I’ve wanted to make a post about the joys and perils of Chin ownership for a long time!
Let’s start with the positives:
- Chinchillas live a really long time! A lifespan of 15 or more years is common! My last chin lived to be over 13.
- Chinchillas are pretty low maintenance. Once you have a cage set up, all they need is refilled water, food, and hay every day, and weekly cage cleanings & new things to chew.
- Chinchillas can live in same-sex groups, pairs, or alone. Some chins even prefer being solitary!
- Chinchilla poop is hard, easy to clean, and has no discernible smell. They’re like little brown grains of rice!
- Chinchillas are not susceptible to pests such as fleas.
- Chinchillas are very clean. They love to bathe and their hair is so dense it doesn’t get very messed up, provided weekly dust baths.
- You can give them dust baths as much as you like! It’s adorable and they love it.
- Chinchillas smell really good. Unlike most other rodent pets, they and their cages smell fresh and clean. Even their pee is pretty close to odorless.
- They are incredibly soft.
- They’re the best looking animal on the planet. Blending the awkwardness of a squirrel with the plump sweetness of a bunny, a chinchilla is truly the whole package.
- They are pretty affordable to keep, once you’re set up.
- While they enjoy playing and can form close bonds with their humans, they also are just fine chilling out in their cages for extended periods and won’t get depressed if left alone a bit.
And now the negatives!
- They have very specific dietary needs and delicate GI tracts. Unlike many other pets, you cannot give them bites of human food, even fruits or veggies. Pellets, Hay, and safe treats are it.
- Very few treats are safe for them. Most available in pet stores are loaded with sugar and fat, which their bodies can’t digest well. The only safe treats are: oats, plain shredded wheats, dried goji berries, and rosehips.
- They need to have plenty to chew, and will chew everything. That means no plastic or easily torn fabrics in the cage, and a regular supply of safe wood chew toys.
- They must be closely observed during play time to ensure they do not eat anything unsafe, destroy furniture or power cords, or climb into small spaces never to return.
- They can squeeze into very small spaces and hide there, despite their chubby appearance. Don’t let their fluffy butts fool you. Their ribs are collapsible so they can wriggle in passages of two inches or less.
- They poop a lot. Those chocolate tic tacs are gonna be everywhere.
- They like to throw hay, bedding, and poop outside of their cages.
- They waste a lot of hay. Their instinct to forage makes them very picky eaters in this regard.
- They can develop diabetes if you do not feed them well. Again, simple pellets, hay, and safe treats only. No foods filled with added fruits or puffs.
- They often fall prey to dental problems. If their teeth grow too long or at an odd angle, this can even be fatal. Tooth spurs are also a problem.
- They hide illness very well. Like most prey animals, they have an evolved tendency to obscure any signs of weakness. This means you may not catch illness until it’s too late.
- You should be prepared to cage every chinchilla separately at any time. Even if two chins got along as cagemates for 10 years, they may begin to fight seemingly out of nowhere and need to be split up. Their relationships are complex!
- Cage set up is expensive! A chinchilla needs a place to sleep/hide, multiple safe ledges, chew toys of wood, pumice, and other safe materials, an exercise wheel or flying saucer, a food bowl, a hay rack, a safe water bottle (glass), and a place to take dust baths. Expect to spend $300 or so at first, on top of the cost of the chin itself.
- Chinchillas are not great with kids or other pets.
- Chinchillas are not cuddly lap pets. They like to roam around and hang out in their cages. If you bond really closely with one, it will let you hold it and may even sleep in a blanket on your lap…but this level of trust can take literal years to develop.