Basic Chinchilla Information
As with any pet, research is the key. Before you decide to purchase a chinchilla, you should thoroughly investigate the animal. I have a bit of information posted on this site, but you'll need to research more before you decide on which pet to purchase and whether or not they are right for you. The Internet has a vast selection of information available, you should start there. Sign up on forums, join groups on Facebook (Let's Love Chinchillas, Ask a Breeder - Chinchillas are two great ones to start with) and ask owners and breeders about their experiences and opinions. Get involved with the chinchilla community. Don't believe what you hear from a pet store, and be careful about some of the information you find in pet store books. Chinchillas are a long term commitment, just like having children. Their food, bedding, housing, toys, vet bills, and misc. expenses can become VERY expensive and it's best if you understand what you're getting into before you commit to something you may not be able to handle. It’s best to learn as much about them as you can, otherwise you’re going to end up throwing away money before you know it and could end up making mistakes that can’t be reversed with your chin's health. I’m going to try to give you a quick run around of the background of chins, what to buy, what not to buy, and how to make your chins life the best it can be.
The term “chinchilla” comes from the Indian meaning “little chinta”. Chinchillas are considered rodents, even though they may not look like your average rat that you may find running around the house. Chinchillas originated in South America, where they were trapped for their fur and were almost sent into extinction. The great Mathias Chapman had a goal to save chinchillas from extinction, and he set out to find enough chins to bring back to the US for breeding purposes. After a year, only 11 chinchillas were captured and brought back to the US, which was the beginning of the original breeding stock for the Americans. Just to think, the chins that we have today, originated from 11 chinchillas – quite impressive eh? So yes, basically all of the chinchillas we own today are somehow related, but we breeders have learned to improve the species so that we can have healthy, beautiful chinchillas for you to enjoy. Chinchillas are expected to live 10-20 years in captivity and up to 15 years in the wild.
The chinchillas that America started out with were the basic standard gray and very rustic in appearance. After careful breeding, the standards began to improve. There are three different strains of chinchilla that consist of the Brevicaudata, Lanigera and Costina. Each strain has different characteristics and originated in different elevations. The Brevicaudata has a nice blocky build, but can have a brownish fur color. The Costinas on the other hand were much bluer in color, which is what breeders were aiming for in the offspring but they also had their flaws. The Lanigera type holds both of the traits, which are what we’re shooting for today – nice blocky chins with good clarity. Some of the chins we see today will look more like the Brevi-type with a short face, others will have the long face such as a Costina. As chinchilla breeding became popular, more people were purchasing chinchillas for breeding for fur trade. In the process, mutations began to evolve, such as the dominant mutations: Wilson White (1955), Tower Beige (1960) and Gunning Black (1960-61). After these mutations, breeders quickly began to see recessive strains pop up in herds that have either flourished or have been bred out. As the fur trade began to slow down over the years, chinchillas were introduced in the pet world. They’re becoming more and more popular and mutations are the new fad. Either way, today we are working to improve chinchillas whether they are standards or mutations. The entire goal of breeding chinchillas is to improve the species, which is what I am attempting to do as a small hobby breeder.
Temperament & Habits
Each chinchilla that you meet will vary in temperament. I have chinchillas that love to be held, and others that don’t like you to even open their cage. This doesn't always fall back on the breeder either; temperament is part genetic and part environmental. I have biters, sprayers, cuddlers – you name it, I see a range in each of my chins. Most chins that you purchase from breeders though will end up with better temperaments than you would find in a pet store, but this is based on each individual chin. This is because respectable breeders take time with their offspring and try to tame them at a young age. Purchasing a chinchilla at a young age will not guarantee that you end up with the sweetest chin ever since you "raise them" - it's actually the complete opposite. Chins tend to develop their temperaments later as they age and can easily change years later. Do not purchase a chinchilla expecting it be comfortable with being held at all times – they are high strung animals that want to explore, not to be loved and cuddled at all times. So to those of you wanting to buy babies because you think you can raise them to become cuddly animals - think again. Babies tend to go through the "terrible twos" as I call it from 2.5-5 months of age where they do not want to held and can be harder to manage. It takes time for them to adjust to new environments. Sometimes it may be best depending on the situation (for younger kids) to go with an older animal that you can actually judge the temperament of because there's no guarantee that an 8 week old kit will turn out the be the sweetheart you may think it will be.
