Chinchilla as a pet: Portrait of the cute rodents

A chinchilla is not for everyone as a pet. The cute, mostly silver-grey fur balls are nocturnal and do not like to cuddle with people. In addition, they make quite a lot of dirt and need a safe place to run around in the apartment. The following tips reveal what else you should consider before purchasing the exotic fur carrier.

Chinchillas are pack animals and only feel comfortable in a group - Shutterstock /Helen Sushitskaya

Chinchillas are pack animals and only feel comfortable in a group – Shutterstock /Helen Sushitskaya

They do look cute, the chinchillas, but you shouldn’t underestimate them. They are not cuddly teddies and require a lot of care and attention when keeping them. Those who still get involved with the rodents will experience fascinating animals that you could watch all day – or rather all night.

Little chinchilla story: from wild animal to pet

The roots of the chinchilla lie in South America, especially Peru, Chile, Bolivia and Argentina. There, the wild chinchilla relatives live in the mountains at altitudes of up to 5,000 meters and hide in caves and crevices during the day. Because of their thick fur and because chinchillas have no sweat glands, they cannot tolerate temperatures above 25 degrees, which in their original home are quickly reached during the day. Then they can get heat stroke and die. At dusk and at night, the temperatures drop drastically, so that the rodents can then go in search of food. Twigs, leaves, herbs, dry grass and even cacti are on their menu. The chinchilla is a pack animal and sometimes lives together in large groups of around 100 animals in the wild. A male often surrounds himself with several females.

It has a rather sad background, which is why the wild animal became a pet: furs. The rodent’s beautiful, silver-grey fur soon became very popular with European fur traders and buyers – the chinchilla was brought to Europe and from around the 1950s fur farms were established in Germany. Gradually, chinchilla clubs were formed and they were finally discovered as pets around 30 years ago.

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05/24/2014 – 09:14 am

Chinchillas: nocturnal rodents from South America

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Social life and peculiarities of the chinchilla

Under no circumstances should chinchillas be kept alone, as the pack animals are otherwise very unhappy and can develop behavioral problems. At least two, better still three or more of the fur balls feel comfortable together. Same-sex couples and groups are recommended so that there are no unwanted offspring. The castration of a chinchilla is quite complicated and associated with risks, so mixed-sex couples are only recommended for breeding projects. Males become sexually mature at four months and females at six months. The chinchilla mothers can give birth two to three times a year and then have between one and four babies, sometimes even six. Then the chinchilla mother needs help with rearing and, in the worst case, does not survive the strenuous birth.

The animals are nocturnal and sleep during the day. They can adapt a bit to their owners’ habits and wake up briefly during the day, but their main activity time is after sunset and before sunrise. This means that they are usually more active in winter than in summer. In summer, make sure there is enough coolness and shade to prevent heat stroke. The fur balls have very fine senses, can see well in the twilight and in the dark with their large eyes and have a wide field of vision. They also need this in order to be able to open up and survey all escape routes as quickly as possible as flight animals. The long whiskers on the snout also help them to find their way around in the dark. They can also hear very well and turn their large ears like satellite dishes in the direction of a sound.

Smells are an important point of orientation and communication for them. In this way, they can sniff out their conspecifics’ willingness to mate and territorial markings. Don’t be surprised if your chinchilla’s front teeth are yellow, orange or even brownish – this is normal and indicates a healthy mineral layer protecting the teeth. It is also normal and healthy if the furry cats eat their own droppings. In this way, they absorb vitamins and minerals that were first broken down in the intestines when they were first eaten. Remember that animals are not housetrained; as so-called permanent excretors, they defecate everywhere, no matter where they are.

Is a Chinchilla Right for You as a Pet?

As flight animals, the fluffy fellows get very scared if you pick them up or want to pet them too much. Therefore, the animals are more suitable for observation and less for interaction with humans. They need a large, multi-tiered aviary for them to jump and romp around at night. If they are also allowed to exercise in a secure room in the evening, they are even happier. Furthermore, hiding places and a sandpit to roll around are important, as well as a hay rack and a drinking trough with fresh water. The enclosure must be cleaned every day because the silverfurs cannot keep it clean themselves. If they are kept and cared for properly, chinchillas can live surprisingly long: their life expectancy is 15 to 22 years.

The rodents suit you if you are willing to give up cuddling with your pet, but spare no expense or effort to make the furry friends feel comfortable with you. Those who work full time and are out during the day need not worry as the cuties are asleep at this time. Younger children may find it difficult to explain that the animals need to be left alone during the day and do not like to be cuddled or played with people. For children, there are other pets that are better suited, such as dogs – as long as they are well behaved.

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