Breeding chinchillas either for shows or for profit is lots of fun. But as these are exotic animals, breeding them isn’t as simple as putting the male and female together and hoping for the best.
How do you breed chinchillas? First, pick a healthy mating pair which won’t result in lethal factors (gene combinations). Assess the chinchillas’ medical history to ensure that you do this. Introduce the pair using the split cage method, and monitor them when you put them together. Have a vet X-ray the female to check for pregnancy.
In all other ways, you must care for your chinchillas according to established guidelines during breeding and pregnancy. Only through doing so will your chinchillas produce healthy and happy kits.
How to Breed Chinchillas
Breeding chinchillas is easy if you know how. The chinchillas themselves take care of most of the process. But there are some things you need to do, so that:
- The male and female stay safe and healthy
- Any resulting kits are born healthy, too
Note: The guide below endeavors to be as scientifically accurate as possible. As such, there might be some terms that you’re uncomfortable with, but nothing that you wouldn’t hear in a biology class. But if you’re intent on breeding chinchillas, these are all things you need to know and become comfortable with.
What to Breed ‘For’
When breeding chinchillas, you ought to pick a quality that you want to select for. A novice mistake many breeders make is to breed the chinchillas they already have. This may not be a good idea, as these chinchillas could have qualities which mean they aren’t ideal breeders. So, if you were to ask an expert, they would say you have to breed for something like:
- Dense fur. Chinchillas have lots of hairs per follicle. You can breed chinchillas to have even denser fur.
- Large size. Larger chinchillas are generally healthier than smaller ones.
- Blocky shape. Blockiness is different but related to size. Healthy chinchillas are rounded and strong looking with a full neck rather than a ‘pinched’ neck.
You can pick whatever quality you want to breed for. Blocky build and thick fur are common aims because these are needed in successful show chinchillas (animals bred for competitive shows).
Introducing New ‘Lines’
As a novice breeder, you may be tempted to start with the chinchillas you already own. But this may not be a good idea, as it’s possible that the chinchillas are related. This is especially the case if you bought them all from the same breeder/store at the same time.
Instead, you should buy at least one or two new chinchillas to breed with your existing group. This is termed the introduction of new ‘lines’, i.e. new lineages.
Unfortunately, all pet chinchillas are descended from the same small herd. This herd was owned and bred by Mathias F. Chapman, the man who originally domesticated the chinchilla. It took him and a team of trappers three years to gather only twelve chinchillas suitable for breeding, as they had at this point been hunted almost to extinction. Some individual chinchillas were exported for breeding in later years, but this nonetheless remains a very small gene pool.
Because of this fact, chinchillas are highly susceptible to genetic issues, so care should be taken to avoid breeding closely related chinchillas together.
Avoiding Lethal Genetic Combinations (Lethal Factors)
Certain pair combinations are consistently lethal. To understand why, first you need to understand the basics of genetics.
Genes come in pairs. The pair of genes may either be the same as each other, or different. A gene pair which is the same is called ‘homozygous‘, while a pair which is of two different genes is ‘heterozygous‘.
In addition, a gene can be either dominant, recessive or co-dominant. in a heterozygous pairing, the dominant gene will be ‘expressed’, meaning it will affect how the animal looks, while the recessive gene won’t be ‘expressed’. Co-dominant genes can coexist together and both be expressed, which is why things like skin color can mix and arrive somewhere in between both parents.
In chinchillas, certain homozygous pairings are lethal. There are two known lethal pairings: a pair of two black velvet chinchillas, or a pair of two Wilson white chinchillas. If either of these pairings is made, the offspring will either not survive to full term, or will not survive infancy. So, you must a) know what kind of chinchillas you have, and b) avoid breeding these pairs in any circumstance. But once you’ve figured this out, you can start on the actual process of breeding through our guide below.
Note: pairing a white chinchilla with a velvet chinchilla doesn’t result in any problems with the offspring’s genetics.
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How to Mate Chinchillas (Step By Step)
Any male and female pair which live together will eventually mate. But this is far from the optimal way to breed chinchillas. That’s because the pair may not be suitable, either for each other or for breeding.
Instead, follow the step by step guide below. This is how all chinchilla breeders breed their animals, and it’s how you should too.
1) Prepare Cages for Your Kits
If you are planning on breeding chinchillas, you must be prepared for any offspring long before they arrive. In so doing, you will ensure that more kits survive to adulthood than otherwise would.
Kits should be kept with their mothers, while the father has a cage of his own. The father is not a danger to the kits (rather, he is surprisingly caring and attentive for a male rodent towards kits). The problem is that he will immediately try to mate with the mother once the kits are born, and produce another litter. You should allow the mother time to rest instead.
You can use your normal cage for housing the mother and kits so long as the gaps between cage wires is small enough. Any larger than 1/2 an inch and the kits could try to escape through them. Also, all platforms should be removed during pregnancy and after birth so that both mother and kits are safe. In all other ways, both the ‘family’ cage and the father’s cage should be outfitted as normal with water bottles, a hay rack, substrate and so on. Once the kits are old enough, they may need cages of their own, so have at least one other cage prepared too.
There’s also the possibility that the mother won’t or can’t feed her young. If this happens, you need to hand rear them instead. So, have a supply of goat milk ready as this is suitable for kits. You should also have at least one dropper that you can feed the kits with.
2) Pick Your Chinchillas for Breeding
Chinchillas have long been bred by farmers for their coats. While you likely don’t want to breed them for the same reason, the same guidelines still apply. The core one of these is that you must pick the chinchillas you want to breed carefully.
