Planning on getting a chinchilla? You should: they’re great pets. But what do you need to know before you buy one? And what are chinchillas like as pets?
Should I buy a chinchilla? They make great pets if you’re prepared for them! Chinchillas are friendly and trusting if you’re a gentle owner. They’re cute, cheap to keep and have fun habits like popcorning and wall-surfing. But they also have sensitive care requirements, e.g. temperature and humidity, and if you don’t care for your chinchilla right it could easily pass away. So before buying a chinchilla, you ought to do lots of research.
Don’t worry, though; chinchillas are fascinating, so reading about them is lots of fun. The guide below is intended as a starting point, from which you can learn all the must-know facts about owning chinchillas. There’s lots more to learn besides, but that comes with time and experience.
Should I Get a Chinchilla? Is a Chinchilla Right for Me?
You should only buy a chinchilla if you fully understand what owning one would be like. Otherwise, you could either be left disappointed or not care for your pet properly.
Are Chinchillas Good Pets to Have?
Chinchillas make excellent pets when cared for properly. Chinchilla owners are a devoted bunch, and there’s so much knowledge in the community which makes asking questions and getting answers very easy. If you’re prepared to put the time and effort in, your pet will reward you in spades. Here’s what makes chinchillas so fun to keep:
- Chinchillas are cheap. Initial costs of buying a chinchilla and its cage aside, chinchillas are very cheap to keep. All of their needs can be met cheaply without neglecting your pet. The only issue is vet bills, but these can be expensive for any pet.
- Chinchillas are cute. They’re big balls of fluff, they’re excitable, and once they trust you they enjoy spending time with you. They have all sorts of unique habits like wall-surfing, dust bathing, popcorning and more to discover.
- Chinchillas are easy to feed. All they eat is hay and hay pellets. They don’t need snacks, although if you want to give your pet some, you can (e.g. rose hips).
- Chinchillas are interesting compared to other pets. Chances are you’ve had dogs or other pets before; chinchillas are something new.
- Chinchillas can live a VERY long time. Twenty years isn’t unheard of, and the record is 27.
- Chinchillas aren’t as smelly as other pets. Their poops are hard and dry, meaning they don’t smell if you clean the cage frequently enough; they aren’t completely odor-free, though, just better.
- Chinchillas are generally low-maintenance. If your chinchilla has a cage-mate, they will keep each other company. And, of course, you don’t need to worry about things like walks. Chins also don’t need vaccines when you first get them.
The guides on this site explore these points in more depth. You can find relevant guides through the links in the list above.
Are Chinchillas Good Family Pets?
Chinchillas make good family pets if you teach your child how to interact with the chinchilla properly. These are delicate pets; their bones can be broken if you squeeze them, they don’t like being picked up too quickly, and they don’t like loud noises. Kids can be unintentionally rough with pets, which isn’t a big problem with a dog, but is with a chinchilla.
That doesn’t mean you can’t keep chinchillas if you have kids. But it does mean that if your child is too young to learn how to properly care for a pet, you should pick something else.
One downside of keeping a chinchilla is that they’re largely active at night. They’re not fully nocturnal, so will be active at points throughout the day. But they’ll spend much of their time awake at night. They can make noise, but also, this means you spend less time with a chinchilla than with other pets.
This can be a big plus, though. It means that your chin will be asleep while you’re at work. It will then be active when you get home, as chinchillas are most active at dawn and dusk. Depending on your schedule, that might be exactly right for you.
Is a Chinchilla a Good Pet for a Child?
Chinchillas don’t make good pets if you’re planning on letting your child look after it for the most part. There are several reasons why:
- Children can be unintentionally rough, and hurt the chinchilla easily as described above
- Chinchilla bites hurt a lot, and because chinchillas are skittish, your child could easily push one too far if they don’t understand their pet’s body language
- Chinchillas have sensitive temperature and humidity requirements, and can overheat even in weak direct sunlight; overheating makes them pass away
Generally speaking, buying a pet to give it to a child is a bad idea. You always have to do more work than you think you will. And if your child doesn’t take care of their pet properly, you’ll end up with big vet’s bills.
What Should I Know About Chinchillas?
The main thing you need to know about chinchillas is that they have key care requirements. These aren’t difficult to get your head around, but you may not know them if you’ve never kept a small pet before. The tips below are short and sweet, and if you follow them, you’ll avoid all of the common mistakes that new owners so frequently make.
