Chinchillas (Chinchilla laniger) are rodents with very thick, dense fur that can make wonderful pets. This fur is often described as “luxurious” and chinchillas in the past have been raised for the purposes of harvesting the fur. They have a long lifespan for a rodent (approximately 10 years) and they are very sociable and active. Chinchillas are curious and can move very quickly, so you must keep an eye on them when outside their cages. Young chinchillas are known as kits.
Female chinchillas are seasonally polyestrous, which means that they can have two litters between November and May. After breeding it is normal for the female chinchilla to have a copulatory plug present. This will appear as a thick, white discharge present in the vaginal area. The gestation period is 111 days long, and the kits will nurse for 6-8 weeks. The young are very precocious and are born with a full hair coat, open eyes and the ability to move around. The average litter size is about 2 kits, but there have been litters of up to 6 kits.
Chinchillas are very active creatures and require a large cage that they can comfortably move around and exercise in. Many people choose to have a large cage with multiple levels. It is a good idea to provide a wheel for your chinchilla to run on although a solid wheel is recommended rather than the wire hamster wheels. A shelter or hideout should be provided in the cage for your chinchillas to rest in. Chinchillas require dustbaths to maintain the health of their haircoat. These are usually give daily to every other day, in a special plastic box (to minimize mess). These animals are very sensitive to heat, and so they should be kept in an area of the house where the temperature is below 70°F.
Fiber is a very important component of the chinchilla diet. The diet should consist of mainly hay supplemented with pellets and fresh vegetables. It is important to make sure that the hay is fresh and not mildewed or moldy. Feeding a diet lacking in fiber can predispose your chinchilla to intestinal upset and result in diarrhea or constipation.
General Health Information
Chinchilla teeth are normally yellow-orange in color. This is not a sign of dental disease or decay; it is actually a sign of health because this is the desired color of rodent teeth. All rodents have hypsodont teeth, which means they continue growing throughout life and must be ground down mechanically. If the mechanical grinding does not occur properly, the teeth can overgrow each other and result in a malocclusion. Providing gnawing stones in your chinchillas’ cage should usually provide enough grinding to prevent malocclusion. However, some chinchillas are genetically predisposed to malocclusion; these animals should not be bred. If you notice that your chinchilla is not eating, is drooling a lot, and seems to be losing weight, you should take him to your veterinarian to have his teeth examined. The veterinarian may need to trim the teeth under anesthesia. Other common diseases of chinchillas include enteritis, due to a poor diet, and respiratory infections. With proper care, many chinchillas can live long healthy lives.