Chinchillas are affectionate, intelligent, playful animals that bond quickly to their owners. They rarely bite and, in general, like to be cuddled and carried. Chinchillas are basically nocturnal but may play during the day. Some chinchillas can be litter trained, but this takes a lot of patience and persistence.
Chinchillas are essentially odor-free and are easy to keep clean. Silver-gray is the most common hair coat coloration, but black, beige, charcoal, and white varieties are also seen. Healthy chinchillas should be bright eyed, active, and inquisitive with ears erect. The chinchilla is nocturnal, which means it is more active at night.
The chinchilla's gestation period is 105–155 days, which is substantially longer than the dog or cat. This longer period results in well-developed offspring that have open eyes and full hair coats when born and eat solid food within several days.
Chinchillas need spacious enclosures to accommodate plenty of activity and acrobatic behavior. Caging should be tall enough to allow them to jump. Chinchillas love to be up high and may even climb to the top of their food dishes for extra height. Enough space should be provided inside the cage to accommodate a dust box and a wooden nest box. You can also purchase a solid surface exercise wheel appropriately sized for chinchillas. Avoid wire wheels, because a chinchilla's feet can get caught between the wires. Regardless of the cage size, chinchillas will also appreciate a chance to run outside of the cage as often as possible.
Dust baths are necessary to counterbalance the chinchilla's naturally oily skin and to maintain its beautiful soft fur. If baths are not offered, your chinchilla's fur may start to look unkempt. Commercial chinchilla dust is available at pet stores and is so fine that there is no appropriate substitute. Dust should be 2–3" deep in a plastic dishpan or other suitable container with a minimum size of 5″ x 6″ x 9″. Dust baths should be offered for 15–30 minutes at least four to six times per week. Just place your chinchilla in the dust box, and let your pet take care of the rest. Chinchillas love their baths!
Bedding can be shredded paper (avoid shiny ads that can contain toxic substances), certain hardwood shavings, or composite recycled newspaper pellets. Hay and aspen shavings are other bedding options for the chinchilla. Cedar and pine shavings are not recommended, because they contain resins that can be irritating to your pet's skin, eyes, and mucous membranes.
Water is the number one nutritional requirement for all animals, and fresh, clean water is a must for your chinchilla. A water bottle with a sipper tube works better than a water bowl, which can be tipped over or contaminated with waste and bedding. Hanging the water bottle on the outside of the cage so just the tip of the spout is inside discourages chewing of the sipper tube. Water needs to be changed daily, and the sipper tube should be cleaned weekly.
As a general rule, we recommend feeding 2 tablespoons of Chinchilla Deluxe to each adult chinchilla on a daily basis. The quantity of Chinchilla Deluxe fed to growing and pregnant or lactating chinchillas should be increased to approximately ½ cup or more per day. Conversion from a seed/pellet mixture to this highly palatable diet is usually simple, but a gradual conversion (one to two weeks) is recommended to avoid digestive upset. Pellets can be fed in a sturdy crock bowl. Dishes should be cleaned daily, and any leftover food discarded.
A treat should be enjoyable to eat and should provide interaction between you and your pet. When fed in limited quantities, herbs (fresh or dried) and vegetables can be offered as treats. Herb choices include mint, basil, oregano, and thyme. Fresh greens might include romaine, butter crunch, or red leaf lettuces or cilantro, carrot tops, and dandelion greens.
A diet containing too many vegetables can result in diarrhea and gastrointestinal upset. Therefore, we recommend a daily regimen of no more than 1/2 cup of herbs (mint, basil, oregano, cilantro, or thyme) or leafy green vegetables (romaine, butter crunch, or red leaf lettuce, carrot tops, or dandelion greens) for your chinchilla. Feed the same foods consistently in order to prevent digestive upset, and avoid gas-forming vegetables such as broccoli and cauliflower. Chinchillas can thrive on either grass or legume hay.
Chinchillas are prone to serious dental problems, such as malocclusion, molar root overgrowth, and molar spurs. Improper wear of teeth secondary to a diet low in fiber and a lack of suitable chewing material can result in sharp points on the upper and/or lower molars, which can be painful to the cheek and tongue. Chinchillas with dental problems often have a depressed appetite, and you may observe food dropping from their mouths as they attempt to chew. Irritation from the molar spurs may also cause increased salivation, which results in a wet matted chin (slobbers). A visit to the vet is in order if you see these abnormal signs. Provide plenty of hay and blocks of wood for chewing to help prevent this painful condition.