Chinchillas guide

Buying & equipment

Chinchillas are active rodents that enjoy running around – and they make excellent pets. By taking a little time to learn about the nature and character of these animals, you will be able to offer chinchillas optimal living conditions that include the right cage, suitable food and plenty of things to keep them occupied. There are, however, some things that you need to do before buying a chinchilla.

Checklist for initial equipment

  • A sufficiently large chinchilla cage
  • A sturdy, washable feeding bowl
  • Hayrack for daily hay requirements
  • Water bottle with fresh water or VITA Fit® Aqua drink
  • Sleeping box for sleeping and resting
  • Thick untreated branches, boards for sitting on at different heights and ladders for climbing
  • For play and to keep your chinchilla occupied: cardboard tubes, wooden see-saw etc.
  • Rodent stone to provide vital minerals, e.g. VITA Fit® mineral stone
  • Bedding materials, such as hay from the Vita Verde® range or waste fabric
  • Soft, absorbent litter e.g. Comfort classic made from woodchips or Farmer´s straw litter made from pelleted straw 
  • Main food, e.g. Emotion® Beauty Selection oder Pellets
  • Vitakraft Kräcker® sticks to keep your pet busy and wear down its teeth

Tips for buying chinchillas

Chinchillas can be found in pet shops or bought directly from breeders. Animal rescue centres also sometimes have chinchillas looking for a new home. When buying a chinchilla, make sure that it is at least eight weeks old. Since chinchillas only become active at dusk, the best time to go looking for your new pet is in the late afternoon.

Signs of a healthy chinchilla:

  • Lively behaviour (at the right time of day)
  • A thick, even coat with no bald spots
  • A dry, clean nose
  • Clear, shiny eyes
  • Flat ear ridges with no flakes or crust
  • Healthy front teeth which should be a yellow-orange colour and parallel to each other
  • A clean behind and solid, oval-shaped droppings

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Caring for your pet

Chinchillas need a spacious cage in which they have room to jump about. They should also have regular opportunities, preferably on a daily basis, to run free in your house and satisfy their desire for exercise. But remember: a chinchilla's strong gnawing instinct can sometimes result in damage to furniture, so be sure to keep a close eye on them while out of their cage.

Grooming and health

Chinchillas are very clean animals with little in the way of body odour. They do not need any direct help to keep themselves clean, although you should be aware of and observe the following information:

Fur 

In their natural environment, chinchillas care for, clean and degrease their fun by taking regular "baths" in fine sand. This is the only way to maintain the protective layer of insulation in their silky-smooth coat. A daily sand bath, e.g in SANDY from Vitakraft, is therefore essential for the health, appearance and happiness of your chinchilla.
And, as attractive as the soft fur may be, chinchillas do not tend to enjoy being stroked on a regular basis as the natural fats on human hands stick to their fur.

Teeth

The front teeth of chinchillas continue to grow throughout their entire lives. To wear down these teeth, chinchillas therefore need something extra hard to gnaw on, such as Kräcker® sticks or branches from untreated fruit trees. Hay also plays an important role in keeping teeth healthy as it needs to be chewed for a long period of time. If your chinchilla experiences any problems with its teeth, you must contact your vet for advice.

Your chinchilla's cage

Chinchillas are lively by nature and enjoy nothing more than running and jumping around. Their cage should therefore offer plenty of room to scamper about and provide vertical height. One suitable solution is an aviary designed for small birds in which you can place boards for sitting on at different heights. However, make sure that the doors are big enough for a chinchilla when purchasing.

Equipment for your chinchilla's cage

All chinchilla cages must offer plenty of opportunities to play and climb about. The bars must also be thick enough to prevent chinchillas from gnawing through them. Bars that have been painted or covered in plastic can harm your pet.

The right spot for your chinchilla's cage 

Chinchillas sleep during the day and must therefore be kept in a quiet location. A light, screened-off corner of the room is ideal. It is best to place the cage at chest height so that your pet is not frightened by movements coming from above. The cage should not be placed in a location that is too warm, with the ideal room temperature being 18 °C. Even in summer it should not be higher than 25 °C for an extended period of time. Chinchillas cannot tolerate draughts or direct sunlight.

Cleaning your chinchilla's cage

All cleaning activities should be carried out in the evening once your chinchilla has woken up. Remove and replace dirty hay and damp litter (including bedding from the sleeping box) several times each week.
The cage also needs a thorough clean once each week: Rinse out the drinking bottle, food bowl, sand bath, clean the base of the cage using hot water and replace all the litter in the cage. On a monthly basis, you must also use hot water to wash down the branches used for climbing and then dry them well. Never use strong household detergents!

