The Chinchilla FAQ, version 3

This entire document came from the ChinNet Website.
I've made a few changes, but the bulk of this document is reproduced here as it was presented on ChinNet.
It is the end product of many peoples effort.
If you have any questions, or suggestions on how this may be improved, feel free to send me an e-mail.


Contents

  1. Housing
    1. General
    2. Room temperature
    3. Cage equipment
    4. Wood used in the cage
  2. Care
    1. Bathing and grooming
    2. Feeding
    3. Exercise
    4. Is it safe for my chin to chew on cardboard ?
  3. Travel.
  4. Behavior
    1. Relations with other species of animals
    2. Social life with other chins
    3. Introducing a new animal in a existing group
    4. How to become friends with your chinchilla
    5. To catch a chinchilla on the loose
    6. Is it possible to litter train a chinchilla ?
    7. She suddenly starts sleeping on her side ?
  5. Health
  6. Breeding
    1. Genetics
    2. How do I know she is pregnant ?
    3. Related sites.
  7. Miscellaneous chin facts
    1. Affection
    2. Intelligence
    3. Origins
    4. Training

1.0 HOUSING

1.1 General

You must house your chinchilla in a wire cage or it will chew its way out and escape. When picking out a cage, find one that gives your pet a comfortable amount of space. Make sure that the wire is not painted or plastic coated (If it is, your chin will chew it off). If it is necessary for your chin to stay in a pet carrier for an extended period of time, you should line the interior of the carrier with wire mesh to avoid the chin chewing its way out.

When buying a drop tray cage style, try to buy a cage with openings no larger than 1" x 2" (inches). You'd be amazed at the small spaces a chin can squeeze through. If you plan to breed them, wire openings no larger than 1/2" x 1" will be needed.

Cages with pull out trays are another option. Although these cages are more difficult to clean than the drop tray models, they are recommended by many breeders for their safety features. They claim that fewer leg injuries occur when using these types of cages and baby chins remain warmer due to the lack of drafts. I feel safer with this type of a cage when breeding chins. If you have a shelf in it, make sure the grating is 1/2" x 1/2" or smaller. There have been several reports of leg injuries with larger shelves.

If you have one chinchilla, you should only have to change the droppings tray once a week (depends on the size of the cage - use your best judgment). A cage without a droppings tray may need to be cleaned more often to prevent illnesses and bacterial infections.  Their litter does not stink if you keep the cage clean, but as an added deodorizer you can sprinkle baking soda in the drop tray. Chinchilla cages have very little odor if they are kept clean. Once you have found your chin's favorite "pee" corner, you can line that area more heavily and add baking soda as a deodorizer.

If you do not have a wire bottom cage (drop tray), you can use pine shavings as a litter absorber. Some owners have mentioned that their chins had allergic reactions when cedar shavings were used as a cage liner.

You should remove your chin from the cage every few months and disinfect it. (It is recommended that you disinfect the cage of a sick chin.)

Once you have chosen a cage, you should find a location in the house where your animal will be comfortable. Keep your chins out of drafts during colder months and in a well vented area in the warmer months. Keep them out of direct hot sunlight. Heat prostration is a common problem seen when chins get too hot. (Check the room temperature section.)

Make sure that there are no electrical wires near the cage. Your pet will chew through them.

Cage size is also important. And bigger is better. Chins like a lot of room to live in. Rene & Bernice from the Netherlands explain: They need to be able to climb, run around, and play. Chins have a lot of energy (at least ours have), and need 'exercise'. If your chin is housed in a cage which is too small to play in and is not allowed to run outside the cage; you will end up with a frustrated and unhappy chin.

Take a peek at the chinchilla cage page at ChinNet to see some examples of how people house their chinchillas.

The following section was written by Kristen :

Right Location to Place The Cage

Once you have chosen a cage, you want to find a location in the house where your animal will be comfortable. During colder months, you should keep your pet out of cold drafty areas. Keep them out of direct, hot sunlight. Heat prostration is a common  problem seen when chins get too hot.

Other things to keep in mind :

1.2 Room temperature

Q: It's summertime. Is it too hot ?

That depends. If your room temperature is over 25 Celsius or 77 fahrenheit, you should take precautions to protect your animals. If it is even hotter, over 30 Celsius or 86 fahrenheit, you are in trouble.

