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Chinchillas have the finest fur of all the mammals which makes them very soft. They are very clean with no noticeable odor and their dense fur keeps lice, fleas and other parasites from taking up residence. They make good pets and are very lively. The average lifespan of a Chinchilla is 8-10 years, though in captivity they have been known to live up to 20 years.

The Chinchilla was named after the South American Chinca Indians by the Spaniards in the 1500's. There are about 6 species in the Chinchillidae family and all are found only in South America. Originally they came from the Andes mountains in Peru, Chile and Bolivia. Presently, they can only be found in the mountains of Bolivia. The Chinchillas seen today are the descendents of 11 little critters brought into California by Mathius F. Chapman in 1923 to be bred for their fur. The importance of the Chinchillas in the fur trade led to intense harvesting and today they are a relatively endangered as a wild species, though there are over 3,000 Chinchilla ranches in the United States raising the domestic species.

Chinchillas are adorable animals with long ears, large eyes and bushy tails. Their tail looks like a squirrels' tail and accounts for about one third of their length. The chinchillas' body is 22.5 - 38 cm (8 3/4 - 15 in) long. The tail is 7.5 - 15 cm (3 - 6 in) long. They can weigh anywhere from 18 to 35 ounces. The hind limbs of Chinchillas are longer than their forelimbs, and these animals are good at running and leaping. They are also good climbers. Domestic chinchillas come in a variety of colors including blue-grey, white, beige, black, violet, and mosaic.

Cage size is important. Chinchillas have a lot of energy and need to be able to climb, run around, and play or "exercise."  House your chinchilla in a wire cage or it will eat its way out and escape. When picking out a cage, find one that gives your pet a comfortable amount of space. Make sure  the wire is not painted or plastic-coated. If it is necessary for your chinchilla to stay in a pet carrier for an extended period of time, you should line the interior of the carrier with wire mesh to avoid the chinchilla chewing its way out.

When buying a drop-tray style cage, try to buy one with openings no larger than 1" x 2" (inches) to prevent the chinchilla from squeezing through. For cages that do not have a wire bottom (drop tray), pine shavings make a good litter absorber.

Cages with pull out trays are another option. Although these cages are more difficult to clean than the drop-tray models, they are recommended by many breeders for their safety features. Fewer leg injuries occur when using these types of cages and baby chinchillas remain warmer due to the lack of drafts.  If you have a shelf in it, make sure the grating is 1/2" x 1/2" or smaller. Larger shelves can cause leg injuries.

For one chinchilla, the droppings tray may only be changed once a week (depending on the size of the cage). A cage without a droppings tray may need to be cleaned more often to prevent illnesses and bacterial infections. Newspapers work fine as a litter absorbent. Chinchilla cages that are kept clean have very little odor.  As a deodorizer, baking soda can be sprinkled in the drop tray. Once the chinchilla's favorite "pee" corner is established, that area may be lined more heavily and sprinkled with baking soda. Every 2-3 months, the entire cage should be cleaned thoroughly and disinfected.

Once a cage is chosen, find a location in the house where your pet will be comfortable. Keep chinchillas out of drafty areas during colder months and place them in a well vented area during warmer months. You must keep chinchillas out of direct sunlight. Heat prostration is a common problem in chinchillas. The ideal temperature for a chinchilla is 68-78 F. Make sure that there are no electrical wires near the cage. Your pet will chew through them.

To understand a chinchilla's dietary needs, it is important to remember where they come from, the arid regions in the high Andes. The food that they are able to find there, to a large degree, consists of dried plants, grasses and seeds. This makes it easy to understand why the key to a chinchilla's diet is that it be nutrient-poor and contain a lot of bulk roughage.

While chinchillas themselves are extremely hardy little animals, their digestive systems are quite delicate. In fact, a chinchilla's diet plays a very important role in maintaining a healthy and alert animal.

A good Chinchilla diet usually can be thought of as consisting of the following parts:

  • Pellets
  • Hay
  • Supplements & Treats
  • Wood
  • Water
  • New paragraph

Most pet owners are able to purchase commercial chinchilla pellets from a pet store or local breeder. While the actual contents of the pellets may vary from brand to brand, the basic ingredients include wheat germ, alfalfa meal, oats, molasses, soybean oil meal, corn, and added vitamins and minerals. Since chinchillas eat with their hands, chinchilla pellets are usually longer than guinea pig or rabbit pellets so that the chinchilla has something to hang on to.

