Chinchillas for beginners
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Chinchillas for beginners

The Chinchilla hails from South America and is classified as a rodent, although it bears little resemblance to the rats and mice we are familiar with in the UK! They have long fluffy tails, comically large ears, and masses of personality.The chinchilla has enduring appeal as a pet for all ages, with their classic cute looks and friendly disposition. It's easy to have your head turned in a pet shop or when you visit with friends who keep chinchillas, but how can you tell if they would really make a good pet for you?Here is some information on chinchillas and their care to help you decide.

Basic information

Chinchillas are relatively easy to look after on a day to day basis, and while timid by nature, can become very tame. They are delicate creatures, and need to be handled with care, so will not be a suitable pet for younger children. They are nocturnal, generally sleeping through the day and becoming more active at night, so they may be a good pet for people who work during the day as they start to come alive after dusk!

How many chinchillas to keep

It is generally advised to keep chinchillas in pairs rather than alone, as they enjoy company and love to play, sleep and cuddle up together. Same sex couples are recommended, unless you are planning to breed them. It can be hard introducing two adult chinchillas to each other for the first time, so it's recommended to buy two at the same time and of around the same age.Keeping a pair of chinchillas will mean you have to worry less about keeping them entertained and busy, as they will play together quite happily. Providing chinchilla- suitable toys in their cage and hiding treats for them to find also helps to keep them alert, fit and engaged in their environment.

Equipment

Chinchillas may seem very laid back and lazy as they sleep the day away but they more than make up for it at night, when they become very busy and active. Chinchillas require large cages with plenty of space to run about, climb and play in, and a cage with several levels and bars to climb is essential in order to keep them happy and fit.Like most rodents, chinchillas like to chew- a lot! Their cage should be made of sturdy wire mesh in order to avoid them being able to eat their way out.You will also need to put a separate box filled with soft bedding inside of the cage, for your chinchillas to hide and sleep during the day in comfort.Chinchillas are relatively sensitive to hot weather, so you will also want to provide a marble or slate slab in their cage in hot weather so that they can regulate their body temperature. They also need a dust bath and suitable chinchilla dust, a wood based litter, a mineral block supplement, a food bowl and a water bottle.

Feeding

Chinchillas are relatively easy to feed, with a complete food in pellet form available from most pet shops and online retailers. You should also provide them with a good quality soft edible hay at all times, to provide fibre and help with digestion. The process of chewing hay also keeps your chinchillas teeth at a reasonable length and stops them from growing too long, which can cause problems.Chinchillas like treats and snacks, and can soon learn to become convincing beggars! They will eat or beg for most things, including a wide variety of foods which we humans enjoy, and which can be high in fat, salt and sugar and unsuitable for chinchillas. If you wish to feed treats and snacks, then dried fruit, sunflower seeds or specially produced chinchilla treat bars are a better choice- but all in small quantities!

Acclimatising and handling your chinchillas

When you first buy or bring home chinchillas, you'll need to give them at least two or three days to get used to their new environment and develop a sense of security about it. Chinchillas soon get to recognise their keeper's voices, so talking to them can help too- they may even chatter back!Gradually, once they are comfortable with their environment and your presence, try offering them a treat from your hand inside of the cage. When they approach you happily, you can try to stroke them, and once they are used to being stroked, pick them up slowly and gently.You will need to lift them from underneath, supporting their bodyweight at all times. Chinchillas can be very wriggly and often prefer to be down and running around than held still! It's important to handle your chinchillas regularly to keep them tame and bonded to you.Chinchillas love to explore, and you should aim to take them out of the cage every day to play with them. Make sure that the room which you let them out into is safe and without any means of escape, and take care that there are no electrical wires or other hazards that might be chewed. You might also want to consider getting a pet playpen which you can put them in for supervised play with less worry!Tame chinchillas rarely bite, but they do require very gentle handling, so be aware of how you hold them and be alert for any signs of discomfort.Generally speaking, captive bred tame chinchillas make brilliant, versatile pets for adults and older children. But remember as always, a pet is for life- Chinchillas enjoy a particularly long lifespan compared to other rodents, and can live up to twenty years, so require a significant long term commitment to their care.

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