Chins enjoy chin scratches (“scritches”), rubs behind the ears, an occasional nose rub here and there (to those that won't bite your nose off) and then want to hop off on their own. Chins like consistency and do not like dramatic changes in their life which could lead to stress and even shock. They'll sit on your shoulder and crawl onto you occasionally as well.
Chinchillas should be handled with caution. Picking up a chinchilla by the base of the tail is safe, as you have a good grip on the animal and you are not harming it. You wrap your entire hand around the base of the tail (closest to the fur) - not towards the tip either. Make sure you don't put too much force towards the fur or you can end up pulling their fur out as well. It will not hurt the chinchilla by holding it by the base of the tail, nor is it cruel. Take your other hand and cradle the chinchilla underneath like a baby.. by just laying your hand flat underneath it. Picking up a chinchilla between the legs or around the stomach should be a careful action, as it’s possible to crush or break bones since they’re nervous animals and tend to jump out of fear. They have floating ribs that actually move and if you squeeze too hard, you could puncture a lung. Rare, but it can happen, so it's best to train yourself on how to properly hold them. You have to imagine a prey animal being grabbed around the back and this is a frightening measure. Do not squeeze the chinchilla, as this will mess up their fur, as well as put the animal at risk for broken bones. Let the chins hop into your hand, or grab the base of the tail. By grabbing the base of the tail, your risk of fur slipping decreases. The tail isn't going to deglove or snap in half - sorry, it's just not going to happen with these guys unless you're forcefully trying to harm them. I hold the tail with one hand and cradle the chinchilla like a baby in my arm with the other for basic handling and for grooming, hanging by the base of the tail is safe as well.
Chinchillas are crepuscular which means they are most active during twilight - dusk and dawn. They are not exactly nocturnal. They like to sleep during the hottest part of the day and most don’t want to be bothered. They may not appear as if they're ever sleeping as you'll find their eyes open many times, but they rest more than you think. This is something that you need to think about when purchasing a chinchilla. Will you be able to provide adequate care for it at the right time of the day? Some people leave music on for their chins, which helps with hearing the human voice. We leave music on in our barn 24/7 and we feel that it helps out with socialization and calming the animals down. We have a large window in the barn so that they get natural sunlight and don't have the lights on during the night, so that they're accustomed to the natural environment.
Chinchillas make different sounds that will tell you how they’re feeling and if anything is wrong. Check out this page so that you will know what your chins are telling you:
Since chinchillas stay in their cages many hours out of the day, you need to provide your chin with something to keep them occupied. Toys are great for mental stimulation. Hidey houses and tubes can be used for safe feelings and comfort. As a pet, chinchillas are easy to spoil, but it isn’t necessarily required. I’ve spoken to and worked with many other breeders who agree that a chin just needs their shavings, clean water, quality pellets and fresh cool air. We’ll discuss this later on in the page when I get to housing.
When you go out to purchase your cage for your chinchilla – realize that money isn’t always the key. You need to do a bit of research so you will know what will be perfect for your chinchilla, so you won’t have to go out and purchase another cage later on. Personally, I would stay away from all SuperPet cages. Plastic bottom cages + Chins = Disaster. I have had this happen once since I’ve been breeding. I had two kits growing out, and I guess they decided that they were too grown to stay in their cage, so they chewed straight through the side of the plastic bottom on a cage. So, from there on out, I stuck with stainless or metal cages.
