Common Chinchilla Myths
Just like many different communities, there are some bits of information that can be incorrectly spread. Any source of misinformation can quickly be misconstrued as fact. The following information on this page is intended to dispel certain myths and misinformation while simultaneously giving a more informed answer.
All information below has been compiled as a result of first hand experience by many chinchilla breeders and ranchers. These individuals collectively have decades of knowledge and experience with these animals. Please feel free to contact us for clarification on any questions or inquiries regarding the following information.
"Chinchillas have fragile bones"
Chinchillas do not have fragile bones, but rather, their bones are very flexible. Thus, it is so important proper handling techniques are used. Never grab a chinchilla around the midsection or squeeze the animal firmly. Due to the flexibility of their bones, these can bend and squeeze to the point of damaging internal organs and structures. Grasping a chinchilla firmly around the abdomen can even compress vertebrae and result in neurological damage.
"Chinchillas have a floating rib cage"
This myth is commonly spread among the internet these days and it is completely false. No animal has a free-floating rib cage within their bodies. The ribs are, in fact, attached to the spinal column. Although these bones and cartilage may be very small, they are there and do connect the ribs to the skeleton.
"You cannot grab a chinchilla by the tail"
Grabbing a chinchilla at the base of the tail is actually the safest and most effective way of catching and handling. The base of a chinchilla's tail is the strongest bone within the body, thus is it the least likely to damage. Chinchillas are naturally a prey animal and may become overly stressed if grabbed around the midsection or back. Using the base of the tail to grasp a chinchilla is more effective and much less stressful for your chinchilla.
"Chinchillas cannot pass gas"
A common myth in the chinchilla community is that chins cannot pass gas. This is not true, chinchillas do pass gas but it is extremely slow and not obvious. Since chinchillas do not audibly pass gas, it has been incorrectly assumed they don't pass it at all. Though they do have this ability, they still are at risk for bloat due to how slow the process is.
"Chinchillas should not be free-fed"
Chinchillas will not overeat if given unlimited pellets. The only time a chinchilla will overindulge is if they are not given unlimited pellets. Not allowing them to free-feed can also cause them to become malnourished, underweight, or cause bloat. A chinchilla's digestion needs to constantly be moving to avoid bloat, thus it is so important to give them unlimited pellets, hay and fresh water.
"My chinchilla is obese"
Chinchillas rarely become obese. If unlimited healthy, treat-free pellets are provided, chinchillas will self-regulate their eating. They will not overeat or become obese on a healthy, free-fed diet. The only time obesity can become an issue is if the animal is given an unhealthy, treat-filled food; although this is still rare as these foods typically cause the animal to become malnourished.
"Chinchillas are prone to diabetes"
Although it was originally thought by many veterinarians that diabetes was common in chinchillas, this is not true. Diabetes is exceedingly rare in chinchillas. With only two clinical cases ever diagnosed, it is very rare for a chinchilla to develop diabetes. These two cases were of elderly chinchillas who had lived primarily on high sugar, unhealthy diets for a long period of time.
Chinchillas often receive false positive tests due to their natural fight or flight response. The fight or flight response is defined as, "...an automatic physiological reaction to an event that is perceived as stressful or frightening. The perception of threat activates the sympathetic nervous system and triggers an acute stress response that prepares the body to fight or flee". This stress causes blood sugar levels to raise, a common response to a stressful environment, such as a vet's office.
This was tested by a veterinarian in recent years; he measured blood sugar levels in a few chinchillas at a veterinarians office and then again in the comfort of their homes. He found that their levels were elevated in the stressful setting of a vet clinic, and normal while in their familiar environment. He then induced stressful events to produce a high blood sugar level response, which indicated it is in fact based on the fight or flight reaction.
A diet of healthy pellets, hay, and fresh water is sufficient in keeping your chinchilla happy and healthy.
"Chinchillas are prone to heart murmurs"
Similar to the myth of chinchillas commonly having diabetes, many chinchillas have been falsely diagnosed with heart murmurs. More often then not, these are diagnosed during a vet visit where the chinchilla is stressed. Being a prey animal with fight or flight instincts in an unknown place with new people, smells, and sounds, causes physical anomalies to be exhibited. These can sound like what seems to be a level 3 or 4 heart murmur and/or high blood sugar (mentioned above). This is a normal fear response in a rodent as they are a prey animal.
