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Cheeky Chinchillas - Care of Pet Chinchillas
Information about taking care of pet chinchillas.  Looking after a chinchilla requires time, understanding and commitment. Below,   you   will   find   information   about   caring   for   your   pet   chinchilla,   the   cage,   sand   bath,   how   to   hold   a chinchilla, making friends with a chinchilla and their description, lifespan and origins. There are separate pages about Feeding your chinchilla and a page on some Health problems Chinchillas   are   now   becoming   very   popular   pets,   however,   it   is   well   to   remember   that   some   can   live   for 20 years plus, although their average life span is usually about 12-15 years. So, if you do not have time for a long-term pet then a chinchilla is NOT for you. Please remember too, veterinary care can be very expensive should your chinchilla require it. Chinchillas   are   usually   referred   to   as   being   nocturnal,   a   better   description   would   be   to   say   they   are 'crepuscular' which means they are active during the twilight hours (dusk until dawn). So they sleep during the day and become more active at night. A chinchilla is easy to look after, rarely aggressive, very clean and has practically no smell at all. But again, this pet needs a lot of your attention every day. Chinchillas   are   not   always   the   'cuddly'   type   of   pet   you   might   expect.   Some   chinchillas   like   to   be handled,   while   others   do   not   ike   to   be   held   too   much.      Many   do   not   like   to   be   over   handled.      They   are all very individual with different characters. But,   they   are   usually   friendly   and   although   many   do   not   care   to   be   picked   up   a   great   deal,   they   will enjoy   a   good   scratch   and   stroke   while   standing   on   their   own   ground.   They   are   very   inquisitive   too,   so are often happy to jump up on to you. The   correct   environment   for   your   chinchilla   is   also   very   important.      A   chinchilla's   cage   should   be   kept   in a quiet, cool, but not draughty area of the home. See more below. Chinchillas require a high fibre diet - Please see separate page on Feeding Description These   beautiful   creatures   are   members   of   the   rodent   family.   The   Latin   word   for   rodent   is   rodere   which means   'to   gnaw'.   Fully   grown   chinchillas   are   about   12   inches   (30cm)   long   and   can   weigh   between                 500 - 700+ grams, the female usually bigger than the male. Sizes can vary quite a lot. A   chinchilla   is   similar   in   size   to   a   small   rabbit   with   squirrel-like   tails.   Their   fur   is   so   dense   that   they   do not attract fleas. Chinchillas have more fur per square inch than any other known animal. The Cage Make sure that the cage is big enough. One chinchilla can be kept in a cage approximately 90cm high x 60cm wide x 45cm deep. Cages should remain indoors unless kept in a purpose built, secure outer building. He/she   should   also   have   a   run   outside   of   the   cage   for   approximately   one   hour   each   day.   Many chinchilla   cages   are   made   of   galvanised   wire   mesh,   with   a   pull   out   tray   for   cleaning.   The   floor   is wire/mesh   too.   These   cages   are   referred   to   as   'Thickets'   type   cages.The   shelves   in   the   cages   are usually   made   of   untreated   pine.   As   the   flooring   is   made   of   mesh,   it's   a   good   idea   to   place   some   small pieces   of   untreated   pine   on   the   bottom   of   the   cage   too.      Chinchillas   can   play   on   these   and   it   also creates   a   softer   area   for   them   to   rest   on.      If   chinchillas   are   on   a   wire/mesh   flooring   all   the   time,   they        can get sore feet. Untreated,   kiln   dried   pine   is   safe,   as   long   as   it   does   not   contain   any   phenol   oils   etc.   Phenol   oil   is   part   of the   sap   that   is   left   in   the   wood   after   a   quick   drying   process   has   been   used.      Some   people   place   pieces of   Polar   Fleece   on   the   wire   mesh   to   provide   a   softer   floor   area.      Polar   Fleece   is   ok   to   use   because   it does not thread like cotton, so most chinchillas will not chew it ... although some might try. There    should    be    a    wooden    box,    for    the    chinchilla    to    sleep    or    hide    in    and    suitable    'play'    items.          Chinchillas don't use bedding as such - they are happy to sleep in their wooden box or on a shelf. As   mentioned   earlier,   Polar   Fleece   is   ok   to   use   in   boxes   or   on   the   floor   of   a   wire-bottomed   cage   to provide   a   softer   area,   to   protect   their   feet.   Chinchillas   can   get   sore   feet   if   they   are   on   wire   all   the   time. Fleecey   hammocks   and   tunnels   are   also   popular.   There   should   also   be   a   water   bottle,   hay   rack   and   a bowl   for   food.   Heavier   bowls   are   better   to   use,   as   they   are   not   so   easily   knocked   over.   