Small Mammals

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Chinchilla Care

Chinchillas originate from the mountainous regions of South America. They tend to be clean and friendly pets but can be easily scared and stressed. Their fur is very soft and as a result, chinchillas are bred for their pelts. The main species we encounter in the veterinary world is the Chinchilla laniger species.

Chinchillas can often live for up to 8-10 years, although some chinchillas have been known to live even longer such as 16 years!

Chinchillas will breed throughout the year and the female oestrus cycle normally is about 40-50 days. The pregnancy normally lasts for about 110 days and it is common to give birth to two babies in a litter.

Housing

Like most pets, chinchillas should be kept in a well ventilated, cool, dry and well lit environment. It is important to be careful in Hong Kong, as chinchillas do not cope well with the heat and high humidity. Chinchillas tend to prefer cooler temperatures and ideally, should be kept in temperatures of around 18-20°C.

It is often preferable to keep chinchillas housed separately. Females, in particular, can be aggressive to other chinchillas. Dust baths are important for chinchillas and should be provided once or twice weekly. There are many types of Chinchilla dust available for sale from pet shops but it is important to ensure the dust bath is deep and large enough for the chinchilla to roll around in. We often recommend only providing the bath for a short time during the day e.g. a few hours otherwise, a lot of dust may begin to accumulate in the air!

Cages for chinchillas are often made of a wire mesh, coming with or without a solid floor. Wire is an ideal material for housing as it allows good ventilation and is difficult for the chinchillas to gnaw at. Chinchillas are very active and acrobatic so please ensure they have a cage large enough for them to exercise in and also containing a nest box for them to hide/sleep in.

Handling

Chinchillas are easy to handle and not aggressive to humans and therefore, rarely ever bite. It is worth mentioning that chinchillas can get easily stressed and if held too firmly or handled roughly, patches of their fur may be shed known as “fur slip”. This can be avoided by holding the base of a chinchilla’s tail with one hand and allowing them to rest on your other arm beside your body. Chinchillas can also be held by supporting their chest. It is worth noting that we have known chinchillas to occasionally urinate on us when scared!

Diet

Although commercial chinchilla food is available, it is not always easy to find in Hong Kong. If this is the case, standard rabbit or guinea pig food normally is acceptable as an alternative.

In addition to the commercial pellets, chinchillas should be fed fresh and clean grass hay such as timothy hay. Grass hay is better than alfafa hay which is quite high in calcium. Hay is important to allow them to chew during the day as well as providing essential fibre to the diet. Fresh green vegetables and carrots can also be fed in moderation. Chinchillas enjoy eating dried fruit, nuts and raisins as treats!

Clean water should be provided daily in a sipper bottle.

Common diseases we see in chinchillas at Acorn

Enteritis – this is an infection of the intestinal tract caused by a variety of infectious agents. Dirty housing and food is a common cause. Most chinchillas will present with diarrhea and may exhibit other signs, such as inappetance and abdominal pain. At Acorn, we often may analyse their stools for causes and begin aggressive treatment immediately. Sadly, enteritis can be very serious in chinchillas and lead to death.

Dermatophytosis (ringworm) – this is a fungal infection affecting the skin and can be contagious to humans. It will often lead to hair loss and inflamed skin especially around the face. It is normally responsive to anti-fungal medication.

Dental disease – Malocclusion of the teeth can lead to overgrown and painful teeth. Chinchillas may become inappetant, salivate excessively and have sores in their mouths. Common causes include an inappropriate diet (with mineral imbalances) and a genetic tendency for poorly aligned teeth. We will often need to file or clip the affected teeth under anaesthesia. We recommend using wood  or mineral blocks for chinchillas to chew on to reduce the likelihood of recurrence.

Heat stroke – In Hong Kong, it is vital to keep chinchillas in well ventilated and air conditioned environments. Avoid leaving them in direct sunlight. Affected animals may be collapsed and panting. Spraying cold water as a mist or cold bathing can help, as can rubbing alcohol to their feet and ears. Heat stroke can be fatal!

Fur chewing – Barbering is the condition where chinchillas chew their fur leaving it patchy and unkempt in appearance. Poor diet and boredom can be causes of this disease. Providing a good diet and suitable toys to chew on can help with this condition.

Pneumonia – There are many bacteria that can cause respiratory infections in chinchillas. Clinical signs can include eye and nose discharge, inappetance, coughing and sneezing. Respiratory disease can lead to death in chinchillas. It is important for us to see any chinchilla exhibiting these signs as quickly as possible. Well ventilated housing that is regularly cleaned and kept dry can help prevent this disease.