I suggest the Ferret Nation 181 or 182 cage. The size depends on the number of chinchillas you have. A 181 has enough space for up to 3 chinchillas, but a 182 can accommodate 3-6 chinchillas separated, or even one chinchilla if you really want to spoil your chin. They’re expensive, but they’re well worth the money and easy to decorate. You’ll need to replace the plastic pans with metal pans and take the ramps and shelves out, but it’s just for the safety of your chin. You can purchase the 183 add on to make it a 3 level. We use Ferret Nations for our growers and have comfortably had 10 chinchillas in each section, but they were also small and young.
Other than the Ferret Nation, you need to pick cages without wire ramps. Wire bottoms are ok as long as you’re not breeding and there are ledges or spots for your chins to sit on so that they will not end up with bumble foot. High elevations should be avoided or hammocks placed to catch falls, as we want to keep our chinchillas as safe as possible. Quality Cage also makes nice cages that work great for chins. Also, you can make your own cages out of melamine or a safe wood. E-mail me for a link to cage ideas. There are also safe cages made by Quality Cage Company, TX Custom Cages and Martin's Cages, research them online.
Make sure your chinchilla’s room is at an adequate temperature. Temperatures should range from 60-72 degrees, more towards the low end if possible. We keep our barn as low as 40 in the winter and try not to let it go over 65 degrees. Try not to force higher temperatures on chinchillas, as you may end up causing heat stroke which can lead to seizures and irreversible damage to the brain. You need to have an air conditioner on hand at all times, and a temperature gauge in the room to monitor. Chinchillas can’t sweat, so a fan will not work to cool off your room. Humidity should be kept as low as possible, as the higher the humidity goes; the hotter the chinchilla will feel. I’m always been told to keep humidity 50% or lower. The higher the temperature, the lower the humidity should be. Chinchillas should be kept in a draft-free area. If you cannot provide a chinchilla with the proper temperature and humidity, do not risk the chinchilla’s life by putting it into your care. There is no way around keeping your chinchilla cool. I will not sell chinchillas to someone who does not own an air conditioner.
You will want to decorate your cages with toys, ledges, perches, tubes and safe products for your chinchilla. They’re not required, but it’s fun spoiling your chin. I suggest using tons of safe woods for toys and ledges. Safe woods include: Kiln-Dried Pine, Apple, Birch, Magnolia, Pecan, Poplar, Willow, Aspen, Dogwood, Manzanita, Ash, Cottonwood, Crabapple, Cholla, and Elm. Woods will need to be scrubbed, boiled and baked before put into the cage, and also make sure that they have not been sprayed with pesticides.
Also, fleece products are a favorite choice for chins, as they like the soft feeling and safe for them as long as they do not shred the fleece. You can check out my Supply Store if you’re interested in any of my items that I make out of fleece, or you can pick up some fleece at a Hancock or Joann fabrics and make your own! Wheels are an option if you purchase one that is safe. Leo Braun, Flying Saucer and Chin Spin wheels are very expensive, but are very safe for your chins. DO NOT use wire wheels, as toes can get caught in the wire and feet may need to be amputated. Plastic wheels are not large enough for chins and they also can chew on the edges. The plastic flying saucers sold at pet stores are not safe or large enough for the chins.
Be careful when using plastic. I started out as a chinchilla owner with tons of plastic in my cages. I had plastic igloos, plastic feeders, plastic toys, plastic cage bottoms, plastic balls. All are very unsafe for chinchillas if they chew them. Igloos are ok as long as your chins don’t eat the plastic. Some people purchase fleece covers for the igloos to stop the chewing. Plastic balls are definitely unsafe, as chinchillas overheat in the balls and you put them at risk for death. Let the chins run around in the bathroom, not in a ball. Instead of purchasing your products from a pet store, purchase from a breeder or supplier who has safe products and you’ll end up saving money. Wood houses cost about the same as plastic toys. They’re safe and chins love to eat them to keep their teeth filed down.
