Baby chinchillas are the cutest pets there are. But if you don’t care for chinchilla kits properly, they can become sick, get injured, or even pass away. What makes this worse is that they’re easy to care for if you know what you’re doing.
How do you care for baby chinchillas? Remove the father and any jumping platforms from the cage before they are born. Place chinchilla mom and baby in a cage with a solid floor and wire gaps of less than 1/2in. Monitor development through weighing the kits and hand-feed any kits that are underweight. Separate at 12 weeks and pair up with same-sex siblings.
As a chinchilla owner, you have responsibility over your pets, so it’s up to you to follow the guide below.
Baby Chinchilla Care Guide (Table)
Caring for baby chinchillas is easy because the mother and kits do most of the work for you. However, they will require your intervention in certain circumstances and at certain times. Here’s a table detailing what you’ll need to do and when:
|Separating Male & Female||You must separate the father from the mother, otherwise they will mate again.||A week before birth|
|Housing||You must provide an enclosure with only one level, which does not have gaps between wire of more than 1/2in, and must have a solid floor.||A week before birth (at least)|
|Birth||Birth is like that seen in other mammals. If any problems are encountered, contact an emergency vet.||105-115 days after mating|
|Monitoring||Monitoring the kits’ development means handling them, weighing them, and ensuring they get food from their mother. For those which lag behind, consider hand-feeding.||0-10 weeks|
|Weaning||This is when the kits stop drinking mother’s milk. Provide hay and fresh vegetables for the mother and kits to encourage them to wean.||Beginning after 4 weeks, concluding 10-12 weeks|
|Separation||The kits should be separated from mother and paired up with others of the same sex.||12 weeks|
This is broadly all you need to know to take care of chinchilla kits correctly. But there are lots more details to learn which will make your life easier, and your chinchillas happier.
What Are Baby Chinchillas Called?
Baby chinchillas are called ‘kits’. This term is a shortened version of the word ‘kittens’, although nobody uses the term ‘kittens’ anymore to refer to baby chinchillas. You can also refer to them using basic terms like babies, juveniles or young.
How Many Babies Do Chinchillas Have?
Chinchillas have smaller litters than other rodent species. The average size of a litter is only two, although numbers between 1-7 are seen. Litters of a solitary kit are common, while any number of kits higher than four is uncommon. This is fewer than the number of young that other rodent species have. The reason is likely that chinchillas are under less pressure to produce offspring quickly than other rodents, as they face fewer natural threats. This is both good and bad if you plan on breeding chinchillas. It’s good because there’s less stress on the mother, but it’s bad because they reproduce more slowly.
Do Chinchillas Eat Their Babies?
Chinchillas can eat their babies, although it is rarer than in other animals. While the idea is an unpleasant one, it is driven by several logical processes:
- The mother, if it is starving and about to die, may eat one or more of its kits
- The mother will eat one of its kits if the kit is severely ill
- The mother will eat any kits that die, either from illness, accidents, or failure to thrive
When a chinchilla mother is starving, its milk production slows down and stops. If its young cannot yet eat ‘adult’ food, they begin to starve too. By killing and eating the weakest kit, the mother can continue to feed the rest. This results in the survival of some kits rather than of none. In cases where the kit is dying or dead, eating it prevents the spread of disease to other kits. It also stops the mother from ‘wasting’ any milk on a kit which is guaranteed not to survive to adulthood. This can be mostly prevented by good and attentive care. It is uncommon once the kits reach the age of three weeks. If it does occur, separate the mother from its kits and hand-rear them instead.
Will All Chinchilla Kits Survive?
Around seven out of ten chinchilla kits will survive to adulthood. This may seem like a low rate, but for rodents, it’s high. Before breeding chinchillas, you must be prepared for the eventuality that the kits will not survive. A good way of telling whether a kit is likely to survive is through looking at its tail. Newborn chinchillas’ tails are long and flat. Over the first day of life, they curl up like those of adults. In kits which are unlikely to thrive, the tail won’t curl up.
