Before you buy a Chinchilla
Many chinchillas end up dumped in rescue centres each year because someone bought a cute animal on impulse and then didn't have time to look after it. Many more live out their lives shut in small, unsuitable cages bored out of their little furry minds or get sick and die because of inappropriate care. If you are going to buy a chinchilla please think carefully about the following issues before you buy one. Don't get me wrong - I wouldn't have parted with my two for the world but there are some things that you must know before buying one. . .
Join Chinchillas Unlimited
Chinchillas Unlimited is a fantastic discussion board where you can get any information that you could want. Read as many of the posts as you have time for and you will become quite knowledgeable without having to learn the hard way.
Chinchillas are destructive
You will need a room to exercise your chinchilla that either you don't care much about, or has been specially protected. Skirting boards don't stand a chance against little rodent teeth. Neither do shoes, handbags, pot plants, wallpaper (particularly fine for pulling off in strips) or anything else that looks interesting. There are plenty of tricks to keep down the destruction such as providing alternative things to chew and plenty of toys but at the end of the day you are going to get damage. See the Chinchillas and Chewing. page for more information.
Chinchillas get bored
Chinchillas are bright little animals and need plenty to keep them amused. Chinnies kept in small cages for long periods can develop fur biting and all sorts of repetitive behaviour. Ideas for entertaining your pet on the Environment Enrichment page.
Try not to keep a chinny on its own as they really like company. Yes I know that the other sites say they get tamer on their own but only because the poor little furballs are lonely. In my experience Fluff got much tamer once she had a friend as it made her more confident. The other upside is that I no longer have to comb fur mats out as Spike keeps her well groomed in all of the places that she can't reach. But be aware that introducing chinchillas is not an easy business and even long term friends can beat up on each other sometimes.
Chinchillas can get themselves into trouble
My mother describes babies as being able to stab themselves with a cotton bud. Chinchillas are worse! They'll eat the pot plants regardless of whether they are poisonous, chew lead painted woodwork and make spectacular attempts at jumping onto high objects only to fail and land on their heads. They will pick up and eat anything on the floor and will peel Sellotape off of a box and wrap it around their noses.This means you have to take great care with their environment and make sure that there is nothing that they can hurt themselves on. Spike trapped a toe in the tiniest hole in the corner of the cage - sometimes accidents do happen though and then a good vet comes in handy.
Can you afford the vets bills?
You must be willing to take your chinchilla to the vets and pay the bills. A consultation is usually quite reasonable in the UK at about £10-£15, but emergency callouts are usually around the £60-£100 mark and if you have to have emergency surgery this can hit a couple of hundred pounds or more. Teeth problems are quite common and very expensive and may need you to find a specialist vet who could be several hours drive away. See the Hand Feeding page for more information on teeth problems. You can get vet bill insurance for Chinchillas in the UK (for example Exotic Direct for information) but it isn't all that cheap and often has exclusions. In the US the sky seems to be the limit for vets bills - find out about it and any possible insurance before you need a vet!
Chinchillas are expensive
The crappy little cages that they sell in pet shops really aren't big enough so you are going to need a big cage. Then there is food, vets bills, toys, damage to property! The chinchilla itself is quite an expense particularly if you take my advice and buy two.
Chinchillas need hay
Although chinchillas are very unlikely to cause an allergy themselves they must have good quality hay to eat. So if you suffer from allergies then you have to consider this. They can also kick up a fair bit of dust. Not to mention the fact that the dust they roll in can aggravate allergies as well.
Chinchillas are problem eaters
If you want a pet that you can feed lots of titbits to get a fancy rat. Chinnys really need just their pellets and hay supplemented by a few raisins and bits of vegetable. If you change their food in a hurry they can get sick so make sure that you always have a good supply and mix it as you get to the end of a packet.
Chinchillas don't like being cuddled
Oh yes they look like little teddy bears but most chins do not appreciate being cuddled. They are not suitable pets for small children. They should be handled regularly as this makes it a lot easier if they have to go to the vet but they very rarely appreciate it. This doesn't mean they won't interact with you. Mine come and sit on my lap and on my shoulder and I've been teaching Fluff to do tricks for little bits of pumpkin seed. I've almost got them coming when called as well.
Chinchillas are nocturnal
Chinnies like to be up all night making large crashing sounds and generally imitating someone breaking into your house. I've got a burglar alarm (with expensive pet detectors so the chins don't set them off) because I got fed up with waking up thinking someone was breaking in.