Your pet chinchilla should have adequate out of cage time to play a couple times a week. For young animals under 6 months of age, I suggest no more than one time a week for 15 minutes. Over 6 months, once every other day for 20 minutes max. They can overexert themselves with long time play. You want to make sure that it’s in a safe place, such as a bathroom where everything can be put up so the chins can’t get into it. Cords should be hidden, as chinchillas will chew through them. Chinchillas should not be left alone, as turning your back for just a minute can be deadly. I have read too many cases of chinchillas escaping from the house, or getting inside of walls and destroying wiring throughout a house. You have to chin proof your area. Sometimes purchasing a chinchilla playground or a fence will help out with playtime. Marshall’s Ferret Playpen is a great option, and you can give them tons of toys to play with during playtime.
Chinchillas should be given a healthy pellet diet that consists of timothy or alfalfa hay as the main ingredient and is free of treats or vegetables. I use Tradition Chinchilla feed. Other safe brands include Oxbow, Mazuri, Manna Pro Pro / Sho Rabbit, Purina Rabbit Chow Show, Nutrena Rabbit, Ace Hi Rabbit and Blue Seal Rabbit. Any feed with treats or high sugar content such as Nutriphase, Kaytee, Sunseed, Charlie Chinchilla and Vitakraft should be avoided at all costs. Your feed should have green pellets in the bag and that's it. Purchasing feed from a supplier or breeder will be much cheaper than purchasing feed from a store. I free-feed my chinchillas, which may use more food, but my chins are happy and healthy. Metal feeders are easier to use and are more cost effective. Ceramic feeders on cage bottoms normally get pooed in.
In addition to the pellet diet, you need to give adequate water in a clean bottle. Do not use water dishes, as chins poo in food and water dishes and the water will grow bacteria. Bottles can be purchased from Ryerson Chinchilla or search for Edstrom Water Buddy. Plastic bottles are sometimes harder to keep because chinchillas can chew holes through them.
In addition to pellets, hay is also a great supplement. If your pellet is alfalfa-based, give timothy hay, and vice versa. I use timothy, orchard grass, brome, and Bermuda grass. Oxbow is a great source for hay but you can also purchase hay in bales from feed stores as long as the hay/grass is green and free of moisture. Hay can be free-fed or given daily. Alfalfa and timothy cubes are also available for less mess.
Chinchillas DO NOT need fruits and vegetables. They are hindgut fermenters and cannot process rich foods. Fruits and vegetables can cause gas in the gut which can lead to GI stasis. We recommend that you stay clear from anything other than basic pellets and hay. Giving fruits and vegetables to chinchillas purchased here voids our warranty.
Chinchillas enjoy toys and treats. Regardless of what anyone tells you – do not give your chinchillas raisins as a treat. Dried fruits are also a no-no. Chinchillas don’t get hairballs, so papaya isn’t needed either. I recommend using wood sticks, rose hips, shredded mini-wheats (no frosting, no sugar), a plain cheerio here or there and maybe some old fashioned oats. You should not over do it with treats though. Giving a treat 1-2 times a week should be enough, as you don’t want to throw the digestive system out of wack.
Cage trays need to be changed at least once a week if you only have one chin, more often if you have more than one chin in the same cage. If you have a cage that does not have a pull out tray it will have to be cleaned more often since the chinchillas will be on the bedding at all times. Aspen shavings or kiln dried pine can be used in the pull out tray or in the floor of the cage if you do not have a pull out tray. I'm not a big fan of Carefresh bedding, it's something that I would suggest avoiding.
I have used cage liners that are made of fleece and batting that cut down the cost (after the initial cost) of purchasing bedding and is easier to just shake off the liner and throw the liner into the wash. Some chinchillas can be litter trained and with the use of fleece liners you can use a litter box with shavings for your chins to urinate in. Poos will always be in the cage, no way to avoid that. Cages should be totally cleaned and disinfected once or twice a month to cut down on bacteria. The chin should be removed from the cage during this cleaning. It is especially important to do this thorough cleaning if your chin is sick. If kept clean, chinchilla cages have little odor. If you keep bedding in too long, you may begin to smell their urine which smells more like ammonia. Chinchillas tend to pee in one corner of the cage. This corner should have more bedding to help absorb the waste. You can also sprinkle baking soda in that corner to help absorb any odors as well as Sweet PDZ powder. If your cage is close to a wall, make sure that you clean and disinfect the wall after you notice their urine on it. You can clean cages with a 50/50 vinegar and water solution and then clean it with hot water. I usually boil my water to try to sterilize the cage.
