What is a chinchilla?
Chinchillas are a type of rodent that come from South America. There are two species – one of which are kept as pets.
Is a chinchilla right for you?
If you are an adult looking for an interesting, lively pet and you're willing to research their needs, then a chinchilla could be perfect.
Chinchillas are very nervous and flighty so they don't really like being stroked or handled. Because of this they're not ideal for children who are looking for a pet to hold as they're quite an exotic creature with very specific needs.
Of course, we appreciate that all children are unique so, if your children enjoy watching animals - instead of handling them - these fascinating creatures will make interesting family pets.
If visiting children will be around your chinchillas they will need to be supervised when interacting with them.
Chinchillas can live for up to 20 years – so, before you rush out to buy one, be sure that you can commit to a long term responsibility.
Do chinchillas need company?
Yes. Chinchillas are not happy alone, so you should always have at least two at a time.
Litter mates will live happily together but if they are not the same sex then make sure the male is neutered to stop them breeding.
If you are getting a chinchilla to keep your current one company, then you will need to carry out the introductions nice and slowly to reduce the chance of them fighting.
When do chinchillas sleep?
Chinchillas are crepuscular, meaning that they are mostly active at dusk and dawn and sleep in between.
Where to get chinchillas
Chinchilla rescue organisations may have adults or youngsters looking for caring homes, so please consider rehoming from a charity like ours.
Breeders and pet shops
If you are planning on contacting a breeder, here are some things to bear in mind:
- If you are buying a young chinchilla from a breeder it’s best to see the babies with their mother
- The adults should all look healthy and the cages should be clean and spacious
- The breeder should ask you lots of questions and offer information about how to care for chinchillas
How much are chinchillas?
If you rehome a chinchilla from us, you will pay a fee of £45 per chinchilla. This includes the cost of:
- having them looked over by a vet
- neutering where appropriate
- a behaviour check by a team member
However, we appreciate we may not always have chinchillas available for rehoming. So, if you choose to go to a breeder or pet shop, you will pay, on average, anywhere between £40 to £200.
What do I need to buy for my chinchillas?
- Suitable housing
- Suitable bedding
- An enclosed bed
- A wooden box for each chinchilla
- Earthenware or stainless steel bowls for food and water
- Water bottle
- Dust bath
- Shelves to go in their housing
- Chewing toys
- Exercise run or access to a chinchilla proof room
- Carry case for trips to the vet
As well as the above, your chinchillas need a constant supply of water. You may also want to consider getting pet insurance.
Chinchillas are quite large for a small pet and they are very active, so they need plenty of space.
Chinchillas will need:
- a minimum cage size of 90cm (L) x 60cm (D) x 120cm (H) for a pair or trio of chinchillas (this is just the actual living space and these measurements shouldn't include stands)
- shelves at different heights
- an enclosed bed to sleep in during the day – this needs to be big enough for all the chinchillas in the cage to curl up together if they want to
- enough boxes for each chinchilla within the cage, in case they want their own space. Wooden boxes are ideal, but whatever you use, be prepared that they will eventually be chewed and need replacing.
You'll need to cover the bottom of their cage with:
- dust-extracted bedding
- shredded paper or towels or blankets
Can chinchillas live outside?
Chinchillas should be kept as indoor pets due to the UK climate. They can survive in quite cold temperatures but draughts can be very dangerous for them so they must be kept in a draught-free environment.
They are also prone to heatstroke in warm conditions, so never put their cage in a sunny window. Equally humidity really isn't good for them.
The ideal temperature for chinchillas is between 10-18°C.
Chinchillas should be allowed out for supervised exercise in a safe, contained environment as much as possible and at least once a day.
Chinchillas are most active in the early evening, so this is a good time to get them out for a run.
Before you can let your chinchilla run around the house, you need to be confident that they will allow you to handle them so you can return them to their cage.
How to introduce chinchillas
To introduce a new chinchilla to one you already have, follow our step by step guide.
- Put them in separate cages side by side, about 10cm apart. This way they can smell each other without coming into contact.
- Put their beds at opposite ends of the cages so they feel they have somewhere safe to escape to
- Give each chinchilla their own dust bath, but swap these over daily so that they get used to each other’s scent – you can also swap cage furniture between cages
- Once you are seeing positive signs, like them wanting to be close to each other, you can move the cages and beds closer until the chinchillas are sleeping next to each other in their separate cages
- When they seem to be living happily side by side, you need to create a neutral environment that the two chinchillas can meet in – if the meeting is done in their own cages the chinchillas can become very territorial
- When the meetings in the neutral space are going well, you can thoroughly clean one of their cages while it's empty and then set it up ready for the two chinchillas to move in together
- Make sure that there are lots things to do in there, and that there are two water sources, lots of hiding areas and that food is available from more than one place. This will help to reduce any squabbling when they move in.
What if my chinchillas start fighting?
Prevention is best and it’s important to introduce them slowly to avoid fights.
They may take to each other straight away or there may be some initial squabbling. If this seems serious, separate them again for a few more days, but things should eventually settle down.
If your chinchillas are still fighting you can try giving a specialist behavioural expert a call to get some advice. Alternatively, if you got them from us, you can give us a call and we'll do our best to help you.
Sometimes, sadly, chinchillas just won't get along. If you find yourself in this situation, please reach out to a rehoming charity like ours. We'll take good care of them and find them a loving home when the time is right.
What do chinchillas eat?