Several studies have debunked this myth that chinchillas are prone to heart murmurs. One notable figure to refute the myth is Dr. Christopher Mans, who examined hundreds of animals in both their home setting versus them in a veterinary office setting. His research indicated that if the animal has a heart murmur of 4 or below, there is no reason to be concerned nor should they require an echo.
"My chinchilla is a short-tailed chinchilla"
All chinchillas currently being bred in domestic populations are long-tailed chinchillas, including our own herd. Animals that have visibly shorter tails than other chinchillas may have had an injury, birth defect, or may just have a smaller bone structure. This does not mean they can be classified as a "short-tailed" chinchilla as they are not genetically related to this species. Just like people, all animals are unique and can be born in all different sizes with different features. Originally, there were two species of chinchillas. One was the Chinchilla brevicaudata and the other was Chinchilla chinchilla/Chinchilla lanigera. Short-tailed chinchillas typically refer to the Chinchilla brevicaudata as there were less caudal bones than Chinchilla lanigera, leading to a shorter tail. Currently, there are no Chinchilla brevicaudata animals in our domestic chinchilla populations. Several years ago, studies were conducted to determine what species our domestic populations originate from. It was found that in the wild, these two species still exist. However, it was confirmed that our domestic population is a subspecies from only one of these species, Chinchilla chinchilla/Chinchilla lanigera. Therefore, there are no short-tailed chinchillas in breeding. Attempts to breed this species were unsuccessful, the same being true for wild populations. Long-tailed chinchillas have increased in numbers in the wild, while short-tailed chinchilla populations have decreased. This has caused it to be much more difficult to find short-tailed chinchillas in the wild, causing several false deductions that the species was completely extinct.
"Chinchillas need routine dental work"
Chinchillas do not need dental trimmings. In fact, dental trimmings can damage the teeth and could potentially put your chinchilla at risk for malocclusion and they are very uncomfortable to put an animal through. The only time that a chinchilla needs their teeth trimmed would be if the teeth were damaged and needed a trim to ensure they grow back in properly. Filing or "floating" the teeth does not prevent malocclusion, it only prolongs suffering. If your chinchilla is found to have malocclusion, the most humane course of action is euthanasia.
"Chinchillas need to be spayed and neutered"
Spaying or neutering a chinchilla does not provide any health benefits. By putting a chinchilla through this surgery, they run the risk of anesthesia complications, stress, bloat, infections, stitches popping or being chewed out, and possible death. If you have a male and female chinchilla, cage them separately. This is the best and safest way to ensure that there are no accidental babies. Consider finding some same-sex cage mates for them.
"Chinchillas need vaccinations"
Chinchillas are not like cats or dogs, they do not need vaccines, extra vitamins. A trip to the vet can actually be very stressful to your chinchilla. This is due to the amount of stress the animal is put through; being in a new environment with new people, sounds and smells can be very intense for a prey animal. There are not really any chinchilla diseases or illnesses that can be prevented with vaccines or supplements; the best way to keep your chinchilla healthy is to feed them high quality alfalfa based pellets, timothy hay and fresh water.
"Male chinchillas need routine hair ring checks"
This is absolutely not necessary. Male chinchillas naturally know how to do their own hair ring checks, by performing the check for the male they will be discouraged to do their own self maintenance. The information surrounding this myth claims that if you do not check your male chinchilla for a hair ring the blood circulation in the penis can be cut off leading to tissue damage. Many large chinchilla ranchers and breeders never perform hair ring checks and almost never have any issues. Performing a hair ring check on a male will actually be more risky as it causes the male to not check himself or remove any debris, requiring manual hair ring checks indefinitely. If you see something wrong with your chinchillas penis or genitals, please seek veterinary care.