There are a number of things you can do. Obviously, turn up the air conditioner if you are lucky enough to have one. If you get the temperature down to the 25 Celsius / 77 fahrenheit mark, they will be fine. There is no need to lower the temperature more.

If there is a cooler room in the house, move the cage there. Since a move of this type is sure to awaken the chin, be sure to do it during the cool time of the day to avoid their activity during peak heat

Alternatively, you can also give them a large cooking pan filled with ice cubes. More than likely, they will snuggle up to it to cool down. Make sure they cannot fall in though.

If you have tried everything to cool them but notice that they are not behaving normally, do not awaken them. If they are awake and active, they may run the risk of having heat stroke and this is often fatal.

There is not much point in setting up fans to blow air towards them, because a chinchilla does not sweat. Drew Carter explains : Fans *feel* cooler to humans because cooling is an evaporative process for us. Perspiration evaporates, and we cool off. Chins don't perspire so a fan just blows room temperature air at them. Chins cool off by a radiant process, causing the ears turn pink when they get overheated. Many animals that have large ears in relation to their body size, (elephants, or guinea pigs, for example) cool off this way. I don't think a fan would do your chin any harm, but I don't think it does any good either.

According to Chinster: A suitable temperature range for Chins will be 10-27°C [50-80°F]. However, the acceptable upper temperature range will vary according to the relative humidity [ie., the higher the humidity, the lower the maximum temperature]. For Chin kits, a temperature range of 15-25°C [60-77°F] may be more suitable. At the low end, ensure there is plenty of bedding.

A useful rule-of-thumb for determining the maximum temperature-humidity combination for Chins is the 100 Factor: the sum of 100 for the temperature in Celsius (with 30°C being the maximum absolute temperature) plus the relative humidity equals the maximum safe level [ie., 30°C + 70%]. [Nevertheless, one should be quite concerned with relative humidity levels higher than 70%.]

For non-metric systems, this rule would translate to the "150 Factor" with 86°F being the maximum absolute temperature, regardless of humidity. For example, a combination of 70°F plus 80% relative humidity would be the maximum safe level.

At the low end, adult Chins can tolerate temperatures as low as 5°C [40°F], provided a gradual acclimatization period is implemented (sudden changes may be too stressful), dampness is minimal, and they have adequate nutrition, water and bedding, and a nesting box, etc. It is strongly recommended that a wooden nest box be provided for these conditions. If nothing else, it will at least act as a good chew toy!

1.3 Cage equipment

Your pet needs some basic feeding equipment. I prefer using a feeder that can be attached to the side of the cage. This avoids, spillage, and stops the chins from urinating in it. If you do use a dish, make sure it is heavy enough that it won't be tipped over. If they do urinate in it, clean the dish immediately.

The water bottle should be the kind with a metal drinking spout. Your pet will chew a hole through a plastic bottle so protect it if you hang it inside the cage. The local pet stores should have total metal encasing for water bottles. This is only a suggestion. If you attach the bottle on the outside of the cage, placing some wire mesh between it and the bottle will also help stop them from chewing through it. If you can find a glass bottle, this may save money in the long run. Water bottles should be washed with soap and water every time you refill them to avoid bacteria problems. Be sure to rinse out all the soap.

Chin blocks (or pumice blocks) will help keep their teeth short and straight, as well as different types of wood. They love apple tree branches. For more information on this, see the wood discussion further down on this page.

Also, they make wheels big enough for chinchillas, and if you have room in the cage, they will enjoy it. I avoid these with babies to avoid trampling. I have never had a problem, but I did hear of one that got it's foot caught, so it is possible.

There is a list of chinchilla supply mail order companies on the WWW. Most of them will happily ship chinchilla wheels to you. The wheels sold by ChinsToGo have a solid running surface, thus eliminating the risk of foot damage. Kristen says : Wheels should be removed when there are newborns in the cage.

Another item that many pet stores carry is 'hiding places'. These are basically just half of a hollowed out log. They will chew these, sit on them, and hide under them. These are made of cedar however, so they may not be good for them, although I've had one with a chin for 5 years without a problem. An alternative to to take a large coffee can, remove the end, and use a hammer to pound out sharp edges. Flatten the can a bit to stop it from rolling. They seem to enjoy it.

