Mouse or chinchilla?

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If you want a small, furry, cuddly pet then chinchillas and mice make good choices. But is one better, or does it come down to personal preference?

Should you get a chinchilla or a mouse? We believe that chinchillas make the better pets as their fur is softer, they live longer and they smell less. However, you might prefer mice as they’re smaller and arguably cuter. To decide, spend time around each in a pet shop, at a breeder, or at a friend’s house and come to your own conclusions. Both require adequate care, so neither is ‘easier’ to look after; neither is ‘low-maintenance’, but both can give you years of companionship.

Our guide details every difference between chinchillas and mice, from how they behave to how you care for them. We’ll also make recommendations on what you can do if you can’t decide between them.


Are Chinchillas Better Than Mice?

We firmly believe that chinchillas make better pets than mice—but of course we’d say that. What really makes the difference is which pet is better for you, because what you want in a pet might be different to what we think makes a good pet. So, for example, we value the long-term companionship that chinchillas—which can live to ripe old ages—provide. But you might not want the responsibility of looking after a pet for so long.

To help you decide, the guide below is divided into lots of sections. We’ve looked at every aspect of caring for a chinchilla or a mouse, from which is easier to look after and which is more expensive, to which prefer human company and handling. By the end, you should know which pet you prefer.

What’s The Difference Between a Chinchilla And a Mouse?

Mouse or chinchilla?
This is a mouse…

Mice and chinchillas aren’t the same species. They aren’t even in the same family.

Mice are in the family Muridae, a very large family that contains dozens and dozens of different species which can be found on every continent bar Antarctica. The house mouse, Mus musculus, is a part of this family; the subfamily Gerbillinae is, too, which contains gerbils. The Muridae family is part of the order Rodentia, or in English, rodents. The pet mouse is a domesticated version of the Mus musculus.

There are only two species of chinchilla, the long-tailed and the short-tailed. They are in the family Chinchillidae, which is unique to South America. They are closely related to several other animals, including viscachas, chinchilla rats and, more distantly, guinea pigs.

A species, if you didn’t know, is defined by what it can successfully breed with. Animals in the same species can breed with one another and produce viable, fertile offspring that will produce further generations. Animals in the same genus (small grouping) may be able to mate, although the offspring is likely to be infertile. Animals that are only a part of the same family are anatomically or biologically unable to reproduce. Chinchillas and mice fall into this latter category as they are only distantly related.

Given that they aren’t close cousins, mice and chinchillas look completely different. Mice are much smaller than chinchillas, have much shorter fur, have less fluffy tails and big bulging eyes.

Are Mice Or Chinchillas Easier to Care For?

…And this is a chinchilla!

There’s no such thing as a low-maintenance pet. There are pets that don’t require walks, and pets that don’t require constant vet visits; but the idea that you can keep a pet in a cage and not pay attention to it for days on end is a myth. This applies to both chinchillas and mice. Whichever you get, you will need to:

  • Clean its cage every night. This is known as spot cleaning, and it’s essential. You swap out damp bedding/fleece and replace it with fresh, sweep up any discarded hay or poop, and wipe down anything that needs to be wiped down. This stops bacteria and cage-smell from building up.
  • Spend time with it or around it. Animals go stir-crazy if left in cages without any stimulation. Cage accessories help, but spending time with you helps, too.
  • Take it to the vet for a checkup at least once a year, and any time it displays signs of ill health. While they’re small, both chinchillas and mice can show signs that they’re in pain or severely stressed—they can suffer. This means they need medical care when sick or hurt.
  • Supply it with food and refresh its water bottle occasionally.
  • Switch out toys for new ones occasionally. This stops your pet from getting bored with its toys. Rodents also love to gnaw, so things in their cage like hides and wheels get damaged and need replacements sometimes.
  • Allow it some outside-the-cage time occasionally. Again, this stops your pet from getting stressed. Some owners let their pets out of their cages once a day, others once a week; some time is essential.

If you don’t feel like you can provide this level of care, then we don’t recommend getting either a chinchilla or a mouse. A plant which only needs watering and occasional fertilizer would be a better choice.

Which is better? Neither, as both require attentive care.

Do Chinchillas Or Mice Live Longer?

Chinchillas live much longer than mice. You might see this as either a good thing or a bad thing, depending on your perspective.

The average chinchilla’s lifespan is around ten years. This is extraordinarily long for a rodent, as rodents normally have very short lives. They make up for it by having lots of offspring, and having litters several times a year. But chinchillas are the exception: not only do they live a long time, but they typically have only one kit (baby) per litter, and only two or three litters per year. The longest-lived chinchilla ever—which featured in the Guinness Book of World Records—reached an incredible 29 years, an age unheard of for a rodent of any kind.