"Chinchillas absolutely must have outside of cage time, playtime or wide open spaces to run"
This myth can be very dangerous for some chinchillas. Kits under 7 months can easily experience hypoglycemia, hyperglycemia, overexertion, overheating, bloat and possible death as a result of playtime. Chinchillas are naturally den animals, thus they are more comfortable and feel safer in smaller areas. A chinchilla's cage is their safe space and provides them with comfort. If you would like to play with your chinchilla, consider sitting by their cage and letting them hop into your lap rather than running around the room. If you feel you absolutely must give your chinchilla playtime, it is best to do it in a small room like a bathroom, closet, or playpen. Please make sure there is nothing unsafe for them to get into, chew, or ingest; always supervise your chinchilla during playtime!
"Chinchillas need exercise wheels"
Similar to the playtime myth, chinchillas do not require exercise wheels to burn energy. Although some chinchillas can be high energy, most are content with sitting on their shelves, eating, chewing on toys, and relaxing. Wheels can sometimes cause your chinchilla to lose a bit of weight and may even overexert them. Wire wheels can catch or break toes and limbs while plastic wheels pose a gut blockage hazard if chewed. If you would like your chinchilla to have a wheel, the safest brands are the Chin Spin and the Flying Saucer.
"The Smoosh method of introduction is dangerous or inhumane"
Many pet groups and websites have made the claim that the "smoosh" method of bonding is dangerous. This is not correct; the smoosh method is not cruel or inhumane, it also does not create a weak bond between chinchillas. The smoosh method is almost always successful because chinchillas form familial bonds. By putting them into a small carrier together and inducing a small stressor (a car ride for example), you are encouraging both animals to seek comfort from the other and create a strong bond. Many feel that this is an inhumane way to bond animals, however, consider that the stress of a car ride is small in comparison to improperly bonding two chinchillas ultimately resulting in fights or death. Long, drawn out bonding by means of inconsistent playtime sessions together and the animals not being able to be in constant range of sight or smell of the other is a recipe for disaster. This causes hierarchy problems and a weak bond, leading to fights breaking out and potential injury or death. The best methods of bonding chinchillas are the smoosh method and the cage within a cage (or side by side) method; when done correctly these both have high success rates.
"Male chinchillas housed together near a female will fight"
This myth is commonly used when talking about a pair of bonded males who may be in the same room or nearby to a female's cage. Although males can smell the various odors another chinchilla may give off, this does not mean that a bonded pair will fight. Since there is no female within their cage to fight over, they will most likely just make noises and swish their tails if they can smell a female in heat. Neutering male chinchillas will not calm them down or change their personality, it also will not cause them to not "spray." Only female chinchillas will spray urine, this is used as a defense mechanism.
"Chinchillas need very large or tall cages"
Many have the misconception that overly tall or large cages are best for chinchillas because they can jump very high and love to sit on shelves. Although this is true and some animals do well in large cages, most of the time these extremely large areas can be hazardous. Chinchillas originally come from the Andes Mountains in Chile, there they lived in between rocks where they would only come out at night to eat and drink. These rock formations that they lived amongst were typically small, dark areas in between rocks or boulders. Chinchillas find comfort in small areas as their instincts tell them this is a safe place. Thus, most chins will find one spot in their cage they like to sit and will spend most of their time there. However, this doesn't mean you need a small cage for your pet, reasonably larger cages can be fun for both you and your pet.
"Wire bottom cages cause bumblefoot"
Bumblefoot is caused by excessive pressure on only one part of the foot. Chinchilla feet are designed to bounce and walk along rocks and rough surfaces in the wild. They will not get bumblefoot from being on a wire bottom cage; it is more commonly seen as a result of them sitting for long periods on a flat surface where they rest on only one part of the foot. Wire bottom cages actually can help prevent bumblefoot as it helps disperse the chinchillas weight onto different areas of the foot pads. Its always best to provide multiple surfaces for your chin to walk on such as fleece, bedding, shelves, apple wood branches, granite slabs, and hidey houses. Although wire bottom cages are okay, please never use wire shelving or ramps as this poses a risk for limbs or teeth getting caught.
