Nocturnal gnawer: The chinchilla

A growing number of animal lovers are falling in love with this mostly grey, furry rodent with large, round ears and bushy tail. Not to be confused this with the chinchilla rabbit, which takes its name from the animal with the valuable fur because of its colour, the chinchilla is very different to other rodents. Chinchillas have an average lifespan of twelve years and can live to over 20. The animal experts from Maxi Zoo reveal more about this animal.

Working pet owners can have a lot of fun with chinchillas – provided that these group animals live at least in pairs at home. These nocturnal relatives of the guinea pig sleep most of the time during the day and first become active in the evening. It is a good idea to make time for them then and let them out for some required exercise. Chinchillas like to have regular exercise, play and feeding times as their life is regulated by their body clocks. They are essentially timid animals and are shy of people. To keep them as pets, you first have to have the patience to train them.

Where did they come from

Chinchillas are originally from South America and lived together in groups in countries such as Peru, Chile, Bolivia and Argentina. The ancestors of our pet chinchillas preferred the high Andes Mountains regions. Because of their long, thick fur – up to 60 hairs grow from our follicle – wild chinchillas fell prey to trappers and were believed to be extinct from the 19th century. Conservation measures and programmes were started in the 70s, but chinchillas are still rare in the wild. In the early 20th century, an American engineer working in the Chilean mountains discovered chinchilla fur and then live chinchillas and began to study them. The animal lover smuggled several animals to California and began to breed them in the 1920s. It is said that a German man stole 100 animals from him and sold them in his homeland, which is how the chinchilla came to Europe.

What chinchillas need from you

As adaptable as chinchillas are, they have certain requirements that must be taken into account to keep them as pets. Firstly, they require a lot of space and need a relatively large enclosure. The bigger the better – cages should be at least 80 cm long and wide and 100 cm high. These rodents love to climb so the cage should have several levels, untreated branches and places to hide. They also like large rocks on the ground. Their coat does not tolerate water and chinchillas don’t particularly like it either. Instead, they need a special container filled with sand where they can “bathe”. Chinchillas are used to having a sparse plant diet, which owners should keep in mind when feeding their pet. Hay and water must always be available and they should not eat too much ready-made feed. It’s very important to remember that chinchillas gnaw basically everything, and can easily harm their health in doing so. Be careful when setting up the cage and when your pet is out. If you are interested in keeping chinchillas as pets, learn as much as you can about them beforehand from reference books and other sources.

Call into your local store today to discuss your small animals personal needs with our Maxi Zoo Pet Experts