There’s nothing more exciting for a child than having a small, fluffy pet. Chinchillas aren’t a common choice, but people can and do buy chinchillas for their children. The only problem is that they’re exotic pets, so are they right for kids?
Is a chinchilla a good pet for a child? Chinchillas are fluffy and fun, clean and odor-free, and can live for a long time. But they’re also delicate and have specific care requirements that may be too complex for your child. Handling is an example, as chinchillas can’t be squeezed and have to be picked up carefully. However, children can take care of chinchillas with help and training from their parents.
For the sake of your pet, your family, your sanity and your wallet you should research chinchillas before you get one. That way, you’ll know exactly what to expect—and if you do, you’ll enjoy having a chinchilla much more. The guide below explores this issue in enough depth that you should, by the end of it, know whether a chinchilla is a good pet for you and your child.
Is a Chinchilla a Good Pet for a Child?
Many peoples’ first experience with chinchillas is as a family pet. But these exotic animals aren’t necessarily a good pet for a child. They can be, provided that you care for them properly and teach your child to do the same. But many parents don’t do this.
Ultimately, the decision is yours. But the aim of this guide is to help potential owners understand what chinchillas are like and what care requirements they have. Many people neglect their pet chinchillas, and while we would love to see more people owning them, that shouldn’t be at the cost of the animals’ happiness.
With that out of the way, let’s look at what makes chinchillas great.
What Are Chinchillas Like as Pets?
The issue isn’t the chinchilla itself. There are many reasons why chinchillas make good pets. Here are just a few:
- Chinchillas are clean pets. They barber their own fur, and their poop doesn’t smell because it’s dried and solid. They enjoy frequent baths in dust (yes, dust) that keep them clean and odor-free.
- Chinchillas are cute. They’re have big, rounded ears and bushy tails, and display all sorts of cute behaviors like winking and standing up. They’re also a lot of fun to pet.
- Chinchillas eat hay. You don’t need to spend lots of money or search far and wide to find food for chinchillas, as hay can be picked up at any pet store.
- Chinchillas are quiet. While they do make the occasional noise (like alarm barking!), chinchillas are quiet for the most part.
- Chinchillas can like petting and handling. It takes time to train them to be comfortable when handled, but when you have, they’re affectionate and friendly pets.
And are chinchillas good family pets? Well, they can get along with children so long as the children are well behaved and careful with it. In that sense, a chinchilla is as good with children as any other pet.
These general points make the chinchilla a popular exotic pet. But it’s the chinchilla’s fur which sets it apart, and which especially appeals to children.
Chinchillas are The Fluffiest Pet
Chinchillas have the softest fur of any animal. That’s because they have up to eighty hairs coming out of each of their follicles, while other animals have only one or two. This means their fur is as dense as it’s possible for fur to be.
This has long been the chinchilla’s key ‘selling point’, whether as a wild source of fur, as a farmed animal, or as a pet. Children and adults alike love the feel of their fur.
Yes and No: Chinchillas Live a Long Time
Something that people don’t appreciate about chinchillas is that they can live a long time. If they’re cared for properly, they can live for between 15-20 years. Cases of chinchillas living longer than this are rare but far from unheard of.
This could either be a reason in favor or against you getting one for a child. On the plus side, your child won’t experience the heartbreak of their pet passing away after a short time. But it also means that you need a plan in place for what happens to the chinchilla later in its life. Will it live with your child when they move out? Will it live with you, and will you be comfortable with that?
You also have to consider whether your child will lose interest in their chinchilla after a short time. Unfortunately, this happens frequently with pets. Once the novelty wears off, the child doesn’t want to care for the chinchilla any more. If you suspect that might happen, a pet with a shorter lifespan would be more appropriate. So, whether this is an upside or a downside depends on you and your child.
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Downsides to Chinchillas as Pets for Children
Aside from these points, though, there are several drawbacks to choosing a chinchilla for a family pet. We believe that these drawbacks outweigh the positives described above. However, they can be avoided through teaching your child proper care and reasoned decision-making.
Chinchillas are Delicate
The key problem is that chinchillas are delicate animals. This means you and your child may not enjoy your chinchilla’s fur as well you might, because handling chinchillas isn’t as easy as you might think.
First of all, chinchillas are rodents. They are much smaller than their body size suggests, which is mostly fur. This means that their bodies are delicate enough as it is. You can’t play rough-and-tumble with them like you could with other pets.
But chinchillas also have special ribcages which aren’t as strong as those of other animals. In other animals, the ribs are connected to the sternum at the front and the spine at the back by small amounts of cartilage. Cartilage is like a mix between bone and muscle: stronger than a muscle, but weaker and more flexible than a bone. This allows the ribcage to expand when the animal breathes. Only small amounts of cartilage are needed with the rest of the ribcage being bone.
In the chinchilla rib cage, a full half of each rib is cartilage. When viewed from a standing-up position, the part that attaches to the spine at the back is mostly bone. But from the sternum in the chest and all the way to the side is cartilage. This means that the chinchilla’s ribcage is weak and easily broken. When broken, the ribs and cartilage can poke and puncture internal organs and kill your pet.