An adult chinchilla will eat about two heaping tablespoons of pellets per day. Chinchillas will only eat until they are full, so over-feeding is not usually a problem. 1 lb of pellets will last about 20 days when feeding a single chinchilla. Some people recommend that chinchillas be fed twice a day, once in the morning and once again in the evening. Others suggest only once per day. Whichever you choose, the key is consistency to prevent stress.

Pellets can be offered in either a hopper type feeder that attaches to the side of the cage or a small ceramic bowl. The advantages of the hopper feeder are that it can't be tipped over and it's easy to fill from the outside of the cage. If you do offer food in a bowl, ceramic bowls are best because they are heavy enough to prevent being tipped over and they can't be chewed like a plastic bowl.

If you do have to change brands or types of pellets, keep in mind that chinchillas are creatures of habit and have delicate digestive systems. Make the change as gradual as possible, mixing in the new pellets in with the old. Each day add slightly more of the new pellets to the mix so that the entire change over takes a couple of weeks. A chinchilla may actually discard the new pellets at first, until it gets used to seeing them every day.


While pellets may provide most of a chinchilla's nutrition, hay provides the necessary fiber. The hay, either alfalfa or timothy, can be either loose or in small compressed blocks of alfalfa about one inch by one inch by two inches. Chinchillas like both types, so you may offer either or both. The important thing is that the hay MUST be free of chemical sprays and the hay MUST be free of mold. To be mold free, the hay must be fresh and must have been properly dried and cured. To see that the hay continues to remain free of mold, it must be stored in a dry place.

Hay cubes can be purchased in small amounts rather than 50 pound bags which is really a more practical way to purchase hay for the pet owner. When offering the cubes to your chinchilla, you may want to break the cubes into smaller pieces so that it can grasp them easily and pick them up while eating. Even if left unbroken the cubes are no match for a chinchillas sharp teeth. Loose hay can be offered in a ceramic bowl (separate from the pellet bowl).

An adult chinchilla will eat about a handful of loose hay or one pressed cube of hay each day. Besides eating their pressed hay cubes, chinchillas will also use them as play toys to push around their cage. Since chinchillas will only eat as much hay as they want, you don't have to worry about giving them too much.

Supplements & Treats

In theory, chinchillas only need their pellets and hay. However, part of the fun of owning a chinchilla is giving it those little special treats from time to time. In fact, there probably isn't a pet chinchilla owner who doesn't give out treats. The main thing to remember about treats is the word "moderation." Too many treats can easily upset a chinchillas delicate system.

Chinchilla's enjoy a wide variety of treats. Give your pet only one type of treat a day. An adult chin may have 1-2 raisins a day, or two nuts. It's tough to say "no" to a cute chinchilla who knows how to beg. Just remember that most chinchilla health problems are related to an improper diet which is rich in too many goodies.

Chinchillas, like people, are individuals with their own particular favorites when it comes to treats. If there is one treat that nearly all chinchillas love, it is raisins. A half of a raisin can be a great training aid when trying to teach a chinchilla a particular behavior. There doesn't seem to be much a chinchilla won't do for a raisin. Again the rule is moderation, only three or four raisins per week, and even less for youngsters. In fact, for young chinchillas, don't even give them a whole raisin, only a half at a time. An occasional raisin also helps to prevent constipation in chinchillas.

Other treats, includes things like a small slice of apple (about as much as the size of a sugar cube), a small bit of orange, a grape, a blueberry, and a small carrot or celery slice. Dried fruit, provided it doesn't have sulfite preservatives, can also big on a chinchilla's hit parade. Rolled oats and spoon size shredded wheat are both very popular and are good if your chin is showing signs of diarrhea from too many rich treats. Sunflower seeds are a great treat and can add sheen to a chinchilla's coat. Buy the raw black oil sunflower seeds available for bird feeding. Some chinchillas learn to take the seed from the shell, while others eat the shell and all, without bad effects.

Corn, cabbage, and lettuce are "no-no's" as since they cause gas and are very hard on a chinchilla's tender digestive system.

Try different treats from time to time and before long your chinchilla will have taught you its likes and dislikes. Feed treats either by hand, or place them in separate small "treat" dish. If treats are mixed in with a chinchilla's regular pellets, the chinchilla will pull out and throw away the regular pellets looking for the "hidden" treats.

