Domestic chinchillas are closely related to wild chinchillas, so you may think they can live outside. Other similar pets live in hutches and survive fine, but chinchillas are exotic, and aren’t like other pets. So what are the facts?
Can you keep a chinchilla outside, in a hutch or otherwise? Wild chinchillas can live outside, but pet chinchillas can’t. The environment where you live is almost definitely unsuitable for chinchillas, as they need to avoid rain and warm direct sunlight. Otherwise, they will die. All owners keep their chinchillas indoors.
This may surprise you, as chinchillas have only been domesticated for a hundred years. But it’s true, and it’s vital for the welfare of your pet that it lives inside. Read our guide below to find out why, and what happens if you keep your chinchilla in a hutch outside…
Can My Chinchilla Live Outside?
Pet chinchillas cannot live outside. Wild chinchillas have the perfect habitat, but unless you live in northern Chile, the environment around you won’t be suitable for your pet.
Even if your pet lives in an outdoor chinchilla enclosure, it faces several risks to its safety, even its life. It also becomes much more likely that your pet will escape, so it’s more stressful for you. Here’s a brief table describing each of the reasons why housing your pet in an outdoor chinchilla hutch is a bad idea:
|Too Wet||Chinchillas must stay dry. Getting wet and staying wet for a long time can kill a chinchilla.||10/10|
|Too Cold||While chinchillas are adapted to cold, they avoid cold by hiding deep in rock crevices. They may not have such a good place to hide in the hutch you provide.||7/10|
|Too Hot||Chinchillas overheat easily in full sun or on summer days. Overheating can kill.||10/10|
|Danger of Other Animals||Depending on where you live, predators or other pets may try to break into your chinchilla’s outdoor cage.||7/10|
|Danger of Neglect||If your pet’s hutch is outside, you can more easily forget about it. It may not have enough food, water or toys.||6/10|
|Danger of Escape||If you accidentally leave your chinchilla’s hutch open outside, it can escape into the wild.||10/10|
Keeping your chinchilla in an indoor enclosure avoids most of these problems (predators and unsuitable ambient temperature). If you put the enclosure somewhere suitable in the room, you can avoid all of them (like direct sunlight).
Do Chinchillas Live Outside?
Can chinchillas live outside? If they’re wild, they can. They have survived for millions of years outdoors. However, this doesn’t mean that your pet chinchilla can survive outdoors too.
The main reason is that wild chinchillas live in a specific habitat. They live in arid and semi-arid desert in South America. Arid places are typically warm, but at high altitudes, become cold because they’re exposed. They’re also exceptionally dry, and the place that chinchillas live is the driest place on earth.
Chinchillas have specifically adapted to live here. They have thick fur that holds in warmth, but shouldn’t ever get wet. This is perfect for the chinchilla’s natural habitat because it almost never rains, and when it does, chinchillas have rocks to shelter under. But wherever you live, it rains more than the chinchilla’s habitat.
The warmth of the fur is another advantage in the wild. Chinchillas experience temperatures below freezing in the wild, but can easily survive because of their fur. But if you live somewhere temperate, there will be times that it’s far too hot for chinchillas. If your pet is exposed to full sun, it will quickly overheat.
Plus, today’s pet chinchillas aren’t the same as their wild counterparts. If you sent a pet chinchilla to live in Chile, it wouldn’t survive (and people have tried!) That’s because they’re accustomed to living indoors, and have been bred to have even thicker coats. So there are multiple reasons why a pet chinchilla wouldn’t do well outside.
Can Chinchillas Live Outside in Hutch?
Hutch or no, chinchillas can’t live outdoors. A hutch will provide some protection from the wind, rain and temperature—but not enough.
Can Chinchillas Survive Outside if They Escape?
Chinchillas are wily and jump surprisingly high. As such, chinchillas can escape through open doors, open windows or the wall or floor cavity. Once outside, they face all the dangers described above. These can all kill a chinchilla quickly, especially if it’s very cold or very hot.
However, chinchillas are smart enough to seek shelter even if they aren’t in their natural habitats. Your pet is likely somewhere near your home, under shelter: be it a car, an existing burrow, or a rock formation. Begin by searching here, and do so as soon as you can to maximize the chance that you will find your pet alive.