This doesn’t mean that chinchillas can’t be picked up. But it does mean you have to be careful with them. Children love to squeeze and cuddle their pets, especially fluffy ones like these—but this could severely injure or kill a chinchilla. You can avoid this by teaching your child proper care and handling techniques for chinchillas, but this is difficult if they’re young. Read our guide to learn what it takes.
Chinchillas Require Lots of Care
Chinchillas are exotic pets. There are things you can easily get wrong regarding their care. Take their diet, for example. Your first instinct may be that chinchillas eat lots of fresh fruit and vegetables. After all, that’s what other small pets eat.
Unfortunately, fruits and vegetables are bad for chinchillas. It’s not that they don’t offer the right nutrients (although they don’t); it’s that they can give a chinchilla painful tummy bloats and diarrhea, which could kill your pet.
Exercise balls are another example. These are perhaps the most common toy people get for small fluffy pets. But chinchilla owners call them death balls because of how dangerous they are. Once inside, chinchillas can easily break their toes and feet, or overheat and die.
These are only two small aspects of caring for a chinchilla. There’s lots more that you need to know. Here’s a list of things that are easy to get wrong, but have serious consequences for pet chinchillas:
- Temperature requirements. Chinchillas are from high up in the mountains. Sitting in a warm room and/or direct sunlight can cause heat stress and kill them.
- Picking up a chinchilla by its tail. This is the recommended way to pick a chinchilla up. But if you do it wrong, your pet’s tail might break.
- Chinchillas can’t free roam around the house. If they do, they might escape or get hurt by accident.
- You can’t squeeze a chinchilla when you cuddle it. If you do, you might break its ribs and cause internal injuries to its organs.
- Chinchillas can’t use regular running wheels. They’re far too small for the chinchilla to run comfortably. So, they need special ones which are much larger.
- Chinchillas shouldn’t get wet. When they do get wet, their dense fur stays wet for a long time. This can make your pet too cold, and it might die.
Learning all this takes time and effort which is difficult enough if you’re buying the chinchilla for yourself, let alone your child. If you do plan on getting one, consider reading the rest of our guides on chinchilla care and other subjects.
Chinchillas Cost More than Other Pets
Another downside of chinchillas being exotic pets is that their care costs more than that of other animals. They need large cages, and because they’re exotic, you’ll need special insurance and to see special vets. This all adds up to bigger bills each month than you would get for other small fluffy pets.
The chinchilla’s long life span also makes this worse. If you want to care for your pet properly, it should get regular check ups and be taken to the vet whenever anything is wrong with its health. You’ll have to do this for a decade or more with a chinchilla, while other small pets won’t live so long anyway.
Chinchillas also like to live in pairs or larger groups. They’re social animals when they’re in the wild, and this been has passed on to pet chinchillas. You can keep them alone if you spend lots of time with them, but they typically prefer company. So, that would add significantly to your bills compared with small fluffy pets that can live alone.
Chinchillas May Not Get On with Other Pets
Chinchillas can’t live in cages with other pets, so if that’s something you were planning on doing, don’t do it. If you put a guinea pig and a chinchilla together, for example, the pair would fight over food and space. You can keep them in separate cages without an issue, though, so if you do have another small pet then this won’t be a problem so long as they aren’t in the same cage.
You can keep a chinchilla in a house with other larger pets, but this can be inconvenient. Chinchillas are rodents, so are vulnerable to bigger animals. To take your chinchilla from its cage, as you must occasionally, you would have to secure the other pet in another room.
Chinchillas Don’t Like Loud Sounds & Sudden Movements
Most people decide which pet to get based on what they want. But what about what the pet wants? Chinchillas typically prefer conditions unlike those that can be found in a family home.
One aspect of this is noise. Chinchillas live in arid, rocky foothills and mountains. There are several predators that eat them, so they’re constantly listening for whatever’s approaching. That’s why chinchillas have such big ears. Pet chinchillas do the same, and can be spooked by noises they can’t identify. Loud noises spook them the most, and so your children, if young, might scare them.
Chinchillas also have to be handled delicately. They don’t like being whirled around, thrown and caught, or anything like that. If your child is the boisterous type, it would be a bad idea for it to handle a chinchilla. Again, you can teach children how to handle a chinchilla properly if you have the time and want to put in the effort; but it may be worth considering the purchase of a pet that isn’t so delicate.
Is a Chinchilla the Right Pet for Me and My Child?
Whether a chinchilla is the right pet for you depends on your lifestyle, and what you want from a pet. If you want a low-maintenance pet that’s easy for a child to take care of, a chinchilla isn’t a good choice. But if you:
a) …Feel confident that your child could take care of a more advanced pet,
b) are prepared for the pet to cost more than other small fluffy pets might, and
c) are prepared to do lots of the care yourself,
…Then a chinchilla would be a good choice. We recommend doing some further research about how to care for chinchillas before making any purchases. And if you do plan on getting one, head to a pet store and ask to look at and even handle them. That will get you used to them before you take one home.
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