"Alfalfa based pellets and hay cubes cause bladder stones"
Bladder stones in chinchillas are almost always caused by genetics and low water intake, not alfalfa consumption. Plenty of large breeder herds with show quality animals have fed alfalfa based pellets for decades with no issues. Only animals prone to stones need to have their intake of calcium limited, this being from alfalfa. If stones are persistent, switching up a chinchillas feed to a timothy based pellet and orchard grass is a good idea. Finding a type of water they like will encourage them to drink more as well; some chinchillas prefer different types of filtered water, some like reverse osmosis, while others prefer boiled. It is also important to remember that amorphous crystals in the bladder are normal, calcium based crystals are not.
The following study by Dr. Mans of the University of Wisconsin-Madison shows the urinalysis of 41 chinchillas:
"Chinchillas need fresh fruits and vegetables"
A common misconception is that chinchillas can have fruits and vegetables like other rodents usually can. This is not true for chinchillas as they naturally come from a dry, desert environment. The plants in this habitat were very dry like the timothy/alfalfa hay and pellets we provide domesticated chins. Chinchillas cannot tolerate or digest foods with a high water or sugar content, thus is can cause bloat and diarrhea leading to possible death. Many chinchillas have died as a result of improper diet. Thus, it is so important they have a high quality pellet and hay to eat and to help grind down their teeth. In some social circles, it is debated if chins can have raisins. Giving a raisin to a chinchilla will not kill them but it is the equivalent to feeding them junk food. Raisins are very high in sugar content so they can easily cause diarrhea if given in excess. If you choose to give your chin a raisin, only do it once a week. Otherwise, plain cheerios, plain shredded wheat cereal, or rosehips make a much better and healthier treat.
"Chinchillas need supplements"
There are no store bought or vet prescribed supplements that need to be given to chinchillas. They will receive all the vitamins and nutrients required for a healthy diet if they are fed a high quality pellet and timothy or timothy alfalfa hay blend. Some breeders and ranchers do give their herds supplement mixes on occasion, but this is not necessary for a healthy chinchilla. Supplement is typically made up of calf manna, oats, chia seeds, and flax seeds which help to get an animal ready for a chinchilla show. These are not necessary or required for pet chins. If you would like to give your chinchilla a treat, plain cheerios and plain shredded wheat cereals make a great option to spice up your pets diet. Only give them these treats occasionally, never in excess as this can cause them to not want to eat their healthier pellets and hay.
"Chinchillas need a cage mate to be happy"
Although chinchillas can be social animals, they can also live very happily on their own. Chins are very independent; they can easily live by themselves or with another chinchilla. They will not become lonely or depressed if you do not have a playmate for them. They are not like dogs where they are pack animals; they are content with being solitary or alone if you are away. Some chinchillas can even become more friendly as a result of living solo; this is due to them socializing and becoming familiar with their owner rather than another chinchilla.
"Chinchillas are a cuddly pet"
Unfortunately, there are many who consider adopting a chinchilla due to the misconception that they are very sweet and cuddly. Although there are some chinchillas that can be very friendly and outgoing, chinchillas are usually independent animals for the most part. They are a prey animal so they tend to enjoy staying within their cage in their safe space. Cuddling or squeezing them can be a stressful situation as they may feel as though a predator is attacking them. Other complications that can arise from this is accidental organ damage from improper handling and overheating if they are pressed against human body heat for excessive amounts of time.
"Chinchillas are completely hypoallergenic"
No animal is completely hypoallergenic. Chinchillas typically get this description as they have very dense fur that doesn't release much dander. However it is rare, there are some people that are truly allergic to chinchillas. Another consideration to this is that chinchillas may also need pine bedding, timothy or alfalfa hay, and dust. Any of these can be triggering for allergic reactions. If you are considering a chinchilla because they are "hypoallergenic," do remember that you may have allergies to other items they require. You may want to ensure you are not allergic to these things before adopting a chinchilla.
"Chinchillas do not have a smell and you don't have to clean them often"
Any animal can have a smell, whether that is good or bad. Chinchillas are no exception to this, their supplies alone can already have a smell. Pine or aspen bedding and timothy/alfalfa hay may make their area have a slight "barn smell" as some describe it. In addition to this, when they begin to defecate and urinate in their cage these smells will start to add up over time. Within a week of cleaning your chinchillas cage, there will usually be a smell associated with it. To keep the cage and area smelling fresh, you will need to regularly clean the cage. This means any wet or damp areas, areas soiled with feces, and areas with a buildup of old food need to be thrown out and refreshed.
