Getting a New Chinchilla
How your chinchilla behaves depends entirely on how you treat it. Chinchillas are PREY animals in the wild, meaning they are FOOD for everything else. This makes them naturally skittish. A bond of trust will need to be slowly established before you can really enjoy your new pet. Regardless of where you get your new pet from, you will need to give them at least a week to adjust to the sudden changes in their life: new cage, new home, new people, new sounds. This is a scary time for your chinchilla. Just put them in their new cage with pellets, hay, water and chew toys, and let them alone for a while. By the end of the first day, your chin will be cautiously exploring his new cage, and discovering where every thing is located.
Sit quietly by the side of the cage and talk softly to your new pet. This will give him the opportunity to get used to the sight, sound and smell of you. He will begin to realize that you aren't going to eat him! Change his food and water daily, but don't try to grab him or pull him out of the cage.
(Chinchillas coming from a pet store or rescue environment may have been conditioned to be terrified of human contact. They may have been grabbed roughly, held down, poked, prodded, etc. and will likely only want to hide from you or bark at you for the first few days you have them at home. Give these chins extra time to themselves to settle in before you try to bond with them.)
When you change food and water, allow your new pet to smell your hand a little, and maybe offer him a nice chew stick. He will begin to associate your smell with good treats! Then he will get excited to see you coming!
When you feel your chin is ready for his first out of the cage playtime, there are precautions you should take.
Choose a room that can be closed off from the rest of the house. Look around the room with new eyes. Cover any exposed wires or remove electrical appliances if possible. Remember that chinchillas WILL chew anything they can get their paws on, and cover or remove any nice wooden furniture. Plastic items should be put away or up high.
If you have exposed baseboards or sheet rock walls, it's a good idea to get a bunch of empty boxes and make a removable "paneling" of cardboard (tape where they can't chew). This will save you a lot of time and money in the long run! (Marshall's Ferret Playpen gates can be purchased from Ferret.com) Remember to put out some interactive toys like large empty boxes, or even cat climbing toys to amuse your pet. Sprinkle a few good chewing items on to the floor.
Now you are ready! The best way to befriend your pet is to let HIM come to YOU! If possible, put the cage at floor level so that he can get in and out on his own. This will give him a measure of safety, and as long as he can run back into his cage when scared, he will be that much more brave about exploring his new environment. If you can't get his cage down to floor level, you can use stackable bins to make "steps" for him to climb down on his own. A few tries will be all he needs to master this clever idea. Doggy stairs work well, too. Sit down or lay on the floor and keep very still. Your chinchilla will be curious and unable to resist investigating you. Talk softly to him and allow him to smell you and climb on you. The "Mommy Mountain" will quickly become his favorite place to climb!
Bathrooms make good rooms for playtime, since there is not as much clutter to remove. Be SURE that the tub is dry, the room is cool, and the toilet seat is down. Chinchillas can NOT get wet, or they will get a fungus that is difficult to get rid of.
If you need to transport your chinchilla to another room (such as a bathroom or hallway) for playtime, the easiest and least stressful way to do that is to use the dust bath container. Place the dust house in your chin's cage and wait for him to hop into it. Carefully cover the hole with your hand, and then pick up the whole dust house and carry it into the bathroom. Once you do this a few times, your chin will understand that dust = playtime. You can also use a small cat carrier for transportation from one room to another. Place a small handful of hay into the carrier and hold it up to the door of your chin's cage. They are usually curious enough to climb inside. Bath Houses can be purchased at most pet stores or online HERE.
A good way to help a stressed out chinchilla relax is to offer them a dust bath. All chinchillas need to bathe in a special dust at least a few times a week to keep their coats clean. You can purchase a plastic dust house or use any small bin for dusting. The dust should NOT be left in the cage at all times. Some chinchillas will urinate in the dust and then it will stick to their fur. Also, dust inside the cage is harder to clean up, and OVER-dusting may cause dry, scaly (and itchy) patches of skin on your chinchilla. The best chinchilla dust is either Blue Cloud or Blue Sparkle. (click on the names to find resources for purchasing.) Blue Cloud comes branded under several different names now (Lixit, All Living Things, etc.)
Do not use the scented dusts which are bad for the lungs of your chinchilla, or the Bath SAND, which is too gritty and will not clean their coats properly.
Want to learn to speak "chin"? Try this website: Cheeky Chinchillas
You can use it as a tool to understand what your chinchilla is trying to tell you.
The first thing to remember is quarantine - whenever you get another chinchilla, it must be kept in a separate cage, in a separate room, away from your first or other chins for at least 30 days.
This is to prevent the spread of disease. Even if you think the new chin is relatively healthy, it's better to be safe than sorry. You wouldn't want to put your other pet's health in jeopardy. Wash your hands in between handling them, and try not to let them touch any of the same things or play in the same room until quarantine is over.
After the 30 day quarantine is up, put the new cage in the same room with the other cage., but not too close. Your other chin may flip out a bit, but after about a week, he'll calm down. The scent won't be so new. Then, place the cages next each other but not close enough for them to be able to hurt each other through the bars. (6-10 inches apart) Leave it like that for at least a week, maybe two, until you don't see any signs of aggression (bar biting, chattering, etc.) anymore.
