If you are reading this, you have either decided to have chinchillas as pets, or you are seriously thinking about taking on the responsibility of caring for one of these beautiful and unique animals. While a chinchilla can be educational and enjoyable as a pet for children, an adult should supervise the care and feeding of their chinchilla.
The decision to care for a pet is an important one. It requires a commitment on the owner’s part to be accountable for another life. While other domesticated animals, such as dogs and cats, often have the run of a house and can be left on their own for long periods, small caged animals like chinchillas can not. A chinchilla requires much more attention, often on a daily basis. At first, purchasing a chinchilla for a child might appear to be an excellent idea, providing a youngster with a tiny, furry living plaything. But the exacting care chinchillas require demands responsible adult supervision. If you are obtaining a chinchilla as a pet for a child, then your commitment must extend to instructing the young owner of the importance of proper care.
Chinchillas are, of course, known primarily for their luxurious blue-gray fur. They are bred throughout the United States for their pelts, which are used for making extremely expensive fur coats and other extravagant garments. There are well over 3,000 chinchilla ranches in the United States and a population of close to 1,000,000 chinchillas, but the animal remains exotic and mysterious in the average person’s mind. While familiar with the animal’s fur-bearing reputation, the public appears largely uninformed regarding the animal’s qualifications as a pet. However, this exotic attitude toward the animals is one of the very things that makes them increasingly desirable as pets.
Even though chinchillas have a reputation as gentle animals and good potential pets, careful consideration must be paid to many factors before actually bringing one of them into your home. Your commitment to its care, preparation of its environment, and your own education regarding the pet must all be well considered before any final purchase is made.
While the chinchilla resembles a rabbit with a bushy, squirrel-like tail, they are in fact rodents (rabbits, of course, are not rodents). Most of them have thick, blue-gray fur that is one or more inches in length. Others are seen with brownish gray fur with light blackish tinted markings. Their underparts are yellowish white. They have large eyes and ears and their bushy tails are usually 3 to 10 inches long. The reason their fur is so luxurious is the fact that chinchillas have more fur per square inch than any other known land animal. Fully grown, they measure about 12 inches long and weigh anywhere from 18 to 35 ounces. Most often called does, the females are larger than the bucks or males.
There are some other minor variations, but there are basically two types of chinchillas, both having large hindquarters and small forelimbs with four toes and flexible fingers. The domesticated types are known scientifically as Chinchilla brevicaudata and Chinchilla lanigera. The “brevicaudata” types have thicker necks and shoulders making them appear stockier than the “lanigera” types. They are longer in total length than other types of chinchillas, but their tails are relatively shorter. The “lanigera” type is distinguished by more pointed facial features, a longer tail and narrower neck and shoulders. This makes them appear to be longer and leaner than their brevicaudata brothers, when in fact they are the smaller species. The consensus among mammalogists is that all domesticated chinchillas belong to the species C. lanigera.