If you can’t find your pet straight away, consider using a live trap. These are used to catch animals without hurting or killing them. You can find them at pet stores, hardware stores or online.
What Temperature Do Chinchillas Have to Live In?
Room temperature is ideal for a chinchilla. A chinchilla’s natural habitat is a cool 50 to 55 degrees Fahrenheit (10 to 13 degrees Celsius). They can survive and thrive at between 60 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit though, i.e. room temperature (15 to 21 degrees Celsius). At 80 degrees or warmer (26 degrees Celsius), the chinchilla will start to overheat. It likely gets both colder and hotter than that where you live.
Another temperature-related issue is consistency. Chinchillas like a consistent cool temperature. The place where chinchillas live in the wild is surrounded on both sides by mountains, which means that weather formations can’t reach it. This prevents sudden temperature or weather fluctuations, and this is what chinchillas prefer. It’s likely far more variable where you live.
Can Chinchillas Survive Cold?
Between hot or cold, chinchillas prefer cold. But that doesn’t mean a chinchilla can survive indefinitely in freezing temperatures.
Chinchillas are warm blooded, which means they produce their own body heat. Body heat is produced by the cells, which burn energy for a variety of processes. It’s necessary to keep the internal organs at a certain temperature, otherwise they stop functioning.
The chinchilla’s fur coat keeps this warmth inside. It’s like a big, furry blanket. A chinchilla can survive a cool, even a cold night this way. Owners report that their chinchillas can survive for extended periods at 40 degrees, 30 degrees or even 20 degrees Fahrenheit.
The key consequence of cold temperatures is that your chinchilla’s body will have to work harder. It will need to eat more food to produce more body heat, like how you have to add more fuel to a fire. Contrary to popular belief, being cold will not cause a respiratory infection either in chinchillas or other animals, but cold temperatures can make existing conditions worse.
Despite all that, it’s best to keep your pet comfortable at over 50 degrees. Sudden and unexpected cold snaps can push the mercury down below freezing, and if they last long enough, your pet might die. An add-on issue is that if it were kept outside, your pet’s water bottle might freeze. So, even if your chinchilla could hypothetically survive the cold outside, it’s best kept indoors.
Can Chinchillas Survive Summer Sun?
Given that chinchillas are from the arid or semi-arid desert, you might think they cope well with warm sunshine. But they much prefer cold temperatures to warm, and will quickly overheat on a sunny day—even in sunshine that isn’t that strong.
It’s the chinchilla’s fur that’s to blame. Imagine you were outside on a reasonably warm day, at between 70 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit. The sun is probably out, and there may be a gentle breeze. As you walk, you might sweat a little. Overall, you’ll be comfortable. But now, imagine you’re walking around wearing a blanket on top of your clothes—or a thick winter coat. How comfortable would you be then?
That’s what it’s like for chinchillas in direct sunshine. What makes things worse is when the chinchilla is kept in a largely enclosed cage, i.e. with a flat floor and a wall behind it. A cage, even a wire cage, will hold on to a lot of heat.
Indoors is far better for a chinchilla. Its cage sits (or at least should sit) somewhere out of the direct sun, in a room that’s air conditioned or on the cool side of the home. In an outdoor enclosure, neither of these comforts are afforded to your chinchilla.
Can Chinchillas Go Outside At All?
While it’s not a good idea for pet chinchillas to live outside, it is possible for them to go outside. There are many videoes on YouTube and blog posts of owners’ experiences about letting chinchillas run around outside.
But just because other people do something, that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. Many inexperienced owners keep their chinchillas in cages that are far too small, or have lots of plastic toys in them, because they don’t know any better. In the same way, these owners likely haven’t thought about or have dismissed the dangers of letting their chinchilla outside.
There are exceptions to this rule. Say, for example, that you have a fenced off area in your back yard. This fence is a mesh fence, and is too high for your chinchilla to jump over. Provided that your chinchilla is supervised while it’s in there, and that the temperature is right, this shouldn’t be a problem.
But most owners won’t have anything like this setup. If you’re like most people, then all you have is a basic front yard or back garden. It may have an insecure fence with lots of holes in it, and a gate that a chinchilla could get over, under or through. There are probably other neighborhood pets that can easily access your property. If all or any of that is true, then it’s not safe to let your chinchilla play outside.
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