Are Chinchillas or Guinea Pigs Better Pets?

Picking a pet is so much fun. But there are so many different kinds of rodent/small furry pet that it’s tough to choose. Chinchillas are great fun and are interesting pets, but you may want a guinea pig instead.

New owner, don't know where to start? Or do you need a handy chinchilla reference guide? Check out our Chinchilla Care 101 eBook, or get what you need from our online store!

Picking a pet is so much fun. But there are so many different kinds of rodent/small furry pet that it’s tough to choose. Chinchillas are great fun and are interesting pets, but you may want a guinea pig instead. So, which should you get?

Are chinchillas better pets than guinea pigs? They are bigger and smell less, and are less common than guinea pigs. Both eat a similar diet, and are roughly as intelligent. But guinea pigs cost less to buy from a pet shop, although their ongoing costs are similar. As such, which you think is better depends on your preference.

Choosing between a chinchilla or guinea pig is tough. They can both make good small pets. The guide below describes exactly why…

Difference between Chinchilla and Guinea Pig

There are many differences between chinchillas and guinea pigs. They aren’t the same species, for a start. Here’s a brief table detailing how they’re different:

Difference Description Which is Better?
Species Chinchillas and guinea pigs aren’t the same species. They aren’t even in the same scientific family. N/A
Cost Chinchillas cost more from a pet shop, but caring for them costs the same. Guinea pigs
Smell Chinchillas are much cleaner than guinea pigs, and their pee/poop smells less too. Chinchillas
Life Expectancy Chinchillas can live up to thirty years, far longer than the guinea pig’s average of eight. Depends
Size Chinchillas are bigger than guinea pigs. Depends
Intelligence Both animals are roughly as intelligent. N/A
Care Both animals require the same kind of care. N/A
Diet Both animals have roughly the same diet (lots of hay). N/A
Handling Chinchillas are softer, but guinea pigs take better to handling and chinchillas can be injured more easily. Depends

As is clear, these pets are broadly similar. In some ways, chinchillas are better, but in other ways, guinea pigs are. So, which one of them you prefer depends on what you think is more important.

Are Chinchillas Guinea Pigs?

Chinchillas and guinea pigs are two different kinds of animal. Chinchillas are a grouping of two similar species, the long tailed and the short tailed chinchillas. Both of these species are kept as pets, and are found only in Chile (although their range used to be wider before they were nearly hunted to extinction).

Chinchillas are famed for their thick coats. Their fur is so thick that parasites like mites struggle to access the skin through it. They also have long bushy tails and large ears, which are more upright on the long tailed chinchilla.

Guinea pigs are related to chinchillas in that they’re both rodents. However, they’re not in the same family or genus, which means they aren’t closely related. You can tell this because they look completely different:

  • Guinea pigs have much smaller ears
  • Guinea pigs and chinchillas have a different body shape
  • A guinea pig’s fur isn’t similar to that of a chinchilla

Besides that, guinea pigs and chinchillas are from different parts of the world. Scientists don’t consider them the same. If you ever own one or both, you can immediately tell the difference.

Chinchilla vs. Guinea Pig As Pet

If you can’t decide whether to get a chinchilla or a guinea pig, don’t worry. No matter what you choose, if you spend lots of time with your pet, you’ll likely be happy. However, chinchillas make the better pet in lots of ways. Here’s a step by step rundown of how the two pets are different, with each section deciding which is best.

Chinchilla vs. Guinea Pig Cost

The amount you pay for either a chinchilla or a guinea pig depends on where you get it from. That being said, guinea pigs are going to be cheaper in most shops. That’s because they’re such a common kind of pet, and are available widely. Chinchillas aren’t as commonly found in pet stores.

There are multiple ways of getting a pet, too. If you buy a pet from a pet store, it’s likely that the guinea pig will be cheaper. But if you get your guinea pig/chinchilla from a shelter, you won’t have to pay anyway.

The other costs to factor in include the pet’s enclosure, its food and its bedding. Chinchillas and guinea pigs are roughly even in these costs, because they need the same kinds (e.g. regular hay). So, overall, neither pet costs much more than the other.