1.4 Wood used to decorate the cage

Not all wood can be used safely in a chinchilla cage, or used as bedding for the cage. A discussion in the alt.chinchilla newsgroup ended in this list :
 
Good, safe to use
  • Apple
  • Pear
  • Hazelnut
  • Manzanita
  • Pine (if clean of phenol oils)
  • Willow
OK, or not completely sure
  • Birch
  • Limetree
  • Ash-tree
  • Aspen
  • Oak
  • Juniper
Bad, do not use
  • Orange
  • Grapefruit
  • Lemon
  • Cherry - wild Cherry
  • Plum
  • Walnut
  • Cedar
  • any citrus wood
  • Fresh pine branches (too full of pitch to be good for chins' digestion)

A discussion in Chinmail about the virtues of Pine produced these words of wisdom from Chinster:
The presense of turpentine in pine is not really significant as far as the health of our Chins is concerned for several reasons.

First, while Chins do eat the occasional pine shaving, the actual amount consumed is modest. Mine will typically consume pine shavings only during the few minutes after the cage has been just cleaned.Furthermore, as "chewing machines", Chins, like beavers, chew a lot more wood than they swallow in order to keep their ever-growing teeth in optimal condition.

Secondly, Chins, like most animals, gauge their consumption partly upon taste. So, consumption of "funny-tasting" substances tend to be self-limiting.

Third, the concentration of turpentine in pine is quite low. turpentine comprises 10 - 20% of the pine resin which in turn is approximately 3 -5% of total dry biomass of the tree. A common extraction process is steam distillation and accordingly requires a considerable amount of wood to produce commercially viable quantities of turpentine: 150 tonnes of turpentine requires 0.3 - 0.5 million trees. From an alternative perspective, an average 50-year old pine tree of 1000 kg will yield 0.2 - 0.4 kg of turpentine or 0.02 - 0.04% by mass.

Fourth, KILN-drying involves heating pine boards in an oven at a temperature of around 100°C (wet-bulb temperature of 110°C) for 17 - 72 hours, depending upon the thickness of the boards. This temperature is high enough to accelerate the vapourization of the turpentine but not enough to cause it to harden to a solid [since turpentine's boiling point is 150 - 180°C, only a temperature above this could cause either combustion or carmelization &/or hardening]. The shavings are collected when these boards are subsequently planed to desired dimensions. They represent the outermost layers with the least amount of volatile aromatic oils and so are relatively inert. [Note that air-drying is preferred over kiln-drying for construction-grade lumber as the heat-treatment process destabilizes wood cells, reducing the insulation value and accelerates splitting, cracking and checking. However, air-drying takes much longer, on the order of 60-200 days for pine.] Alternatively wood shavings & chips may be heated directly if the wood is being processed specifically for turpentine production. The end result is the same: inert wood shavings.



2.0 CARE

2.1 Bathing & grooming

To keep your pet happy, you should keep him/her clean and groomed. A chin loves to take baths in a special chinchilla dust. He/she will dive in and roll in the "dust". Never put your chin in real sand. Dusting 2-2 times a week is sufficient. If you live in a more humid area, you may have to give baths more often. A drier climate, less often. The dust may be reused, but dropping should be removed. Once the dust appears clumpy, it is time to replace it. After a mother delivers, she should not be given a dust bath for 10 days in order to avoid infections.

Do not wash a chinchilla with water. The dust will help keep then clean and their fur soft. If you do happen to get your pet wet roll him up in a towel immediately set a or set a hairdryer on "low" and dry your pet. Make sure the air is not too hot ! Only in dire circumstances should you give a water bath.

If you have more have one cage of chinchillas, each should have their own container. Using the same dust for multiple cages is a good way to pass on a disease.

2.2 Feeding

A chinchilla's regular diet consists of a pellet that looks like rabbit food but it contains specific nutrients a Chin needs - Chin Chow. Do not use rabbit food - it contains hormones.

Your pet will eat as much of its chow as he/she needs so you may refill the feeder when it is empty, but if the chin starts to get fat and lethargic, he should be put on a diet. 1 kilogram of pellets should feed your chin for a month. This comes down to 35 grams per day. Or, alternatively : 1 lb of pellets will last about 20-30 days when feeding a single chinchilla.

Your pet should have unlimited access to hay or alfalfa. The blocks (cubes) of alfalfa can be used, but many are very hard and not fresh. By no means replace the pellets as your chin's main diet.

