Part of the rodent family, the chinchilla originates from high up in the Andes Mountains in South America. An adult can be up to 30 to 36 cm long (including its bushy tail) and normally weighs between 600-800 grams (females being bigger than males). They have an average life span of 8 to 10 years, but in some cases have been known to live to over 15 years old. Chinchillas have fine dense fur, stiff whiskers, large ears and eyes. This dense fur means that they cannot harbour parasites, however, it does make them susceptible to heat stroke, so care should be taken to ensure that they do not get too hot. The fur (which is usually considered to be the softest of all animals) also makes them look bigger than they actually are. The bone structure is actually quite delicate meaning they need to be handled with a degree of care (i.e. they should not be handled roughly or squeezed). They are therefore, not suitable as pets for young children. Chinchillas are crepuscular which means they are most active during dawn and dusk. However, they are happy to interact with people any time during the day. Males and females make equally good pets. They are social creatures and can be kept singly or, after a period of introduction, both sexes can normally be kept as same sex pairs. However, adult males should not be kept together as cage mates in close proximity (or in the same cage) as females, since the males may become competitive and fight when the female comes into season. Very closely related animals should not be bred together.
Chinchilla’s teeth continuously grow and they require something hard to chew on to help wear them down. Pumice stone or pieces of untreated wood are recommended (although not all woods are safe).
They are rock hoppers that like to scurry, so they need floor space in their cages rather than height. Tall cages without separate floors to prevent falls, can result in broken bones or worse. It is recommended that cages should be made of welded wire mesh, at least 16g in thickness, with holes no larger than 1.9cm (3/4 inch) square. Additionally, there should be a wooden area where your chinchilla can sit.
Any sort of plastic (including non toxic) is unsuitable for them, they like to chew and when ingested it can cause a blockage of the gut. Raised wire floors allow droppings, urine and partially eaten food to fall through, which is a positive given that the chinchilla is a clean animal that does not like its fur to become soiled. For the sake of the welfare of your animal, prior to making purchases of housing, toys, food etc., do some careful research. Not everything being sold/marketed as being suitable for them actually is. Chinchillas should be given a dust bath for at least 10 minutes every day. Chinchilla dust/sand is specially formulated to cleanse their fine fur of grease and dirt. Without this the fur becomes dull and sticks together making it part in great clumps. This is not only uncomfortable for the animals but unsightly and detracts from, what is after all, one of the worlds most beautiful creatures.