Chinchilla vs. Guinea Pig Smell

Chinchillas smell a lot less than guinea pigs do. They are remarkably clean in every way. That’s so much so that they’re a lot easier to care for than guinea pigs.

Your chinchilla won’t develop odor in its fur like other rodents do. They spend a lot of time grooming, and take care not to get their fur wet, which prevents odor developing.

The way in which chinchillas go to the toilet helps, too. Chinchillas produce solid and dry poop which is pellet shaped. Because it’s so dry, this gives off hardly any smell. The amount that a chinchilla pees depends on how much water it drinks, but this isn’t a lot like other rodents.

If your chinchilla’s feces isn’t like that, e.g. if it’s runny, then it has a problem with its health or diet. Too many treats can cause soft and slimy feces with additional fluid, or a green color. Constipation makes harder, darker, thin droppings with a curve to them. But if your pet is healthy, its poop will hardly smell.

Guinea pigs, on the other hand, produce lots of odor. That’s because they go to the toilet frequently. This builds up in a guinea pig’s cage lining and produces lots of odor. Wet feces and urine can also cause their fur to smell. You can lessen this smell by regularly cleaning your pet’s cage, which is something many novice owners don’t do. But chinchillas still smell less.

Chinchilla vs. Guinea Pig Life Expectancy

Whether chinchillas or guinea pigs are better here is up to you. It depends on whether you want a pet with a long or short lifespan.

  • Chinchilla: 15-30yrs
  • Guinea Pig: 8yrs

Chinchillas live longer than guinea pigs, both in the wild and in captivity. In the wild, a chinchilla will live for around eight years. If it encounters a predator, its life expectancy will be shorter, but this is the average.

As a pet, though, a chinchilla can live for much longer. If you buy a kit (baby chinchilla), you can reasonably expect it to live for fifteen to twenty years. They can even reach thirty years if they’re well cared for. Guinea pigs, by contrast, have shorter lifespans. Eight years is roughly the maximum you can expect, and again, that’s with good care.

This may be a good or a bad thing depending on your perspective. If you want a companion who will be with you for many years, then a chinchilla is a good choice. But if you’re worried that you can’t afford a pet that lives for so long, or that you’ll have to move houses or give it away, then a guinea pig might be better. This means there’s no clear ‘winner’ here.

Chinchilla vs. Guinea Pig Size

Are chinchillas bigger than guinea pigs? While there are two species of pet chinchilla, both are bigger than their guinea pig brethren.

  • Chinchilla: 8 1/2 to 15in (long-tail), 11-19in (short-tail)
  • Guinea Pig: 8in

Long-tailed chinchillas are 8 1/2 to 15 inches long. That includes their bodies and their tails. The average length of one is around 12 inches. Short-tailed chinchillas are bigger. They reach 11 to 19 inches, with an average halfway between. Long-tails weigh roughly 400-450g, while short-tails are much heavier, at 1.1-1.4kg. This means chinchillas are more the size of rabbits than of other rodents.

Guinea pigs are shorter than the average chinchilla. They only reach around seven to eight inches. However, they’re as heavy as a short-tail chinchilla at around 0.7 to 1.2kg. And at seven to eight inches long, they’re still longer than most other rodents (like mice).

As for which is best, that’s up to you. If you want a light pet that’s easy to carry, pick a long-tailed chinchilla. If you want one that’s small but heavy, pick a guinea pig.

Chinchilla vs. Guinea Pig Intelligence

Neither guinea pigs nor chinchillas are particularly intelligent. Chinchillas can be trained to do basic things such as:

  • Returning to their cages when playtime is over
  • Lying down, standing up and moving in a circle
  • Potty training (although this can be difficult, especially if not done correctly)

That being said, guinea pigs are roughly the same level of intelligence. If you want a pet that can learn lots of complicated commands and impress you with its intelligence, then neither pet is for you. That doesn’t mean that chinchillas are stupid. But they aren’t as intelligent as other pets.

