If your only contact with chinchillas has been with the coats they’re used to make, you’re not alone. The fur industry is single-handedly responsible for devastating the chinchilla population, putting them on the endangered species list. They might be best known for their thick fur, however, chinchillas are actually very intelligent, affectionate creatures. Licensed pet stores are now allowed to sell chinchillas, usually in an effort to save them from extinction. If you’re thinking of buying a chinchilla, here are a few facts about them you should know first.
1. Their Teeth Won’t Stop Growing
Unlike other animals, a chinchilla’s teeth grow continuously, about 3 inches every year. In the wild, this is essential for survival since they have to bite wood to create homes. If their teeth stopped growing, they’d be too worn down to be of any use to them. Pet chinchillas need to be given plenty of wood to chew on, otherwise their teeth will grow far too long. Unrestricted growth can be very dangerous because it can hurt their jaws and prevent them from eating. If you notice your chinchilla’s teeth becoming too long, take him to the vet for a check-up.
2. They Are Exclusively Plant-Eaters
A pet chinchilla’s diet needs to be closely monitored because an improper diet can lead to health problems. Chinchillas need very little protein, fat and absolutely no calcium. They’re prone to obesity, so even the slightest variation from their recommended diet can be fatal. Grass hay like timothy hay is best as it mimics the food they eat in the wild. You can also get food pellets from the pet store which will have all their dietary requirements. You can feed them greens low in calcium like lettuce and collard greens, but avoid fatty nuts and avocado.
3. They Can Only Be Cleaned With Dust
Don’t make the mistake of giving your pet chinchilla a water bath. Chinchillas clean themselves in dust, by rolling around in it and letting it absorb oil and dirt. In their natural habitat, chinchillas will use volcanic ash to clean themselves, but you can use packaged dust from the pet store. Make a dust bath by emptying about 3 inches of dust into a box and let your chinchilla roll around in this. Make sure you empty it and replace the dust regularly as it can get dirty very easily.
4. They Are Nocturnal Creatures
Wild chinchillas usually sleep right through the day and wake up only at night. Pet chinchillas are also most active at night, however they will wake up for a bit during the day too because of their owner’s schedule. They need to be kept active or they run the risk of getting bored and obese. A large wheel for them to run on all day is the perfect toy as it keeps them occupied and gives them some much needed exercise. They do tend to run on their wheel mostly during the night, which is bad news if you’re a light sleeper.
5. They Need To Be Kept Cool
The chinchilla’s famous thick fur serves a very real purpose. They are usually found in cold climates and their fur is usually the only thing that keeps them warm. When they are moved out of their natural habitat and introduced to warmer climates, this can cause many issues. Chinchillas in warm temperatures often collapse from heatstroke and rarely ever recover. The first way to avoid it is to not buy a chinchilla at all if you live in a humid climate that’s usually above 80 degrees Fahrenheit.
6. They Need To Be Taken To The Vet Often
Pet chinchillas are often susceptible to many problems because they have been removed from their natural habitat. The most common issue that pet chinchillas have is overgrown teeth or tooth rot. This rarely ever happens in the wild because chinchillas have plenty to chew on to keep their teeth in check. Another common health problem chinchillas face is obesity. Their nutritional requirements are very precise and even the slightest deviation can have a big impact. To make sure your chinchilla is healthy, you will need to take him for annual checkups to the vet.
7. They’re A Long-Term Investment
Unlike hamsters that die after 2 years, chinchillas often live for 10 years, sometimes even 20. This means that if you buy yourself a pet chinchilla, it’s going to be a part of your family for a very long time. Always do your research before buying a chinchilla to make sure it’s the right decision.