Breeding Chinchillas - Development of the Young
In this third and final article in the series of breeding chinchillas, we look at raising newborn chinchillas.
The First Hours
Right after birth the fully developed and instinctively intelligent baby will crawl under its mother's body, where both her body heat and licking dry it. Soon the kit will be making whimpering noises and mom may gently nip the back of its neck, as may other cage mates. Even though the kit may now squeal louder this is usually just healthy socialization and you'll continue to hear this "don't-hurt-me" noise until the kit is a young adult. Be sure to observe the relationships among the newly restructured family to be sure that no chinchillas in the cage pose a threat to the kits. Most male chinchillas make wonderful dads, but there have been reports of attacks to the kits by dads. The biggest concern would be other adult females in the cage.
The most common cause of loss of young is hypothermia. On colder days I've put a few cups of pine shavings in the microwave to warm and put them right into the nest box (after making sure they are the right temperature). A chilled youngster can also be held in warm water, submerged to the neck, and then toweled vigorously to increase its body temperature. The chest can be gently massaged. A heat pad on the low setting (or just a return to a dry cage and warm mom) will then help maintain its temperature.
The First Days
Baby chinchillas are referred to as nidifugous or precocious, meaning they are fully developed at birth, fully furred with open eyes and ready to drop and run (well, almost). They may actually climb up the cage mesh and hop onto low objects on their first day of life. It's a good idea to give them the opportunity to get accustomed to being held in these early days if the parents are relaxed enough about it. If not, it can be counter productive if mom or dad are sending out negative signals that cause the kits to associate human interaction with something bad. Just wait until the whole family is okay with it. It may work to just lure mom and dad away with some juicy raisins and gently scoop up the babies. Unlike other species, chinchilla parents will NOT reject their young if they smell human scents on them.
Feeding the Newborns
This is almost always a job reserved just for mama chinchilla. In addition to its mother's milk a newborn chinchilla will start nibbling on stalks of hay and soon it can eat pellets as well. The changeover from mother's milk to solid food is gradual allowing the little chinchilla's stomach and intestines to adjust slowly. After three weeks the kit's birth weight should have doubled. If you have an underweight newborn or an older kit that isn't gaining weight you may need to supplement the mother's milk. See the next two sections.
Baby Chinchilla Weight Gain
It's important to check that the babies are gaining weight. The first few days they might loose a few grams per day but after that they must start gaining at least a few grams per day.
The following is a gallery of A'petit's appearance (and weight) at various ages:
|Day 1 (40g)||Day 8 (44g)||Day 15 (52g)|
|Day 22 (67 g)||Day 29 (85 g)||Day 36 (91 g)|
|Day 43 (110 g)||Day 50 (125 g)||Day 57 (146 g)|
|Day 64 (186 g)||Day 71 (204 g)||Day 132 (305 g)|
|~6 months (~420 g)|
Raising Orphaned Young
If the mother dies you will have to either find a "wet nurse" for the kit or plan to hand raise him/her. A suitable wet nurse would be a chinchilla or guinea pig mother with only one kit of approximately the same age as the orphan. A good trick to try is to put mentholated ointment on the orphaned kit's back as well as on the new mom's natural kits so that they all smell the same. Watch the litter closely to make sure that the orphan is accepted. If not you need to hand raise them, an endeavor that is not always successful. For rearing milk try using KMR (available at pet stores, feed stores, and veterinary offices) or a product designed for feeding baby lambs. Newborns need to be fed warm rearing milk (freshly prepared) every two hours for the first two weeks, then every three hours. Gradually lengthen the feeding time and reduce the amounts fed until they can be weaned at 6 - 8 weeks. You can go a little longer with night time feedings, but not too much as these are their normal awake hours. I've found that an insulin syringe works better then an eyedropper for feeding newborns, then a 3 cc. syringe, then an eye dropper or regular water bottle as they get older. Hold the newborn cradled upright in your hand, making sure he doesn't choke and get milk in his lungs. After the feeding gently massage the tummy. Go ahead and provide hay and pellets for him to nibble on. I avoid providing a water bottle (with water in it) for at least the first few weeks so as to encourage a good feeding of milk. By 2 - 3 weeks of age you shouldn't need to hold the little guy in your hand anymore as he will sit upright for his feeding. You can also gradually add baby cereal to the milk.
Extra Food For Large Litters
If there are 3 - 4 kits in a litter the mother's milk may not be plentiful enough for them. If you don't help her with providing food for her young they may nip, bite, and injure her nipples in their struggle for milk. They may also become aggressively competitive with each other. You can supplement their feed in a manner similar to feeding orphans, but in smaller quantities and less frequently. It may also be advised to separate the kits into groups, removing one group for about 6 hours (and supplementing their feed) then rotating with the other group to give mom a break and prevent sibling rivalry. You may prefer a different schedule, like separating the groups for 8 hour segments (when older) then putting everyone together at night. You may want to give mom a time all to herself, allowing all of the kits to maintain some contact with each other, especially if you won't be keeping everyone together at night. See what works best for you and your family but keep in mind that the kits should only go for short periods without mom's milk when very young, then for longer periods as they get older. Also remember to weigh them frequently to determine whether or not they are gaining an adequate amount of weight, adjusting your schedule and supplement amounts accordingly (a lot depends upon the mom's milk supply).