By Vanessa Voltolina
No, they’re not rabbits, nor are they the next trend in small and furry animals. Chinchillas are fun family pets that are here to stay – and their quality of life in your home can be made even better by learning more about their history and proper care. How much do you know about chinchillas? Here, find six fun facts about chinchillas and how they can help you be a better pet parent to your furry friend.
Fact #1: They have a longer life than many other small and furries.
Chinchillas can live into their teens — with some even living to 20 years old — and tend to be a hearty pet. However, they tend to have a slightly shorter lifespan in captivity, said Laurie Hess, DVM, Veterinary Center for Birds & Exotics in Bedford Hills, NY, often due to the fact that they have teeth that grow continuously.
“In captivity, they are eating hay and dry pellets,” she said, but it’s generally not the same rough shrubbery that they would eat in the wild. This can lead to their teeth becoming impacted. “It hurts for them to chew, and they don’t want to eat,” Hess said, adding that non-steroidal anti-inflammatories are commonly prescribed by veterinarians to chinchillas with dental pain.
Fact #2: Chins have a wide range of vocal sounds.
Chinchillas produce as many as ten different sounds depending upon what’s going on in their environment, Hess confirmed. They also have a wide vocal range and can make sounds in different tones.
Fact #3: Chinchillas have specialized fur for a reason.
The thick fur that chinchillas boast helps them live in freezing temperatures at elevations of 9,800 to 16,400 feet, according to the Merck Veterinary Manual. While they may be pros at handling temperatures in cold Andes mountains of South America where they originate, they can’t survive in temperatures higher than 80 degrees Fahrenheit, which can cause them to suffer from heat stroke. Keep your chin in a cool or temperate environment and think twice about the conditions you leave them in when departing for any length of time.
Fact #4: Chinchillas are very different from rabbits.
While they are often lumped into the same “small and furry” group, chinchillas are actually very different from rabbits, Hess said. Unlike rabbits (that are lagomorphs), chinchillas are rodents (more closely related to guinea pigs and porcupines) that have shorter, rounder ears than rabbits and that move very quicky.
“In general, rabbits are a bit less rapid-fire,” Hess said. Keep this in mind when allowing small children to handle them, and always provide supervision, as they can be wiggly critters.
Fact #5: Chinchillas come in a variety of colors.
Nowadays, you’ll mostly find chinchillas with a dark blue-grey coat, Hess said, the dominant fur color. However, in the wild, chinchillas used to boast yellow-gray fur. In addition to the present-day dark blue-grey hue, it’s possible to spot some beige, white, and ebony coats, and even the recessive colors of sapphire, violet, charcoal and velvet exist in a few chinchillas.
Fact #6: Chinchillas may nip if handled inappropriately.
Chins “can make good pets for slightly older kids because they get used to being handled,” Hess said, however, supervised handling is paramount.
“Kids always need to be supervised [when handling chinchillas],” she said, since they may nip if handled roughly or without care. “Hold chinchillas close to your body, as they can move and wriggle quite a bit.” Also notice if a chin hides its face from you, as it may indicate nervousness (if it can’t see you, it thinks that maybe you can’t see it), Hess said.