The chinchilla belongs to the order of rodents and the suborder of hystricomorphs, which explains why it is herbivorous and not omnivorous like rats, mice, hamsters and gerbils, which belong to the suborder of myomorphs. It is a very docile small mammal with an average lifespan of up to 10 years. It is mainly active at dusk and is less destructive than its cousin, the degu. It does, however, enjoy performing acrobatics and is an excellent climber.
The chinchilla's diet consists mainly of grass hay (Timothy/meadow timothy), a few vegetables and a small amount of feed, no more than two tablespoons per day per chinchilla. It is as fragile to changes in diet as our friends the rabbits and guinea pigs, so any new food should be introduced gradually. Fruits or any other sweet food should be avoided as they easily provoke diarrhea in herbivores. Apple tree branches can be used to wear out the teeth, which all grow continuously, similar to rabbits and guinea pigs. Their incisors have an orange colour due to the presence of iron. The chinchilla naturally engages in coprophagy: it eats its own faeces and those of its cage mates in order to recover vitamins. It produces softer stools at night called caecotrophs.
There is no vaccine to protect chinchilla. However, an annual check-up is recommended to ensure your pet's good health. Particular attention should be paid to its diet. You can consult the document Frequent illnesses in order to know the symptoms of illnesses to watch for.
The chinchilla requires a lot of space, so a spacious cage with several decks is recommended. Several hiding places (cardboard box, PVC tube) can be provided, as well as an exercise wheel, preferably solid, to reduce the risk of leg injuries caused when fingers get caught between the bars of the wheel. Wire cage bottoms are to be avoided for the same reasons. A sand bath should be offered to the degu and chinchilla to maintain their fur, approximately once every 2 days, for 30 minutes. It is not advisable to leave the sand bath in the cage at all times, as the animal could mistake it for bedding. It is also advisable to change the sand regularly to avoid the risk of infection. The room temperature should be between 10 and 22 degrees Celsius. Chinchilla is particularly sensitive to heat stroke, which can occur if exposed to a temperature of 27 degrees Celsius or more. Although the chinchilla is sociable by nature, cohabitation between two unspayed males can lead to fights, especially if a female is also present. Cedar and pine chip litter should be avoided, as these substrates are irritating to the skin and respiratory tract. Instead, we recommend litter made from aspen shavings or recycled paper.
Lack of hair in certain places on the chinchilla's body can be associated with a variety of causes. When the hairless areas are located mainly around the ears, on the head or on the legs, dermatophytosis (ringworm) must be considered. A culture test is then recommended and the animal should be handled as little as possible, always wearing gloves. A cream-based treatment is initiated in the event of a positive result.
The other two main causes of alopecia are self-injury through boredom and aggression by another chinchilla when several individuals live in the same cage. In this case, it is advisable to separate the chinchillas in different cages for a few days to observe if new lesions appear. Otherwise, dominance is probably involved, and the animals should be kept separate to prevent further attacks. When self-trauma is involved, i.e., when lesions continue to appear even after separating the chinchillas, then the environment should be enhanced to provide distractions. We can add hiding places: PVC tubes, cardboard box, wooden house (ideally those sold in pet shops; otherwise, we must make sure that the wood used for the house is untreated and baked in the oven for 30 minutes at 400 °C to kill any parasites). You can also place hay in different areas of the cage, hanging it in brackets sold for this purpose, offering apple tree branches, etc. Changing the diet and diversifying the food offered can also be done, but in a gradual manner.
Chinchillas frequently suffer from constipation. The underlying causes are primarily dietary: lack of fibre (hay), diet too rich in carbohydrates, lack of vegetables. Lack of exercise can also be a cause. Constipation should not be taken lightly - it should be addressed immediately to prevent gastric stasis from developing. A correction of the diet and a supply of lubricant such as laxatone will solve the problem in most cases. If your chinchilla shows signs of despondency, seems to have difficulty breathing or has a swollen belly, you should consult your veterinarian immediately.
The chinchilla's teeth are all elodont, which means that their growth is continuous. It is through repeated contact between the teeth and the continuous consumption of fibre (hay) that they maintain their teeth at an appropriate length. However, following trauma or a congenital anomaly, the teeth can become too short or crooked. In this case, the contralateral tooth will no longer be able to wear down by being against the damaged tooth and will grow continuously, threatening to perforate the oral cavity. If this happens, the associated pain will cause a loss of appetite and infection may set in at the site of the lesion, causing several signs: the chinchilla will drool excessively, pus will be observed at the edge of the mouth, it will be less active, etc. The diagnosis is based on the visualization of the teeth and the oral mucosa. Antibiotic treatment and pain medication may be necessary, while a correction of the length of the teeth will be essential for the next few weeks. Depending on the extent of the damage to the tooth or the congenital anomaly, some individuals will require a monthly correction of the size of their teeth for several months, sometimes even for life. These corrections may require general anaesthesia, depending on the cooperation of the animal and the location of the affected teeth, the back teeth being more difficult to access and requiring the animal to be perfectly unconscious at all times.
This condition is frequently found in sexually active males. It consists of an encirclement/strangulation of the penis by a ring of hair that occurs after mating. Since the penis is concealed at all times, detecting this condition is mainly based on a display of discomfort, resulting in excessive licking of the genital area or difficulty urinating. The diagnosis is based on the visualization of the ring of hair around the penis following its exteriorization. This ring can either be gently dislodged with a cotton swab, or cut off if it is too tight. The condition of the penis of sexually active male chinchilla should be monitored once a week to prevent this condition.
If your chinchilla requires medical care that cannot be performed in your hospital, we will transfer its file to our specialized team working the Centre Vétérinaire Laval.