Chinchilla's enjoy a wide variety of treats (these should only be given in strict moderation). Give your pet only one type of treat a day. An adult chin may have 1-2 raisins a day, but no more. You do not want to give your pet too many treats because the fat he collects on his body will shorten his life.

Make sure that your pet does eat his pellets. If it seems like he/she is only eating the supplement and treats, remove both for a day or two so he has to eat the pellets.

2.3 Exercise

To keep a happy and healthy chin make sure he/she gets plenty of exercise. A good way to provide your pet with the exercise he needs is to get a chinchilla wheel. Mount this inside the cage and your chinchilla will use it. Another way to allow your pet to exercise is to allow him to run around in a room that has been chinchilla proofed.

To chinchilla proof a room, make sure that there are no wires within easy access. Cover any holes in which your pet may escape. Pick up anything that may be harmful if they eat it (for example: don't leave household cleaners on surfaces).

It is not suggested to bring your pet outside, because if he/she gets away from you he will be very difficult to catch. Also, there is the danger of cats deciding to make a meal out of your pet.

2.4 Is it safe for chinchillas to chew on cardboard ?

Answered by Tobes :

Yes, as long as you follow some simple guidelines:

  1. The cardboard should be relatively new. Don't use cardboard that has been sitting around and may have had a chance to get wet as this may have been infected with a bacteria or mold. This could make your chinchilla very sick or even kill it.
  2. The cardboard should have VERY little or no ink.
  3. The cardboard should be clean.
Some other things to think about:
  1. Cardboard is NOT a substitute for wood or pumice stone. Unfortunately, when chins chew on the cardboard it does not wear down their teeth enough. The only reason to provide it to them is that Chins love to *destroy* something and cardboard seems to be as good as any. Also, a lot of Chins are locked up in there cages for at least 22 hours a day and so it gives the Chinchillas something to do. One of the ways to keep a chinchilla happy (and therefore healthy) is to give it fun things to do in its cage.
  2. Many people have suggested toilet role centers as a suitable cardboard chew toy.
  3. Keep in mind that cardboard should not become part of the diet. Any cardboard which gets eaten is some nutritious food that isn't eaten. It has been noticed that pets who get lots of cardboard for extended periods may lose tooth color, indicating inadequate nutrition. This means you should take precautions to prevent them from eating too much.

3.0 TRAVEL

Most likely, if you are traveling by car your pet will sleep or pout most of the way. When you stop, be sure to offer him water if a bottle is not attached to the cage. Also if it is hot out, do not leave your pet in the car with the windows closed. This is very dangerous because the amount of heat that will build up can kill your pet. For information on heat stroke, check the temperature section.

If traveling by plane, make sure that you have an airline approved pet carrier. You may want to line the cage with wire mesh to keep your chin from destroying it and to prevent airline handlers from deviling your pet.

USAir will allow you to bring your pet in the cabin if the carrier is small enough to fit under the seat in front of you. Delta makes your pet ride in the baggage compartment; so if you are flying during the winter you might want to put something in with your chin to snuggle up in for warmth.

I am not sure of the policy for traveling by bus or by train.

Visiting Relatives

Make it very clear to your family the don'ts of chin care. My family gets a kick out of feeding my chin's treats... this spoils them and they collect fat. It also can lead to soft droppings, which may smell!

4.0 BEHAVIOR

4.1 Relations with other species of animals

Do not leave your pet unattended with another animal!

I have heard of some cases where chins lived happily with dogs and cats, but extreme caution should always be used. Do not house them with other animals, as the food is different and there is no way to make sure they eat the right food.

4.2 Chin sociability

(The history of this question is that nearly all the posts we saw and chins that we've met always seem to be in pairs, so we wondered if they do need to live together).

Chinmom wrote: No, if you are their or its, social support you only need one, but then you become the other chinchilla.

Elena Forsythe wrote: You don't need to have two. I know 3 people who have had only one and those three have been with their owners for over 10 years. It also depends on the chinchilla. The first one I bought seems to be a loner. He didn't mind being alone, and actually seemed annoyed at the mate we bought him a few months later. Yet that chinchilla loved to be around him, and clung to him even though he didn't want her around all the time. Our second female chinchilla is another loner though, we keep her and our male chinchilla separated, and only let them play together during their hour exercise, and they don't seem to mind. The reason we got two was because we loved them so much that we wanted another, but not because we thought they needed to pair off (as the male proved, he's happier alone).

