Chinchilla Care Tips From A Jensen Beach, FL Veterinarian

National Chinchilla Day is coming up on March 23rd! These adorable little balls of fur are becoming quite popular. Chins can be great pets, but they do need proper TLC to thrive. A local Jensen Beach, FL veterinarian goes over some chinchilla care basics below.

What Should I Know Before Adopting A Chinchilla?

Chinchillas aren’t the most high-maintenance pets on our roster, but they do need quite a bit of care. In this case, it isn’t so much that you’ll need to do a lot daily: the key is to know the do’s and don’ts. 

It is very important for people to realize that these guys have much longer life spans than other small animals. Chins can make it to 10 or even 15 years, which is comparable to the lifespans of many dogs! They are also very sensitive to heat, which of course can be an issue here in Florida.

Do Chinchillas Like To Cuddle? 

Once your pet is used to you and feels safe with you, they may not mind being held. However, for the most part, Chinchillas prefer to be admired from a distance or just petted softly. You can still bond with your tiny pal by talking to them, playing with them, and offering toys and the occasional treat. These guys can also be quite the little characters!

What Are The Cons Of Having A Chinchilla?

All of our animal companions have unique qualities. It really just comes down to what you want. Some of the things that may be a plus to one person could very well be a con or drawback to another. 

That said, there are a few potential dealbreakers. Chinchillas need fairly cool conditions, so if you like your place to stay pretty toasty, they may not be the best match. They are nocturnal, and aren’t exactly quiet at night. They also need quite a bit of room to run. Another thing to consider is their longevity. Do plenty of research before adopting one of these guys, or any other animal, for that matter.

What Kind Of Cage Do Chinchillas Need?

You’ll need to get something that is more tall than wide, as chins love to jump and climb. It should be at least 2’L x 2’W. A multi-tiered cage is often a great option. Choose something with solid floors. The walls should be mesh, with openings spaced under 1” apart. Avoid plastic, as your pet could chew through it. For bedding, you’ll want to use paper-based products. Don’t  use wood shavings, as they can cause irritation. Make sure to add lots of fun toys, as well as suitable hiding spots, like little boxes and tents. Ask your vet for specific advice.

How Do I Know If My Chinchilla Is Happy?

Chinchillas have some pretty adorable ways of showing affection. Your pet may wag their tail or run around excitedly when they see you. In fact, they sometimes literally jump for joy. This is called popcorning, and yes, it’s just as adorable as it sounds. 

Your chin may also nibble you gently. This is often a way to show affection. Of course, if your pet does this while you are holding them, it may mean they want to be put down.

What Do Chinchillas Eat?

Chinchillas have some specific dietary needs. Like many other small animals, they have open-rooted teeth. This is helpful in the wild, as they can chew many tough plants and roots. Your furry friend will need a significant amount of high-fiber foods. Be sure to offer unlimited amounts of hay. This can be supplemented with small amounts of commercial pellet food, as well as some dark, leafy greens. Your tiny buddy will also enjoy nibbling on safe branches, such as apple, pear, and blackberry. Be careful not to offer anything that was treated with pesticides.

Like any other pet, they will need fresh water.

Chinchillas don’t need treats. In fact, you may do more harm than good by offering too many snacks. That said, you can occasionally offer things like plain Cheerios, hibiscus leaves, or blackberry leaves. Your pet may also enjoy fresh, safe herbs, such as oregano, peppermint, and lavender.

It’s also important to know what not to offer. That list includes

  • Dried fruit
  • Grain
  • Nuts
  • Seeds
  • Branches from unsafe/unknown trees
  • Chocolate
  • Alcohol
  • Caffeine

Be sure to ask your Jensen Beach, FL veterinarians for specific advice on this. Never offer anything unless you know it is safe.

Where Are Chinchillas From?

Chinchillas hail from South America. While they were once quite numerous, they have long been coveted for their fur. Now, wild chinchillas are quite rare.

Do Chinchillas Need Grooming?

Chinchillas are quite clean. You won’t need to bathe your pet: at least, not the normal way. In fact, you should never give your chin a soap-and-water bath. Their fur isn’t made to get wet, and will take a long time to dry. This can cause skin irritation. Plus, you’ll have a wet, unhappy furball on your hands!

Chinchillas clean themselves using dust baths. You’ll need to provide a suitable container and clean dust. (Tip: Keeping the dust in the fridge, especially in summer, can help your pet stay cool.) Most chins should be given dust baths about three times a week. You’ll want to get store-bought dust. Don’t use sand: it’s too abrasive, and may irritate your pet’s skin or eyes. Seeing your little buddy enjoying his spa session can be super cute!

What Illnesses Do Chinchillas Get?

Like any other pet, chins are susceptible to certain illnesses and diseases. While these guys tend to be pretty healthy, they are by no means invincible. It’s important to learn about common illnesses and signs of sickness. The more familiar you are with the warning signs, the easier it will be for you to spot them.

Here are some of the major ones:

Dental Disease: Like other pets with open-rooted flesh, chins are at high risk for dental issues. If your tiny pal can’t wear their teeth down, they can develop some very painful problems.

Ringworm: Chinchillas are particularly susceptible to ringworm, which, despite the name, is actually a fungus rather than a worm. The issue is treatable, but you’ll have to get your tiny pal to a vet immediately.

Overheating: Chinchillas hail from the dry, arid Andes. They are definitely not made for hot or humid climates, and can overheat at temperatures that seem relatively comfortable to many people. Needless to say, living here in Florida can be rough on them. Keep the room your pet is in at 80°F or lower, and make sure their cage isn’t in direct sunlight. You will need to add air conditioning in summer.

Fur Issues: That soft fur makes these little guys very cute and pettable, but it can cause problems. If your chin feels lonely, stressed, anxious, or scared, they may chew themselves. This can also be caused by hormonal or other health issues. Chins also sometimes shed heavily when frightened or handled improperly. This is a defense mechanism known as fur slip. Be very gentle with your chin, and make sure they are comfy, happy, and healthy.

Digestive Issues: Many different problems can fall under this general umbrella. These range from parasites to improper diets to other causes. Gastrointestinal issues are very dangerous for chins, as they cannot vomit.

Keep a close eye out for signs that something is amiss. Some of the things to look for include the following:

  • Lack of appetite
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation (Lack of fecal pellets)
  • Discharge from the eyes or nose
  • Fur loss
  • Withdrawal
  • Chewing themselves
  • Lethargy
  • Restless/unusual behavior, such as pacing
  • Weight gain or loss
  • Lumps, bumps, or lesions
  • Excessive thirst
  • Sensitive/sore paws
  • Bloat
  • Open-mouthed breathing
  • Panting
  • Drooling
  • Pawing At The Mouth
  • Lack of interest in bathing
  • Uncharacteristic silence
  • Dirty bottom

Contact your Jensen Beach, FL animal clinic right away if you notice any of these things.

Do you have questions about chinchilla care? Contact us, your local Jensen Beach, FL pet hospital, anytime!

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