1. Separating Mother and Father Chinchillas
Before the female gives birth, you must separate the male and the female. Unlike other species, chinchilla fathers make good parents, and can help the mother take care of young. The problem with keeping the father with the mother is that they will mate again as soon as the female finishes giving birth. In some cases, they may even mate before; it depends on when the female begins its period of being in heat. The point is to have another litter as soon as possible. This would be of inconvenience to you as an owner. It would also stress the mother considerably. So, separating the pair is the ideal solution. Doing so is simple enough. You take the father and place it in another cage. This cage should be outfitted with everything a chinchilla needs, e.g. a water bottle, a hide and platforms to jump from. Separate the pair a week before birth.
2. Where to Keep Chinchilla Kits
Once born, chinchilla kits are surprisingly independent. Unlike other animals’ young, they are born with a full coat of fur, and with opened eyes and open ears. This means that they can explore and interact with the world from their first moments. Chinchilla kits must live with their mothers. You do not need to separate them until much later on. But you may find that your regular chinchilla cage is not suitable for kits, so you’ll need to either buy a new one or adjust your existing one. You’ll have to keep the mother and its babies together in this new setup until the young are old enough to leave. You must buy this new cage or retrofit your old one before the kits are born to ensure their safety, which is why this is the second step. In the same way that expecting parents buy a crib, baby food and diapers before their newborn arrives, so too must you be prepared in advance.
Cage for Baby Chinchillas
The key issue is one of escape: the wire of certain cages is too widely spaced, meaning that an adult chinchilla cannot get through it, but that a kit can. As such, the wire spacing of the cage should be no wider than 1/2in. The floor of the cage must be solid so that the babies don’t injure their feet on it. Safety is another issue. You must ensure that the kits cannot accidentally hurt themselves, and that the mother cannot accidentally injure them either. You must therefore remove any platforms from your chinchilla’s cage to prevent jumping. That’s because:
- Chinchilla kits are highly active from birth, and like to explore and jump. They can easily hurt themselves jumping from the platforms installed in your chinchilla’s cage, which are suitably spaced for adult pets, not juveniles. They begin to climb as soon as they are born.
- The mother could accidentally land on one of its young when jumping. Removing the platforms prevents this issue.
While jumping is natural behavior, safety is paramount. The kits will learn how to jump quickly enough when in their own cage/s with platforms.
3. How Do Chinchillas Give Birth?
Because chinchillas are mammals, the processes of reproduction and birth are similar to those of other common pets, and to those of people. So, a chinchilla female becomes pregnant through mating with a male, matures the young in its womb, and gives birth to it as other animals do.
How Long Is Gestation in Chinchillas?
‘Gestation’ means the development of young in the uterus (womb). The length of gestation varies depending on species; so, for example, the gestation period lasts nine months in people.
In chinchillas, the gestation period is significantly shorter. It lasts around 110 days. Sometimes, the kits can be born early (prematurely) or late (overdue). According to the Royal Society, the chinchilla gestation period ranges from 105 to 115 days.
This is far longer than other rodent species. Guinea pigs take 59-72 days, while hamsters take only 15-16 days. Animals of a similar size to chinchillas, like rabbits, have shorter gestational periods too at only 29-35 days.
When the chinchilla gives birth, the first thing that will come out is the kit. The kit will be followed by its placenta. The chinchilla will eat the placenta; this is normal behavior and is not dangerous.
Do Chinchillas Have Miscarriages or Still Birth?
Miscarriages occur when there is a problem with pregnancy. Sometimes, there is a genetic issue with the developing kit which means it would not be viable. If this is the case, it may be miscarried. It can also occur because of stress, improper diet or illness.
Still birth is like a miscarriage, only the developing kit is delivered at full term. Still birth can occur because of a problem that occurred before or during birth. High frequency of miscarriages and still births, in the same litter or across multiple, may indicate a genetic abnormality either in the mother or father (if the same partner is bred each time).
Birth in chinchillas should not be bloody. The placenta will be slightly bloody, but there shouldn’t be open wounds and blood all around the cage. If there is, you must contact an emergency vet. You must also contact one in the event of miscarriage, as other kits from the litter may have died but not been birthed. These kits can mummify inside the mother and cause infection, so must be removed.
Because things can go wrong quickly, you should have the contact number of the emergency vet ready before birth begins.
4. Can You Handle Baby Chinchillas?
Handling your chinchilla kits is encouraged. The earlier you start doing so, the sooner they will be used to human contact, and the less aggressive/defensive they will be when fully grown.