Chinchilla vs. Guinea Pig Care

Chinchillas are exotic pets. But that doesn’t mean that they are difficult to care for or have unusual requirements that you don’t see in any other pet.  Both pets require the same level of care. Both need:

  • Access to lots of hay and hay pellets, topped up with vegetables
  • The occasional vet visit
  • Regular cage cleaning
  • Regular bathing

Each pet has unique health conditions. Chinchillas, for example, are susceptible to rib and torso injuries because their ribcages are flimsy. Guinea pigs can get scurvy from a lack of vitamin C, while chinchillas cannot. As both pets have their own health conditions, plus common ones like stress, these issues cancel each other out.

Guinea pigs are thought of as easy to care for, but that’s not true. They’re considered a starter pet when in reality, they would benefit from far better care than highly inexperienced owners (like children) can provide. This is why guinea pigs rarely reach their life expectancy in captivity.

Chinchilla vs. Guinea Pig Diet

Both chinchillas and guinea pigs have basic diets. Chinchillas eat mostly hay: 4/5ths or 80% of one’s diet should be dried grasses like timothy hay or alfalfa.

This may be surprising to a novice owner. Many animals, including people, require a wide variety of foods to get their range of required nutrients. That’s because most foods only have one or two kinds of vitamin or mineral, while animals need many. This is especially the case for grasses and vegetables, which are less nutrient-dense than meat.

A chinchilla can get everything it needs from hay with a small amount of fresh or dried vegetables on occasion. A maximum of one tablespoon per day is enough. This may be too much, and will give your chinchilla gas or diarrhea (although dried vegetables are better).

Because hay is low in nutrients and calories, they have to eat a lot of hay to survive. This may look like overeating to a new owner, but it isn’t. That’s why most owners give their chinchillas an unlimited supply of hay.

Guinea pigs eat hay and leafy greens, too. People think that both guinea pigs and chinchillas need more variety in their snacks, e.g. sunflower seeds, nuts and so on. But that’s not true. Hay and fresh vegetables will suffice.

Cuddling Chinchillas/Guinea Pigs

This is one area where guinea pigs definitely beat chinchillas. They can grow to like cuddling, provided that you’re kind to them. They will happily sit on your lap and let you hug them if you’re gentle.

Chinchillas, though, aren’t a cuddly pet. This sounds wrong, because chinchillas have the softest, fluffiest fur. But you can’t cuddle them close because you might hurt them. They are also skittish, and take a long time to trust an owner.

The issue is that chinchillas have delicate bones. Chinchillas have rib cages like other animals, but these rib cages are weak. That’s because the rib cage is formed roughly half of cartilage and half of bone, while in other animals, it’s mostly bone. This makes the rib cage more flexible but easier to break.

That doesn’t mean you can’t pet your chinchilla at all. You can pet it and play with its fur all you want. You can run your fingers through its fur and give it delicate pats. You can even cuddle one provided that you’re careful, and know your own strength.

Nevertheless, guinea pigs are sturdier and can be cuddled closer. Once they trust you, you can hold them in your lap, hug them, stroke them and more. The only downside is that their fur isn’t as soft.

Do Chinchillas and Guinea Pigs Get Along?

If you can’t decide whether a guinea pig or a chinchilla is better, you might want to get one of each instead. And it might seem like a fun idea to keep them together.

Both guinea pigs and chinchillas are social species. In the wild, they live together in groups. It’s also best when they’re in captivity that they have a cage-mate. This stops them getting lonely.

However, chinchillas and guinea pigs don’t get along because they’re different species. With few exceptions, animals of different species can’t become friends. That’s especially the case for species which fight over the same resources, e.g. food, like chinchillas and guinea pigs.

Can Chinchillas and Guinea Pigs Live Together?

Chinchillas and guinea pigs can’t live together because they would fight if you put them in the same enclosure. With their sharp teeth, they may even significantly hurt each other. At the very least, they wouldn’t get on.

This occurs when two different species fight over the same resources e.g. space, water and food. All animals have a natural instinct to gather resources like food, and protect resources like space. An animal which threatens to take either of those away is a threat.

