There are two living species of chinchilla, Chinchilla brevicaudata and Chinchilla lanigera. There is little noticeable difference between the species except that the Chinchilla brevicaudata has a shorter tail, a thicker neck and shoulders, and shorter ears. This species is currently facing extinction. The Chinchilla lanigera species, though rare, can be found in the wild. Domestic chinchillas are thought to come from the lanigera species.
 Chinchilla's as pets
Chinchillas make good pets for older children or adults. They are easy to look after, friendly and inquisitive and with plenty of time and attention, they can become very tame. They are timid by nature and are can be upset easily if not handled gently, so they are not suitable for very young children. They are nocturnal and generally snooze during the day, becoming more active in the evening. Chinchillas are a long-term commitment and can live for about 15-20 years in captivity.
Chinchillas are very active and need lots of space to exercise so buy the biggest cage you can afford. The cage should ideally have several levels or shelves so they can bounce around their cage and a mesh floor with wooden litter beneath will ensure they do not soil their coat. Chinchillas are enthusiastic chewers so a wire mesh cage is essential; this will ensure that your chinchillas will not chew their way out.
Chinchillas like to have a bedroom, or a space where they can snuggle into, so providing a nesting box full of hay or other cosy bedding material will help them to feel secure. Cover the base of your chinchillas' cage with wood shavings or a wood based litter and provide another bedding material in their nest box such as a safe bedding material or hay. Keep the cage in a place away from direct sunlight, radiators or draughts. Chinchillas cannot stand high temperatures and suffer from heat stroke easily; this can be very serious if not treated quickly.
A chinchilla marble is a great way of keeping your chinchillas cool in warm weather. Cool it down in the fridge and then pop it in your chinchillas' cage for a longlasting cool spot.
A good diet is very important to chinchilla health. It is recommended feeding your chinchilla twice per day, in the morning and evening. Chinchillas enjoy a routine and look forward to being fed at the same time each day. Chinchillas have very sensitive digestive systems. Fibre rich diets such as hay-based pellets and loose hay will help digestion and maintain healthy teeth. A very occasional treat of a raisin, small piece of apple or grape can also be given, but overfeeding may lead to diarrhea. The easiest way to feed your pet is with a complete food specifically for chinchillas, which provides all the nutrients in the correct amounts and proportions.
To make the most out of nutrients consumed, chinchillas also eat their own caecotrophs (soft faeces). Water must be accessible at all times and bottles are often easier to keep clean.
 Vitamins and supplements
Much money is wasted in good faith every year on vitamins and supplements for ourselves and our pets. Your Chinchilla should get all the vitamins and minerals he/she needs from good quality, well stored Chinchilla pellets, good quality hay and plenty of exposure to natural light to help with the production of Vitamin D in the skin. Probiotic supplements can help maintain healthy digestion in small animals and are especially useful in times of stress. Hay is a great source of fibre, which is essential for the normal functioning of the digestive process in rabbits, guinea pigs and chinchillas.
We all love to spoil our animals, but do not give your chinchilla too many treats. The odd tiny piece of dried whole wheat toast or a little piece of plain shredded wheat cereal given to them once a week or every few days won't do any harm. Other suitable, occassional treats can be a raisin, a craisin, a dried banana chip, a tiny piece of dried guava or an unsalted sunflower seed. However, too many treats, especially raisins can cause diarrhea. Some chinchillas can tolerate a raisin per day just fine, but others cannot and it will be reflected in their droppings. Be careful in giving a chinchilla nuts. They have an inability to digest large amounts of oil and this can lead to an untimely death. Some chinchillas do not do well on fruit or nut treats at all and in cases like this, the wheat toast makes a suitable alternative.
Pregnant/lactating females: Can have their diet supplemented with a small amount of calf manna "enhancer" and sometimes an 1/8 teaspoon of yoghurt as a treat. Chinchillas may initially seem repulsed by the strange new treat and usually make a terrible face the first time it is offered. However, after putting a tiny dab on their mouth, it ceases to be repulsive. Yoghurt also works well to help restore the intestinal fauna in your chinchilla.
