How to care for Chinchilla

Chinchillas are large rodents that inhabit the Andes Mountains at high altitudes of 15,000 about the sea level. They have been in captivity since 1923. The lifespan of chinchillas is 10 to15 years, the oldest chinchilla which ever lived is 28 years. Chinchilla are clean, odorless, and generally friendly pets, but they are often easily frightened. Because of this, they are probably not ideal pets for young children below 12 years old. Chinchilla fur is very soft, and come in various colors. The original color of chinchillas is grey in various tones from dark to light grey. After many years of breeding by breeders, mutations colors such as silver, beige, black, black velvet, mosiac, pink white, tan, and many more began to develop. Their large ears and bushy tails contribute to their adorable appearance. Caring for a chinchilla is fairly easy, compared to other animals, like sugar gliders or hedgehogs. There are some basic things you will need to purchase before you even bring a chinchilla into your home.

1. Housing
When looking for the perfect home for your chinchilla, it is really important to find something that will be big enough for them. Chinchillas love to move and play and they jump, so the cage shouldn't be too low. Chinchillas should be housed in a well-ventilated cage that is kept cool and dry. They don’t tolerate heat and humidity; their ideal temperature range is 60 to 72 degrees Fahrenheit (20c-25c). If  you do go for a cage with a wire floor, it is important that you provide another surface for your chinchilla to rest its feet on, so that it is not constantly on the wire . Anything works , a wooden house, a shelf, a marble tile and even a cooling pad works well.  Just something to give it some relief. The advantage of using a cage with wire flooring is that the wire flooring allows waste to fall through, but it may cause foot sores.

Solid-floored cages should be covered with proper bedding to absorb wastes. Bedding such as aspen and wood shavings are very suitable for chinchillas. Do not use bedding made from cedar which is toxic to chinchillas when they eat it. Cedar bedding, when dampened by urine, releases aromatic oils which are also toxic when inhaled by chinchillas. Cat litter is not a good choice too. It is advisable to clean the cage once a week. Chinchillas are very active and require space, a good cage size is 2 ft. x 2 ft. x 3 ft with a one-foot-square wooden house. If a smaller cage is used, play time outside the cage should be provided. When your chin is outside her cage,make sure the area is chin proof,  prevent her from chewing on items such as wood furniture, baseboards, and extension cords. Your supervision is almost always necessary while you letting your chinchilla run free in the room.

2. Basic diet
The chinchilla’s diet should consist of alfalfa hay, and grass hay (such as timothy, brome, oat, orchard grass and Bermuda grass) and quality pellets made specifically for chinchillas. Commercial pellets which come with all kinds of seeds, nuts or dried fruits, should not be fed since they may cause obesity or bowel upset. Choose chinchilla pellets which consist of pure pellets, with no seeds, nuts or dried fruits in it. Pellets should be available 24 hours in the cage, chinchillas will not over eat. A heavy ceramic bowl is recommended to be used as a food bowl for chinchillas, so that the bowl will not be easily toppled over by the chinchilla.

Hay is the other staple of a chinchilla's diet. It is important not only for nutritional value, but because loose hay provides the roughage necessary to help wear down the chins' teeth and molars. Like many other rodents, Chinchillas' teeth are continuously growing and must be worn down in order to avoid major dental-related health issues. Hay should always be available in the cage as well. Fresh, leafy green vegetables may be used. Restrict sweet items such as raisin, fruit, corn, baby carrots, tomatoes, and high-protein
items such as beans, soy, and nuts and any veggies in the cabbage family, since these may cause gastrointestinal problems. Fresh water should always be available. A water bottle is cleaner and not as easily spilled as a bowl. Remember to clean your chinchilla’s cage, food bowls and water sources regularly.

3. Handling chinchilla
Each chinchilla comes with a different character, some chinchillas bond well with their owner, but some will require more time to bond with their owners. As with most pets, chinchillas become more tame and affectionate if handled regularly. Isolated pets may be more anti-social. Chinchillas usually don’t bite, unless they feel threatened or scared, they may nip you. But most chinchillas may jump out of your hands once you open the cage’s door. Always hold your chinchilla firmly with one hand around the front of the body and the other hand supporting the rear legs. Chins are also prone to “fur slip,” wherein patches of hair come loose with rough handling, so you’ll want to handle your chin very gently. Holding your chinchilla close to your chest will make your chinchilla feel secure. Do not hold your chinchilla too tight as they are not like dogs or cats that can be cuddled. Chinchillas also have very thin skeleton, and holding a chinchilla too tight risks bone fracture or breakage.

