You will love them, and your children will love them! Chinchillas are wonderful pets with lots of personality and a sense of fun, and of course, they are comforting to cuddle and make a fuss of. They do prefer to live in pairs for fun and companionship!
Originating in the Andes mountains in South America, their coats were adaptable to the weather in that region, and whilst this makes them a good pet to keep in the UK, they are prone to fur problems if not correctly groomed and cared for. In the wild they care for their own coats, but this desire seems to have lessened since they have been kept domestically. They still love to clean and preen, but they are more susceptible to certain conditions that can damage their health and affect their naturally sleek coats.
Whilst chinchilla breeding in the UK has been banned since 2003 for the use in chinchilla fur coats, coats are still allowed to be imported. As around 150 furs are needed for a full-length chinchilla coat, this is creating a very sad demise of this popular and delightful pet.
It is an important part of caring for your chinchilla that the cage is set up correctly with everything they need to keep them in great condition and happy as well.
Chinchillas are unbelievably active, they love to leap around and play, continually jumping and on the move, so the cage should be big enough to allow them to perform their antics! They love multi-level cages, so if you can accommodate one of those, so much the better. Cages with wire floors are not acceptable, as their feet are prone to injury.
Temperature control is important, as due to their original environment, they don’t take kindly to high temperatures, and this will affect their fur if they are exposed to this. Humidity is another threat to their health and coats, as is a drafty area, so make sure you keep them in a room that is around 16 to early 20 degrees Fahrenheit surroundings, away from sunlight and direct heat, such as electric or gas fires and central heating.
Probably the other most important purchase other than your pet is a shallow tray or dish that they can use to roll around in. Chinchillas clean themselves mainly by using dust baths, rolling around in very fine sand to keep their coats clean. This fine sand is widely available from pet shops, or if you are worried, consult your vet for advice on which is the best sand to use. Chinchillas use this dust as part of their cleaning regime, to remove oil and grease and any dirt they pick up. This is the safest way to keep your pet chinchilla clean and a well-conditioned coat.
There are a few instances where you can wet bath a chinchilla, but these should be used sparingly, as fungal infections can occur, or they can catch a respiratory disease. Only gently wash off any urine or faeces from their coats if the smell and condition is unbearable to you. Don’t make it a regular occurrence.
Chinchillas are not keen on being regularly groomed, such as brushing – somewhat like small children who do not want their hair combed or fiddled with! Your pet can become extremely stressed if groomed too harshly and too often. If you need to remove any matting or clumps of fur, do so with a chinchilla comb, which has longer teeth than a normal comb, but make sure you are very gentle. Harsh and too frequent grooming can cause their fur to fall out, and you certainly don’t want that for such a pretty pet.
Generally speaking, if kept in the right conditions, you should not experience too many problems with your chinchillas’ fur, but certain dietary conditions as well as climatic and stressful conditions can cause the coat to have a range of problems.
Make sure you are feeding your pet correctly – an excess of protein in their diets can cause fur to go wavy or break up. Adjust their feed slowly, and if the coat doesn’t improve, consult your vet for further advice.
If your pet is stressed and nervous, they may shed far more than the usual amount. Make sure the cage is comfortable, has toys and playthings such as a ladder from floor to floor, and put the cage is a peaceful place to calm them down. This normally works well. Environmental stress and boredom can also result in fur falling out and creating bald patches all over the coat. Boredom can result in your pet pulling out their own fur to cope with the lack of toys or uncomfortable conditions, so do everything you can to relieve this and make your pet happy again – the bald patches will clear up when they become content again.
Many situations can cause your pet to become disturbed or their coats to lose their wonderful lustre. You may find that a coat may become much more oily or greasy than normal, in which case more dust baths are required, even one a day to clear up the problem.
Temperature control is also vital – if a room is too humid, this can cause matted fur to fall out in frightening clumps. Immediate action needs to be taken to control the humidity as you pet just cannot cope with it. A simple dehumidifier may do the trick.
If your pet develops just one isolated bald patch, this could be the result of damaging themselves somewhere in the cage, or harsh handling. Decrease the handling and check out the cage for potential damage.
Many vets are experienced in handling small rodents and can work out why your chinchilla is having continuing problems (if they are). They will be able to solve or at least diagnose any deeper health concerns and work towards making your pet its usual glorious self.