DO NOT give baby chinchillas calf manna or nuts. DO NOT give baby chinchillas treats until after they are 4 months old. And even then, do it gradually. Their digestive systems are not developed well enough and the treats can cause diarrhea. A baby chinchilla with diarrhea is not fun for the baby, the mother, its siblings or for you to clean up.
Chinchillas need access to fresh water at all times. It is important to change their water daily and keep the water bottles clean so as not to breed bacteria.
 Handling your chinchilla
Your chinchilla is a quick little animal that is easily frightened. If they have been startled before you open their cage, they may dart from corner to corner. Slowly reach into the cage with one hand and follow the animal around until you can firmly grasp the tail near the base. This is an acceptable and proper way to pick up a chinchilla. As you catch his tail, position your other hand under his body, particularly his strong hind legs, and remove him from the cage in an upside-down position. Take care that you do not lose it because they are extremely strong and can jump a great distance. An unexpected fall can cause a broken bone or internal injury.
If your animal is calm or tamed and has not been previously startled, you may be able to reach into the cage and pick up the animal with both hands in a scooping motion. As your animal gets used to being handled more, this will become easier and easier. NEVER catch your chinchilla by his back or his neck. This may cause possible injury and fur loss. Do not squeeze him around his ribs since they have a floating rib cage and this can cause internal injuries.
Occasionally a chinchilla may bite. He is not normally a mean animal but, if frightened or overly excited, he may try to bite. Sometimes, their nibbles of curiosity may become a little harder than you care for. If a chinchilla‚Äôs bite breaks the skin, it is not cause for alarm. Rinse it and care for it in the same manner you would normally care for a scrape.
Like any animal, surroundings without loud noises are best. A steady flow of music will help neutralize most noises and create a greater degree of uniformity to their environment.
If your animal gets loose and you are having trouble catching it, a fish net or live trap works well. When you are unable to find where he has disappeared to, look in the darkest, most remote corner. He will probably be there.
The simplest way to entertain your chinchilla is to keep more than one; they are naturally sociable animals and will keep each other company. Providing toys and stimulating natural feeding behaviour, for example by hiding treats around the cage, also keeps them amused and active. Providing branches and tubes gives them hiding holes for food, as they would have in the wild. Chinchillas also love to chew, so providing wooden blocks or natural toys is ideal; some parrot toys are excellent for chinchillas too. Regular playtime out of the cage is essential, but always 'chinchilla-proof' the room first because they will chew anything they can. A small animal playpen may be useful if you cannot let them loose.
Providing a healthy diet and hygienic conditions are key to keeping healthy chinchillas but there are a number of potential problems that you should be aware of.
Like all rodents your chinchillas' teeth are growing constantly and it is important to provide them with hay, wooden toys or mineral stones to gnaw on. Cuttlebone is also great to gnaw on and provides calcium too.
Keep an eye on your pet‚Äôs skin and coat for signs of fleas and mites such as bald patches or irritation. Outdoor pets are vulnerable to fly strike during the summer months so make sure you keep them and their environment clean and dry.
 Dust Bathing
Chinchillas like to keep their soft fur clean and like nothing better than a good dust bath! It may seem unusual but bathing in special chinchilla dust is a vital part of their grooming routine and they should bathe several times a week to keep their coat shiny and clean. Place a chinchilla bath filled with sand in their cage for about 5 minutes at a time, every few days. Do not leave the bath in their cage as they may use it as a toilet. Grooming with a brush or comb will help to keep your chinchillas' coats in good condition as well as helping you to bond too.
You can offer chinchillas a dust bath daily or every other day as time permits. They love to bathe and their coats look better for it. Put 1/8 to 1/4 cup of dust in a container and put it in the chinchilla‚Äôs cage and then watch as they frolic. You can use many types of containers from Pyrex bakers to Tupperware. Our favourites are the chinchilla bath houses because they contains the dust well. The best type type of dust to use is "Blue Cloud" as this does not damage the coat or irritate the eyes as some of the others do. Another good dust is Kaytee, but only the type in the clear plastic bottle. We remove the dust bath after 3 or 4 minutes otherwise the chinchilla will soil the dust with droppings or urine.