They will learn to get up of an evening to be let out but generally like to sleep all day - again this makes them unsuitable for small children.
Chinchillas like peace and quiet
Don't put chinnies near to a television or where children are playing. A chinchilla who has its daytime sleep continually broken will be about as happy as you would be if someone kept waking you up in the night. Did I mention that they are not pets for small children? A responsible, quiet, older child would be fine as long as they are well supervised. Once they have settled in they can be quite mellow about everyday noise. Ours are hoovered round and over the summer heat ended up in the living room which is the coolest room in the house - they seemed to quite enjoy watching the TV but they weren't right next to it and we kept the volume down.
Chinchillas need time
I let mine out for 20 minutes to an hour each night. They really appreciate it if you let them out until they want to go away rather than giving them a quick run about. You can read while they are out (if you like chewed books!!) but it is also good to interact with them and teach them tricks.
Then there is weekly cleaning out of the cage, feeding etc which takes time.
A chinchilla can live for 15 or even 20 years
Think about where are you going to be in 15 or 20 years time? What do you want to do in that time? If your ambition is to work abroad or sail round the world then don't get a chinchilla. If you are in rented accommodation how easy is it going to be to find alternative accommodation that will let you bring your little destructo-rat with you??
Who will look after your chin when you are on holiday?
I assume you take holidays - if you don't then fine. But if you go away you will need someone who is willing to come in and care for your chin. If you are away for more than a couple of days then they will need to let him out for a run.
Chinchillas suffer badly from the heat.
When it gets hot chinchillas can very easily get heat stroke. If we get a heatwave like the one this summer it can be very difficult to keep them cool enough. To be honest unless you have a room that is naturally very cool you must consider an air conditioner as part of the essential equipment to buy when you get your chinchillas even if you only use it two weeks a year. More expense!! Ideas for cooling chins on the Keeping Pets Cool page.
Chinchillas may break your heart.
This is a new item put in recently after loosing both Fluff and Spike in the last year. If you have chinchillas you will get very attached to the little fellas as they are adorable. But inevitably they will get sick and die at some point. Sadly chinchilla medicine - particularly in the area of dental problems - is not very advanced. It's common to have to nurse a sick chinnie and take them back and forth to the vets for several weeks only to have to make the heartbreaking decision to let them go. This isn't a really a reason not to have them - just something to be aware of as I've often heard people say that they were unprepared for how upsetting the experince of a sick chinchilla was.
Don't Breed Chinchillas.
Please, please don't breed chinchillas. There are already many, many unwanted pets out there. Only ever breed if you are willing to keep all of your babies if you cannot get good homes for them and even then if you have the room consider adopting rather than breeding. Inexpert breeding has resulted in many chinchillas suffering from health problems, for example the dental problems mentioned previously possibly as a result of too much inbreeding. Because of the large size of the babies the complication rate is very high - if you aren't willing to call out an emergency vet in the middle of the night and pay for an emergency caesarian don't even think about it.
Don't Buy - Adopt.
There are lots of rescue centres around the country with unwanted chinchillas for adoption. Try the RSPCA for a start and then try searching for Chinchilla Rescue on the web. Over the time that I have had this site many people have emailed me to ask where they can find a breeder and I have asked them to consider adopting. I am always really pleased to hear from them about how happy they are with their adopted pets. Many of the chins have come from previously loving home and someone has done all of the hard work of getting them tame for you. Please click on the image below and visit the Chinchillas 2 Home website. A group of dedicated chinchilla lovers who rescue and take in homeless chinchillas in the UK. However, please try to pick up your chinchilla from the rescue centre so that you can see the conditions in which they are being kept and to reduce the stress of transport.
See babies with their mum.
As with puppies, if you really must buy a baby chinchilla from a breeder then make sure that you see it with the mother. A good breeder will let you come and look at their facilities and you will be able to see if it's someone who really cares for their chinchillas. Avoid those that use mass breeding systems to produce lots of babies either to sell at a profit or to show, selling on the ones that don't make the grade. Just because someone is a member of a particular organisation does not guarantee that their animals are well treated. Please don't pick up animals at shows - it is very stressful for them and you cannot see the conditions in which they have been kept.
If anyone would like to add anything to this list please feel free to email me. Please don't flame me for being mean about chinchillas I'm just trying to reduce the number bought by people who then dump them because they didn't realise how much trouble they can be.