4.3 Introducing a new animal in the existing group

Most of the times, when you have an existing group of animals and you want to add a new one, it will not get accepted easily. Chinchillas recognize each other by smell, so what you need to do is slowly introduce the new smell in the cage.

I (Rene) know of two ways to do this :

  1. Put the new chinchilla in a small cage, and place it in the big cage. This way, the animals of your existing group can see and smell the new occupant, but not fight. Let it sit there for 3-4 days. Then, open the small cage and observe. If one of the animals is very aggressive (doesn't matter if it is the new one or one of the other animals), punish it by locking it in the small cage for 24 hours. Then, try again. If you have a second cage, you could also put the new animal in there and slide the two cages up to each other.
  2. Mask the natural smell of the animals with something like perfume or a small drop of Eucalyptus oil. Then, lock them in a small cage, so small that they cannot move or walk around without touching and smelling each other. Because the smell you put on the animals slowly fades away, this will gradually reveal the 'nose fingerprint' of the new one.

4.4 How do I become friends with my new pet?

A lot of new chinchilla owners are disappointed by the fact that the animal does not come up to them. This is quite normal behavior, as a chinchilla is a very energetic and curious animal. It will spend a lot of time discovering the new world it has just been released in. To get the animal used to you, leave it in the cage. Put your arm through the opening, thus encouraging the animal to climb on and discover this new 'tree branch'. If needed, you could put a raisin on the palm of your hand, in such a way the chinchilla can only get to it by climbing. After a couple of days, the animal should be quite comfortable on your arm. Then, open the cage and encourage it to walk up to your shoulder. Reward it with a raisin or two. If you have done this for some time, you can take a raisin between your lips, and feed it to the animal. This will help the chinchilla overcome the fear of 'that big thing that comes up to me and talks'. Remember, the typical chinchilla is not a lap animal. It just is to energetic to sit still for more than a few seconds. However, once it used to humans, it will come up to you, climb and walk all over you. It is best if you sit on the floor when you release them, as they will interact with you more.

4.5 How do I catch a chinchilla ?

First things first : do you need to catch it ? Most chinchillas will, given some time, go back into their cage if they can. They really feel it is their house. If you never let your chin run free, this make take a hour or two, before he/she has had enough of this sudden freedom and decides it is time to go back.

If you decide your chin has to go back in the cage, try to avoid chasing the animal. This is a very stressful experience for your pet, if it is a chinchilla or any other rodent. If possible, get the animal to walk onto you and walk it to the cage. If that does not work, a raisin or two may help.

If you need to grab the animal, either try to 'scoop it up' with your hands or lift it by holding it by the tail, close to the body. This will not hurt the chinchilla, but I agree it feels unnatural to pick it up this way at first.

If you just can't get close enough to the chinchilla to pick it up, try the 'dust bath' method : don't give them a dust bath before you release them. Then, when it's time to go back in, put the dust bath on the floor. Most chinchillas will jump in as soon as they see it. Pick up the bowl, chinchilla and all, and put it in the cage.

If all this does not work, you only have 'the chase' method left.

4.6 Is it possible to litter train a chinchilla ?

No. They will most likely not urinate outside of the cage (unless released for hours and hours), but will leave a trail of dropping everywhere. I have the feeling the animals don't even notice they are doing it. However, since the droppings are hard and dry (like rabbit droppings), so they can easily be removed using your vacuum cleaner.

4.7 My chinchilla suddenly starts sleeping on its side ?

This can be caused by a number of factors. These are : It is no cause for concern.

5.0 HEALTH

Chins have very few problems, but here are some things to look for: Rene & Bernice wrote: You may also find they develop fungus in their ears, but that can be cured using sand bath additions.

Elena Forsythe wrote: Avoid putting them in drafty areas; they are susceptible to pneumonia. However, if you live in a warm area, they will need to be kept in a cool area. Where I live, it gets very warm for them (Elena is from Hawaii), and they lie on their sides gasping for breaths at times. They also love ice chips during these times too.