Chinchillas are pretty much odor free if you keep their cage clean. Chinchillas enjoy chewing and need something to chew on at all times to keep their teeth trimmed down. Pumice chews, hay, loofah and safe wood are all great options for keeping your chins teeth healthy. If a chin does not get enough proper supplies for chewing, the teeth will grow too long preventing him from being able to eat and you could end up with a chin with malocclusion which cannot not be fixed other than frequent filings at the vet or having some of the teeth pulled.
Chinchillas can be combed with a proper grooming comb. You can purchase these online from Empress Chinchilla or Ryerson Chinchilla. There is a certain way to groom chinchillas and if you need that information I can send you links to videos or show you how to groom them. Chinchillas do not need water baths. These are dangerous if you do not know what you’re doing and should be avoided. Dust bath is the safe way of keeping your chinchilla clean. Dust baths should be given 2-3 times a week for 10-15 minutes a day. Don’t purchase dust bath from a pet store, as it’s not going to work as well as what breeders use for their chins. If you want to go cheap, Sweet PDZ powder will help keep your chin clean, but the coat won’t look as good as it should. Blue Sparkle dust is a step up, and sparkles are in the dust that make your chins shine. Blue Cloud dust is the best dust to purchase, and is used by any breeder who shows their chinchillas and we recommend that any pet owner try it at least once, and they’ll never want to use anything else. Dust can be placed in a plastic tub, a fish bowl, or even your bathtub, for your chinchilla to roll around and clean in. Do not continue to use soiled dust, as this can create bacteria problems. Do not use ‘chinchilla sand’ or any other type of sand that may be suggested on other websites.
Chinchillas are prone to health problems. This includes malocclusion, bumble foot, fungal infections, diarrhea, constipation, heat stroke, fur chewing and seizures. Breeders are working to keep our chinchillas healthier and educating the public on what to avoid and how to keep your chinchillas healthy. You should have a knowledgeable vet that has experience with chinchillas and an emergency vet just a call away. Chinchillas do not require regular vet check ups, as it normally causes stress on the animal and should be avoided unless an emergency situation arises.
Improper breeding can lead to malo, but it can also show up due to environmental stressers, lack of nutrition, lack of proper feed and hay, and other issues that are showing up more and more. Malocclusion has become a serious issue that we’re trying to avoid as much as possible. Chins with malo should not be bred. Once a chin is diagnosed with malo, you may have to hand feed your chin, have teeth pulled or keep the chin in and out of vets for teeth filings.
Bumble foot is caused by wire bottoms, wire ramps and bacteria. It’s best to give chinchillas ledges or chinchillers so that they can rest their feet and keep healthy pads. If you notice that your chinchilla has a problem with bumble foot, try to clean it and then use ointment on the pads to keep them from cracking.
Fungal infections are rare if the chin’s housing is kept clean and no foreign bodies are introduced. Antibiotics are normally needed for fungal infections and should be taken seriously. Waiting to take your chin to a vet will only make the problem worse.
Diarrhea and constipation are digestive issues that are sometimes caused by feed, stress, or changes in environment. Once you notice a difference in your chinchilla’s poos, you should keep track of it, because any small difference in a chinchilla’s digestive system can end up fatal. Blockages can happen to just about anyone at anytime and require immediate vet care. If you notice smaller or watery poos, find out your source and work from there. Water that isn’t kept clean can lead to pyometra.
Heat stroke can be avoided if your chinchilla is kept under the right temperatures and humidity. This is why I suggest the 60-72 degree range.