4. Dust Baths
To maintain healthy fur , a regular dust bath is an absolute necessity for chinchillas. Taking a vigorous dust bath is one of their natural behaviors, and is how chinchillas keep their lush coats clean and healthy. Not only does this dust bath help to keep their thick fur smooth and silky, it is thought to be relaxing and fun for chinchillas. Dust bath powder is specifically made for chinchillas and this purpose. When the chinchillas roll in this dust, it penetrates their coat down to the skin and absorbs oil and dirt from the fur. Other sand bath may look or feel similar, but just won't work the same way.  A heavy, tip-resistant bowl or deep dish bath must be large and deep enough to allow the chinchilla to roll over in it. Several brands of “chinchilla dust” (finely powdered volcanic ash) are sold in the market.

The dust bath should be given twice a week, for about  10 to 15 minutes of time for a chinchilla to bathe in, rather than left in the cage indefinitely. Too much bathing can dry the skin, and if the dust is left in the cage chinchillas will often sit in the bath or use it as a litter box. The dust should be provided for only a short time during the day.

5. Fur chewing
This maybe a  behavioral problem or genetic problem where in the chinchilla chews his own fur or another chinchilla’s fur. The fur chewing chinchillas have appearance of patches of shorter, darker-looking fur, and generally looks scruffy. Other contributing factors may include boredom, dirty fur, diet imbalances, or hereditary factors such as a stress-prone personality. To reduce or avoid fur chewing behaviour, provide your chin with plenty of chew toys such as apple stick, wood block, hanging wooden chew toy to minimize stress and disturbances. Make sure you cage is constantly clean, cool and dry.

6. Heatstroke
Due to chinchillas having thick, dense fur, their tolerance to high temperatures and humidity is very low. Chinchillas in the wild live in the high, arid mountaintops. So they are adapted for cooler temperatures and low humidity. If the temperature is over 29c-30c chinchillas are in danger of getting heat stroke. To prevent heat stroke, provide a cooling environment for your chinchillas. An air conditioned environment is the best. If this isn't possible, there are many other ways to keep them cool. Cooling pad designed for rabbits can be used and even a ceramic chinchilla house is another great tool to help chinchillas feel chilly. Another option is, fill plastic bottles with water and freeze them, then place them on top of the cage where you chinchilla’s favourite spot is. The chinchilla will lay in that area to keep cool. You can also place ceramic or stone tiles in the freezer and use it during an emergency. Another option is to refrigerate terra cotta pots, then place them in the cage. In addition to being cool, simply fill a dish with ice cubes and wrap it with a towel, your chins will lay on it. But make sure the towel is changed every 20 minutes to avoid chins fur getting wet from the melting ice cubes.

7. Diarrhea
The most common cause of chinchilla intestinal problems is a sudden change in diet. Always keep the diet consistent by offering a free choice of grass hay (fresh and free of molds) and high quality chinchilla pellets (no seeds or nuts). Avoid sudden changes of brands of pellets. Make all changes or additions of foods very gradual. Avoid feeding only pellets. Another common cause of diarrhea is too many treats. Chinchillas in the wild have a very fiber-rich, nutrient-poor diet. Their digestive system can't handle a diet high in sugar or fat. So, go easy with those raisins! When having diarrhea, soft poo, runny, sticky or very loose stools, withdraw the pellet for a couple of day,  just feed timothy hay and fresh water. Once the soft poo turns back to normal, you can offer pellets again. If your chinchilla diarrhoea doesn't subside within a couple of days, a vet visit is a must. Make sure that you only visit vets which are familiar with treating chinchillas.

8. Dental problem
A healthy chinchilla's teeth should be yellow to yellowish-orange in color. White teeth may be a sign of calcium deficiency. You can add calcium to your chinnies' diet by giving them cuttlebones, available in the bird pet stores. Chinchillas have 20 teeth: 4 incisors and 16 molars. If the teeth do not align properly, they can develop spurs and points, which can tear the cheeks and gums, leading to pain and infections. Some signs of bad teeth include bad smelling breath, drooling, and eating slowly or not eating at all. If you notice any of these signs, take your chin to the vet for a tooth check.

9. Ringworm
Signs of ringworm are usually crusty or flaky skin around the ears nose, eyes and sometimes on the feet. Infected chinchillas may occasionally transmit the fungus to other animals or humans, so always prevent cross-contamination by practicing regular good hygiene.  A visit to the vet for some medicine, be it a cream or powder, may be necessary.