Creating a natural environment

Chinchillas prefer to share their cage with a companion of their own kind. Since chinchillas live together in colonies in their natural habitat, they are not adapted to solitary life. An opposite-sex pair or two females that have grown up together usually make the best companions. However, two males will also usually be happy together, as long as there is no female present for them to fight over.
You should proceed very carefully when introducing unfamiliar chinchillas to each other. Anyone keeping an opposite-sex pair that includes an unneutered male should naturally be prepared for a host of new arrivals.

Diet

The perfect diet

Chinchillas are adapted to eat the food naturally available in their natural habitat: the South American Andes. This primarily comprises foods that are low in nutrients and high in fibre, such as vegetables, plants, grass, roots, bark and the occasional fruit or berry.
In other words, chinchillas are true herbivores that require food high in fibre, even when kept as household pets. Hay and a dedicated main food, such as Vitakraft Pellets are ideal for meeting these requirements. Dried herbs and a mineral stone are ideal supplements. Chinchillas are impulsive, high-energy rodents, so you should ensure there is a Kräcker® stick in their cage at all times. They also enjoy gnawing on fresh branches taken from fruit trees.

Food types

Main food:
A main food such as Pellets or VITA® Special covers your chinchilla's basic nutritional requirements

Roughage: 
Roughage has a high fibre content, which is essential for healthy digestion in chinchillas. Since fibre requires a great deal of chewing, it also cares for teeth and keeps your pet occupied. Roughage foods include for example Vita Verde® Alpine meadow hayVita Verde® Nature plus hay mix with dandelion or natural snacks like Vita Verde® Nature Mix

Kräcker®
These tasty nibble sticks have a number of different functions. Chinchillas have to work to get food just like in the wild, which keeps them busy and is good for preventing boredom. Nibbling on the hard Kräcker® sticks also wears down the constantly growing teeth and helps keep them healthy. 

Treats:
Tasty snacks with a high vegetable and fruit content, such as Vita Verde® Nature Flakes provide variety for small rodents and can be used as a reward. They can also be a useful aid during familiarisation when taming your chinchilla

Nutritional supplements: 
Pet food supplements, such as VITA Fit® mineral stone and VITA Fit® C-forte. These meet the specific nutritional needs that can arise during certain stages of life, e.g. during periods of growth, after illness or during pregnancy. They may also be beneficial for particularly active animals. 

Feeding tips:

  • Always feed your pet at night
  • Hay should be available at all times
  • Keep an eye on the amount of main food that you provide
  • Provide fresh water each day or VITA Fit® Aqua drink
  • Ensure that your chinchilla has something to gnaw on and wear down its teeth at all times, such as untreated branches or Kräcker® sticks
  • The best time to give your pet a treat is when it comes out to play
  • Give your pet VITA Fit® mineral stone to provide supplementary vitamins and minerals
  • Provide only a small amount of fresh fruit, nuts and greens

Behaviour & familiarisation

When handled with affection, chinchillas usually become tame very quickly and will often learn to respond to their name. Chinchillas are the ideal pets for people who work as they are nocturnal and only become active in the early evening. Once awake, these lively animals are keen to demonstrate their acrobatic abilities: daredevil climbing stunts and metre-high jumps from a standing start are child's play for these animal gymnasts. Important: Chinchillas need their sleep during the day and should not be disturbed.

A new home

Although some chinchillas settle in after just a few days, others need a little more time. In all cases, you should leave your new housemate in peace while it starts to feel at home in its new surroundings. Chinchillas also tend to be skittish by nature. Noise, strangers and sudden movements can startle your pet or cause it stress – even if your chinchilla initially appears fine.

How to tame your chinchilla

Once your chinchilla has settled into its new home, you can start to get it used to your presence. For instance, you could pass a treat through the bars each evening while speaking to your pet in a soft voice. Chinchillas are particularly fond of Kräcker® sticks or half a hazelnut on occasion.

Only once your chinchilla has become used to this type of feeding should you try feeding it with the door open. When your chinchilla no longer appears afraid of your hand and approaches of its own accord, you can start to touch it carefully.You should not attempt to pick up your chinchilla until it allows you to touch it without any signs of fear. Picking up a chinchilla requires both trust on the part of the animal and practice and intuition on the part of the owner. To begin with, carefully place your hand underneath the chinchilla. With the other hand, hold your pet at the base of its tail so that it does not jump away. Important: A chinchilla's tail is very sensitive and you should never grab it or hold it by the end. Neck grips should also not be used on chinchillas as the fur in this area would fall out straight away.

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