Chinchillas: Care and behaviour

Chinchillas kept as pets are descended from chinchillas that come from mountainous parts of Latin America, and their pelts were worn by Inca rulers. The chinchilla population was decimated by heavy trapping after the Spaniards arrived, and has suffered further losses in recent years, so they are now a protected species.

Captive chinchillas have been bred for their fur, which is soft and dense. Chinchillas have become popular as pets because they're clean, amusing and inquisitive animals. They're quite shy, and need to be handled carefully. They are more suitable for adults, since they need a lot of skill and patience. They come out in the evening, when you can watch them if you're quiet. They can live for between 10 and 20 years, so they involve more commitment than pets with shorter lives, like hamsters and guinea pigs.

Chinchilla behaviour

Chinchillas are social animals, so they need the company of other chinchillas. They're also easily stressed, and are fast movers and high jumpers, so it's safer to let them take their exercise in their cages, rather than letting them out for a run around. If you do let them out, they need to be supervised, so they don't nibble anything they shouldn't, and you need to be able to close the door of the room they're in, and make sure they can't escape from that room, because they can be difficult to catch. They don't much like being handled, though they can learn to accept handling by skilled owners who are patient with them. Their being energetic and easily stressed means that you need a very big cage, preferably in a quiet room where the door is closed at night, and they're left in peace. They also benefit from improvised toys to keep them occupied. As chinchillas are easily-stressed prey animals, they should be kept well away from cats and dogs.


Chincillas take refuge in burrows and other small spaces in the wild, and pet chinchillas also like to have somewhere to hide. However, chinchillas also like to climb, and you can't put them in a garage or outhouse where they'd suffer from damp or extremes in temperature, so chinchilla housing requirements are take up a lot of indoor human space. Chinchillas come from cool, semi-arid regions, so do not like it to be too hot or damp, though their thick fur protects them from dry cold.

Chinchillas are very active animals that like to climb and need to chew, so they need large cages made from strong wire mesh. If you use a pull-out tray below the mesh floor, you can clean the cage more easily. You can put in objects such as cardboard boxes in the cage, to amuse your pets. They also need tree branches or platforms inside the cage, so they can climb, and a cuttlebone for chewing.

Chinchillas like to sleep in the daytime so they need sleeping boxes with hay, to give them a safe space away from the light, and keep out draughts. You can house groups of chinchillas, in which case they need a large group sleeping space, as well as some individual sleeping boxes.

They should always have access to water in a bottle, or heavy dish that they cannot knock over. Chinchillas also like to have sand baths a few times a week, and you can buy special sand for them. Give them a deep-sided container, a deep cake-tin will do, and keep clear, or you could get a face full of sand!


You can buy special high protein chinchilla pellets, and they also like raisins and other dried fruit, as well as a little greenstuff. They will also eat their hay bedding. Peanuts and sunflower seeds are best avoided.

Chinchillas are more likely to stay healthy if they are kept in the right conditions and are not stressed by clumsy handling. They tend to be free of fleas and other parasites because their coats are so dense. Find a vet with experience of chinchilla characteristics and ailments in case your chinchilla does become off-colour.


Let your chinchilla get used to being near you before you start handling it. Talk softly to it and then try putting your hand in the cage until it isn't frightened by your presence. Chinchillas don't usually bite people, but they're nervous, and need firm, gentle handling. They should be well supported when you pick them up. Start handling a chinchilla for very short periods until it gets used to being held. The chinchilla should respond over time, and become more confident, eventually accepting treats from you.


Gestation is some four months, and there are usually only around two babies in the litter. The mother and litter should be left in peace until the babies have started exploring, because chinchillas are so easily stressed. The youngsters can be taken from their mother when they're two months old. Start getting them used to you while they're young, and they'll be easier to handle as adults.

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