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Chinchillas are native to the Andes Mountains in Chile. They are slowly becoming instinct in the wild due to the value of their fur and overharvesting of the natural population. The wild population has declined over 90% in the past 15 years and they are now listed as endangered species. Several of the natural populations are recovering, but it may take quite some time until they are fully thriving again. Fortunately the demand for their fur has declined and they are primarily being cared for as pets. Eleven wild chinchillas were brought into the United States in 1923 by an engineer named Mathias Chapman who established the first breeding colony in California and now captive bred chinchillas are sold as pets all around the world.
Chinchillas are herbivores. In the wild they consume mostly grasses, leaves and twigs. In captivity they are commonly fed pelleted alfalfa products and their primary diet should be supplemented with timothy hay and grains such as oat groats, rolled oats, and wheat. Small quantities of fresh fruits and vegetables like carrots, apples, pears and bananas offer a nutritious variety to their diet. Raisins and other dried fruits make great treats. Chinchillas have constantly growing teeth which means they need chew items and a fiber-rich diet to help keep their teeth ground down.
Use of a daily multivitamin is recommended if not supplying a vitamin-fortified daily diet such as our Tropical Carnival® Natural Chinchilla Daily Diet.
Fresh water must always be available in a leak-proof hanging water bottle designed for small animals to drink from.
Chinchillas are best kept in wire cages with a removable plastic base for easy cleaning. Chinchillas can be very active so a large cage is recommended. They enjoy climbing and jumping so their cage should have multiple levels. If the cage has a wire bottom, there should also be a solid floor in part of the cage so the animal isn’t constantly standing on wire. There are a variety of bedding options available including wood shavings, paper fibers, and other natural options.
Chinchillas are fairly quiet and gentle animals that require little care. If handled when young, they remain tame and docile with regular handling. They have a delicate rib cage so they must be handled with care to avoid injury. To lift a chinchilla, slide your hand gently under their chest and lift while supporting the hind end with your other hand. Cradle the animal next to your chest.
Be careful not to grab a chinchilla’s fur. One of their methods of defense is to throw off hair. If a predator tries to bite a chinchilla, it will release fur, leaving the attacker with a mouthful of fur while the chinchilla escapes.
Chinchillas need to bathe in fine dust in order to maintain their luxurious coats. This is best accomplished by removing the animal from the cage and allowing them to bathe in a place that is easy to clean. Put the dust bath (often times volcanic ash or another manufactured product) in an open container such as a cat’s litter pan or a flat plastic storage container. Fill the container about 1 inch deep with dust and place the chinchilla near the container. Watch the fun while the chinchilla rolls around in the dust. Usually this takes about 15 to 20 minutes, and should be repeated twice a week. A bath tub or shower is often a great area to place the container because it allows for easy cleanup after the chinchilla is done bathing.
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