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Small Mammal Care - Chinchillas

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 haircoat coloration, but black, beige, charcoal, and white varieties are also seen. Healthy chinchilla’s 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 2-3inches 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 4-6 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.

Recycled paper bedding such as Yesterdays NewsTM or CarefreshTM, are bio-degradeable and tend to be non-irritating to the chinchilla’s skin or respiratory tract. They are therefore suitable choices for chinchilla bedding.

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.

Seeds have a high fat content and poor nutritional balance and so are not recommended for your chinchilla. Chinchilla Deluxe from Oxbow Animal Health provides a balance of fiber, protein, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, and minerals and is the pellet diet of choice for your pet chinchilla. 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 (1-2 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.

We recommend feeding the adult chinchilla 1/8-1/4 cup of Oxbow Animal Health’s Chinchilla Deluxe pellets along with unlimited quantities of a mixture of alfalfa and timothy hay. Many owners want to offer treats to their pet chinchillas. 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.
Chinchillas can thrive on either grass or legume hay.

Veterinary nutritionists and clinicians usually recommend feeding an assortment of grass hays free choice and mixing in alfalfa hay if desired (at a 50:50 ratio), for variety and increased levels of protein and calcium. Oxbow Animal Health Products timothy, orchard, oat and alfalfa hays are always fresh from the farm. When it comes to feeding a concentrated ration, we recommend alfalfa-based pellets that contain more than 18% fiber and a minimum of 10% protein.

Treats such as fresh vegetables or herbs can be offered but should be fed in limited quantities. 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 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.

This open mouth view of an anesthetized chinchilla with dental problems shows what overgrown lower right molars (arrow) look like. They have disrupted the natural movement of the tongue and are causing mouth discomfort. Chinchilla’s with dental problems will decrease the quantity of food they ingest and eventually become sick. Other signs to look for include wet fur on the chin as a result of increased salivation and picking up and dropping food in awkward attempts to eat.

References:
Donnelly TM, Schaeffer DO: Disease problems of guinea pigs and chinchillas. In : Hillyer EV and Quesenberry KQ, eds. Ferrets, Rabbits, and Rodents: Clinical Medicine and Surgery. Philadelphia, WB Saunders, p270-281, 1997.
Hoefer HL, Crossley DA: Chinchillas. In: Meredith A and Redrobe S, eds. BSAVA Manual of Exotic Pets, fourth edition. Gloucester, England, British Small Animal Veterinary Association, p66-75, 2001.
Wolf P, et al: The Nutrition of the Chinchilla as a Companion Animal-basic data, influences and dependences. Journal of Animal Physiology a. Animal Nutrition (87) p129-133, 2003.
Grau J. The chinchilla – breeding in various climates [in Spanish]. Infochin. Available at: http://www.infochin.com.ar/grau/r.html . Accessed July 28, 2002.

Small Mammal Care

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