Be careful with painted wood. It is quite common for paint to contain lead. If your chinchilla chews this wood (for example the baseboards in your house), he or she may develop lead poisoning. It is good to know that testing the paint in your home is very easy, lead testing kits are available in most hardware stores and cost about $6.00 US


6.0 BREEDING

6.1 Genetics

There are many things to be aware of when breeding chinchillas. As I mentioned before, the cage size must be different - having smaller gaps. Inbreeding is discouraged. Females can get pregnant at an age of 3-5 months, but should not be bred until at least 8 months of age. There are some lethal factors among certain mutations. For example whites should not be bred to whites, and black velvets should not be bred to black velvets.

If you are serious about breeding, I recommend you contact me (Jim Jensen) for some additional advice. I have been doing some research on genetics (not easy to get info on chins), and have learned about different mutations and their breeding. I don't think I'll ever understand it all, but I can try to help.

There are two genetics documents on ChinNet now, that will give you some background information and a idea what colors to expect when you start breeding your chins. The first one was written by Jim Jensen, while the second one was written by Mike Thurston.

After delivery, giving the mother some cranberry juice will help replenish some of vitamins. Check the babies to make sure their stomachs are full. If you need to hand feed, a combination of Vitamin D milk and Gerbers mixed dry baby cereal works well. Heat to lukewarm, and feed via a dropper. Do not force the milk down, let the baby drink it. Forcing it can kill them by putting the liquid in their lungs. If you ever hear a clicking sound, it means there is fluid in the lungs. In this case you need to hold the baby firmly in the palm of your hand. With a downward sling, shake the water out of the lungs. You may have to repeat this, wiping any fluid off the nose so it does not go back in.

Be careful with some vets because not all know much about these critters. There is a list of vets that are knowledgeable about chinchillas on ChinNet. Also, be careful what some pet stores tell you, as some do not know much about them either.

6.2 How do I know she is pregnant ?

This is a tough one. You would not be the first to be suprised by a litter when visiting the cage one morning. It is almost impossible to see it coming.

One strong sign is when you find the so-called estrus plug. This is a small, white, wax-like plug, about one inch long. It is formed by the female shortly after mating. Once you see it, you can start counting. In 111 days from now, be ready to become a chinchilla grand-parent.

Keep in mind the estrus plug is almost never found in a cage when the floor is covered with wood shavings.

The alternative is when you actually witnessed the mating. Look closely for the estrus plug the next morning. Perhaps now, because you know, you are able to find it. If you find one, it confirms what you saw the day before. If not, start counting the 111 days anyway. You have a big chance she is pregnant.

If you did not notice she got pregnant, it is very hard to tell afterwards. An experienced breeder can 'squeeze' the animal, feeling inside her. This is a procedure that should absolutely not be performed by amateurs. If it is done incorrectly, you can cause the abortion of the unborn babies.

Another sign is when she suddenly start sleeping in unusual positions. If this happens, and the other reasons for doing this do not apply, she may be pregnant. This however is by far not as certain a method as finding the estrus plug.

The last alternative is weighing her on a regular basis. If you see a small decrease in weight, followed by a steady increase, she again may be pregnant.

You will have noticed chinchilla pregnancy is not as easy to see as it is with humans or other animals. Don't worry, there is no need to take exceptional precautions. If she does suddenly deliver, there is no immediate need to help her. Chinchilla mothers are pretty self supporting.

6.3 Related sites

Look here for Jim Jensen's (Chinman) breeding tips.

7.0 MISCELLANEOUS CHIN FACTS

7.1 Affection

Q: Are they affectionate and if so how do they show it ?

Chinmom wrote: When they learn to trust you they are willing to be held, petted, and they will sit on your arm, in a pocket, and in individual ways interact. For instance, a friend has a chin who will sit and watch TV with her and if she [the chin] doesn't like the program she will chatter until Rox changes channels to what BEBop likes. I have a beggar who loves to eat and asks for everything going, and then rejects it if it isn't what he likes. He likes to hide under the entertainment center and run out and sit on my back if I lie down on the floor. There he will settle down and rest. If they are afraid of you they will hide from you, and even nip or rear up and aim a stream of urine at you. This last trait is limited to female chins only.
 I also know of someone whose chinchilla stays on his shoulder wherever he goes; he goes to the supermarket with the chinchilla riding on his shoulder, cuddled up against his neck. My female, though, hates to be touched by humans. She will bite, attack, and even shoot urine at any hand that comes near her (unless she smells a raisin in the hand). Then, she will allow the hand to come close, and even scratch her (some love to be scratched! around their ears, down their cheeks.. mine will even tilt her head to show you where she wants to be scratched, and then close her eyes in complete bliss if you scratch her the right way). So again, it depends on the chinchilla. Some will love to be held, some will love to play with you, and some rather not be bothered.

