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Basic Care of the Domestic Chinchilla

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The chinchilla is a small rodent that is famous for its silky fur and cuddly appearance. Because of these characteristics, many people want to keep them as pets.
Basic Care of the Domestic Chinchilla
Last update: 03 April, 2023

Chinchillas are a type of small rodent similar to hamsters, but larger and fluffier. At first glance, they look like an excellent pet. However, they do need attention that differs somewhat from other known animals. Find out all about the domestic chinchilla here.

Contrary to what you might think, although the chinchilla isn’t as common a domestic species, there’s a great deal of information about its basic care. This is because, in some parts of America, people use them for their fur and meat. Continue reading this space and discover our recommendations to keep these peculiar rodents in captivity.

Characteristics of the domestic chinchilla

The domestic chinchilla is actually a hybrid and domesticated variety product of the cross between the only two species of the genus Chinchilla: the short-tailed chinchilla (Chinchilla chinchilla) and the long-tailed chinchilla (Chinchilla lanigera).

These animals have a distribution restricted to the southern half of the Andes, which has caused them to be less well-known outside South America.

Physically, the domestic chinchilla shares its physical appearance with the long-tailed chinchilla. They are about 26 centimeters tall (around 10 inches), weighing between 700 and 800 grams (1.5 to 1.7 lbs) in the case of females, and between 500 and 600 grams (1.1 to 1.3 lbs) in the case of males.

The most distinctive feature of these animals is their dense, plush fur that covers their wide body. This can have a varied coloration including black, gray, white, brown, brown, brown, purple and blue shades, although breeders often encourage the creation of new colors.

Some figure
Chinchilla lanigera.

How chinchillas behave in captivity

Domestic chinchillas are usually quite sociable and affectionate. They communicate through different high-pitched vocalizations (squeaks) that vary in intensity and duration. According to research conducted at Bowling Green State University, these small rodents have a very precise and complex control over the sounds they emit.

Despite their gentle temperament, chinchillas can become a bit restless when living with their owners. This is especially so when an atmosphere of mutual trust hasn’t yet been created, which can lead to some accidents when handling them. For this reason, care should always be taken to avoid sudden movements, as these interactions only increase their fear and nervousness.

Like other domestic rodents, chinchillas are quite intelligent and can learn certain tricks through conditioning. However, this needs constancy and perseverance on the part of the owner.

Basic care to look after a domestic chinchilla

Although it’s true that most rodents share some basic care, the domestic chinchilla needs precise conditions to benefit its development. For this purpose, some experts consider that the following points should be considered as a minimum:

  • Closed and ventilated housing: At least 0.5 square meters (1.6 feet) of space for each chinchilla is needed. It’s recommended to have both air space (platforms and ramps) and displacement area (several lateral containers).
  • A cool temperature (between 15 and 24 degrees Celsius – 59 to 75 F): Chinchillas come from mountainous areas where the temperature is cold, so it’s preferable to avoid hot places.
  • Reduced and controlled humidity: Chinchillas maintain a certain amount of humidity in their fur, so this parameter shouldn’t exceed 40% in their habitat (relative humidity).
  • 12 hours of light and 12 hours of darkness: According to the requirements of the guardians, natural light or artificial light can be offered, as long as the cycles of darkness and light are maintained.
  • Combined diet (hay, feed, fruits, and green vegetables): These rodents are herbivores, so they need to have a varied and balanced diet. The average ration consists of 30 grams (about 1 oz) of feed per day, with hay available at all times and small pieces of fruits and green vegetables (they do not eat seeds).
  • Fresh water always available: Although sometimes they don’t drink much water, chinchillas should have access to it at all times.
  • A container with sand for their fur: These rodents require rubbing their fur with special sand to maintain their hygiene. They do this intuitively, but require a clean, available container in their habitat.
  • Frequent hygiene: A daily cleaning of the habitat and the dishes used for feeding is recommended, as well as thorough disinfection sessions at least once a week.
  • Regular veterinary visits: Chinchillas don’t require special vaccinations or additional care, but regular veterinary visits are preferred to prevent disease.

Is it better to keep one or several chinchillas?

In the wild, chinchillas live in small groups and live together a lot. For this reason, experts believe that the best way to avoid stress is to keep them in pairs (same sex or male and female) or in medium-sized groups of 5 to 8 members. In spite of the above, with proper care and attention, a chinchilla is capable of living alone without any problem.

Some figure
Chinchilla chinchilla.

Chinchillas need daily exercise

Another fundamental aspect of basic chinchilla care is daily exercise. Contrary to what you might think, their habitat only serves as a safe environment in which they can roam unsupervised, but it isn’t considered right to always leave them cooped up. Therefore, it’s recommended to include nightly exercise under the supervision of their owners in a safe place.

This means that every day you should take your chinchilla out and let it roam free in the house or garden. Apart from the fact that this provides exercise, its needs for environmental stimulation are met and it is possible to deepen its relationship with its guardian.

Can chinchillas breed in captivity?

Chinchillas can breed in captivity relatively easily, but it’s almost always advisable to avoid this so as not to put their lives at risk. As with other domestic animals, gestation and birth are very stressful and are exhausting processes for the animal. This exposes them to certain diseases, affecting their quality of life and reducing longevity.

If you want to breed your pet, it’s best to visit a veterinarian for proper guidance. Mothers seem to be susceptible to stress, so they need to be closely monitored to avoid losing their offspring. Gestation lasts 111 days on average and litters consist of between 1 and 4 babies.

Chinchilla toys

Chinchillas need platforms, ramps, boxes, balls, branches and nests that allow them to enjoy their habitat. It’s important to note that they’re animals that love to climb, run around and explore their environment, which means that their home needs to be well-conditioned.

As you can see, the domestic chinchilla requires basic care that’s easy to provide. However, it does require time and patience that not all owners are willing to offer. Before acquiring any pet, think carefully about whether you can meet all of its needs. This will show you whether or not it’s the right life companion for you.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Hunyady, H. (2008). Vocal sounds of the chinchilla (Doctoral dissertation, Bowling Green State University). https://etd.ohiolink.edu/apexprod/rws_olink/r/1501/10?clear=10&p10_accession_num=bgsu1206318183
  • Lauer, A. M., Engel, J. H., & Schrode, K. (2018). Rodent sound localization and spatial hearing. Rodent Bioacoustics, 107-130. https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-3-319-92495-3_5
  • Ministerio de Agricultura. (2014). Criterios Técnicos para la Mantención y Manejo de Fauna Silvestre en Cautiverio. https://www.sag.gob.cl/ambitos-de-accion/fauna/procedimientos?field_tema_procedimientos_target_id=All&field_tipo_target_id=All&title=&order=field_proc_observaciones&sort=asc
  • Álvarez Aro, M. L. (2010). Manejo y crianza de la Chinchilla lanigera para la obtención de pieles en la región de Magallanes. https://www.semanticscholar.org/paper/Manejo-y-crianza-de-la-Chinchilla-lan%C3%ADgera-para-la-Aro-Liliana/3ec3461c48b11cc2b19b43695fab162c7316a65c
  • Servicio Veterinario del Centro Veterinario CARLINDA. (2011). El libro de la chinchilla del Centro Veterinario CARLINDA. http://www.infochinchillas.com/resources/Libro%20chinchillas%20-%20CV%20CARLINDA%20-%201%20ed.pdf


This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.