Another item that should be mentioned with regards to dietary supplements is wood. Chinchillas are rodents and, therefore, have large, strongly curved incisor teeth that grow throughout their life. A chinchilla needs to constantly gnaw to keep its teeth worn down. Wood is both soft enough that chinchillas won't damage their teeth, and is yet hard enough to keep teeth worn down to proper size. The best types of wood are white pine and apple. In fact, a large piece of white pine board in a chinchilla's cage can serve a couple of purposes. It can give a chinchilla something to gnaw on as well as a place to sit when a wire bottom cage becomes uncomfortable on the chin's feet. Another nice thing about white pine boards is that they can be found at any lumber store.

Certain types of wood are actually poisonous to chinchillas and should be avoided. The "bad" woods include cedar, eucalyptus, plum, plywood, cherry, fir, spruce, or redwood. If you make a house for your chinchilla, use white pine so that it can double as a "chew toy." Some owners provide their chinchillas with a pumice stone, but wood is probably more common. In fact, may pet stores now provide "flavored" wooden chewing blocks for small animals including chinchillas.


Chinchillas need free choice, fresh water. If not changed frequently, water can grow bacteria that are harmful to chinchillas. Chinchillas can drink standing water from a bowl, but this really isn't practical. The chinchilla will tend to foul its water or tip the bowl. Therefore, a water bottle that hangs on the side of the cage is much preferable.  

Water bottles, including the small tube, should be thoroughly cleaned with hot water between water changes. It is easiest to have two water bottles, this way they can be rotated. While one is in use, the other can be washed. A dishwasher provides an easy way to clean water bottles, however, a small brush is still needed to clean the tube.

A regular dust bath is an absolute necessity for chinchillas. Taking a vigorous dust bath is one of their natural behaviors, and is how chinchillas keep their lush coats clean and healthy. Not only does this dust bath help to keep their thick fur smooth and silky, it is thought to be relaxing and fun for chinchillas. Indeed, chinchillas really get into their baths, rolling and flipping in the dust with great abandon.

Always use store-bought chinchilla dust for bathing. This is specifically made for chinchillas and this purpose. When the chinchillas roll in this dust, it penetrates their coat down to the skin and absorbs oil and dirt from the fur. Other powders or sand may look or feel similar, but just won't work the same way -- chinchilla dust is made to mimic what they would have access to in their native habitat. The dust should be at least a couple of inches deep in whatever container you use, so that the chinchilla can effectively roll in it. "Blue Cloud Chinchilla Dust" and "Blue Sparkle Chinchilla Dust" are two commonly recommended dusts, but just make sure you get one made specifically for chinchillas.

A heavy, tip-resistant bowl or deep dish can be used. It should be slightly larger than the chinchilla. Glass fish bowls or canisters can be used and work well. Also, a plastic house-type container with a rounded bottom can be purchased for this purpose. Fish bowls and the plastic house-type baths have the advantage of being fairly enclosed, which can help minimize the amount of dust flying around the room. Place the bath in the cage every evening when the chinchillas are active. Sand will be sprayed everywhere, but this is part of having a chinchilla. The sand can be reused for a time, as long as any wastes are removed.

The dust bath should only be made available to the chinchilla intermittently, rather than left in the cage indefinitely. Too much bathing can dry the skin, and if the dust is left in the cage chinchillas will often sit in the bath and/or use it as a litter box. Offer the dust bath to your chinchilla at least twice a week, typically in the evening when they are getting most active. Twice a week is usually sufficient, though you can offer the bath more frequently if your chinchilla's fur starts to look rough or feels damp or oily. In humid weather, baths should be offered more frequently. Usually 10 to 15 minutes is plenty of time for a chinchilla bath. If your chinchilla has dry, flaky skin or seems itchy, decrease the bathing time and frequency a bit.

It is fine to re-use the dust for several baths. Make sure to scoop out any waste when the chinchilla is done each bath. If the dust starts to look clumpy or dirty, discard and use fresh dust.

Unfortunately, this is an inevitable part of chinchilla ownership. Using a covered bath can help, but your chinchilla will still shake and groom after a dust bath, resulting in a fine layer of dust on everything around your chinchilla. Invest in a good duster and remind yourself that you are being a good chinchilla owner by providing regular baths!

