Chinchillas

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Chinchillas are playful, friendly and VERY intelligent. They’re creatures of habit and like their daily routine to be as normal as possible!

Chinchillas are nocturnal but, because they’re sociable, they will adapt their routine so you can play with them, but they’d be grateful if you would do it at the same time every day!

Which Chinchilla will you choose?

Chinchillas are incredibly cuddly with all their soft, thick fur so they all seem incredibly cute.

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There are two types of chinchilla – The Chinchilla lanigera – with a pointed nose and angular face and the Chinchilla brevicaudata – larger than the lanigera with thicker neck and shoulders but a shorter tail

Through selective breeding, there is a wide range of coat colours. These include Silver, White, Platinum, Black Velvet, Sapphire, Rose/Apricot, Chocolate Brown and Albino.

Bringing Your Chinchilla Home

Make sure that you have everything ready before you collect your Chinchilla, so that you can put it into its new home as soon as you arrive and it can spend the first 24 hours getting used to the new environment.

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Don’t forget to talk to your Chinchilla and keep it company because it may be missing its brothers and sisters.

We suggest you don’t handle your Chinchilla too much for the first few days, just give it plenty of clean water and feed only hay for the first 24 hours to avoid digestive upset.

You’ll soon know when your Chinchilla has settled in – it will begin to eat, drink and groom itself.

What to Feed Your Chinchilla

The chinchilla has a very sensitive digestive system which has evolved through the frugal high fibre diet of grasses, fruits, leaves, roots and stems.

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Your Chinchilla will need a balanced diet and fresh hay every day to provide the fibre, vitamins and minerals it requires for good health. It will may also need a gnawing block and safe twigs to chew to help wear down its teeth.

A Chinchilla diet must be very low in fat and they should never have sunflower seeds or peanuts in their diet. They can easily become overweight if they have too much fat and over the long term, it can actually be fatal.

Chinchillas need feeding every day (in the morning and in the evening). A good quality, heavy, earthenware bowl keeps food dry and clean and prevents the Chinchilla from tipping the food. Bowls must be cleaned after every use.

As you will want to play with and handle your Chinchilla you can treat your pet with an occassional piece of apple or carrot. To find out more about chinchilla food click here.

If you’re changing your Chinchilla’s diet, its vital that you introduce the new food gradually. Mix about one quarter of the new food with three quarters of the old food on the first day and then gradually increase the new food and decrease the old food over a 10-day period. This should make sure that your Chinchilla has no tummy upsets.

Some natural treats for your Chinchilla are fresh grass (but NOT grass clippings), carrot and parsley. However, too much green food can cause diarrhoea.

Drinking Bottle

It is vital that you ensure there is fresh drinking water available at all times. You can provide fresh drinking water with a gravity-fed water bottle, attached to the front of the enclosure. Use one of the large ballpoint bottles to prevent dripping and ensure a constant supply is available.

Housing

You need to provide plenty of room for your chinchilla to eat, sleep and run around. Chinchillas are social creatures and should be kept in single-sex pairs or groups.

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Chinchillas need to be kept indoors. The temperature in the room should be constant, away from direct sunlight and draughts, and out of reach of any other pets.

Chinchillas need good, secure, roomy housing. They should be kept in a large cage constructed from wire that includes a climbing area, a sleeping box and a daily fresh sand bath. Buy the largest enclosure you can afford because they will spend a great deal of their long lives in this cage.

You need to put your cage in a room where there is a constant temperature, which must NOT reach more than 80 degrees Fahrenheit (27 Celsius) as they become stressed and could even die. In the UK, Chinchillas should never be housed outside because of the fluctuations in climate.

In the Spring and Summer, you can allow your pet to exercise outside, as long as you have a suitable, secure run, or perhaps an aviary. But always bring them back in at night.

Never keep Chinchillas in a plastic cage, as they can gnaw their way out and if plastic is ingested it can be very dangerous. Don’t forget they will need somewhere to use their Bathing Sand every day as well.

Cages should be cleaned out on a regular basis. This is especially important in warmer weather in order to prevent flies being attracted to the cage.

Every day: Remove any soiled bedding

Once a week: Remove all bedding. Thoroughly sweep out all the soiled bedding. Rinse with warm water and mild detergent and wait until dry. Spray inside of cage with a safe cleaning product and wait until dry. Replace with clean bedding (check for signs of mould etc. on bedding and discard if necessary).

Bedding Material

There are many types of bedding available for chinchillas but the best are the natural products which have been dust extracted, as this reduces irritation to the eyes, nose and respiratory system. To find out more about suitable bedding products, click here.

Bathing Sand

Chinchillas should have a sand bath every day. Place high quality sand into a high sided box or cat litter tray and let your Chinchillas roll around in it. They will thoroughly enjoy themselves and the sand will help keep their coats healthy by removing excess oils.

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Always remove soiled sand immediately and change all sand once a week.

Chinchillas must not be bathed in water as their coats absorb water and are very difficult to dry out. Water in the fur may cause hypothermia, which could prove fatal.