Chinchilla   food bowls   are   usually   the   earthenware   type,   although   you   can   buy   some   made   from   stainless   steel.   Plastic bowls should not  be used as this would be harmful to the chinchilla if he chewed it. See Feeding Chinchillas   do   not   like   a   lot   of   noise   so   the   cage   should   be   placed   in   a   quiet   environment   that   is   well ventilated   but   not   draughty.   During   hot   spells   of   weather,   make   sure   the   cage   is   shaded   from   bright sunlight and that there is a constant flow of cool air. Chinchillas do not like to be too hot and can suffer from heat strokes . Temperatures above 75ºf can be fatal to chinchillas. The Sand Bath Chinchillas   do   not   bathe   in   water   but   sand   (also   referred   to   as   dust).      In   the   wild,   chinchillas   will   bathe     in   volcanic   ash.      You   can   buy   chinchilla   dust   from   a   reputable   pet   shop.      They   need   to   bathe/roll   in   the sand   to   clean   and   look   after   their   thick   coat.      I   allow   my   chinchillas   to   have   a   bath   every   evening,   when they   are   out   for   their   run.      Do   not   leave   the   sand   bath   in   the   cage   ...   if   used   too   often,   their   skin   and     coat might become too dry.  I use the Sepolita Chinchilla Dust Cleaning Although   chinchillas   do   not   smell,   the   cage   should   be   cleaned   out   at   least   once   a   week.      Clean   down shelves and boxes etc everyday. Hygiene   and   cleanliness   are   very   important.    Left   over   food,   mouldy   hay,   droppings   in   food   and        stale   water   can   cause   bacteria   to   form   which   can   be   harmful   to   your   chinchilla.      Many   cages   have   a litter   tray   at   the   base   which   you   can   pull   out   to   place   in   sawdust,   paper   etc.   Some   people   use   wood based   cat   litter,   but   this   should   never   come   into   contact   with   the   chinchilla   and   only   placed   in   the   tray below the wire, out of reach. General Chinchillas   need   to   keep   their   teeth   trimmed   and   so   will   try   to   chew   almost   anything.   For   this   reason chinchillas   can   not   have   the   run   of   the   house   like   a   cat   or   dog.      Also,   let   everyone   know   when   your chinchilla   is   having   a   run.      A   good   safety   feature   is   a   door   hanger   to   say   when   your   chinchilla   is   out                 of the cage. There have been many incidents where chins have been stepped on. As   chinchillas   will   try   to   chew   many   items,   avoid   anything   made   of   plastic   and   do   not   let   them   chew anything which is painted or stained.  Plastic, paint, stained wood etc can all be toxic. If   they   try   to   chew   any   of   these   things,   they   might   ingest   some   and   this   could   cause   serious   heath problems ... even death. You   can   buy   a   variety   of   wooden   items   for   them   to   chew,   from   a   pet   shop   or   on   line.   Willow   Sticks,     Bark   Bites,   Cholla   Rings   and   Apple   twigs   are   often   the   ones   available   in   the   larger   pet   stores.           Chinnies love chewing willow and stripping the bark off apple twigs (see pic below) N.B. If   I   buy   the   willow   sticks,   I   always   cut   them   into   smaller   lengths   of   approx   3".      This   makes   it   easier   for the   chinchilla   to   hold.   Also,   as   chinnies   sometimes   chew   them   to   a   'point',   I   feel   it   could   be   dangerous        if   they   are   left   too   long   a   length   ....   Afterall,   you   wouldn't   put   a   sharp   wooden   skewer   in   a   cage!              Always remove any 'sharp' looking chewed wood. Cholla, pronounced 'choya' is a type of cactus. When sundried it makes a great natural chewing toy for chinnies                   Apple twigs, after a chinchilla has stripped off the bark The   digestive   system   of   the   chinchilla   is   very   delicate,   therefore,   it   is   important   that   they   are   fed   the correct diet. Chinchillas require a high fibre diet which helps to keep their digestive tract healthy. Looking after your chinchilla's teeth and providing items he can chew is very important. More about this on Feeding  and Health   pages. Chinchillas   can   jump   very   high,   so   again,   they   should   always   be   supervised.   While   playing   outside   of their   cage,   they   are   quite   capable   of   jumping   onto   a   ledge   that   is   a   metre   high   or   more,   or   across   from one ledge to another. Cardboard   tubes   provide   entertainment   for   chinchillas,   but   they   should   not   be   a   substitute   for   suitable wooden   chews.   Chinchillas   will   shred   card   and   in   doing   so   they   may   ingest   some.      A   little   won't   harm, but a lot could cause blockages. Making Friends with Your Chinchilla Sometimes   it   can   take   a   while   for   a   chinchilla   to   get   used   to   you,   especially   if   he   hasn't   been   handled very much. Some chins like being held more than others. Not all are the ‘cuddly’ type. But   persevere   ...   