The mother will initially be nervous if you try to take the kits away, and the kits will be nervous at first too, so only move at their pace: not yours. Bear in mind that chinchillas don’t naturally like handling, so while you find joy in the experience, your pets may be frightened. This reaction should be replaced with one of being comfortable around you over time.
How to Hold a Baby Chinchilla
When handling juvenile chinchillas, take special care. They are smaller and more vulnerable, but also more active, and surprisingly quick.
You should handle juveniles as you would handle adults. That means:
- Pick them up from the bases of their tails. Avoid picking them up by or squeezing their middles.
- Have your hands form a platform for the chinchilla to sit on.
- Allow the chinchilla to move without overly restricting it, but simultaneously, prevent it from getting away from you completely.
If your chinchilla had multiple kits, be prepared for one to be happy with handling while the other isn’t. All chinchillas have their own personalities and enjoy handling to different extents. Try to get all the kits used to you handling them, in case you need to hand-feed them later on.
5. What Do You Feed Baby Chinchillas?
You do not need to feed baby chinchillas. All mammals begin life by feeding on nothing but milk. When they mature, they gradually ‘wean’, i.e. stop drinking milk. Humans are the only animals which continue to drink milk into adulthood.
One exception is if the chinchilla kits are orphaned. If so, you will have to hand-feed them. And in rare cases, the mother may neglect to feed its young or not produce milk. As such, you should be prepared to hand-feed the kits even if it’s unlikely you will need to.
Do Chinchillas Nurse?
Chinchillas are mammals, which means that the females produce milk for their young. Milk production is triggered by having young, and ends when the young are weaned, as in all animals. If the female has another litter, though, its milk production will continue.
Milk is produced from fat reserves and is specially formulated with whatever nutrients the young of the species need. It is therefore typically of more nutritional value than ‘formula’, i.e. milk replacement.
You should not need to encourage your female chinchilla to nurse its young. Nursing is instinctual both for the mother and its babies.
Feeding Orphaned Chinchilla Kits
You have two options for feeding orphaned chinchillas. The first is to hand feed them. To do so, you will need:
- A small eyedropper or plastic syringe (i.e. one without a needle)
- Formula milk for kittens, or goat’s milk
In addition, the kit must be comfortable with handling for long periods. To feed it, hold the kit in your hand. Have it sit upright so that it can more easily feed, and prevent choking.
Do not squirt the milk into its mouth. Doing so would choke it. Instead, place a small drop on its lower lip. When the kit drinks this small droplet, place another one.
They must be fed every two hours for the first two weeks of their lives, then every three to four weeks until weaning. This is roughly how often they would feed from their mothers.
The second option is to foster the kits. If you have another nursing female, or know of somebody who does, then you can foster the kits to her. She must have weaned within the past 1-2 days otherwise its milk production will have stopped.
6. Weighing Baby Chinchillas
Weighing the kits is how you monitor their progress. You want to first know whether the newborn kits are of a healthy weight; if they are not, they are unlikely to survive. You will also want to keep tabs on how much weight they gain, as this will tell you whether they are getting enough milk and developing properly.
How Much Should Newborn Chinchillas Weigh?
Newborn chinchillas weigh between 30 and 60g. 30g is slightly more than 1oz, while 60g is 2.1oz.* As a rule, the larger the kit at birth, the likelier it is to survive to adulthood.
Adult chinchillas’ weights vary depending on species and sex:
- Long-tailed chinchillas weigh between 370 and 490g
- Short-tailed chinchillas weigh between 1.1kg and 1.4kg (one kg is 1000grams, so short-tailed chinchillas are heavier)
- Females approach the heavier end of these scales, while males approach the lighter end
In addition, each chinchilla is individually different. So, one female in a litter may weigh more than another solely because of genetic luck.
Also, if you are planning on entering your chinchilla in shows, the average weight is much higher. An average long-tailed chinchilla is 450-500g, while a show-quality long-tailed chinchilla can be 700g. But whatever the case, you want to see each kit making progress towards these weights.
Chinchillas are typically fully grown by eight months. But some continue growing for as long as 18 months.
