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In their native South America, chinchillas roll in volcanic ash to help keep their thick fur coats clean. Similarly, pet chinchillas require a dust bath two to three times per week. To keep their coats shiny and to absorb skin oil, pet chinchillas should be given a plastic or cardboard dust box, at least six-by-six-by-nine inches, with two to three inches of dust in the bottom. Commercially available chinchilla dust can be found online and in pet stores. Complete dust bath kits (plastic containers with spherical bottoms and roof-shaped tops) are also sold online and in stores. Dust baths should be offered for 10 to 15 minutes at a time and should be removed after use. Chinchillas typically jump into the bath, roll around in the dust rapidly over and over, and appear to really enjoy it. Since the dust can become soiled with urine and feces, it should be changed every two to three weeks or whenever it starts to clump together.
Chinchillas release clumps of fur when handled improperly, stressed or when fighting — a defense mechanism called “fur slip.” In the wild, when caught in the mouth of a predator, the chinchilla releases a patch of fur to escape. No permanent damage is usually done to the skin when this occurs. The fur re-grows, although new growth may take several months. Since they have this defense mechanism, pet chinchillas should be handled gently with one hand under the body and the other around the base of the tail. When they need to be restrained, wrap the body in a towel. Care should be taken not to grasp the skin or fur, or the chinchilla may release a large clump of hair into the grasper’s hand.
Wild chinchillas are very active in the evening, particularly during and after dusk. However, pet chinchillas adapt readily to humans’ schedules. Pets should be provided with some quiet time during daylight hours and a hide box in which to sleep, if they choose. Many enjoy a wheel in their cages to run on and to get exercise at night. Make sure the wheel is large enough — guinea pig sized is best! Since chinchillas commonly like to run at night, if you are a light sleeper, a chinchilla might not be the best pet for you.
Pet chinchillas, when provided with proper care and nutrition, live on average about 10 years. Some pets have been reported to live as long as 20 years. Individuals thinking about a chinchilla as a pet should consider whether they are prepared to care for an animal for this many years.
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