Expert breeders will tell you that you have to breed ‘for’ something: this means breeding large chinchillas to create large offspring, for example. So, decide whether you want dense-furred offspring, blocky (large) offspring, a particular color or something else entirely.
You must also pick two healthy chinchillas to breed. These must be of the right age (10 months+), of an average or better weight, free of genetic issues and free of frequent illnesses. If possible, check the chinchilla’s medical records. A blank record may either be good, as the pet has never been ill, or bad, as it has never been checked, so bear that in mind.
The chinchillas should not be related as this causes genetic abnormalities in offspring. Any male will mate with any female, so you must know in advance whether they’re related. You should also avoid lethal genetic issues which occur when breeding white chinchillas with white chinchillas, or velvet chinchillas with velvet chinchillas.
3) Outfit the Breeding Cage
One important point is that the male needs somewhere to hide if mating doesn’t go to plan. As the female is larger than the male, she can fight him off if she doesn’t want to mate. This may be because she isn’t in heat, or because she doesn’t consider him a suitable mate. Either way, she could hurt or even kill him if he won’t leave her alone. So, the cage needs to have two hides, so that the male has somewhere to run to if things go wrong.
Breeding can take place in your normal chinchilla cage.
4) Introduce the Pair
You cannot put the male and female together without preparing them first. If you do, the female will become defensive and territorial. She may also attack the male.
Instead, you must introduce them using the split-cage method. This is a method which works well on all small furry pets which live in social groups. The idea is to get the pair used to each other before putting them in the same cage. The traditional method uses one big cage with a wire wall down the middle, but you can use two separate cages if you already have them. Here’s what you have to do:
- Place one chinchilla in each cage. The cages should be set up as if they’re permanent homes, i.e. with everything that a chinchilla needs.
- Place one cage 2in away from the other cage. This is close enough that the pair can smell each other, but not close enough that they can fight.
- Observe the chinchillas’ reaction. If there is no hostility, let them out to play at the same time. If they still seem happy, you can put them in the same cage.
Don’t stop monitoring the pair at this point. Fights can quickly start, and turn ugly even quicker. If this happens, you must be on hand to separate the pair.
If the chinchillas reacted badly to each other in Step 3, leave their cages next to each other for a longer period. When they start sitting next to each other, with only the gap between the cages between them, this shows that they are bonding.
5) Monitor the Pair
When the male and female are together, watch over them, especially at first. You want to be on hand if anything goes wrong, e.g. if the female attacks the male. You also want to observe mating if possible, because later signs of pregnancy are difficult to spot.
Mating behavior in chinchillas follows a pattern. The male will show that he wants to mate by rubbing his chin on the floor, and by wagging his tail.
What isn’t normal is for the female to bite or scratch the male repeatedly. This is a sign that she doesn’t want to mate. If she does this, and the male continues trying to mate with her, separate them.
6) Check the Pair Have Mated
You cannot monitor the pair 24/7. But there are ways to tell that a pair have mated after the fact. The first is to manually inspect the female’s vaginal opening. During anestrous, the vaginal opening is closed by a thin epithelial plate (hymen-like tissue). This tissue is ruptured either by entering estrous, or through mating. Seeing that it has done so indicates at least that the female is in heat, and is likely to have mated.
The other sign you can spot is a discarded copulatory plug. When the female goes to the toilet after mating, she may leave behind the copulatory plug at the same time. The longer it has been since mating, the more it will have disintegrated, and the likelier it is that it will have fallen out. It normally lasts a few hours.
There may also be small clumps of fur littering the cage. This isn’t necessarily a sign that the pair were fighting. Rather, it indicates that the male was pulling at the female’s fur during intercourse. This is normal as the male has to mount the female from behind.
7) Check the Male for Hair Ring
Hair ring is a condition which specifically affects males. It occurs after mating and can cause discomfort and injury to the male. The term refers to the male’s penis; it occurs when hairs get caught underneath the male’s foreskin.
If this happens, the condition must be corrected either by the breeder or the a vet. In brief, removing it involves applying a small amount of lubricant and poking it out with something, ideally something that isn’t too sharp. Most experienced breeders do this on their own, but vets can also do this if you don’t like the idea of it or think you’ll get it wrong.
8) Confirm Pregnancy
There are no immediately obvious signs of pregnancy in chinchillas. The kit/s only become big enough to be seen from the outside shortly before birth, so this will not give you advanced warning. And feeling the female’s belly, while effective, can easily kill the kits inside if you don’t know how to do it right. There are a few clues you can pick up on, such as:
- The female sits or sleeps on its side rather than its belly
- The female becomes less active
- The female has mood swings, quickly shifting from playful to aggressive, or vice versa
These all indicate pregnancy, but can produce false positives. As such, the best way to confirm pregnancy is to take the chinchilla to the vet. The vet will perform an X-ray. This picks up on the small developing bones of the kits inside the female’s uterus.
Do You Need a USDA License for Breeding Chinchillas?
The USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) regulates farming in the U.S. To farm certain animals, you need a license. This applies whether you are farming the animals for food or not. However, you do not need a USDA license to breed chinchillas no matter how many you have.
This is both a good and a bad thing. It’s good because it allows people to breed chinchillas without jumping through unnecessary bureaucratic hoops. But it’s also bad, because it means that breeders are unregulated. Their chinchillas may live in inadequate conditions and there’s no regulatory body to prevent that. So, if you want to breed chinchillas, it’s up to you to ensure they’re adequately cared for. It also means you should be careful who you buy a new chinchilla from!
Bear in mind that there may be regulations if you live in a country other than the United States. So, do your research before you start breeding chinchillas.