Chinchillas have a reputation for being delicate and dying easily. But owners will tell you they can live for an awfully long time. So, what’s the truth—how long do chinchillas live?
How long do chinchillas live as pets? The average lifespan of a chinchilla is 10-20 years. The oldest chinchilla ever lived to 29 years and 229 days. This is longer than almost any other rodent, and is remarkably long for such a small animal. You can help your chinchilla live longer by feeding it the right diet, taking it for vet checkups, and ensuring its needs are met. The wild chinchilla lifespan is shorter at only ten years.
This is something you need to be prepared for if you want a pet chinchilla. With good care, you could have your friend by your side for much of your life! Our guide below explains why a chinchilla has such a long lifespan, and how to care for your pet to make it live longer.
How Long Do Pet Chinchillas Live?
The pet chinchilla’s average lifespan is a matter of debate. Scientific sources give different average lengths, although it seems that somewhere between 10-20 years is average if you care for your pet properly. So, for example, this paper states:
Another cavy-like rodent, the Chinchilla (Chinchilla lanigera), has a longer lifespan. The documented record for a chinchilla is 17 years, but chinchilla breeders claim that some of their pets have lived over 20 years. The chinchilla is similar in size and ecology to the guinea pig, but lives in barren regions at higher elevations, and may have fewer predators in the wild.
But other sources disagree. This one says:
Additionally, the chinchilla’s docile nature and long lifespan (∼10 years in the wild; up to 15–20 years domesticated) make it suitable for short- or long-term studies.
So, what’s the truth? How long does a chinchilla livein captivity? Experienced owners will tell you that a happy and healthy pet chinchilla should live for longer than 10 years, and perhaps up to 20. This is why we advise potential new owners to think very carefully before they adopt a chinchilla. Can you afford to have a pet for this long? And will you want it for that long?
Why Did My Chinchilla Die So Young?
Not all chinchillas that die young are neglected, but all chinchillas that are neglected will die young.
Sometimes chinchillas have underlying genetic issues, or pass away in unfortunate accidents. This can be no fault of the owner. Even if you follow every care guide and tip, your pet could still die sooner than it should.
That being said, many owners do neglect their pets. Neglect comes in many forms: keeping a chinchilla in a cage that’s too small, forgetting to give it pellets or refresh its hay, not giving it anything to do, and not giving it company or spending time with it are the most common. Stress, loneliness and poor diet can all contribute to an early passing. But if your chinchilla got to 10 years old, that’s a good age for it to have reached.
If you aren’t sure why your chinchilla passed away, ask a vet about a ‘necropsy’. This is like an autopsy for pets. The vet will perform exploratory surgery to find whatever was wrong with your chinchilla’s health. Discovering the problem can help you care for your remaining pets or future pets better, so we advise having one done if possible.
If you were looking after a chinchilla kit and it passed away, it may not have been your fault. Sometimes animals simply fail to thrive and will pass away before they are mature. This is the sad side of caring for baby chinchillas, and it’s something you have to be prepared for if you want to breed chinchillas.
Why Do Chinchillas Live So Long?
Lifespan is normally related to the size of the animal: the bigger, the longer it will live. But chinchillas clearly break this rule as they’re the same size, under all that fur, as animals that have a lifespan ten times shorter.
There are many other factors associated with age. Researchers at the University of Liverpool found that there’s a protein produced in the body which fights aging; in some animals, this protein can be changed over the course of a lifetime to combat aging in ways that we don’t fully understand. Meanwhile, other scientists point to the idea that total energy expenditure over a lifetime is related to longevity.
Generally speaking, animals that develop more slowly also have longer lifespans. This definitely applies to chinchillas: they develop in the womb for 110-111 days, and reach full maturity at around a year to a year and a half. This is much slower development than other animals of comparable size.
The truth is that we don’t know exactly why some animals live longer than others. There seem to be all sorts of factors at play in a big, tangled web that doesn’t make much sense. You’ll know the moment we figure it out because the person who discovers the truth will probably patent it, and become the richest person on the planet!
Chinchilla Maximum Lifespan
The oldest chinchilla ever according to Guinness World Records was named Radar. He was owned by a German lady named Christina Anthony. Radar lived to an incredible 29 years and 229 days old. He was born on February 1st, 1985, and died on September 18th 2014. He moved with Christina to America in 2002.
It’s unlikely that your pet will live as long as this. 20 years is the upper limit that most owners find. But with good care, it’s possible!
What Rodent Has The Longest Lifespan?
The naked molerat is officially the longest-lived rodent in the world. These come from Africa, and the oldest ever recorded lived to be 32 years old. That’s only a few years older than the chinchilla, meaning that the chinchilla’s record is nothing to be sniffed at. For comparison, common rodents’ maximum lifespans are:
- Guinea pig: 14 years and 10 months
- Mouse: 4 and a half years
- Rat: 3 years or so
- Squirrel: 15 years or so
So, in context, chinchillas can live to exceptionally old age.
