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|“The difference is like
black and white”
720 S Neil
Champaign, IL 61820
Chinchillas are native to four South American countries, Peru, Bolivia,
Chile, and Argentina. They live at all elevations in the Andes Mountains,
from sea level to 15,000 feet, - wherever there are large rocky formations.
In the wild state they eat various roots, bark, the skin and fruit of cacti, and
the many wild grasses.
Chinchillas resemble the common squirrel, but its body is rounder and shorter and the tail is less bushy. It has large hairless ears
and occasionally makes noises ranging from a high pitched call to a low hiccupping sound. Its hind legs are made for jumping or
hopping, enabling it to propel itself with remarkably quick movements. Its forepaws are small, each with four fingers and a thumb,
and are used as hands to convey food to the mouth.
The chinchilla has a keen sense of smell and acute hearing. It does not have good eyesight, especially in the daylight. Chinchillas
are nocturnal, that is they are more active at night and less active during the day. Chinchillas have a wide range of fur colors
including; grey, beige, black and on rare occasions white. Grey is the most common.
Chinchillas are relatively inexpensive and easy to care for. The most effective housing for a chinchilla is a wire mesh cage (with ½”
by ¼” grids) approximately 14” high by 22” long by 15” wide. The cage unit should have a tray at the bottom deep enough to hold 1”
to 2” of pine shavings or ground corn cobs. Cedar chips should never be used as they are toxic if eaten by the chinchilla. There is
no odor to the droppings or to the urine, the bedding should be changed at least once a week, and the tray disinfected.
Chinchillas are comfortable when kept within a temperature range of 55 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit. A good flow of air is essential,
however, the animal should never be exposed to drafts.
The smoothness and luster of chinchilla fur is what distinguishes the chinchilla from other small animals. To ensure the luxurious
appearance of their fur they need to be able to dust themselves. They should do this at least once every other day, with a
compound called Fuller’s Earth, which you supply. Fuller’s Earth is the ideal dusting material because it has excellent absorbent
qualities, is not as rough as sand, and is readily available. To give the chinchilla a good dust bath place a container 6” long by 4”
wide by 4” high with about ½” of dust in the cage. After a period of time remove the container. If the powder contains droppings, sift
them out with a small sieve and reuse the same powder preparation. Add more powder as needed.
To pick up your chinchilla, approach it directly, not from above. Speak to it in a soothing voice, and extend your hand palm up.
Grasp it about 1” from the base of the tail, to keep it from running, lift it with both hands and cradle the chinchilla in the crook of
your arm. Always avoid catching or holding the chinchilla by his back or neck, because of possible injury to the animal. Remember
that quick movements may startle it, but proper handling makes the animal a cuddly pet.
Chinchillas are strict vegetarians. Specially prepared pellets are available for chinchillas and should be provided every day. A
heaping tablespoon of pellets and a handful of alfalfa hay every day are sufficient to meet dietary needs. Rabbit pellets can be
substituted if chinchilla pellets cannot be found. Rabbit pellets should not, however, be used as the major source of feed, as it is not
a balanced diet for chinchillas. In addition, chinchillas like raisins, small pieces of carrots, soy beans, sunflower seeds, wheat, oats,
apples, dandelions, and red clover. Any of these can and should be given each day as treats, but only, in small amounts.
Whenever introducing new foods to chinchillas, mix it gradually with the animal’s current feed. Deviation from the basic diet of
pellets, by feeding to many goodies, should be avoided. Store all pellets in tightly sealed containers to prevent molding.
Chinchillas should have a supply of water available to them at all times. The water bottles must be kept clean at all times. At least
once a week, sterilize the bottles and the stems, using a brush, hot water, and a few drops of household bleach, rinse thoroughly.
Stainless steel water stems are preferable to glass or plastic stems because chinchillas chew these materials.
Chinchillas become sexually mature at 7 to 8 months of age, with the female coming into estrus every 28 days the year around.
Two types of breeding programs are practiced. Pair mating and polygamous mating. In pair mating, the male is left with the
female, except when the kits are born. He is then removed from the cage and returned when the kits are weaned. Commercial
breeders use the polygamous method. One male services a number of females. When introducing a new male to a female, it is
wise to do so gradually. First, put the male in a cage next to the female’s cage for a few days, and then bring the animals
together. The gestation period is 111 days. One to five young are produced in a litter. The average litter size is two. Kits weigh
about 1 to 11/ 2 ounces at birth. They are born with their eyes open, a full set of teeth and a complete coat of fur. It is always
advisable to provide some type of stable heat source during the littering period, because this is a critical time of adjustment for the
newborn kits, and any chilling, particularly during the first few moments of life, might prove fatal. Within hours the kits are able to
scamper around the cage, looking like miniature replicas ot their parents. Chinchillas can be weaned at the age of eight to twelve
weeks. Chinchillas kept as pets have been known to live up to 15 or more years.
The old adage “When their eyes are bright, everything is right” , certainly is true with chinchillas. The condition of their eyes do
reflect their health.
Wet eye: During the course of a chinchillas life, he is quite likely to develop wet eye at one time or another. In the majority of
cases it will clear up by itself, however, it is possible for the condition to be harboring something serious so it bears watching.
The symptoms include the soiling of the fur below the eye and along side the nose.
Over-Grown Molars: It must be remembered that chinchillas are rodents. Consequently, they must chew to keep their teeth
from becoming overgrown. Overgrown teeth prevent them from eating. Fortunately, this can be treated before it interferes with
the animals ability to eat by providing things to chew on, like untreated wood and lava stones.
Hairballs: Chinchillas spend a lot of time grooming themselves, and consequently ingest some of their hair. This hair remains
in the stomach and intestine, and remains undigested. The ball grows until it will completely block the intestine, at which point
the chinchilla needs immediate medical attention. A very effective preventative for hairball, is to feed Petro-Malt once every two
weeks. This will prevent the hairball from ever forming.
Colds: A chinchilla’s sneeze can be the first indication of a cold. A watery discharge may come from the nostrils and the eyes
may become watery. Antibiotics are very effective in treating colds, so you will want to take your chinchilla to the veterinarian as
soon as you notice any of these symptoms.
Constipation: Constant attention to the fecal droppings is vital. Droppings should be approximately 1/2 in length, oval, dark,
and firm. Sudden changes in feed, feed lacking in bulk, or moldy feed may cause constipation. If this condition occurs, consult
Diarrhea: Diarrhea is a symptom, not a disease. Frequent discharge of fluid feces requires prompt attention. In addition to
changes in food and water, shock, fright, and excitement can all cause diarrhea. You must determine the cause by removing all
feed that you suspect could be the cause. If this does not solve the problem, again, consult your veterinarian.