Fur chewing is also a trait in chinchillas that breeders are trying to avoid. Some say that the trait is genetic, others think it’s environmental. DO NOT breed chins that fur chew. Fur cleaning is different from fur chewing. Fur chewing will leave out chunks of fur around the bottom of the body and is very unattractive. Dry skin has been said to lead to fur chewing, so do not dust your chinchilla too often.
Seizures can be caused from neurological damage, heatstroke, and other factors that should be talked about with a vet. Chins who have seizures should be in a one level cage where they can be kept safe from falls.
Diseases can be cut down with proper cleaning and quarantine. If you bring in new chinchillas, make sure that you keep them in separate rooms for the first 30 days and always wash your hands before handling so that you're not carrying germs from one room to the other.
Chinchillas are fairly easy to travel with even though you may read elsewhere that they do not like to. The main thing you need to worry about is the distance of where you're traveling to, how long they will be in their carriers, if you can provide food and water safely and if you can keep them cool enough. I travel to shows sometimes 12-14 hours one way with the chins in tow and up to 30 or more at a time. I have to keep the car cool and the air conditioner on at all time and I crack the back windows in my car for proper airflow so that the car doesn't get stagnant with the smell of urine from the shavings. I use drip-proof water bottles on the cages, but most chins will not drink during trips. I provide hay and a little bit of feed and some supplement to get them to eat so that their gut is still moving. I always bring extra shavings so that I can clean out the pee spots when I stop and they're not sitting in their pee the entire time of the trip. If you're staying in a hotel, make sure that it is pet friendly before bringing your chinchilla and always make sure to bring your own water because you don't know what chemicals are being using in the tap water at the hotel.
Chinchillas can be flown on airplanes, but you must have a health certificate from your vet and also you will have to pay for separate shipping for the animal, which is normally a base rate or based on the weight. You must make sure that you are using a carrier that is safe by the guidelines of the airline that you are using. Some airlines may be more strict than others, but you must follow the rules or you may end up losing a chin, or with a dead chin. Make sure that they have access to food and water and also pay attention to your temperatures that day. You do not want to fly when it is hot. Imagine sitting on the tarmac with no air conditioning for well over an hour, sometimes longer if the temperature is 80 degrees outside. Try to schedule your flights early in the morning and also make sure that you know the temperature of your destination as well because it will be hotter later during the day at your destination.
So you want to get your pet chin a friend? Well, you need to do a lot of thinking on this one because it's not an easy process. First - there's no guarantee that two chins will ever get along with each other. Secondly, the introduction process is not something to take lightly as they can fight to the death and you must take the time to watch them to make sure they are safe. I typically suggest a 30 day quarantine with your new animal. Bring it home, put it in a separate cage from your animal in a separate room, that way it becomes accustomed to your environment without becoming too stressed out from being shoved into a cage with another animal. After the 30 days you can try the smoosh method where you place the two chins into a neutral area such as a cat carrier or a show cage and you pretty much force them to be together. You can add some Vick's Vapor Rub to their tails to force the same smell onto each other. Leave them in the carrier for 15 minutes max or drive around the block but make sure you take them apart if fighting ensues. Fur slipping can happen, just make sure there's no biting, once this happens, they must be taken apart and you can try again at a later time. If they do get along, you can place them in a neutral area together (a freshly cleaned cage, completely wiped down) and see how they do. Make sure you watch their reactions because fights can happen quickly. Hopefully the chins will get along, but it could take some time, even months to get this to work. Don't give up because of a small spat - hopefully luck is in your corner but not all chins want to be in pairs or trios.. some like to be left alone. I typically suggest adding a younger chin instead of placing two older dominant chins. You have a higher chance of the pairing working out with a younger chin.
Vet visits are only required for emergencies. There are no shots needed for chinchillas and regular check ups are not needed. You want to make sure that you find a vet in your area that actually knows what they are doing with chinchillas. Before you purchase one, call around and see if any of the vets around you have experience with chinchillas and if they can give you a run down of the costs for basic visits. Vet visits can be very expensive and should not be taken lightly if you do not have the money to take care of the animal. In general, the costs are much more for chinchillas than cats or dogs by far and you will most likely have to find an exotic vet, which will of course cost you more in the end.