While both chinchillas and guinea pigs are kept as pets, that doesn’t mean they’ve lost their instincts. They react to other species in the same way that their wild counterparts do.

Besides that, guinea pigs and chinchillas have different care needs. While they each eat roughly the same food, they have certain other needs which are different:

  • Chinchillas need a cooler environment than guinea pigs
  • Chinchillas can’t ever get wet, while guinea pigs don’t mind

So, one or both of your pets would be unhappy with its living arrangement. It’s impossible to keep them together. What you can do is keep a chinchilla with a chinchilla, or keep a guinea pig with a guinea pig instead.

Can Chinchillas and Guinea Pigs Play Together?

These two species can’t play together, either. If you had them live together, they would fight with each other.

The reason for this, again, is that they’re two different species. Both guinea pigs and gerbils are social animals. But the ways they are social include:

  • Communication through squeaks and other noises. While a chinchilla will understand what a chinchilla says, a guinea pig won’t.
  • Body language. All animals communicate through gestures and movement. But again, the meaning is lost between species.
  • Scent marking. All rodents scent mark, but to produce scents, they use pheromones. These are different depending on the species.

What this means is that chinchillas and guinea pigs can’t communicate. So, they can’t play together. They wouldn’t understand what’s play and what’s real fighting. Also, a species will instinctively fight away other species (where possible) to protect food and other resources. This ensures the survival of the species which wins access.

Of course, none of this means that you can’t have one of each pet. You can, if you want, keep them separately. Bear in mind the cost of keeping both pets, though, if you want both a chinchilla and a guinea pig.

Should I Get a Chinchilla?

We firmly believe that a chinchilla makes a better pet than a guinea pig. They’re far more interesting, and far more unusual pets. Once you have the correct setup, they can be cared for easily, too. The community of chinchilla owners is a welcoming and helpful one, too, while most people who own guinea pigs are children. But don’t take anybody’s word for it: spend time with both kinds of pet to see which one you prefer.

Is a Chinchilla a Good Starter Pet?

If you’ve never owned a pet before, a guinea pig would be a better choice. While the common assumption that guinea pigs are starter pets is wrong, chinchillas are exotic pets that are more difficult to care for and information on how to care for them is less readily available. Veterinary assistance is also harder to come by, as even non-specialist vets frequently encounter guinea pigs, but the same cannot be said for chinchillas.

If you want a chinchilla, start with a different pet first. This will help you develop responsibility and learn how to stick to a feeding, cleaning and exercise schedule. In the meantime, learn as much as you can about chinchillas through online tutorials like ours.

Below, you can find our chinchilla quiz, new posts for further reading, and a signup for our Chinchilla Newsletter!

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The Big Chinchilla Quiz

Think you know everything there is to know about chinchillas...? Take our quiz and find out!

This quiz features questions on every topic of chinchilla care, from behavior to nutrition. The questions are multiple choice, and each answer is explained. Some of the answer explanations contain links for further reading, which you can click and open in a New Tab. And if you take it again, it will come up with new questions each time!

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1 / 10

Are chinchillas good with kids?

2 / 10

Do chinchillas need food bowls?

3 / 10

Do chinchillas need vitamins and minerals?

4 / 10

Let's say you've had your chinchilla a while now. At first it was perfectly healthy, but now it seems to not want to eat its pellets any more. It seems to chew them up and spit them out, leaving them in tiny piles on the floor of the cage that look a little like sick. Lovely.

The question is, what's going on?

5 / 10

Can your chinchilla live without fleece, substrate, or other bedding? Just on the wire bars of its cage?

6 / 10

Can you make your chinchilla wear a collar?

7 / 10

What kind of chew toys do chinchillas need?

8 / 10

Can chinchillas develop diabetes?

9 / 10

Can food bowls be dangerous for chinchillas...?

10 / 10

Is plastic suitable for a chinchilla cage?

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New owner, don't know where to start? Or do you need a handy chinchilla reference guide? Check out our Chinchilla Care 101 eBook, or get what you need from our online store!