Chinchillas are herbivores and, in their native South America, they eat grasses, low-growing green plants and chew the bark off trees.
Chinchillas need a diet high in fibre and protein but low in moisture and fat.
High fat foods may lead to liver disease, and greens which are too lush may cause colic or make them bloated.
A diet lacking in fibre can cause:
- poor gut movement
- their teeth to become overgrown
- excessive overgrooming leading to fur chewing
Chinchilla foods that are balanced to suit their needs are available to buy in pet shops.
Pellets are best for chinchillas as it means they can't just pick out their favourite bits like they can with a mixed bag of food, which can lead to an unbalanced diet.
Pellets are not enough on their own – chinchillas also need a constant supply of good quality hay. This will help wear down their teeth.
Chinchillas also enjoy forage mixes with dried flowers and herbs.
Fresh fruit and vegetables
Some chinchillas also like a little slice of fresh vegetable, like carrot, but take care not to give them too much because it may cause diarrhoea.
Raisins and sultanas can only be given very occasionally as they are very high in sugar.
There are lots of commercial treats available for chinchillas but these are often high in sugar and are not necessary for their diet.
How much should I feed my chinchillas?
The pellets you feed your chinchillas should be rationed to about one tablespoon per day for each healthy adult.
They should have a constant supply of fresh hay and a balanced diet.
How to feed my chinchillas
It's a good idea to provide them with low hanging hay racks to keep their feeding hay fresh from the floor and be sure to refill it every day.
Bowls and water bottles
Put pellets in earthenware bowls (which are hard to tip over), or stainless-steel bowls that clip on to the front of the cage.
Clean, fresh water from a glass gravity bottle and water bowl must always be available and changed every day.
How to keep chinchillas healthy
A healthy chinchilla is alert, with bright eyes and a good coat. They have some common illnesses that you will need to be aware of so that you can do your best to try and prevent them.
As with all rodents, chinchilla teeth are always growing so they need plenty of hard material to eat and chew on.
To keep their teeth in good condition you can give them:
- a piece of apple wood to nibble on
- rodent toys
- a diet with plenty of fresh hay
- a small amount of pellets
Sadly, even the best kept chinchilla may develop problems with their teeth, and these can become serious if left untreated.
Signs of teeth problems in chinchillas can include:
- reluctance to eat
- drooling and wetness under the chin
- runny eyes
If your chinchilla shows any of these symptoms, it’s important to ask your vet to check their teeth.
Fur chewing is when a chinchilla excessively grooms and chews their fur which leads to them pulling their own hair out. It may be a sign of stress, boredom or a poor diet.
What causes fur chewing?
Chinchillas are social animals and need the companionship of another chinchilla.
If you do have just one you will need to spend lots of time keeping them entertained – grooming and spending time with them– but please do consider getting a second chinchilla for company.
Lack of fibre
Chinchillas that are not given hay may start to chew theirs or their companions’ fur to make up for the lack of fibre in their diet. So be sure that their diet is will balanced with hay.
If you move house or move your chinchilla to a new location within your home, this could cause stress-related fur chewing.
This should ease as they become used to their new surroundings – you can speak with your vet to get tips on how to help them settle in.
Grooming as we know it – with a good bath and a brush - isn't needed for chinchillas. In the wild they use fine sand to keep their coats clean and in prime condition. So, you'll need to provide this for them in the form of a dust bath.
How often should chinchillas have a dust bath?
Chinchillas should be offered a bath once a day, for about 20 minutes. If the bath is left longer than this, it may become soiled and your chinchilla won’t want to use it.
Change the dust at least once a week. Also check their eyes because a build-up of dust can cause eye problems.
How big does the dust bath need to be?
The bath needs to be large and deep enough for your chinchilla to roll around in without injuring themselves, so the dust should be about 10cm deep.
Where can I buy chinchilla dust?
This can be bought from most pet shops. Never use ordinary sandpit or builders’ sand as this is too coarse and will damage the chinchilla’s fur and skin.
Will my chinchillas need a water bath?
You should never bathe your chinchilla with water as this can cause hypothermia – their fur is so dense that it takes a long time to dry.
With regular dust baths, and providing their teeth are in good condition, chinchillas can maintain their own fur.
Handling your chinchillas
It's recommended that you don’t pick your chinchilla up unless necessary – a frightened chinchilla that is being too strongly held will shed handfuls of fur. Instead you can train your chinchilla to jump into a carrier to allow you to move them around for things like a health check or a vet visit.
How to handle your chinchillas
Chinchillas can be nervous and naturally wouldn't choose to be held. But if you would like to handle your chinchillas then, over time, they can become used to handling if it's done in the right way.
- Shake their bag of treats or make a sound every time you offer them their favourite treat. They will start to associate that sound with something good and will come to the front of the cage, so you can offer them tasty treats.
- After a week of doing this you can reach out to stroke them – it's best to stroke them on their chest or shoulder where they can see you
- After a quick stroke you can back off and let them enjoy their treat
- Once your chinchilla is confidently taking treats and allowing you to stroke them, you can start to encourage them to climb onto your arm by putting a treat on your hand and allowing them to step onto your hand or arm to reach it.
- Don’t move away during this time, just let them get used to climbing on you. Some chinchillas will take to this right away and will love the opportunity to climb on you!
After practicing this several times, you can give your chinchillas time out of their cage to run around. Practice encouraging them to climb on you during this time, but don’t put them back in their cage as soon as they climb on you.