Credit: Scott J. Stahl, DVM, DABVP
Caging:Wire mesh cages may be used, but a solid floor must be provided to prevent foot pad injuries. Platforms should be provided to allow for exercise and arranged in a way as to prevent contamination of the food and water bowls with feces. Glass aquariums or plastic containers should be avoided due to poor ventilation. Wooden cages should be used with caution as these animals may chew through the enclosure. Paper based bedding is recommended.
Bathing: Dust baths should be provided several times a week to remove oil and dirt from the fur. There are many types of commercial chinchilla dust available. The dust bath should only be left in the cage for 15-20 minutes as excessive use may lead to eye problems.
Group Housing:Chinchillas may fight when housed together, with the females being the more aggressive gender. Unless in a breeding situation, solitary caging is recommended.
Temperature:Chinchillas do not tolerate heat or humidity well. They should be kept in a cool, dry, well lit area with adequate ventilation. The optimal temperature is between 60-75 F.
Pellets: We recommend a commercially available chinchilla diet. If one can not be found, a standard rabbit or guinea pig pellet may be fed in its place. Timothy hay should also be offered as a source of dietary fiber. Generally, alfalfa hay is regarded as a treat food and not recommended as the only fiber source due to its high calcium content. Excessive consumption of alfalfa hay may lead to urinary issues.
Treats:Treats should comprise no more than 10 % of the diet. Dried fruits and fresh vegetables are excellent treats for pet chinchillas. Fresh carrots, green vegetables, and raisins may be given in moderation.
Water:Chinchillas can learn to drink from sipper type bottles. Water must be changed daily.
Chinchillas are easily restrained and rarely bite. Care must be taken to avoid ‘fur slip’. ‘Fur slip’ is the patchy shedding of fur as the result of rough handling or tension. Use a towel or washcloth to help support your chinchilla when handling.
Common Medical Conditions
Dental malocclusion:This condition also known as “slobbers” is characterized by excessive drooling or accumulation of food material under the chin. A decrease in size and amount of feces is another sign associated with this disease syndrome. It is caused by the malocclusion of the molar teeth, which then do not wear evenly creating points as the teeth grow. Trimming must be done under general anesthesia. Providing and encouraging the consumption of hay may aid in prevention of dental issues, but most cases have a genetic basis.
Heat stroke:High temperature and humidity are not tolerated well. Chinchillas in high humidity and poor ventilation will show unkempt, damp fur. Signs of heat stroke include extreme lethargy, panting and bright red mucous membranes. If these signs are seen, veterinary attention should be sought immediately.
Fur Chewing:Some of the potential causes for this behavior include boredom, dietary imbalance or hereditary factors. Providing chew toys and enrichment along with a proper diet may aid in decreasing this behavior.
Fur Ring:This is a condition that is caused by a ring of shed fur becoming stuck to and constricting the penis. It can become life threatening if left untreated. Any male chinchilla that grooms the urinary area excessively, strains to urinate or frequently produces small amounts of urine should be checked by a veterinarian for a fur ring.
Diarrhea: The most common cause of diarrhea in pet chinchillas is inappropriate diet. Overconsumption of treats and fresh green foods or the absence of high quality hay in the diet may lead to loose stool. Bacterial and parasitic infections may also cause diarrhea. Giardia, a common intestinal parasite, may be brought out by stress, overcrowding and poor husbandry.
Respiratory Disease: Upper respiratory infections are commonly seen in pet chinchillas. Signs include an increased respiratory rate and accumulation of mucous on nostrils and inside of forearms. Veterinary attention is required to treat respiratory infections.
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