Please note, chinchillas do also defecate continuously all day. This is a very important part of their biological processes as it means their digestive system is healthy and working properly. Chinchillas can produce hundreds of small pellet sized feces per day. Though these do not typically have a smell, they can create a mess around the cage. We sweep our chinchilla room a minimum of once or twice daily. Chinchillas are masters of flinging poop across their cage and out onto the floor!
"Chinchillas will die if they get wet"
Chinchillas will not die if they get wet, they are not hydrophobic. Some breeders and rescues have had to give chinchillas a water bath due to injuries, buildup of dirt/grime, and other various reasons. These chinchillas were not harmed by the water bath in any way nor did it cause fur molding/mildew; they were dried soon after and back to living happily. However, this was only needed for extreme cases. Chinchillas do not need water baths, dust bathes only. Any chinchilla that gets wet just needs to be dried quickly and given a dust bath.
"Chinchilla fur is so thick it will grow mold if it gets wet"
Unlike the sloth, chinchillas are not slow moving sessile creatures. If a chinchilla were to get wet, the fur will dry just like any other animal. It will not mold or mildew, they will be back to normal soon after being wet. Kits are born wet and dry fairly quickly with no issue. Sometimes water bottles leak and will get a chin's belly wet, this will clear up with a good cage cleaning and dust bath. There is no need to worry about this, just be sure you provide a dust bath or gently dry them with a towel.
"Female chinchillas cannot have a dust bath after giving birth"
Female chinchillas can successfully use a dust bath during and after birth. There is no risk that they will get dust in the birth canal or uterus. Some chinchillas have even given birth within their dust bath after it induced their contractions. Pyometra is rare even in big herds of breeding chinchillas; if infection were common from dust related complications, many breeders and ranchers would be experiencing this frequently.
"Siblings or relatives of the opposite sex will not mate"
This statement is absolutely not true. Any animal has the potential to mate with an animal of the opposite sex regardless of familial relations. Chinchillas do not know who their siblings or parents are, they just know that they are with another chinchilla. If a pair of opposite sex siblings are housed together, these animals do not know they are brother and sister. Thus, they will not make the conscious decision to avoid mating with their relative. It is instinct and natural for animals to seek out a mate; this happens through pheromones and different displays of behaviors. If the closest animal to them is a sibling/parent/relative, then they will attempt to mate with them and can reproduce offspring. This can result in some defects when the animals are too closely related.
"Breeding white to white or TOV to TOV won't result in kits because of the lethal factor"
Although it is true that there is a lethal factor when breeding white to white or TOV to TOV, this does not mean that these pairings cannot have kits. The "lethal" factor indicates a fetus's failure to develop properly, reabsorption, and/or miscarriage due to being homozygous. Animals that receive two copies of the Wilson white gene or Gunning black gene would be considered "homozygous". Not every kit from one of these pairings would end up homozygous. Just like breeding hetero beige to hetero beige, this pairing would result in standard grey, hetero beige, and homo beige kits. This formula is the same for white to white or TOV to TOV. An example of this would be a black velvet bred to a black velvet. This pairing would have a 50% chance of having a black velvet kit, a 25% chance of having a standard grey kit, and a 25% chance of having a non-viable kit with the lethal factor (two copies of the Gunning black gene/homo black velvet). Even though kits are possible in this mating, it is not recommended to breed white to white or TOV to TOV as it can result in poorer quality offspring. Thus, opposite sex pet quality animals should never be paired together with reliance on the lethal factor to prevent a litter. If you have a white male chinchilla and a white female chinchilla, these should not be housed together as they can still produce kits. The same can be said for housing a black velvet male and female together. The lethal factor does not mean no chance of pregnancy. If you are considering breeding, please consult with a reputable breeder and attend some chinchilla shows first. We do not condone backyard breeding.