they   need   time   to   trust   you   and   it   can   take   a   while.   They   need   to   feel   safe   and   secure.     Start   by   placing   your   hand   in   the   cage   and   letting   the   chinchilla   smell   you.   After   a   while,   if   he   seems happy with this, try giving him a scratch behind and around the ears - they love this. When he seems more settled, provide a safe area in your home to let him have a run. BUT   remember,   chinchillas   will   try   to   chew   almost   anything.   So,   if   you   let   your   chinchilla   out   of   the        cage   for   a   run,   it   is   very,   very   important   that   you   provide   a   'chin-proofed'   area.   Apart   from   the   damage he   might   do   to   your   furniture   etc,   plastic,   paint,   varnish,   glue   can   be   toxic   to   chinchillas   and   could        cause     serious     health     problems,     even     death     if     they     ingest     any     of     these     substances.                                        Not to mention, of course, electrical wiring etc Always   supervise   him.   They   can   jump   quite   high   and   they   always   want   to   be   where   they   shouldn't   be.     So,   never   leave   him   alone   for   a   moment.   Another   good   way   to   make   frinds   with   your   chinchilla,   is   to           sit   with   him   while   he   is   out   for   a   run.      Again,   do   not   let   him   near   anything   that   could   harm   him   or   he could   damage...he   will   try   to   chew   anything.      Sit   with   him   on   the   floor...Chinchillas   are   curious   and   he will   probably   jump   onto   you   and   investigate.   Try   not   to   move   too   suddenly   and   do   not   grab   at   him.                          If   you   try   and   grab   a   chin   he   will   shed   fur,   basically   as   a   means   of   escape;   this   goes   back   to   their origins,   when   they   would   escape   predators.      See   if   they   will   come   to   you   if   you   offer   him   a   small        healthy treat. Holding your chinchilla : When   you   think   he   is   used   to   you,   you   can   try   picking   him   up.   Do   this   very   gently   and   hold   him   with     both   arms.   Chinchillas   like   to   feel   secure,   so   don’t   hold   him   over   mid   air,   keep   him   close   to   you   and support   his   back   legs.   This   all   takes   time   and   patience   but   it   is   worth   it   :-)   Always   talk   quietly   to   him   - they   don't   like   loud   noises.   There   is   no   need   to   tip   toe   around   -   just   not   be   too   noisy.   But   again,   always remember,   when   your   chinchilla   is   out   of   his   cage,   keep   him   away   from   wires   etc   and   your   good furniture!   Chinchillas   like   company   –   if   you   have   a   few   chins,   they   will   play   with   each   other,   but   one chinchilla on his own needs more attention. Provide plenty of activities and be interactive with him. How Big is a Chinchilla ? These   beautiful   creatures   with   their   large   eyes,   long,   thick   fur   and   bushy   tails   are   about   12   inches (30cm)    long    when    fully    grown.    The    female    is    usually    larger    than    the    male.    Chinchillas    weigh approximately 500 - 700+ grams. This is just a rough guide as their weight can vary quite a lot. To give you a better idea of the size, below is a picture of a chinchilla being held. Origins Chinchillas   originate   from   the   rocky   mountain   range   of   the   Andes   in   South   America.   Discovered   by Spanish   explorers   in   the   1500's,   they   were   named   after   the   Chincha   Indians,   who   through   necessity           to   keep   themselves   warm   and   have   food   to   eat,   used   them   as   a   source   of   food   and   made   clothing   with their   fur.      Later   introduced   to   Europe,   their   soft   luxurious   fur   became   very   popular   and   was   sought   after so much, it nearly caused their extinction, as literally millions of chinchillas were killed for their pelts. It is very distressing to know that it takes well over a 100 chinchillas just to make one coat!  Today,   hunting   the   wild   chinchilla   is   banned   and   they   are   protected   by   the   Convention   on   International Trade    of    Endangered    Animals.    Mr    M.F.    Chapman,    is    responsible    for    the    domestication    of    the chinchilla.   He   worked   as   a   a   mining   engineer   in   Chile.   In   1923,   after   finally   getting   permission   from   the Chilean   Government,   he   transported   11   chinchillas   to   California.   They   bred   successfully   and   were originally      sold   to   fur   ranches   and   then   later   sold   as   pets.   It   is   more   than   likely   that   most   of   our   pet chinchillas today are descended from Mr Chapman's original eleven.
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