7.2 How do they compare with other animals, intelligence-wise ?

Elean Forsythe wrote: I have read that chinchillas are as intelligent as squirrels, and the author remarked that if you have ever watched a squirrel, you will know how intelligent they are. However, my male chinchilla does recognize his name, and will come when I call him (as for the female though, she doesn't, or she's playing deaf). They can be taught tricks such as come, sit up, etc. I have read that they can be taught to speak but I haven't accomplished that yet. Chinchillas are very much into routines. They have an internal clock in them that is very accurate, to the point that they get upset if you don't feed them at the same time every day or are not able to take their bath until maybe an hour later. They don't like their routines to be broken. My chins know that if they come out of their cage willingly, when they are put back in, they will get a raisin, and they will wait by the door until you give them their raisin. If I walk away without giving their raisins, they throw a fit, almost as if to say, hey, I came out nicely, whereas my treat ? They will have their routines down within days and will know exactly when it is time for dinner or time to play. When running around, they also take time to survey their surroundings before letting loose, and then once they know where everything is, they will just let it rip, running all over. If you change something in the room during that time, it will confuse them and they will probably go crashing into something because they already have the way everything was memorized so that they are able to just run around as they do, bouncing off walls and running without fear or danger.

7.3 Where do they come from, and what are they related to ?

Elena Forsythe wrote: Chinchillas originally came from high atop the Andes Mountains in South America, so are used to cold, dry weather, and have very thick fur because of that. Now, though, you can buy chinchillas almost everywhere. They were brought to America in the 60s, though mostly for ranching purposes, but soon caught on as a loving, adorable pet.

And continued: Chinchillas are rodents, which means they are related to rats, mice, guinea pigs, squirrels, beavers, and even porcupines. Because they are rodents, they love to gnaw at things to keep their ever growing teeth trimmed.

(FAQ authors' note: There is a body of opinion that holds that Guinea Pigs are not actually rodents at all, just a piece of coincidental evolution. Whether Chins fall into this non-rodent category or not, we don't know. They sure as hell look like rodents.)

7.4 Can chins be trained?

According to Neo Geshel: This comes down to one of the basic differences in the "higher" animals: the difference between being a herd animal and a pack animal. Herd animals, by their very nature, are relatively non confrontational. While there may be a hierarchy within a herd, it is relatively loose and open so long as those who would overly threaten the status quo do not join.
Pack animals, on the other hand, live and die by strict confrontational interactions. If you want to join a pack, you must first prove yourself. If you wish to rise in status, that status is not based on age and experience (like elephants), but by the "law of the strongest" (like wolves). Whoever can dominate all the other members of the pack becomes the de-facto leader. They are the ones that send direct commands down the chain of command and mete out rewards and punishments.

Chinchillas, in general, tend to be herd animals. A bit on the isolationist side, but herd animals nonetheless. Therefore, there is nothing in their evolutionary/genetic makeup that implores them to obey the commands of another individual or entity. If you wish to train them, you must train via repetition. You must start out small, with a tiny action, working on it until the become habitualized to that action, then build on that action bit by bit until you have the entire routine. The one danger with herd animals is that this habitualized action can become self destructive in times of stress.

This makes chinchillas very hard to train. Unlike Dogs or other pack animals, chinchillas have no overwhelming genetic need to obey you out of anything other than self interest. They will not obey you simply because you are dominant, such as dogs. As such, you must get to know your chinchilla very intimately, find out the things that truly motivate them (specific foods, playthings, etc.) and use desirable (but in portions that are unfullfilling) stimuli to get them to repeat a desired action or movement.

Another thing I should point out is, that even if you get a chinchilla trained, there is very little that will induce them to repeat the trained action except a desire for the reward. If they do not want another reward (say, if your reward portions have been too big, and they are sated), then they will not have motivation to to the "trick" again. (And once again, another major difference between a herd animal and a pack animal. A Dog would do the trick without prompting or reward after a while. Herd animals always need the reward to reinforce the trick.)

It hasn't been updated in several years, but this is one of the original chin sites:  ChinNet.