I’m sure everyone has at least seen a picture or heard the word “Chinchilla” at least a few times in their lives, but they seem to have a fair bit of mystery surrounding them. Chinchillas belong to that grouping of pets that are known to most people as “random” or “exotic” animals – for the sole reason that they aren’t too common among pet owners. Small animals already only comprise about 6% of the total pet population, and in that group is an even tinier, unknown percentage of Chinchilla enthusiasts. Why are they seldom kept as pets, while their close relatives, the guinea pig and rabbit, are quite common in households? They are just as cute as them, so what makes them so “exotic”? Well, maybe if we uncover some facts about them we will get to the bottom of this mystery – so here’s some stuff you may not know about these adorable little fluff balls:
- They Can Overheat Very Easily – This is an important thing to understand if you are a Chinchilla owner, because their sensitivity to heat and humidity can prove to be fatal – even if you don’t think they are in danger. These little cuties are originally from the Andes mountains, where it is cold and dry, so to have them in an environment that is hot and humid is not something that their body can physically withstand or adapt to. Because of this, many Chinchilla owners keep slabs of marble (or other stone) in the freezer, and put them on the cage’s floor in order to give the little Chin a way to cool off and maintain a healthy body temperature. Obviously there should be enough slabs so that when the ones in the cage aren’t cold anymore, that they can be switched out for the newly cold ones in the freezer. That way, there is never a chance that overheating can occur. This is especially helpful because…
- They Can’t Get Wet – This may be surprising to you, especially because all creatures are bound to get wet at some point (especially in the wild) – but for Chinchillas, it can prove extremely problematic. Because of their extremely dense and soft fur, it is very difficult for them to dry off – actually nearly impossible. While humans have about 2-3 hairs per follicle, Chinchillas have anywhere from 50-80 per follicle! Unable to dry off properly, a sensitive little Chinchilla can have a host of health issues ranging from hypothermia to fungal skin infections. Just imagine not being able to ever dry off, and how horrible that would feel, especially if you got sick from it! So how do Chinchillas clean themselves besides their normal grooming techniques? Well…
- They Take Dust Baths – This is usually the only information people know about Chinchillas, but just in case you didn’t know…they take baths in dust in order to remove the oils/dirt from their skin and fur. They do this in the wild in the natural dusty environment that they live in, and if you have a little dust bath container in your Chinchilla’s habitat, they will gladly use it. It’s similar to a human using dry shampoo, except way more adorable because it’s a furry little creature rolling around and being cute. What other animal MUST have a ridiculously endearing dust bath for its health?! Considering that Chinchillas are pack animals (usually in packs of about 50 in the wild), can you imagine seeing DOZENS of cuties rolling around in dust?! OMG.
- Their Eyes Aren’t That Great – Even though they have giant eyes, they actually aren’t very effective for seeing – funny how nature works, isn’t it? Instead, they rely on their cute little whiskers in order to “see” or sense their surroundings. Many other creatures use their whiskers for this purpose, including cats, who use them to gauge distance and spatial capacities to make sure they can hop and squeeze into places without hurting themselves. Chinchillas use their whiskers in conjunction with their poor eyesight to achieve their maneuvers and hops safely! After all, they are extremely acrobatic creatures due to their natural habitat being mountains and all…
- Their Teeth Never Stop Growing – Similar to other small animals who require lots of chewing materials to combat their forever-growing incisors, Chinchillas also need to chew constantly due to the fact that their teeth are growing absurdly fast. It is estimated that a Chinchilla’s teeth grows about 12 inches a year, which may seem excessive. As far as advantageous evolutionary traits go, perhaps this is nature’s way of making sure that they always have teeth, which are not only extremely important for eating, but for defense as well against predators. Regardless of the reason, you must have plenty of chew toys and treats in their cage so that they can chew – because they are basically teething 24/7. Also, beware of letting them have free reign of your house or room, because they can and they will chew everything in sight! Among their favorite things to chew are electric cables, wall moldings and base boards, as well as any wooden furniture.
- They Can Shed Clumps of Fur When Stressed – These little ones are very sensitive, aren’t they? Well, if a little ChinChin feels threatened, stressed, or any kind of anxiety or fear, they will shed lots of fur at once. As far as evolutionary traits go I’m not sure about this one, but this phenomenon exists in humans as well. If a person is stressed, they usually lose a bit of hair here and there because of it. For Chinchillas though, since they have so many hairs per follicle, it just happens on a wider scale. If this happens, don’t be alarmed – it doesn’t present any inherent danger, but you should try and soothe/comfort your Chin so that they don’t continue to be scared. Maybe a little dust bath or treat can help them, and some petting or cuddling if they let you.
- They Are Nocturnal – There are many other small animals that are nocturnal, meaning they sleep during the day and are active at night. In the Chinchilla’s case it definitely makes a lot of sense, seeing as they are so sensitive to the heat and humidity. At night, it is ideally cool and crisp weather for them to move around and not worry about overheating. Their cage or habitat should be kept in a semi-dark place that is relatively quiet during the day so they can get some slumber. If you don’t want them to keep you up at night with their wheel-running, chewing, playing, and other shenanigans, then their cage should be put somewhere that you aren’t sleeping.
- They Are Great Parents – Unlike many other rodents and small mammals, the Chinchilla mothers do NOT eat or kill their young. In fact, if one Chin Mama can’t produce milk for her babies, another Chinchilla mother will step up to the plate and feed them her milk. How cute is that?! If the mother tragically dies, another mother will adopt the babies and raise them as her own. Perhaps this is because they sexually mature very quickly – by the age of 8 weeks, they are already ready to reproduce and parent little baby Chins. Also, when a baby is born, it can already see and walk around, which is different from other rodents that are born helpless and with their eyes closed.
Hopefully this sheds some light on these magnificent and mysterious creatures! I know that I personally didn’t really know much about Chinchillas before (except for the dust baths bit) until I finally adopted one that was in need of rescue. They are absolutely much more adorable, hilarious, and loving than I had ever expected them to be. They are actually a lot smarter than most other small animals, and that could be a reason why they are a bit more expensive than the average small animal. Chinchillas may seem high-maintenance, but they are actually very easy to care for as long as you are educated on them. They are just sensitive little cuties that need our help to live a healthy, loving life!