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Chinchillas are rodents native to the Andes Mountains in South America. These cute little animals have very dense and soft fur. Their fur is so coveted that these species have been hunted almost to extinction for their fur. The fur trade in chinchillas is now relegated to chinchilla farms. Because they are so soft and furry, and due to their shy demeanor, chinchillas have become popular as an exotic pet. As an exotic animal, pet owners need specialized knowledge in order to properly care for them.
When budgeting the cost of a chinchilla as a pet, you have to account for the cage and other additional costs associated with owning a chinchilla. A standard chinchilla cage will cost at least $200. However, chinchillas need a great deal of exercise, and a simple cage will not be enough. Unless you can supervise and allow your chinchilla to roam your home, with the possibility that it might chew on your furniture and carpeting, or hide under the couch, you will probably need more than just a standard cage to keep your chin happy and healthy. You want a cage that is taller than it is wide since chins like to jump from ledge to ledge. Multi-level chinchilla cages cost $250+, and should include basic necessities like 1/2" x 1" wire spacing, multiple shelves, 15" metal exercise wheel such as the Chin Sprint or Chin Spin, hiding place, water bottle, lava ledge, feeder and hay rack. A few good examples of cages are the Midwest Double Critter Nation cage. These are my preferred cage, and I also add stainless steel pans from Bass Equipment so that it will hold bedding. I also add wood shelves so my chins have something safe to chew since the Critter Nations come with plastic pans. A similar cage to the Critter Nation is the Exotic Nutrition 4-level Mansion. Another good cage is the Quality Cage Chinchilla Mansion. This one comes with pine wood shelves.
Chins are crepuscular animals which means they are most active at dusk and dawn, but will also run
all night as well. They will sleep during the day and will appreciate shelter to hide in. A dust bath house is also required to keep their fur clean. My favorite is a glass penny candy jar. They need to roll around in ground pumice stone once or twice a week and when the dust shakes off, some of their dirt and oils come off with it. Chinchillas fur is too thick to bathe them, they can't dry without help. If they do need to be washed you need to dry them with a blow dryer set on air or as low as it will go so that you don't overheat the animal. Chinchillas are very temperature sensitive and prefer temperatures below 75 degrees, over 80 is very dangerous. You can tell when a chin is overheated when their ears turn red, time to turn on the air conditioning! They can handle the cold just fine, but keep them out of the direct flow of the air conditioner and away from drafts.
FoodFeed a good quality pellet such as Mazuri Chinchilla Diet, Miller, or Oxbow and have it readily available. They also must have hay to round out their high fiber diet. Timothy hay should also be free-fed, and it is a good idea to occasionally offer other types of hay but try to pick one that is not the main ingredient that your pellet feed is made from. I like to get my hay at Small Pet Select, their quality is wonderful and you can set up an automatic shipment if you like. The hay pieces are fresh and long. Don't get Kaytee from the pet store, it looks like it was harvested using a lawn mower. It is chopped up into tiny pieces and there isn't much to hold on to and eat. You want to make sure that chins always have pellets, hay and water available because gut stasis is very dangerous for them, and off to the vet you should go if that happens. Do not feed anything fresh, and don't feed raisins either due to the high sugar content. Good treats are Cheerios, rosehips, rolled oats (not quick-cook or instant), oat groats, apple wood sticks or plain shredded wheat. Chins under 6 months of age should not have any treats.
Chinchilla Vet Costs
When considering chinchilla cost, remember that you will need to transport your chinchilla to the vet when necessary. These are relatively inexpensive visits at about $60-$75. Chins can be neutered, but this procedure can be risky as the animals can have a fatal reaction to the anesthetic. Chinchillas can live 15 to 20 years or more as pets, if they are well taken care of. To prevent problems with their teeth, provide your chin with proper chew toys, such as kiln dried pine, apple wood sticks, and pumice chews such as Lava Ledges. Keep plastic out of their cage as this is not safe to chew. Don't cut branches off of your backyard trees for chews, they may be sprayed with pesticide and they might not not be the kind of wood that they can safely eat. Stressed or bored chinchillas can develop a host of serious health problems including fur chewing. To find a qualified exotic veterinary doctor, refer to one of the several internet chinchilla clubs as they have lists of veterinarians around the country who know how properly to care for chinchillas. You will need to find a vet who specializes in exotics.
In the wild, they live in colonies or herds. They do not sweat, and can become overheated very easily and develop heat stroke. The telling sign of an overheated chinchilla is bright red ears, as they dissipate heat from their body through blood vessels in their ears. They require temperatures of no more than 80 degrees Fahrenheit. They also do not do well in the exercise balls some people use for hamsters because there is no way for their heat to escape. Because their fur is so dense, they do not bathe in water. These animals cannot dry themselves properly when wet, and can develop fur rot. Therefore, they take dust baths instead in volcanic dust native to the Andes Mountains.
Not very much anymore, but some chinchillas are still farmed for their pelts, and it can take 150 of these small animals to make one coat. I like to see the fur on the animal and not a garment myself. There are several online groups dedicated to teaching people more about chinchillas. There are even chinchilla shows! I am a member of Empress Chinchilla Breeder Co-op and most of the members of this multinational group show their animals. I breed mine for pets, not show animals, and my breeders were purchased from other Empress members show animals.
Should I Get A Chinchilla?
There is a lot to be considered before purchasing one of these wonderful animals or adopting from a rescue group. Any rescue organization will explain all of this to you before deciding whether to allow you to adopt from them. First, chinchillas are a long term commitment. This is not like buying a goldfish, as chins will live upwards of 17 years. For this reason, rescue groups do not like adopting the animals out as pets for children without a commitment from the parent for long term care. They can bite, and will nip if mishandled. This is another reason they are not recommended for children. They are active and social creatures, and they are nocturnal. This means that they will be moving and communicating while you are asleep. Because they are heat sensitive, they are not recommended for people in hot climates unless you have air conditioning. Chins are not lap pets. Although they are soft and look cuddly, they prefer to be moving and interactive. They can also be messy with hay, bath dust, and small dry poops scattered around. Know what you are getting into before you purchase your pet, and make sure you are committed to giving this animal the care and attention it is going to need for many years before you even begin to consider chinchilla cost as being a factor in determining whether you might make the purchase or not.