How Long Do Wild Chinchillas Live?
Wild chinchillas don’t survive for as long as their pet cousins. The generally accepted wild chinchilla lifespan is about 10 years. That’s shorter than a pet chinchilla’s lifespan because their diet is more variable; sometimes certain foods are available, and sometimes they aren’t (depending on the season). And sometimes, there won’t be as much food as there should be.
Predators are, of course, another issue. Chinchillas are a prey animal, and there are lots of predators that attack them. According to the San Diego Zoo, chinchillas can be predated on by owls and hawks from the air, or foxes and cougars on the ground. They do have some defense: they use their exceptional hearing to sense predators before they get too close. As they live in herds, when one chinchilla hears something, it will start barking and alerting the rest in the group. They all then run for cover.
There are also environmental factors to consider. While it only rarely rains, it does occasionally do so where chinchillas live, which makes life difficult for them; they can’t get their fur wet or it gets moldy and matted. Fleas and worms are also common in wild chinchilla populations.
Long-Tailed Chinchilla Lifespan vs. Short-Tailed Chinchilla Lifespan
The long tailed chinchilla is the kind that people have domesticated. It has a longer tail with sparser fur and a smaller body. If you look at it from above, its neck and shoulders are pinched in.
The short tailed chinchilla is rarer than the long tailed chinchilla in the wild. That’s because they have thicker fur, so they were targeted by trappers. They also have blocks bodies and shoulders, so look more square from above. They also have smaller ears.
The lifespan of each species is roughly the same at ten years or so. Truth be told, scientists can’t easily study either species because they’re both endangered. Again, predators and environmental factors shorten their lifespan from its maximum length. But 10 years in the face of all of this is still highly impressive, and other rodents don’t last anywhere near as long.
How to Make Your Chinchilla Live Longer
If you love chinchillas like we do, you’ll want your pet to live longer. The best way to achieve that is to follow the basic care guidelines below. These won’t cost you lots of money or take up lots of your time, and all experienced owners follow them.
Attention & Care
There is no substitute for good care, and no hacks and shortcuts you should take with your pet’s health. Chinchillas have key needs that have to be accounted for, like food and water, space, interaction and vet care. You can’t skimp on these things. If you do, your pet won’t live as long.
Attentive time with your chinchilla is also important. This means giving your chinchilla the occasional check-up by picking it up and looking it over. You’re looking for any sign of ill health, such as matted or damp fur, parasites, overgrown teeth, eye or mouth infections and so on. You should also check your chinchilla’s cage to see that it’s peeing, pooping and eating as it should be. While chinchillas like to keep it a secret if they’re hurt or sick, it’s better to check than to not check.
If you do catch a developing problem, you will get a head-start in treating it. A neglectful owner doesn’t bother, and any condition that could have easily been treated early (like malocclusion) would instead become life threatening.
Correct Chinchilla Diet
Perhaps the most common mistake that owners make is feeding an incorrect chinchilla diet. Your pet’s diet must reflect what chinchillas eat in the wild, which is mostly grass of various types. As such, pet chinchillas should eat almost nothing but hay and hay pellets. You may think they need more variety than that, but that’s not true.
Another mistake is that people feed their chinchillas fruits or vegetables. These are unsuitable because they contain lots of water and lots of sugar. Chinchillas should have a diet that’s very high in fiber with next to no sugar, so even ‘healthy’ fruit sugars are bad. The water can cause diarrhea, and the sugars will eventually cause weight gain.
The tough fibers in hay also may help keep a chinchilla’s teeth from overgrowing. Owners are split as to whether they do, but the logic behind the idea makes sense. So, if you don’t feed your chinchilla hay, it could affect its dental health too.
Frequent Vet Checkups
On top of checking your pet yourself, you should take it for frequent vet checkups. An experienced owner can spot a lot of things, but there’s no substitute for a vet’s eye. If possible, you should find a vet that exclusively treats exotic pets, as these vets will be more used to chinchillas than regular vets. Plus, there are lots of conditions a chinchilla can experience which need antibiotics or surgery, in which case you’ll need to take them anyway.
Even though this represents a frequent expense, you will save money in the long run. That’s because checkups are cheap ($30-50) while surgery is expensive (high three figure, or four figure sums). If this is too much of an expense, consider insurance, or perhaps a cheaper pet that doesn’t need vet care.
Do Chinchillas Die Easily?
There are lots of ways a chinchilla can get sick or hurt itself. They aren’t robust creatures; their rib cages and skeletons generally are flimsy and easy to break. They only look big because they have so much fur. This means they’re vulnerable to physical trauma, so this is something you must remain aware of.
But as for health issues they can catch or develop, chinchillas aren’t any more delicate than other rodents. With good care your chinchilla should stay happy and healthy for many years to come.