Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Choosing The Right Pet For You: The Chinchilla

Find out more about the requirements and special needs for this amazing and unique pet after the jump.

Looking like a cross between a squirrel and gerbil, chinchillas are unique and entertaining pets. Related to guinea pigs, chinchillas are native to the Andes Mountains in South America and are recognized worldwide for the soft, luxurious fur. They are nocturnal (meaning they are generally most active at night) and have an average life span of 10 years.

Where Can I Find One:

Most chinchillas can be purchased from pet stores or through breeders; though they can also often be found at exotic pet shows. Be sure to pick out a healthy looking animal that is bright and alert, moves quickly when startled, and is neither too fat nor too thin. A good rule of thumb is that you should be able to feel a thin layer of fat over the ribs with only slight pressure. Also avoid any animal that has diarrhea or moistness around the anal area, as this may indicate a gastrointestinal problem. Luckily, most pet stores and breeders offer a 48hr health guarantee for your new pet so it is important to take them to a veterinarian familiar with chinchillas to have their overall health checked within this time period.

Cage Setup:
Your chinchilla should be kept in a cage that allows plenty of room for exercise. They are active animals that will benefit from a cage large enough to allow easy movement. Multi-tiered wire mesh ferret cages are popular with many chinchilla owners for this very reason. If you do use a wire mesh cage be sure to cover part of the floor with either plexiglass or a piece of wood to relieve some of the pressure on their feet from the wire cage. Newspaper can be used as a cheap substrate in the bottom of the cage to catch any droppings and urine. It is recommended to clean the cage at least weekly with soap and water but be sure to rinse the cage thoroughly before putting your pet back in.

Your chinchilla will also benefit from a having a soft blanket or towel to sleep in. Just make sure your chinchilla isn't chewing on it or eating it as this may lead to a blockage that could be potentially fatal. Small chew toys or pieces of wood are much better options for your chinchilla to give his teeth a workout on. These objects will help wear down their teeth and keep your pet healthy. Lastly, make sure there is a small bowl or container setup for their dust bath. More on this interesting behavior will be covered at the end of the article.

A chinchilla diet consists mainly of grass hay offered freely 24 hrs a day. On occasion alfalfa, fresh fruits and vegetables, or some grains can be offered as a small treat but be sure to only offer these sparingly. If you wish to offer rabbit/chinchilla pellets as a diet supplement you may do so but don’t offer any more than a few tablespoons. Water should be available 24 hrs a day in either a dish or water bottle. Make sure to check the water bottle daily as food can get stuck in it and prevent it from working.

Special Considerations For Owning a Pet Chinchilla:
Fur Slip:
If stressed or handled too roughly chinchillas have the ability to release or “slip” patches of fur off. Normally no permanent damage occurs from this and the fur will generally re-grow, although it may take several months.

Antibiotic Sensitivity:
Like other rodents, chinchillas are very susceptible to antibiotic toxicity. Some antibiotics, like penicillin and erythromycin, can even be fatal. For this reason, owners should NEVER give their pet chinchilla and medications without first checking with their veterinarian.

Dust Bathing:
Chinchillas have a unique grooming habit called dust bathing. Every day, they should be provided with a bath containing 9 parts of silver sand to 1 part of Fuller’s earth; these ingredients are available at most pet stores. Enough dust should be provided for the chinchilla to roll around in. Be sure to remove the dust bath after each use and to make sure it remains free of any urine or feces.

Heat Stroke:
Chinchillas, like many rodents, are very susceptible to heat stroke. They have a thick coat that is great for surviving cool mountain temperatures but not for the summer heat in an uncooled room. Environmental temperatures should be kept below 80 oF (27 oC); and high humidity should be avoided as well.

No comments:

Post a Comment