Breeding chinchillas is a difficult task that should not be taken lightly. Do not expect to make money off of breeding chinchillas, because you'll be lucky to break even. Unless you aspire to become a rancher, you might as well realize that this is a hobby and a joy to experience, but not a money maker. The money in chinchillas lies in champions and the pelt market, and unless you have thousands of chinchillas that do well in show, and others that you can pelt, you're going to fork out money that will be hard to make back.
Picking a male and female for mating isn't just picking animals with male and female parts. First off, it's best to learn a bit about chinchilla genetics. You can't just put a pair together and expect them to produce a certain color, certain markings, or a certain quality. You need to pick quality chinchillas that compliment each other. It's best to read up on show quality animals so you know what to look for and then attend a few shows to see the difference in pet chinchillas and show chinchillas. If you find a 1st place white female that needs help with fur strength, then you find a compliment (most likely a standard) that has nice, tight, strong fur to improve on the female. You want to invest in the best males that you can get to strengthen your herd. You don't want to pair mutation to mutation animals together without experience and without breeding back to standards every few generations so you will not weaken the line. I suggest reading the book Basic Genetics and History of Mutation Chinchillas by Alice Kline. Also, you're going to want to find a mentor that you can call when you have questions. Ranchers are great mentors and have experience and numbers that we small hobby breeders lack. I can refer you to a few ranchers if you'd like to find out more.
The basic pairing of male and female chinchillas is more complex than most would believe. Chinchillas don't always get along when you pair them, so you have to take into account the fact that you will need more than one cage for quarantine, then for introductions. I have had problems with introductions in the past and some chins won't agree with the mate you pick for them. Intros can take months, years, and may not even happen. You have to be prepared for the worse, because intros can take a wrong turn. I've had chins lose toes, major squabbles that resulted in loss of bits of ear, horrible fur pulling and hurt feelings. It breaks my heart to see the chins fight, but it's part of trying to breed.
You can either choose to breed in runs, colony cages or just basic pairs. No one way is better than another, but I prefer to use runs for safety. The females wear collars so that the male can escape from the cage if an altercation occurs. The worst feeling is putting so much money into a herd improvement male to have him killed by an overly aggressive female. Pair breeding is very common, but then you end up with more males in your herd. Colony breeding should not be taken lightly because you have to pay attention to the attitudes of your females and make sure they are compatible. You don't want a female giving birth and another female trying to steal the babies or try to kill them. Using larger cages for breeding also is not suggested. Use smaller cages with 1/2" x 1" or 1/2" x 1/2" bars so that babies can not escape.
With breeding comes complications of birth. Some females have trouble birthing their babies and may end up having to have a c-section and possibly getting spayed. I've had to hand deliver babies that were stuck in the birth canal and it is no fun. You also do not want rotting babies caught inside of the uterus and you'd have to know how to feel for the babies to make sure there are no more inside. You end up with a lot of accidents at birth as well. Females pull their babies out with their teeth and sometimes they may loose an ear, or a leg, or part of the tail.
After the babies are born, you also have to worry about whether the mother has enough milk and if she can produce any at all. With larger litters, if the female isn't producing enough milk, you end up with babies that will fight to the death. You will have to hand feed and rotate the babies so that the larger of the litter aren't taking up all the milk, because they will if given the opportunity and then attack the smaller ones which normally do not make it.
You could end up with litters from 1-6 babies. I prefer twins or triplets at the most and always worry about larger litters and haven't been too successful with them other than having to foster out a couple to other mothers.
You want to make sure to wean your babies at 8 weeks of age or when they weigh at least 200g and they're eating well on their own. After 8 weeks, you could sell your babies or hold them back for show. Between 8 weeks and 6 months, you want to make sure that you're dusting at least every other day to make sure that the fur grows in straight and clean if you plan to show. Keep animals in cages by themselves so that their fur is not disrupted if you plan to show.