Exercise

It is important that your Chinchilla has the opportunity to exercise every day. Your Chinchilla will love safe branches to climb on and gnaw, as well as platforms. You can make it some tunnels out of drainpipes or terracotta chimney liners. Flowerpots are great for hiding and exploring and cardboard or wooden boxes give it something to hide in that it can chew as well.

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Hide some small pieces of food or treats in the play area to encourage it to forage. Chinchillas are naturally very active and inquisitive animals. They like to keep themselves busy and, when allowed, spend the majority of their time running around and investigating their surroundings. If you have a “chinchilla-proof” room, they will love this large space to explore and run around in.

Fact

Chinchillas should have a sand bath every day

Handling Your Chinchilla

To ensure that your Chinchilla becomes tame and affectionate it is important that you handle it frequently and correctly. Picking up a Chinchilla incorrectly could lead to it being permanently frightened and may lead to it becoming aggressive.

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Remember that most small animals are prey in the wild. So, if they are approached from above they will see a large shadow and become scared. They might run and hide or try to attack you.

Before attempting handling, make sure that your Chinchilla is awake and alert. Let it decide when it is ready to come to you. Your voice is a very good method of introduction as it will make it aware that you are nearby.

Always approach your Chinchilla on the same level. Crouch in front of it and let it come to you, presenting the back of your hand to sniff.

Gently put your thumb behind the forelegs with your fingers over the back and lift with one hand whilst supporting the weight of the Chinchilla by scooping up the rump with the other hand.

Gently place your Chinchilla on to your lap or hold against your chest.

You should NOT try to lift your Chinchilla by the tail or ears (as professionals often do) as this can cause pain or the tail to break off. If your Chinchilla is handled roughly, or receives a shock or other trauma, he may shed his hair. So, always approach quietly and gently.

Common Illnesses

Eye Problems – Extensive sand bathing can cause eye irritation without clinical signs of respiratory problems. Other causes are dental problems, inadequate ventilation and poor bedding. To treat/prevent this condition limit sand bathing to a session of 15-30 minutes per day and use suitable chinchilla bathing sand. Improve ventilation and provide clean, dust-free bedding.

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Ear Problems – If your chinchilla is pawing its ears, or you notice discharge, or there is a lack of balance and direction, you should take your chinchilla to the vet. Once home, do not allow your chinchilla to have a dust bath until it is well again.

Runny Nose – Discharge from the nose may mean that your chinchilla has a cold. Keeping it warm and ensuring that it drinks a lot of fresh water should clear the problem. If the condition deteriorates, take your chinchilla to the vet

Mouth Problems – Chinchillas’ teeth grow continuously throughout their life. It is very important to ensure that chinchillas always have something to chew and gnaw on to help wear down their teeth. If teeth become overgrown, the chinchilla may be unable to eat properly so it may lose weight and become weak and become more susceptible to illness. Dental disease is common in captive chinchillas and can be recognized by excessive salivation, difficulty eating and weight loss. It is necessary to take your chinchilla to the vet to have his teeth trimmed if they have become overgrown.

Always ensure that there is sufficient fibre in the diet and that your chinchillas have as much hay as they can chew!

Coat Condition – Chinchillas have dense fur and there are very few instances of mites or other parasites. The exception is a fungus (dermatophytosis). The fur can look limp and messy and, in some cases, the whiskers break. You will need to take your chinchilla to the vet who will probably prescribe a fungicidal powder to put into your chinchilla’s dust bath.

Fur-slip – Whenever frightened or stressed or handled roughly a chinchilla can shed patches of fur, also called ‘fur-slip’. A clean, smooth area of skin is left: it can take up to 8 weeks before the skin is covered with fur again and it can take months before the patches become indistinguishable from the rest of the coat, so always make sure you handle your chinchillas gently!

Pneumonia – If your chinchilla is wheezy, finds it difficult to breathe or has a runny nose, it may have a chest infection or pneumonia. You need to take your chinchilla to the vet immediately as pneumonia puts a lot of stress on their bodies and can be fatal

Constipation – Constipation is often caused by stress, a change in diet, fur chewing, or lack of water. If your chinchilla has constipation you will often notice a lack of droppings and that he looks tired and bloated. You can help relieve this by ensuring that there is plenty of fresh water and hay available. Also ensure that he is getting enough exercise. If necessary, offer the dust bath more frequently. If you are unhappy, or there is a sudden swelling of the chinchilla’s abdomen contact your vet immediately.

Diarrhoea – Diarrhoea is quite common. It is usually an indicator that the chinchilla (especially a young one), has over-eaten or that it has eaten bad hay or food. This condition can also be caused by stress, a sudden change in diet, a lack of fibre in the diet, or too much green food. Your vet will be able to advise on treatment.

Always consult a vet if you have ANY reason for concern.

If you need to know more

For more detailed information about Chinchillas, you can contact us and we will get back to you with our experts’ advice. However if you have any concerns about the health and wellbeing of your rabbit, you should seek veterinary advice immediately.

For grooming and health care and lots more detailed information on Chinchillas, visit, www.smallanimaladvice.com

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