1) Temperature & Humidity
Chinchillas come from the Andes Mountains in South America. They live at high altitudes where it’s cold and dry. That’s why they’ve developed such thick fur. While you don’t have to keep your house frigid for your pet to be happy, you do need to avoid keeping it too warm.
Experienced owners suggest a limit of around 70 degrees Fahrenheit, or 21 degrees Centigrade. If you’re like most people, you won’t keep your house at warmer temperatures than this anyway. But this does mean you’ll have to keep your chinchilla out of direct sunlight and in a room that doesn’t get too hot.
The same applies to humidity. Chinchillas’ fur is so thick that when it gets damp/wet, it takes a long time to get dry. If it’s damp for a long time, ringworm can develop. And if your chinchilla gets wet and you don’t dry it, it could even get hypothermia. 50% humidity is the highest you should let the humidity go, and you shouldn’t bathe your chinchilla in water, but in dust.
2) Snacks Aren’t Necessary
Chinchillas aren’t like we are. They don’t need a varied diet. As such, your pet will thrive if it lives on nothing but hay and hay pellets
Giving their chinchillas snacks is something all new owners do. But their choices are often completely wrong. Fruits and vegetables, for example, are a bad choice because they’re so high in water and sugar. Enough of them could give your chinchilla diarrhea or make it gain weight over time (particularly fruits). And of course, any kind of processed human food is off the menu, too.
The key problem is sugar. Chinchillas don’t need simple sugars, they need lots of fiber in their diet. Processed sugars make them gain weight. Their diet should be at least 90% hay and hay pellets, meaning you’re limited to giving suitable snacks like rose hips once or twice a week, and only in small amounts. Timothy hay is perhaps the best hay for chinchillas.
3) Chinchillas Need to Keep Their Teeth Trimmed
Chinchillas are rodents, and rodents have unique teeth. They grow constantly throughout the chinchilla’s life, like our fingernails do. If they’re allowed to grow unchecked, one or more of several things will happen:
- The front teeth won’t be aligned any more. Your chinchilla will consequently find it very difficult to eat.
- The misaligned teeth will cut into your chinchilla’s gums. This causes painful swelling and abscesses.
- The roots of the teeth will grow upwards into the jaw, and eventually block off the tear ducts of the eyes, often causing infection
This condition is called ‘malocclusion‘. It commonly affects chinchillas with novice owners.
You don’t need to trim your chinchilla’s teeth with clippers. Your pet will do the work for you. All you need to do is provide an appropriate fibrous diet, and give your chinchilla a chew toy. Chew toys are made from tougher fibrous materials like apple wood, and apple wood sticks are perhaps the most popular of all. These grind your chinchilla’s teeth down gradually, just enough to keep them from getting too long.
Calcium imbalances also play a role in making the teeth grow longer. So, make sure you’re feeding your pet the right diet, too.
4) Same-Sex Pairings Only!
If you’re a novice owner, you should only keep your chinchillas in same-sex pairs. That means only keep a female with a female, or a male with a male.
The problem is that chinchillas aren’t picky when it comes to mates. Any male and female pairing will eventually mate—some in hardly any time at all. While the idea of looking after chinchilla kits (as babies are known) is a fun one, it’s not one we would recommend for a new owner. If that’s something you eventually plan on doing, at least become an experienced owner first.
Something else you need to know is that chinchillas are easily mis-sexed. That means that pet shop owners frequently mislabel chinchillas as male or female when they’re actually not. That’s why it’s important not to take the pet shop owner’s word on the sex of your chinchilla, and to check yourself, or have a vet do it for you. This happens much more frequently than you might think.
5) Where to Buy a Chinchilla
On the subject of pet shops, we recommend not buying from one. It’s a generalization, but one we’re happy to make: pet shops are bad and you shouldn’t encourage them. There are so many horror stories about pet shops keeping chinchillas (and, obviously, other pets) in completely unsuitable conditions with no regard for their health.
Instead, you should buy from a reputable breeder. There are organizations that chinchilla breeders can be a part of, and if they’re a part of one, it’s typically a sign that a breeder knows what they’re doing. You can guarantee that:
- Your chinchilla will be from healthy genetic stock
- You ARE getting a male/female if that’s what the breeder tells you
- The breeder can give you hints and tips on how to care for it
This is far from all you need to know. But if you follow these tips, your chinchilla will at least be happy and healthy. Consider reading some more of our guides to learn as much as you can!