If eye "weeping" is accompanied by red and swollen lids or white matter surrounding the eye, the animal's eye is infected. The infection may be a simple one resulting from dust or small pieces of litter in the eye, or it might be the result of lowered resistance due to stress or improper diet. Your veterinarian will probably prescribe an eye medication or a broad-spectrum antibiotic. Clean and disinfect the animal's cage and the dust bath container, too and fill it with fresh powder, but don't dust the animal until the infection is gone and you've stopped medicating the eye.

Watery eyes without infection may indicate a cold or the onset of pneumonia. Check the animal to see if it's running a fever. A Chinchilla's normal temperature is 98.6°F The easiest way to determine elevated temperature is to examine the animal's ears. If warm to the touch, and bright pink or even red, the animal is running a fever. Wheezing or difficulty in breathing may indicate pneumonia. To treat a cold, keep the animal warm and make sure it has lots of water. To treat pneumonia you will need a vet's assistance and antibiotics. It is very important to place your pet's cage in an area where where the humidity is as low as possible: 30 to 50% humidity is normal for Chinchillas. Chinchillas are very sensitive to heat and are prone to heatstroke. They must be house at temperatures below 90°F. High humidity increases their chances of heatstroke. They cannot tolerate temperatures at or below freezing.

Watery eyes could also be a sign of tooth problems. Watch the animal eat. Does it paw its mouth while chewing or have a wet chin due to drooling? Are the front teeth so long that the animal can't close its mouth properly? If the answer is yes, your Chinchilla has serious dental problems. You may want to have your pet's mouth checked by your veterinarian. If front teeth are the only problem, they can be clipped into shape. With back teeth the problems are usually more serious: chinchillas can develop spurs that grow downward into the lower jaw or upward toward the eyes. Tooth problems are often the result of old age or the animal lacking something to chew on. An ounce of prevention in the shape of a wood block or pumice stone can help avoid such problems.

Another ailment that affects chinchillas and may be accompanied by watery eyes can be a fungal infection. One form of fungus causes the fur to fall out in patches, exposing irritated skin. The other type of fungus causes fur breakage that results in patches of thin, shaggy hair. Often the animal's whiskers will be split, broken or bent at the ends. In either cases, change the dust in the Chinchilla's bath and add a heaping tablespoon of a foot powder for athlete's foot, mixing the powder into the dust. Oral anti-fungal medications prescribed by a veterinarian and applied to raisins to aid in treatment may also be used. Skin irritation should disappear within a few days. In the case of broken fur, it will take longer to notice an improvement since the old broken fur will still complete its growth cycle before being replaced by new hair.

Ear ailments are not as common as watery eyes and are usually the result of another infection or lower resistance due to a poor diet. If you notice drainage form the animal's ears, see the chin paw at an ear often, tip its head to one side repeatedly, or walk around in circles, take the animal to a veterinarian ASAP. The doctor will clean the ear and administer an antibiotic. Disinfect the cage; keep the chinchilla warm and quiet. Don't dust the animal until it is well and off medication.

Diarrhea or constipation are usually temporary conditions controllable by dietary changes. However, if either condition lasts for more than a few days, worsens, or is accompanied by droppings coated by mucus or stuck together in long strings surrounded by a jelly-like substance with air bubbles, the animal has more than simple diarrhea or constipation. It may have enteritis. Since different bacteria can cause various forms of enteritis, tests may be required to determine what causes the disease. Unless a specific bacterium can be identified, the veterinarian will recommend a broad-spectrum antibiotic. Follow the doctor's directions carefully. Keep the animal warm. While it is recovering, give it water by the dropper to make sure it gets enough liquid and feed plenty of hay.

In cases of constipation, try to get the animal to exercise. One technique is to give the animal a dust bath several times a day and let it roll around in the powder as long as it wants. Another technique is to take it from its cage, put it on the floor, and prod it along gently, forcing it to move. Be sure to make any changes in the animal's diet gradually and give it plenty of time to adjust to its new home and surroundings before you begin to play with it. By eliminating stressful situations, a chinchilla owner increases tremendously the animal's chances of living a long, healthy life.

Contact Us

Please call the Roslyn Greenvale Veterinary Group at 516-621-4010 to schedule your chinchilla for an examination with Dr. Marder or Dr. May today.

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