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Choosing a chinchilla as a pet

As with any animal, special consideration must be taken before purchasing to ensure that a chinchilla is the right pet for you. Some general considerations are that chinchillas are nocturnal and therefore most active during the night. Chinchillas do not do well around young children. This is because chinchillas have fragile bones that can be easily broken by a young childís handling. Chinchillas can also live to be 20 years old. With this in mind, you must be ready to commit to take care of this animal for the duration of itís life.
 

Temperature

Chinchillas are sensitive to temperature. They cannot be kept in temperatures over 75 degrees Fahrenheit. If they are in temperatures over this, they can quickly overheat. If the chinchilla is not cooled down immediately, it can die. You can keep terra cotta pots or marble tiles in the freezer for emergency situations. If your chinchilla starts to overheat you can take these things out of the freezer and place the chinchilla on it. This is only something to do in an emergency; it is not an effective means of constantly keeping your chinchilla cool. If you live where the temperature ever gets above 75 degrees, then you must have air conditioning when owning a chinchilla.

Housing

Chinchillas need a cage with plenty of room and most people buy wire cages. A chinchilla should not be kept in a glass cage or aquarium, because there is not enough air circulation in these kinds of cages. Most chinchilla owners have cages that are around 2 x 2 x 3 feet in size. Chinchillas have small feet that can easily be caught and broken in the screen if the spacing is too big. For this reason, the flooring of the cage should be at most Ĺ by Ĺ inch. Chinchillas should also have solid surfaces on which to sit in their cage. As long as wooden shelves are made of approved woods (listed below), they are suitable for this purpose. Chinchillas are also avid chewers, because like most rodents their teeth constantly grow. Nothing should be in their cage that is not safe for them to chew (i.e. Plastics and Cloth). However, chinchillas should be given plenty of toys that are safe for them to chew on so that they are able to grind their teeth down.

Bedding

Cedar should never be used as bedding as it is known to cause respiratory problems in animals. Recommended beddings are Aspen, Kiln dried pine (The bag must say Kiln Dried on it), and Carefresh. The bedding must be changed in your chinchilla's cage at least once a week. Chinchillas do not smell, so if you are noticing an odor, then you need to be cleaning the cage more often.

Feed

Chinchillas should be fed a diet of Alfalfa and/or Timothy hay and chinchilla pellets. If you feed an alfalfa based pellet, then feed timothy hay and vice versa. The hay can be cubed or loose. Only high quality chinchilla pellets should be used. Good quality pellets are Mazuri, Tradition, APD, Oxbow, and Kline diet. The only good quality chinchilla pellet that can be found in a pet store is Mazuri. Feeding other pellets that are not nutritionally suitable can lead to severe health problems. Most of the foods in pet stores have treats in them. Anything that does not look like a pellet is considered a treat. Chinchillas naturally eat a bland diet and therefore cannot properly process large amounts of treats in their digestive systems. My chinchillas are on a diet of Mazuri pellets and loose Timothy hay.

When switching to a new feed, you need to do so slowly so that you do not upset your chinchilla's digestive system. To properly switch feed, you need to use this formula:
1st week - 75% old food, 25% new food
2nd week - 50% old food, 50% new food
3rd week - 25% old food, 75% new food
4th week - 100% new food

Water

Chinchillas should not be given tap water. The water must be filtered or purified. I recommend using water that has been purified by reverse osmosis or ozonation. Chinchillas are susceptible to certain things in tap water. For instance, giardia can be caused by giving your chinchilla tap water. Giardia causes severe diarrhea and it must be treated by a vet. Water should be fresh and changed daily. Not doing this can cause algae to build up in the water and this will make your chinchilla ill.

Treats

If you decide to give your chinchillas treats, then you should only give one treat 2 to 3 times a week at the most. The treats should be no larger than the size of a raisin. Too many treats can cause your chinchilla to become ill, develop health problems, and possibly die. For example, treats can cause diarrhea, fatty liver disease, and hunchback. Chinchillas under 6 months should never be given treats. Some acceptable treats are raisins, craisins, rose hips, cheerios, and oats. Chinchillas should never be given any fresh fruit as these can also cause diarrhea.

If you prefer not to feed treats but want to give your chinchilla something special, then rotating through many different kinds of acceptable chewing toys is a good idea. Good chewing toys can take the place of food treats and your chinchilla will be just as happy. Chinchillas constantly need things to chew on (explained below in the teeth section) and new toys always excite them.
 

