What is a Chinchilla?

As you poke around the pet store in search of a new fuzzy friend for your family, you might stumble upon the chinchilla habitat. What are those bouncy, little fluff balls? In simplest terms, these pets are classified as mammals in the rodent family with super soft fur and wide, kind eyes. Chinchillas, while gaining in popularity in the United States, are native to the Andes Mountains of South America.

What Does a Chinchilla Look Like?

When you first peek at a chinchilla, aka "chin," you might think it's a baby rabbit with its large comical ears and fluffy tail. However, a chinchilla has a much longer tail than a baby bunny and more rounded (not elongated) ears. Chinchillas also have wiry whiskers, cute button noses and plump bodies covered in dense, silky fur. 

Chinchillas are often gray, but also come in tones of pearl white, bluegray, or a gray back and white tummy combo. They have big black eyes and cheek pouches to store food, much like a hamster! If you look at a chinchilla's feet, you see tiny little paw pads (like cat or dog) and little toes used for grasping and climbing. Chinchillas can grow to 9 to 14 inches in length, plus a bushy tail of 3 to 6 inches. When it comes to weight, the males top out around 1 pound, while females get a little heavier at just under 2 pounds.

Kaytee blog What is a Chinchilla?

Do Chinchillas Make Good Pets?

Yes, chinchillas make good pets! They don't tend to nibble when handled gently and treated with kindness. They also have a calm demeanor. Chins can be bouncy and run fast, so they are best suited to older, responsible children or adults who will keep a close eye on the pet when it's getting exercise outside of its habitat. 

In the wild, chinchillas live approximately 10 years. However, when kept as a household pet, they can thrive and live much longer lives of up to 20 years. When getting a chin for a family pet, be ready to commit to its long-term care and needs — much like adopting a dog or cat.

How Do I Care for a Pet Chinchilla?

Chinchillas are herbivores. This means in the wild Chinchillas enjoy a variety of grasses, seeds, leaves, roots, flowers, and vegetables. When kept as a pet, a balanced pellet diet like Kaytee Food From The Wild will keep your pet happy. Also, be sure to include a chew toy or treat to help the pet keep their teeth from becoming overgrown. 

When it comes to sleep, your pet chinchilla will prefer to snooze part of the day and most of the night. After all, they are crepuscular, or most active at dawn and dusk. So, don't be surprised to notice lots of afternoon naps. It's best to play with your pet in the evening just before you go to bed when your chin is waking up in the morning. 

Kaytee blog What is a Chinchilla?

Evenings are also a good time to offer the pet a dust bath. Simply fill a Kaytee Chinchilla Bath House with Kaytee Chinchilla Bath Sand, and the critter will instinctively know what to do. You'll see the chinchilla rolling in the powdery volcanic mountain ash, shaking, and going for another roll. This process keeps their dense fur coat clean and in good health. 

Think your chin might also enjoy a soak in a bath? They won't! Moisture can get trapped in their dense fur and may cause skin health issues. To avoid skin health issues, do not use water and stick to dust baths. Your chinchilla will thank you. 

As you explore new small animal pet options for your family, know there are other furry creatures out there beyond guinea pigs, hamsters and gerbils. Chinchillas may not be common in some areas, but they are every bit as loving and docile as other small pets. 


Smithsonian's National Zoo & Conservation Biology Institute — Longtailed chinchilla
Merck Veterinary Manual — Routine Health Care for Chinchillas