Mice, on the other hand, live for only between one and two years on average. The oldest mouse ever (Fritzy) only reached seven years old, and it’s highly unlikely that your pet mouse would reach such an advanced age.

But which you prefer, here, is up to you. You might want a pet that gives you companionship for many years, through thick and thin, and who you can raise as part of your family. If so, a chinchilla is a good choice. Or, you may feel that you don’t want the responsibility of looking after a pet for so long; maybe you have to move house frequently, you don’t have a steady job, or you just know you’ll get bored of owning a pet before long. If so, a mouse would be a better choice (although if you aren’t intent on being a careful owner, we don’t recommend any pet).

Which is better? It depends on your perspective, but we think the long-term companionship a chinchilla provides is best.

Are Mice Or Chinchillas Cheaper to Keep?

Chinchillas and mice cost roughly the same amount to keep—at least at first.

The similarity of their cost is because of the similarity of their care. Both chinchillas and mice require cages to live in, cheap food to eat and water to drink, occasional vet checkups, cage accessories and cleaning supplies, and toys. As such, the cost of caring for one isn’t really any more than the other.

Where chinchillas and mice do differ is that chinchillas are more difficult to find. Mice can be found in any pet shop across the western world, while chinchillas are considered exotic. While we don’t recommend buying pets from a pet store for a variety of reasons, almost everybody does, and mice are cheaper if you do. You can find chinchillas available for free adoption for shelters, however, which would cut out this cost.

One cost you can’t avoid, however, is the cost of keeping a chinchilla for such a long time. Mice only live a year or two, so you’ll only have to pay for yours for a year or two. You may decide to get another afterwards, but if you find that having pets puts too much pressure on your wallet, you don’t have to. Chinchillas, on the other hand, can live for a decade or more; you’ll have to pay for yours throughout that time, or if you can’t, surrender it to a shelter. So, while chinchillas aren’t more expensive on a day to day basis, they do cost more since they live longer.

Which is better? It’s cheaper to care for a mouse for its average lifespan than it is to care for a chinchilla for its average lifespan.

Do Chinchillas Or Mice Smell More?

Chinchilla dust bath
A chinchilla taking a dust bath.

One way in which chinchillas are distinctly better than mice is their odor.

Mice have the typical rodent smell that you’re likely already familiar with. It’s a stale, musky smell that’s instantly recognizable. They smell a little like pee. While you get used to the smell over time, and you can stop it from getting obnoxiously bad by cleaning your pet’s cage regularly, all mice smell like this anyway. All you can do is make the smell less obvious.

Chinchillas, while they are rodents, don’t smell like other rodents. They are much cleaner, much more hygienic, and so smell much less. Here’s why:

  • Chinchillas don’t pee as frequently as other rodents. Because they come from a dry habitat, they conserve water by peeing much less. Plus most chinchillas litter train themselves, in a sense, by peeing in one corner of the cage to avoid getting it in their fur.
  • Chinchillas take regular dust baths to keep their fur clean. This stops grease, bacteria, fungus or anything else that might smell from building up in their fur.
  • Chinchillas don’t produce as much dander as other pets. Their fur is so thick that their dander—skin flakes—can’t escape.
  • Chinchillas produce solid poops, not sticky, smelly ones. The sloppier poop is, the smellier it is, and because chinchillas conserve water their excrement is very dry.

That’s not to say that chinchillas don’t produce any smells at all. They smell faintly like a rodent, but mice, rats, hamsters and others are notoriously strong-smelling—and chinchillas don’t stink up the place anywhere near as much. The main smell you’ll notice is the hay you feed your chin, which is actually quite pleasant, as pet smells go.

Which is better? Chinchillas, and by a mile, too.

Do Mice Or Chinchillas Have Softer Fur?

Chinchillas have much, much softer fur than mice. If you want a small cuddly pet, chinchillas win that category hands-down.

Chins have long, dense fur. It’s not shiny and lustrous like after you use a nice shampoo; rather, it’s dense, fluffy and soft, almost like an expensive makeup brush. Mice have short fur that, while not unpleasant to stroke and touch, isn’t anywhere near as nice as that of a chinchilla.

The reason chinchillas have such thick fur is that they come from a cold place. They come from the Andes Mountains, a range that spans the entire west coast of South America. They live high up in the mountains, and to shield themselves from the harsh wind and cold winters, they evolved thicker and thicker fur. The chinchillas that live higher up in the mountains—short-tailed chinchillas—have thicker fur than their lowlands and coastal cousins, who don’t need to keep as warm.