Use of Breeding / Polygamy Runs
If you ever get the chance to visit my barn, you will notice that I do not use large cages for my breeders. I use breeding runs specifically made for chinchillas. Many of you may believe that this is a cruel and unconventional practice, when in fact, it is for the safety of my animals. These cages are set up specifically to keep the animals alive during breeding due to their nature. My cages are set up in stacks - there are 5 runs in each stack - each run has 3 cage holes, so a total of 15 holes in each stack. The runs are 4 ft in length, 2 ft wide and 1 ft high. Each run hole is 16" x 24" x 12". For a single chinchilla, this isn't as small as you may think.
As you can see in the photo above, there is a metal wire run in the back of the cage. This extends the entire 4 ft length of the run in one piece and each cage has a jump hole that leads to the run. Females are collared to keep them from getting into the runs from the jump hole. The males are able to move as they wish. The collars are not tight, in fact they're lose enough that you can fit your fingers under the collar, but tight enough that they can't get it over their head. The reason why we prevent the females from going into the run is because they can become aggressive in breeding. The male is able to move from female to female at his leisure throughout the run, while the female is confined to her cage due to the collar - it won't fit through the jump hole, whereas the male can go through since he doesn't wear a collar.
Firstly - introductions are difficult with chinchillas, especially when introducing breeding animals. Use of the run setup helps introduce the male and female through the run bars without actually allowing the male to get into the run cage. The jump hole can then be opened when you're ready to properly introduce the two to have main contact and if the animals don't get along, the jump hole can be shut off again. During breeding, some females will attack the males to fight them off to avoid breeding. Some females are aggressive to the fact that they can kill the male. A male is able to get out of the cage to protect themselves. Losing a top quality male is nothing but a tragedy.. they're very hard to come by these days and we need them to keep the quality in our herd. If she were to get into the next cage with a female that had just had a kit - it is possible that the females may fight due to dominance and the kit could easily be trampled in the process of fighting. If you were to use a large or tall cage with ledges, it is possible for the females to jump on their kits from high distances or for the kits to fall from high distances as they do crawl up the cage starting on day 1. This is completely prevented in a run setup.
Females have two estrus horns and go into heat a couple days before giving birth to a litter they are carrying. If the male and female are still paired together at this point, the male will try to mate with her, regardless of their being a baby in the cage or not. This means there will be a lot of cage surfing, fighting and the more space they have to move (ie. in large cages), the higher the possibility of injury to both the breeders and the kits. In a run hole, cage surfing is minimized and the male can escape if the female becomes aggressive. When you have a large quantity of animals, it can be difficult to know when each female is going into heat - so using breeding runs really helps as far as safety goes to keep both your breeders and kits alive. Each jump hole is equipped to be shut off so that the male can't get into a specific cage if you want to close them off. When a female gives birth, the jump hole can be shut off to protect the babies and to give mom a break or protect her from breeding back. When using larger cages in pair or colony breeding, you have to have two cages in order to keep the male out and to prevent breedbacks. Problem solved with breeding runs.
Chinchillas in the wild like to stay in dark, small areas such as burrows. We may think that they need large spaces and a ton of exercise, but that's just not the case. Even in a larger cage, if you place a hut or a tube in the cage, they're going to try to find that small, dark area where they can hide. Ever seen a chin that likes to stay in a tube day in and day out? There's a reason why.. The run setup is large and small enough to fit their needs.
So, for you pet folks out there - the next time you see a breeder setup such as this - don't think of it as cruel and inhumane, think of it as a means of safety. Responsible chinchilla breeders invest a lot of money into their animals (much more than a pet owner would actually imagine), and it's better to keep them alive and safe in units such as this even if it doesn't look conventional to the average pet owner. It's what has worked for decades in ranches and has kept animals alive as long as into their late thirties.