Dust Baths

Chinchillas need to have a dust bath approximately twice a week. The chinchillas should not be allowed to bathe for more than 10 to 15 minutes. Dust can be bought at most pet stores or via the internet. The most commonly used dusts are Kaytee, Blue Cloud, and Blue Sparkle.  There are some brands of dust that are scented.  Do not use any of these dusts.  Chinchillas have sensitive respiratory systems and the scents used in these dusts can potentially cause problems.

Exercise

         

Chinchillas need to get exercise daily in order to stay healthy. Giving your chinchillas supervised playtime outside of the cage can do this.  Make sure they are in a chinchilla proof room. This means that they should not be able to get access to anything that may be harmful to them. If you use your bathroom as a chinchilla proof room, make sure you close the toilet lid. Chinchillas have been known to hop in the toilet and drown because they could not get out.  Also, stay with your chinchilla at all times when they are out for playtime.  Chinchillas are very curious little animals and they often find ways to get into things that they should not have.  If you are not around to remove whatever they find, then they could seriously be hurt.

Another way to give your chinchilla extra exercise is by having a running wheel in your cage. If you have a wheel, then the wheel should not have any bars coming down the sides of it, like a traditional hamster wheel. The chinchillaís tail or paws can get stuck in between the bars and cause them harm. The diameter of the wheel must be 14 inches or larger. Anything smaller will put too much stress on the chinchilla's spine. Recommended wheels are the Leo Braun Wheel, Flying Saucer, Silver Surfer, and Ed Exercise Wheel. Wheels should not be made of plastic; they should be metal.  You can see an example of a safe chinchilla wheel in the picture above.

NEVER put your chinchilla in one of the plastic running balls that you find at pet stores. Chinchillas are extremely temperature sensitive and can very easily overheat and die. They will also often go to the bathroom in these balls, which not only makes a mess of their fur, but it raises the humidity level when they pee. The higher the humidity around them, the easier it is for them to overheat. I personally know of quite a few chinchillas that have died because their owners put them in these balls to run.
 

Hair Ring Checks

Male chinchillas can get hair rings. A hair ring is when the male has fur stuck around his penis and he cannot get the fur off. This is very serious and if it is not taken care of, it can cut off circulation. This can lead to many severe health problems. If you have a male chinchilla, you need to perform a hair ring check on him at least once a month.

To do a hair ring check, you first need to flip the male onto his back. You may need someone to help you hold the chinchilla throughout this process. Next, you push on the maleís sheath until you can see his penis. You must then pull the penis out to itís entire length; this is about 2 inches long. If there is no hair around the penis, then you are done; make sure no hair gets stuck to the penis when it retracts. If there is hair around the penis, then gently remove it with your fingers or tweezers. Once the hair ring is removed the penis should retract; once again make sure no fur gets stuck when the penis retracts. If it does not retract, then you need to keep it lubricated until it does. To do this, put KY jelly on it at least three times daily.
 

Teeth

The teeth should be a yellow-orange color. This means that your chinchilla does not have a deficiency in calcium. Chinchillaís teeth constantly grow and need to be filed down. Chinchillas do this by chewing on things. You should give your chinchilla wood toys or lava blocks that they can chew on. If your chinchillaís teeth start to become too long, then you can take them to a vet and have them filed down. If your chinchilla begins to drool and lose interest in eating, then it is possible that they have malocclusion. If this happens, your chinchilla should be seen be a vet immediately. This is a very serious hereditary disease and, if not treated properly, can cause a painful death.

Veterinary Care

Before you get your chinchilla, you should make sure to find a vet near you that is knowledgeable about chinchillas. A respectable breeder in your area should be able to help you find a suitable vet. In the case of an emergency when time is of the essence, it will be critical that you already have a knowledgeable vet lined up and donít waste precious time trying to locate one. When you first get your chinchilla, it is good to take them to the vet for a check-up. This ensures a few things. The first thing is you know whether your new chinchilla is healthy or not. It also helps you to get a feel for the vet and determine if they are a good match for you and your pet. A third thing it does is establish you at the vetís office. There are some vets who will not see your pet in an emergency unless they are an established patient at their clinic.

Safe Woods

apple, hazelnut, pine (kiln dried & untreated), pear, manzanita, ash, willow, poplar, magnolia, larch, dogwood, elm, aspen, beech, mulberry, arbutus, cottonwood, crabapple, and hawthorn. As a general rule if a wood is safe for birds, then it is most likely safe for a chinchilla.

Unsafe Woods

any treated wood, any citrus wood (orange, lemon, grapefruit, etc.), cherry, plum, cedar, plywood, apricot, peach, prune, walnut, birch, fir, sequoia and fresh pine 

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