By Kit Marsters
When choosing a family pet, many people automatically think of a cat or a dog. Those who do not enjoy having a pet running around the house all day, might think of rabbits, guinea pigs or hamsters. But if you want a different kind of furry friend, I suggest looking into adding a chinchilla to your family.
Chinchillas are members of the rodent family. They originate from the mountains in South America. They are especially known for their soft fur, which they keep in excellent shape by rolling around in sand.
One thing to keep in mind when considering a chinchilla is that they can live for a long time, up to 20 years. You could compare it to the lifespan of a cat. The chinchilla is not a short-term pet, so you have to be sure you can accommodate them properly and are willing to make a commitment.
A fully grown chinchilla is about 12 inches long and weighs between 18 and 35 ounces – approximately the size of a smaller breed of rabbit. They have round ears and a bushy tail.
A chinchilla’s fur is so dense that fleas and other parasites are not an issue. They are very clean by nature, so there is practically no smell.
They are not difficult to keep, but you do need to provide them with sufficient space. Cages should be kept indoors and cleaned once a week. Hygiene is very important and avoids harmful bacteria which could harm your chinchilla.
Experts recommend that the minimum cage space for one chinchilla should be approximately 100cm high x 70cm wide x 50cm deep. The chinchilla does like room to move about in, so I advise building or purchasing a larger cage than that. I recommend creating different levels within the cage and perhaps a climbing branch, as they enjoy jumping and climbing.
Please keep your chinchilla away from the heat and allow them to have access to cool air and a shaded space on hot days. Chinchillas can suffer from heat strokes when the temperature goes too high.
I also recommend letting your chinchilla run free for at least an hour a day, within a safe space such as a closed room with not too many hidey-holes. Anything you would not like chewed should be removed, as chinchillas need to keep their teeth trimmed. A variety of items for them to chew can be purchased in pet shops.
Do not be afraid when a chinchilla runs straight at a wall. This can be a scary sight at first, but they will twist in the air at the last moment, and bounce off the wall with their back legs. They are agile and great fun to watch.
Chinchillas are friendly pets. It can take a bit of time for them to get to know you, and for them to be comfortable with being handled, but if you are patient and caring you will be rewarded. They are very intelligent and like to have fun, so once you have earned their friendship they might even try to play tricks on you in order to get a treat.
If at all possible, add a couple of chinchillas to your family, to avoid loneliness. Chinchillas love company and interaction, and will happily play together. If you only have room for one, they will need more attention and playing time to keep them stimulated.
Adding a chinchilla to your family is a rewarding experience, both for adults and children. So the next time you’re looking for a family pet, why not consider one of these friendly little creatures?