If there’s one group in that vast mammalian family which seems to have invented the patent for cuteness, it’s surely rodents and it’s clear that chinchillas top the list. There’s virtually no competition in the cuddly and adorable stakes against those twinkling dark eyes, fluffy fur and tubby forms.
But just how easy is it to have them literally eating right out of your hand? In other words, just how friendly are chinchillas? Are they as amazing on the inside as they are on the outside?
If you’ve fallen under their fluffy spell, you’re likely to have wondered about the answers to those questions. The fact is that chinchillas are a very special kind of pet and come with a set of characteristics, quirks and requirements which often influence their behaviour.
And below, I will be taking a look at just what these are and the best means of handling them to ensure you know just what to do when it comes to forming that special bond with these awesome pets.
Chinchillas Are Social Animals
Before chinchillas or chins, as they’re popularly known first emerged on the global scene, they called the Andes home. There at elevations as high as 3,000 metres – and even 5,000 metres, they lived in large colonies – just like their prairie dog cousins in North America.
This gregariousness is embedded in their DNA, hence experts such as RSPCA UK recommend adopting them with another chin whose company they enjoy and one which is not likely to bully them. It’s worth noting that males must be neutered if placed with females. It’s also important to give them a little time to get to know each other by keeping them in separate but neighbouring dwellings for about a week.
Breaking The Ice May Take A While
As noted above, chins are pretty shy when they meet each other at first and will take a while to warm up to a fellow chin. But once the ice is broken, they will gossip together in chinspeak, play together and even snuggle up together.
It’s pretty much the same where human friends are concerned too. PetHelpful recommends waiting for a few days before holding them while other experts advise letting them approach you for a cuddle or a tasty snack (raisins are a firm favourite).
Once they’ve made up their minds that you’re a friend rather than foe, and have decided you’ve improved on your holding and lifting technique, they’ll be quite content to settle on your palms or shoulder or even snuggle up in one of your pockets – provided it’s large and roomy enough. They’ll even respond to their names too – one of the perks of having a great memory and possessing more intelligence than the average rodent.
Chinchillas Scare Easily
Although chins lived a somewhat charmed existence during the good old days when the Andes mountains were the only place they called home, they also had to spend a significant portion of their time fleeing the unwelcome attention of predators such as snakes, skunks and birds of prey. They were also hunted extensively for their fur.
That means that chins don’t take too well to loud noises – which in fact may cause stress-related illness. It’s the same reason why they may not be too fond of any large furry or feathered residents, either (RSPCA UK notes that letting them out while your cat, ferret or canine happens to be hovering close by will give them a fright). They also have a strong dislike of dwellings which come with just one entrance as it makes them feel trapped.
Chinchillas Love To Chew On Anything Within Reach
It might be hard to believe it merely looking at those cute tubby forms, but chins come with a particularly formidable set of gnashers. They’re also extremely fond of unleashing them on anything within reach. Which is why supervising them when you let them out for a run is a great idea. Especially since they’re great escape artists and the last thing you’d want is to leave them for a short while and return to find they’ve gnawed through your favourite magazines or worse still your electric wiring.
Such destructive tendencies from these miniature fluffballs are far from personal. It’s simply a matter of dentition – theirs tends to grow throughout their lives. Hence it’s important to provide them with several safe options to keep those teeth in great shape so they’re able to use them for their primary purpose – eating.
The British Blue Cross recommends getting them appropriate chewy toys or even a piece of suitable wood to gnaw on in their spare time. They also require a high fibre diet. Telltale signs of overgrown teeth to look out for include: watery eyes, a decrease in appetite and drooling. The best course of action under such circumstances is heading for the vet right away.
They Love The Familiar
Chinchillas are as change-resistant as they come. Simply put, they love the familiar and tend to find sudden changes in their lifestyle rather stressful. Such stress-inducing events may include the presence of a new pet or an abrupt change in their surroundings.
Hence they’re best introduced to changes as gradually and as patiently as possible to ensure the transition is as smooth as can be.
This is particularly important where their diet is concerned. PetHelpful explains that sudden and rapid changes will actually affect their digestive system negatively since it’s rather delicate. The website recommends mixing in small amounts of the new food with the old until they’re used to it.
Chinchillas Do Most Things Differently
Chinchillas are truly unlike any other pet you’ll ever come across. There are the fine sand and volcanic ash dust baths they need to keep their coats clean and glossy as opposed to an occasional splash with soapy suds (letting them get wet is actually harmful to them).
There’s their crepuscular lifestyle which means they love to snooze during the day when most of their furry housemates are likely to be wide awake and up to mischief.
There’s also their dislike of extreme heat: while your pet cat or puppy is likely to seek out a comfy warm spot in front of the fireplace or on the porch, your chinchilla will avoid the warmth. And with good reason too. Their thick coats once protected them against the freezing cold of the Andes. And they don’t sweat since they were meant to keep heat in rather than let it out.
Getting It Right Early Works Best
Although chins will warm to you, fellow chins and other furry housemates given time and patience, it’s possible to swing the odds in your favour from the outset. That means purchasing them when they’re kits (the term used for baby chins), from a reputable breeder who has ensured they’re accustomed to humans touching them.
It also means training any other furry residents to be respectful and friendly to the fluffy newcomer, and introducing them early on. Taking these steps will ease their transition into becoming a happy, thriving, full-fledged member of your household, completely at ease with their new friends.
Are chinchillas friendly? Yes, they are. But like every other pet, they have requirements which are central to their well-being and which must be met to ensure they thrive. And there’s nothing more enjoyable than watching your pet chin blossom under all that love and care and form that special bond with you and even your other pets as well.
What’s more, you’re likely to be able to look forward to many years of its affectionate friendship not to mention hilarious antics too, since they’re somewhat longlived and tend to have a lifespan ranging from 10 -15 years. And that I think, makes for a particularly rewarding experience.