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Is a Chinchilla the Right Pet for you?

Are you considering getting yourself a chinchilla for a pet?  Do you know what you need to take care of one?  Do you have an idea of the minimum requirements to keep a chinchilla happy and healthy?  The following groups of questions and their explanations should help you to decide whether you should go ahead and purchase a chinchilla, do some more research, or look for a different type of pet.

Contents

General Information
How long do chinchillas live?
Are chinchillas cuddly?

With proper care, chinchillas can live over twenty years.  This makes them a long time commitment.

Chinchillas' temperaments depend on the individual chinchilla.  Each one has their own personality.  Most chinchillas are not the type of animal that will curl up on the sofa with you, and go to sleep.  Many do, however, like to be petted, scratched and even held for short times.  Others would prefer if people just left them alone.

Time
Will your schedule allow for interacting with a  chinchilla?
Can you spend some time playing with a chinchilla each day?
Can a chinchilla be allowed to roam around the house?
Do you have time to keep the cage clean?
Can you put up with the dust chinchillas create?

It is often said that chinchillas are nocturnal.  More accurately, chinchillas are crepuscular.  This means that they are most active during the twilight hours, late evening and early morning.  Additionally, they do have short periods of activity during both the day and night.  Most of the day, however, is spent sleeping. Due to their natural schedule, many people find it hard to spend time with their furry new friends.

In general, the more time you spend with a chinchilla, the more sociable they become.  Many people have scheduled playtimes outside of the cage.  These times can be anywhere from 15 mins, to 2 hours or more.  To do this, a room needs to be completely chinchilla proofed.  This means, no wires in reach, no possible means of escape, no ways to get trapped or wet, and nothing present that a chinchilla can chew on and eat.  By no stretch of the imagination, should a chinchilla be allowed to have free roam of the home. During playtime, a chinchilla should be closely supervised.

Chinchillas are also a very messy pet.  They poop a lot and constantly.  Their poop can get scattered everywhere along with their bedding.  The poop needs to be cleaned from the shelves and surrounding floor on a daily basis  The litter in the bottom of the cage needs to be changed once a week. Another messy aspect about chinchillas is the dust they need to bathe in.  This dust is fine and gets everywhere, requiring constant dusting.

Supplies and Care
Do you have an appropriate cage for a chinchilla?
Is the cage big enough?
Where will the cage be placed?
What supplies are necessary to keep a chinchilla healthy?
What do chinchillas eat?

A list of things that are necessary in order to keep a chinchilla healthy and happy can be found in the List of Supplies Needed.  These items should be purchased prior to the arrival of a new chinchilla.

Chinchillas need cages with good ventilation; therefore, the cage should be wire or have holes or windows that allow for air flow. The cage should have no plastic parts since chinchillas will chew on the plastic. Eating the plastic is potentially fatal for chinchillas. The minimum recommended size of a chinchilla cage is 24 x 24 x 24. This is for one chinchilla. More space is needed for each additional animal. Chinchillas love to jump so a taller cage with wooden shelves is best. Ramps are not necessary and can be quite hazardous, resulting in broken legs.

Chinchillas come from cold dry desert areas in the Andes Mountains. The average temperature for the area is 65 degrees Fahrenheit. Temperatures higher than 72 degrees can be fatal to chinchillas. For this reason, chinchilla cages should be kept in an area of the home that is temperature controlled. That means, throughout most of the United States, it is necessary to have an air conditioner. This can be in the form of central AC for the whole house or a window or portable unit that cools just the room they are in. Additionally, the cage should be placed away from windows, drafts, heating and cooling vents, and anything chewable.  Other items that are necessary to keep a chinchilla healthy are: a good quality pelletted feed, fresh hay, clean water, a feeder, a water bottle, a wooden or ceramic house, dust for bathing, a container in which to bathe, proper items to chew (some wood is lethal to chinchillas), and bedding. Other items that aren’t necessary but fun for chinchillas are wheels, toys, tubes, etc.

Affordability
How much does a chinchilla cost?
Do I have a vet who has experience with chinchillas in case mine becomes ill or injured?
Can I afford the vet care if my chinchilla needs it?

Chinchillas are by no means a cheap pet. In general, purchasing a chinchilla can run anywhere from fifty dollars to hundreds of dollars, depending on the gender, color and quality. The cages run from thirty dollars for a small, single level cage to several hundred for large, multi-level cage.  When chinchillas are sick or ill they hide it very well. By the time you notice something is wrong with one, it is often in need of an emergency vet visit. Most vets know very little about chinchillas. An exotics vet that has experience with chinchillas is the best place to take a chinchilla that requires vet care. In most cases, exotics vets are pricey and chinchilla vet bills can run into the hundreds, or even thousands, for one ailment or injury.

Your Family Life
Is everyone in the family in agreement about purchasing a chinchilla?
Are there small children in the family?
Does anyone in the home have allergies?
Do you have other pets?

Since a chinchilla is such an investment in time and money, the whole family must be a part of the decision. Many a chinchilla has been purchased by one person just to be given away or worse yet, neglected because another member of the family did not agree to its purchase.

Chinchillas have very tiny bones that can be easily broken. For this reason, chinchillas should not be handled by small children. Little ones can and have held a chinchilla too tightly and fractured its ribs. Any small children in the home must be closely supervised around chinchillas. Additionally, if anyone in the family has allergies or asthma, the dust from the chinchilla’s dust bath, hay and bedding could cause problems.

Other animals, such as dogs, cats, rabbits and reptiles, can carry diseases that are harmful or even fatal to chinchillas. These animals usually show no symptoms of the disease themselves. It is for this reason that chinchillas should never be housed, or allowed to play with other animals. They should have a cage of their own.

Other Chinchillas
Can a chinchilla live happily as the only chinchilla in the home or cage?
Can I put a male with a female?
Can two males or two females be caged together?

Many chinchillas live in a home where they are the only chinchilla. They do not appear to get lonely in a cage by themselves as long as they have people with whom to interact. That being said, chinchillas can be housed with 2 or more chinchillas to a cage. There is a lengthy process of introduction that involves at least two cages and several weeks. There is also no guarantee that two chinchillas will continue to like each other or that they will ever like each other. Some chinchillas just prefer to be the only one in the cage.

If it is decided to have two chinchillas in one cage, it is recommended that two from he same litter and of the same sex be purchased. It is possible to introduce chinchillas for different litters and of different ages to each other. It just takes time.

Males and females can be housed together, but this is not recommended unless you wish to breed. There is no way to prevent them from breeding and it can happen in a matter of seconds so playtimes should be separate, too. If you decide to breed chinchillas, it is wise to do a lot of research before you begin.

So, give these questions some serious thought. Your answers should tell you whether or not a chinchilla is the right pet for you.
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