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We often have to describe chinchillas to people we meet when they learn that we have them as pets. The best verbal description we've come up with is that they have the head, face, and ears of Jerry the mouse from Tom and Jerry, the body of a domesticated rabbit, and the tail of a squirrel. Of course such a description is fairly limiting. Luckily, we can post pictures on the web so here's what a "typical" chinchilla looks like.
The above chinchilla is grey which is the most common. Chinchillas also come in beige, black, and with hints of purple. The most expense variety are purple, but as far as we know color makes no difference when it comes to behavior or longevity.
Size and Weight
Chinchilla adults are about the same size as a small to medium-sized domesticated rabbit. On average a chinchilla is somewhere between 9-11 inches long not including the tail. On average, an adult male chinchilla weighs between 0.8 to - 1.1 lbs. The females are generally larger weighing in at up to 1.3 lbs.
A pet chinchillas can live 10-15 years with some living up to 20 years. That's a long time compared to a typical pet. As such, you should be prepared for such a long term commitment. For the most part, chinchillas don't require regular veterinary visits despite their long life. This is especially true if you keep their environment clean. However, there's certainly nothing wrong with taking them to a vet yearly.
Temperament & Behavior
Unlike dogs, chinchillas are not really cuddly and don't respond to their names. They will however jump and crawl on you if you sit in their vicinity. Sudden moves and loud noises will scare them. If you buy a chinchilla from a breeder that handles them regularly from a young age, they'll be more inclined to allow you to handle them as they age.
Chinchillas won't bite unless they smell food on your fingers. They will sometimes nibble on clothing and belts. They are quite curious and should have as many places to climb in to and on top of as possible. Cardboard boxes with holes cut in them are ideal for this purpose.
Possibly the most important thing to note about chinchilla behavior is that they're nocturnal. They wake up in the early evening and remain awake until the morning.
What Do They Eat?
A chinchilla's diet is fairly basic. The primary food is pellets, very similar to those given to rabbits. Chinchillas also need to eat cubes of hay. And finally, they need to be given a portion of a vitamin enriched seed mix. Distilled water is recommended to avoid problems with bacteria in tap water that doesn't affect humans.
Chinchillas do not have dander which is what causes most people are allergic to when it comes to pets. People who are allergic to cats and dogs are still able to have chinchillas. Note that chinchillas eat hay and must bathe in a fine dust both of which can trigger allergies.
The price of a chinchilla varies depending on the color. A standard grey chinchilla from a breeder typically sells for around $75. From a pet store, the same chinchilla would cost $99-$125. And of course there are the costs associated with a cage, food, and bedding.
Place in the Animal Kingdom
Chinchillas are rodents and are part of the Chinchillidae family. There are two species: Chinchilla brevicaudata (short tailed chinchilla) and Chinchilla lanigera (long tailed chinchilla). It is the long-tailed species that we keep as pets, but both species are very similar. Like other mammals, chinchillas are warm-blooded.
The Chinchilla Club