Chinchillas originate from the Andes mountains in South America. They are members of the rodent family and inhabit rocky barren areas in the wild. Chinchillas found in the wild are grey in colour but a wide variety of colours are now available.
Chinchillas should be kept in a large multilevel wire cage. The height and width of these cages should allow plenty of space for climbing. Wire cages are preferred as they allow good ventiliation. These cages are often available with a solid or wire mesh floor. The benefits of using a cage with a wire mesh floor is it allows urine and faeces to fall below and away from your pet. Providing toys and climbing accessories is a good way of enriching your pets environment and allowing them to engage in natural behaviours. A nestbox or ‘hide-out’ should be placed in the cage also as Chinchillas are quite shy by nature and this will provide security and somewhere for your pet to feel safe. It is important to choose a location for your pets cage that is cool, dry and well ventilated. Chinchillas should be provided with a sand bath to help them maintain their soft, dense coat. Chinchilla sand can be provided in a shallow tray for this purpose. Ideally the sand tray should be removed after 30 minutes as prolonged exposure to the dust/sand can cause eye irritation and infection.
Chinchillas are herbivorous meaning that they eat a diet consisting of grasses, leaves, seeds and fruit. A high fibre diet is essential to your pet to maintain healthy teeth and digestion. To feed your pet a suitably high fibre diet he majority of your pets diet should consist of good quality, fresh meadow hay. Commercially prepared Chinchilla pellets can be fed in small quantities daily although this should make up only a minor part of the Chinchillas diet. Fruits such as apple and pear and branches from fruit trees can be given as treats. Feeding a low fibre diet can lead to a wide range of health problems including dental disease, gut stasis and fur chewing.
Dental disease is one of the most common issues seen in Chinchillas that are kept as pets. As with all rodents Chinchillas teeth are constantly growing and this growth can lead to dental problems. Gut stasis is another common problem where the gut stops functioning correctly. One of the main causes of these issues is a low fibre diet. In the wild constant grazing on a highly fibrous diet leads to the teeth being worn down naturally from chewing this type of food material. Dental malocclusion from overgrown teeth occurs and can cause severe ulceration of the gums and mouth. A high fibred iet is integral to keep a Chinchillas gut constantly in motion – this is key to healthy digestion. A low fibre diet or feeding of foods high in sugar can disrupt the normal movement of the gut resulting in gut stasis. Chinchillas are also susceptible to developing respiratory infections that can be caused by poor ventilation and immunosuppresion. Therefore, the importance of providing a suitable diet and habitat for your pet cannot be understated.