When they start sleeping on the ledges that are closest to each other, it's a sign that they are trying to befriend each other, and you can start letting them meet at playtime. Watch them carefully! A little chasing* or humping is normal while they establish dominance, but if you see any fur pulling, or biting, separate them immediately and go back to separate playtimes for a week.
*normal chasing looks like the chins are playing follow the leader, it's a gentle hopping around after each other. Actual chasing with frantic running means separate them immediately.
A good distraction during combined playtime is a dust bath, and lots of chew toys on the floor.
Once they have been playing together successfully for a week to 10 days, you can try housing them together. Move the dominant chin into the other's cage OR scrub down one cage completely and put some items from each cage into it, to make it more "neutral". This is what I've done and it's worked three times. Remember to be REALLY patient and don't rush the steps.
**Always bear in mind that some chins will clash and just NEVER get along; that is the chance you take when you have more than one. You have to be willing to keep 2 separate cages and have 2 separate playtimes forever, and just hope for the best. Also, keep the second cage on hand in case they ever fight or turn on each other after bonding.**
Preventative Health Measures
Chinchillas HIDE signs of illness! A good way to know when there is trouble brewing is by weighing your chinchilla, at least once a month. Chins younger than 6 months should be weighed weekly.
Suitable scales can be found in many places - Bed Bath & Beyond, Office Depot or even Walmart! Buy a digital kitchen scale or postal scale that reads in grams as well as ounces.
Tempt your chinchilla onto the scale by holding a treat just above it, or let them use it as a small stepping stool into the dust bin.
If you have the type of kitchen scale shown here, you can put a treat or a bit of dust to tempt them into the bowl section. Whatever works!
Chinchillas younger than 3 years old should gain steadily each month, at least a few grams. Older chins should maintain their weight, within a 15-20g variance by month.
Small drops in weight during the summer months are normal, as well as small gains during the winter months.
Just like people, chin weight varies greatly. What is a "normal" weight for one chin may not be normal for another. (Evie was just 12 weeks old in the photo above, weighing in already at 319g!) Ideally, any chin over one year old should weigh at least 500g. However, some chins are much larger than this, and some are even a bit smaller. Depending on body type, a healthy chin can weigh anywhere between 500g - 1000g, which is a big difference in size. You will get to know your chins average weight by weighing monthly and keeping a written record.
Purchase a small notebook to make a weight chart, and carefully record the weight in GRAMS, not ounces, along with the date. Record any changes in diet, or make a note of a stressful situation like introductions going on. Stress can affect weight!
Whenever you need to visit a vet, bring your notebook along, it might help your vet to spot when the problem began. If your chinchilla shows a steady decline in weight each month for 2-3 consecutive months, there is a problem! Make a vet appointment, even if they aren't showing any other signs of illness yet.
IF YOU EVER SEE YOUR CHINCHILLA BEHAVING STRANGELY, ACTING LETHARGIC, NOT EATING OR POOPING, ETC, THE FIRST STEP IS AN IMMEDIATE VET VISIT.
Chinchillas are small fragile animals who HIDE SIGNS OF ILLNESS. By the time you are SEEING any changes in behavior, the problem has progressed to a critical level. In most cases, an immediate vet visit is the only way to save the life of the chinchilla.
Before you have any medical emergencies, find a good exotic vet near you. To find a vet, go to www.aemv.org scroll down to the blue box and then click "Find an AEMV vet". Bookmark your vet's website and save their numbers in your cell phone for emergencies. It is also good to schedule an initial check up, as some vets won't see a "new patient" in an emergency.
Below you will find a short list of medical supplies you should keep on hand to treat common problems. None of these items are to be used in place of a vet visit or prescribed medicines from your vet.
Acidophilus - can be found in the vitamin section of a health food store or Walmart. Buy the highest "billions" count you can find. Sprinkle the contents of a capsule on food pellets or a treat item once or twice a week to maintain digestive health. Use it daily during a food switch to help avoid upset stomachs.
Bag Balm - used to help treat dry scaly feet or ears. Can be found in the dog medicine section of WalMart.
Blu Kote - used in treating cuts, fungus, etc. Available from most feed stores or HERE.
Pet Pectillin - available at pet stores. Used in treating mild diarrhea. If the problem lasts beyond 2 days, go to the vet.
Simethicone - (baby gas drops) used for gas/bloat issues. To be used only to help relieve gas symptoms until a vet appointment can be made. Bloat (or gas) can be a deadly problem and definitely requires a vet visit.
Critical Care - nutritional supplement (food replacement). Chins who are not eating properly need to be hand fed to keep their strength/weight up. Critical Care is available at most Vet offices or HERE.
Syringe for Handfeeding - Should you need to handfeed Critical Care to your chin to keep it's weight up, a good syringe is a lifesaver. You can get one at the vet's office or HERE.
PROBIOTICS - If your chin is showing mild signs of digestional upset, or if he is on any medication that might cause an upset, a good supplement to keep on hand is LIFELINE. You can also add it to Critical Care to make it more tasty to your chin. It can only be purchased through Chocolate Chinchillas HERE. (#9 on the supplies list)
Again, for almost every health issue, a chinchilla should be brought immediately to a good exotics vet. The vet will provide you with the proper medications to treat the issue and instruct you on how to use them.