|Health & Behaviour|
Chinchillas do not like to be alone, and love the company of other Chins. This is understandable when you consider that they in large groups in the wild. They enjoy talking to each other, grooming themselves and each other, and love nothing more than snuggling up to each other! Before getting your Chin a companion, however, consider exactly what you want. If you get a male and a female, you will inevitably have babies, which you must then find good homes for. If you are not interested in breeding, then get 2 same sex Chinchillas, or a female and a castrated male.
The first step in introducing Chinchillas, is to put the 2 cages next to each other. Make sure that you leave a gap between the cages, incase somebody gets a nip on the toe or nose! They may argue or spit at each other to start with, or the female may even spray the male with urine! This should hopefully stop within a couple of days, and then you can begin introductions - but remember that each Chin has its own personality, so don't try to rush things. I do first meetings in the play area, and always have my partner in the room incase things go wrong. I have never had an agressive introduction, but if you do, separate them, and give it a few days before you try again. Some Chins will never accept a friend or mate, whereas others need hardly any time before they are best buddies! If the first meet goes well, then I repeat the joint playtime for a few days before putting them in a cage together. If they are going to share a cage which one of them already lives in, then I thoroughly clean it, and move things around to avoid any territorial behaviour. I still separate them for the first few nights or if I am not there, incase of a spat!
Occassionally Chinchillas that have been together for sometime, will suddenly fall out. This can happen if 2 males live together, and a new female comes into the house. Also, if couples are separated for any reason then they may require a gradual re-introduction. On rare occassions, Chinchillas will just fall out for no apparent reason - they may never be able to live together again.
Chinchillas have a gestation period of 111 days, and come into season every 28-34 days, for about 4-5 days. You may find a small waxy plug following conception, although I have never seen one. The normal litter size is 2-3, although this does depend on the female. The male will usually help during labour by drying the kits and keeping them warm until the delivery is complete. The male should then be removed from the cage, and needs to be separated from mom for 5 days to avoid breed-back. My cages have a parition that can be put in so that dad is just next door! I always put each kit in with dad for a short time every day, to avoid any problems when they are re-introduced.
There are several factors which you need to take into consideration before you decide to let your Chins breed. Do you have the ability to let your little ones go to stangers? What would you do if you could not find them a new home? Could you cope if things went wrong during labour? Do you have a spare cage for dad, and for weaning? You must also take into consideration colours and genetics: you should never breed 2 Black Vevets, 2 Brown Velvets or 2 White Chinchillas together as they carry a lethal gene. To see what possible colour combinations you will get, go to Silverfall Colour Calculator. The age of the Chinchilla also needs to be taken into consideration. A female should never be put with a male unless she is atleast 8 months old. The male can be a little younger, but not too young, as he may get bullied! It is generally better if you put 2 similar aged Chinchillas together. Also, you must never put a small female with a large male, as the offspring may be too large for her to deliver.
During the latter stages of pregnancy, the females appetite may increase. Give her extra food and hay to meet her needs. This will stop as the big day approaches, and some females stop eating entirely. You may notice her lying on her side, and you will almost ceratainly notice the weight gain! You must ensure that she does not get stressed at this time, and you should avoid the urge to handle her too much or check her tummy. Also, she must not have a sand bath directly before or after giving birth.
The babies normally arrive in the early morning, so it is likely you will miss it all! They do not normally need any help, but be prepared. If the contractions stop, or if from the first signs of labour she has not passed the afterbirth within 3-4 hours, then she needs to see a vet. If neither mom nor dad makes any effort to dry the kits, then remove them and gently dry with a towel. Once they are warm, pop them back into the cage. Stillborns can often be brought back by rubbing vigorously with a towel, and gently blowing in their face from a few inches away. This does not always work, but is worth trying!
There may be the occassional need to hand rear a kit. This can be necessary for several reasons: the mom may die during labour, the mom may reject the kit, she may not be producing enough milk, or may have a large litter. Harry and Sally's first litter was 3 kits; 2 nice and big, and 1 small one. After 3 days she rejected him, so I had to hand rear him. You need milk, a nest box with plenty of bedding, and a cage. I put a small clock under the nest box to simulate a heart beat. There are several types of substitute milk which can be used, including puppy/ kitten milk. I used a 1/2 whole milk 1/2 luke warm bolied water mixture, delivered by a pipette. You must not squeeze milk directly into their mouth as they may drown. If you hold them quite firmly, with the pipette by thier mouth, they will normally lap at the milk. When they are very tiny, they may only have 1-2 drips per meal, but you can tell by their tummy if they are full or not. You should feed them at the following frequency: 1-2 weeks, every 4 hours/ 2-3 weeks, every 4 hours, offer solids/ 3-5 weeks, 3 times a day, plus solids/ 5-6 weeks, twice a day, plus solids.
Fur biting is the term used to describe when a chinchilla bites its own, or another's fur. It is normally caused by stress due to improper housing or handling, a genetic/ hereditary flaw, or a dietary deficiency. Although fur biting is not life threatening, it is unsightly. If you Chinchilla is a fur biter, review his diet and environment - boredom can sometimes lead to an animal biting its fur. Look at how many Chins you have in 1 cage - is it possibly over-crowded? Are your Chins kept in a noisy environment? Were his parents fur biteres, and has the trait been passed on? Your best option is not to use the Chin for breeding, and to make its life as stress free and fun as possible.
One of my Chins had a fit shortly after we got him, and it was quite disturbing as I had no idea what was happening! I found that there was no mention of fits any any of my books, so I took him to the vet. I found out that there are many causes of fits, and some much more serious than others:
DIET - A poor diet can lead to fits, and tis type of fit normally occurs at meal times. A good plain pellet, complimented with hay offers all of a Chinchillas' nutritional requirements.
CALCIUM - This is the most common cause of fits, and can be easily prevented. Calcium/ mineral blocks or cuttlefish are an easy way to supplement your Chinchillas' calcium requirements, and should be available to your Chin at all times. During pregnancy and lactation, I always put a supplement into my female's water to ensure that she gets enough calcium.
TOXIC - Chinchillas can fit if they have eaten somrthing they shouldn't! Always supervise playtime, as it only takes a few seconds for them to do something naughty! Keep paints, household cleaners, and medictaion well out of his way. If he does eat something toxic, then take him straight to the vets.
HEAT STROKE - If your Chin is suffering from heat stroke, keep him cool with luke warm water (especially his ears), wrap him in a damp towel (possibly packed with ice-cubes), and take him straight to the vets. Extreme case of heat stroke can be fatal; so quite simply, don't put him in a situation where heat stroke could occur.
HEAD INJURY - If your Chinchilla bangs his head or has a fall, then he may suffer from head trauma. If his condition does not quickly improve, then take him straight to the vet. You cannot tell what is going on inside!