How to Weigh a Baby Chinchilla
Weighing a chinchilla is easy, and can be done with basic kitchen scales. Take a bowl and place it on the scales, before cancelling the weight. On digital scales, there should be a button which does this for you. This sets the weight down to 0g, so that you can accurately measure whatever you put in the bowl.
Then, place each individual kit in the bowl and weigh it. Keep track of the weights of your kits either by writing them down or noting them in a spreadsheet. If your chinchilla won’t stay in the bowl, place it in a small container with a lid. Poke holes in the lid so that the kit has air.
You must weigh your chinchilla kits regularly, e.g. twice a week. Doing so more frequently has no downside, and also has the added bonus of getting your chinchillas used to handling. But so long as you do so frequently enough to pick up on any issues as soon as they arise, there isn’t a problem.
Baby Chinchilla Not Gaining Weight
When the mother has more than one kit, one may be larger than the other. The smaller is known as the runt. In some cases, the smaller will not gain weight at all. There are several reasons why this might occur:
- The larger kit stops the smaller one from taking its milk
- The smaller kit’s genetics mean it isn’t so big
- The smaller kit is ill
- The mother is not producing much milk
Observe the mother and its kits to figure out what the issue is. If the kit is ill, contact a veterinarian to get the problem fixed.
If the larger kit is bullying the smaller one, the solution is to rotate them. This means giving each kit one-on-one time to feed. In the meantime, keep the other kit in a small enclosure of its own.
This issue can also arise if the mother has a large litter. She will struggle to produce enough milk for all of them, and consequently they may all be lighter than optimal. You can help by hand-feeding them.
Do Chinchilla Runts Stay Small?
As a rule, the runt of the litter will grow still be smaller when it grows up. It’s easy for a chinchilla to lag in development, but much more difficult for it to catch up, as it requires even more food than normal to do so.
There is nothing wrong with a chinchilla kit being slightly smaller than the others, provided it gets enough food and attention to survive. But you can step in and help the runt by hand-feeding it. If you feed it enough, it can catch up to its peers and become a normal sized adult.
7. Separating Baby Chinchillas from Mother
When the chinchillas are old enough, they can live on their own. In the wild, the young adult kits could join other herds; or, they could stay as part of the same herd, but spend less time with their parents.
However, in captivity, you control what the kits can and cannot do. This means that it’s up to you to ensure that the process goes well.
How Long Do Baby Chinchillas Have to Stay with Their Mother?
The kits should not be permanently separated from their mother until they are old enough. They should be ready at 10-12 weeks. If you separate them too early, the young will have both developmental and behavioral problems.
Weaning in chinchillas begins as early as eight weeks. It’s a gradual process.
The kits begin to eat food other than milk at 3-4 weeks. They will start by eating small amounts of hay. If you provide some, then they may also eat other foods you provide (like fresh vegetables).
Over time, the kit will drink less and less milk and eat more and more food. Between 8 and 12 weeks, the kit will wean entirely off milk and only eat ‘adult’ food.
The other factor to consider is behavioral. Chinchillas are social animals, and model their behavior on their parents. As such, separating kits from mothers too soon can lead to behavioral problems like aggression.
How to Separate Baby Chinchillas from Mother
The process of separating chinchilla kits from their parents is an easy one to understand. All you do is place them in a separate cage or cages. The cage should be outfitted with everything that a chinchilla needs.
If there are multiple kits, don’t put males and females together in the same cage. This can result in inbreeding. However, housing female offspring with their sisters or male offspring with their brothers is fine.
Don’t put the father with its offspring of the opposite sex. Chinchilla males will mate with any female, so this too can result in inbreeding.
Do Chinchillas Calm Down with Age?
When chinchillas are young, they are highly active. When they are fully grown at 8 months, chinchilla kits should have calmed down. This process continues when the chinchilla eventually reaches old age, at which point it will become even less active.
This can be a problem for owners, as restless chinchillas can make more noise, and also are more difficult to handle. Some of this energy can be directed into play, e.g. by providing your suitably-grown kits with platforms to jump from, or a pen to run around in.
Aside from these points, all good care guidelines apply, e.g. cage placement, temperature and humidity monitoring, gentle handling and so on. Treat your chinchilla kits well and they will reward you by developing into healthy adults.
*Note: Metric grams are used by the breeding community as they are more precise and easier to convert than ounces.