What makes chinchilla fur so special is that despite being so luxurious, you hardly need to lift a finger to keep it clean. Your chinchilla will do it for you. Chins groom themselves and each other frequently, hardly even get infestations like fleas or lice, and don’t need to bathe in water. All you need to do is give your chinchilla dust baths once a week. You provide your chinchilla with a bowl with about an inch of special mineral dust in it, and your pet will roll around in it: no scrubbing, no shampoo, no effort. This dust simulates the volcanic dust your chin would roll around in in the wild.

Believe it or not, but this is enough to keep your chinchilla’s coat perfectly clean. The dust acts like talc, wicking up dampness and grease, and sticking to the fur to provide freshness and softness until the next bath.

Which is better? Chinchillas.

Do Chinchillas Or Mice Handle Better?

While they do have softer fur, that doesn’t mean you can squeeze, cuddle and play with your chinchilla around the clock.

Both chinchillas and mice are skittish, sensitive and delicate creatures. All rodents are. Chinchillas have particularly delicate ribcages, not because they have floating ribs as many assume, but because a large proportion of each rib is made of cartilage. Cartilage is much bendier and less rigid than bone, which means the ribs can easily be squashed against organs, or worse still, broken completely. Mice, for their part, are small and can easily be killed when cuddled and squeezed too hard.

You can teach both pets to submit to handling, but neither will ever enjoy it in the sense that you enjoy it. Remember, in the wild, there’s no reason an animal might want to pick up a mouse or a chinchilla other than to eat it; it therefore takes a long time for either pet to learn to trust you. Once they do, they might run around on your shoulders, sit on the palm of your hand, or simply sit near you in your company. But neither will ever want to be held and cuddled like some kind of living teddy bear.

This is one of the main reasons why we don’t recommend chinchillas as pets for kids. Children love to cuddle their pets, but don’t know their own strength, and can easily hurt pet chinchillas.

Which is better? Neither.

Which Is Better, Mice Or Chinchillas?

We believe that chinchillas make the better pet, although we’re admittedly biased. We think that a chinchilla’s soft fur, its long lifespan and its hygienic nature make it the ideal pet, not just the better of these two options.

That being said you may not feel the same. As such, we recommend spending time around both mice and chinchillas. Whether that means observing or even handling them at a pet shop, talking to a local breeder, or spending time with a friend who owns one of these pets, being around both mice and chinchillas will tell you which you prefer. You might prefer how small and cute a mouse is, and that’s something you can only really appreciate when you’re around one. Or, you might like how soft and dense the chinchilla’s coat is, which is, again, something that’s better to experience than read about. So, come to your own decision and pick whichever is best for you.

Extra Credit: Can a Chinchilla Live With a Mouse?

You can’t keep a mouse in the same cage as a chinchilla. Or, more accurately, you can—but they’ll fight tooth and nail, and your chinchilla will eventually kill your mouse. Chinchillas don’t like mice and mice don’t like chinchillas, in any sense.

Why Can’t Chinchillas Live With Mice?

Chinchillas can live with other chinchillas, but they can’t live with other species.

The reason why chinchillas and mice can’t live together is that they view each other as competition. They will fight over food and space.

This is ingrained in both species. Since people rarely try and house chinchillas with other species, it hasn’t been documented often, but what has is competition between chinchillas. Chins can fight even if they’ve bonded to one another, and they fight over space (hides and platforms) or food (hay racks, food bowls and water bottles). It stands to reason that your chinchilla, if it would fight with another chinchilla over these things, would also fight with a mouse over them. And while you can bond chinchillas with one another, you can’t bond a chinchilla with a mouse.

What you can do is keep your chinchilla and mouse in separate cages. This shouldn’t be a problem, so long as the cages aren’t kept close together.


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The Big Chinchilla Quiz

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1 / 10

Do chinchillas need to drink water—either from a bottle or a bowl?

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Can two chinchillas of the same sex hump each other?

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3 / 10

Is plastic suitable for a chinchilla cage?

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4 / 10

What's a chinchilla hammock?

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5 / 10

Chinchillas are rodents, and rodents, apparently, love cheese. But is cheese suitable for chinchillas?

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6 / 10

Do chinchillas have floating ribs?

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7 / 10

Should you feed your chinchilla supplements?

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8 / 10

Can chinchillas use hamster exercise wheels?

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9 / 10

One of your chinchillas is grooming the other. But it seems like it's being a bit... Rough. Sure enough, the groomer has pulled some of the fur from the 'groomee', and it's littered all over the cage floor.

What's going on?

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Whenever you walk next to your chinchilla's cage, it starts... Hopping around. And not in a normal way, but hopping really high, and bouncing off the cage walls.

What does this behavior mean, if anything?

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