm climates, as they are susceptible to heat stroke which can quickly be fatal. Besides having an air conditioned environment, an owner can place refrigerated slabs of tile or granite in secure areas (where they are not likely to fall on a chinchilla) so that the chinchilla can lay on these cooled surfaces to drop their body temperature.
Chinchillas have teeth that grow throughout their entire lives, and it is important to pay special attention to their teeth to ensure they are wearing properly. While you can check your chinchilla's incisors to be sure they are wearing evenly, it is periodically necessary for a Veterinarian to check your chinchilla's teeth more completely and this may need to be done under anesthesia. A chinchilla with uneven or sharp points on their teeth can have difficulty eating, which can quickly cause serious health problems.
Chinchillas are particularly susceptible to bacteria in their water, and it is important to be sure that water is provided from a clean source and water bottles are changed and cleaned regularly. Using filtered or distilled water can protect your chinchilla from contaminates that may be found in tap water, which may be small enough in quantity not to harm humans but may cause problems for the chinchilla.