Chinchilla

Chinchilla lanigera

Chinchillas are small, nocturnal rodents that are native to the high Andes Mountains of South America (Peru, Chile, Bolivia, and Argentina). There are two similar species, both of which have been hunted for their extremely soft fur for centuries. Chinchillas were so heavily over harvested that wild populations almost went extinct during the early twentieth century. They remain extremely rare in the wild today and international trade in chinchillas is prohibited. Most chinchillas in the U.S are bred and raised in captivity. Most are hybrids of the two wild species and they can live up to 20 years in captivity.

Did You Know?

Chinchillas are small, nocturnal rodents that are native to the high Andes Mountains of South America.

Sustainability

Does the harvest for wildlife trade or captive breeding of this species harm wild populations?

Little Cause for Concern

Chinchillas are critically endangered in their native habitat, and the few remaining populations are protected from poaching or harvesting. Because wild chinchillas are extremely difficult to find and their international trade is prohibited, all chinchillas available in the pet trade have been bred and raised on farms or by private breeders. The pet trade appears to pose no additional threat to the welfare and survival of remaining wild populations.

EcoHealthy Recommendation:

When purchasing a pet chinchilla, ensure that it is captive-bred from domesticated animals. Only acquire a pet that is from a reputable, breeder/distributer to ensure that you are not buying an illegally wild-caught and/or imported animal.

Invasion Threat

Does the release or escape of this species into the wild harm the environment and/or economy?

Little Cause for Concern

There is no evidence that chinchillas pose a threat to native wildlife as an invasive species. In fact there have been repeated attempts to establish wild populations in California, but the released chinchillas did not survive.

EcoHealthy Recommendation:

Before obtaining any non-traditional pet, check that it is legal to own one in your state of residence and check for permitting requirements. Only acquire a pet that is from a reputable breeder or dealer to ensure that you are not buying an illegally imported or wild-caught animal. Always keep your pet inside a safe and secure enclosure. Never release a pet into the wild.

Ease of Care

Does harvest, captive breeding, transport, or being kept as a pet harm individual animals?

Significant Cause for Concern

Ease of care of many non-traditional pets depends on the individual owner’s years of experience and knowledge caring for a particular species. For the purposes of this website, we have geared information toward the benefit of the beginner.

Chinchillas have specific and demanding care requirements. They are very sensitive to heat, and temperatures above 80ºF can be hazardous to their health. Chinchillas also need daily attention and lots of exercise. Like most rodents they need to chew regularly to maintain their teeth, and if not monitored closely they can cause damage to themselves and to household items such as furniture, walls and baseboards, electrical wires, and plastic or metal objects. Chinchillas are social animals that need the company of other chinchillas, but they tend not to get along well with cats, dogs, and other household pets. Chinchillas cannot be bathed in water due to the thickness of their coat; instead they require frequent dust baths to maintain their soft fur. Animals in solitary confinement or without access to dust baths are susceptible to health problems, including a stress-related behavior where they chew their own fur off. Many owners find they cannot give a chinchilla the care it requires, and their pets end up in animal shelters or rescue societies.

EcoHealthy Recommendation:

Before purchasing a pet chinchilla, ask for proof that it is captive bred by a reputable ranch or breeder and make sure you are committed to caring for it for 20 years. Talk to your veterinarian about specific cage requirements and the best types of substrates to allow your chinchilla to chew on. Examine the chinchilla’s coat; it should be thick and shiny, with no bare patches.

Health Threat

Does this animal pose a health risk to native wildlife, humans, livestock and agriculture?

Little Cause for Concern

Although less common, chinchillas can carry Salmonella and parasites that may infect humans or other pets. Owners should wash their hands after handling their pet. They also can and do occasionally bite their owners, and thus are not suitable pets for small children.

EcoHealthy Recommendation:

Before purchasing a non-traditional pet, ensure the animal was captive bred vs. wild caught. Be sure to ask if the animal has been checked by a veterinarian and obtain a list of any medical treatments the animal has received.

EcoHealth Alliance works at the intersection of ecosystem, animal and human health through local conservation programs and develops global health solutions to emerging diseases.
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