Chinchillas are gaining popularity among pet owners in the US, and for a good reason. They are cute, full of personality, and small enough to be ideal for most living situations. However, many parents are asking the question, “would this be a good pet for my family with small children?” That is difficult to answer since each child has a different responsibility level and understanding of animal boundaries.
However, there are some special circumstances to consider before bringing in a chinchilla to your home. As you should with any pet, make sure that your children understand the personality traits and necessary care routine of a chinchilla.
Chinchillas are (almost) Life-long commitment
While a chinchilla might seem small and cute, like a mouse or a hamster, they live much longer than most small caged animals. Their typical lifespan is 20 years or more, meaning they will likely be around to send your school-aged child off to college and maybe even attend the wedding! You’ll want to consider that you will most likely end up being the primary caretaker for this animal after your child moves out.
Not big on hugs
If your child is anything like 99% of other kids out there, they are going to want to hold, pet, and cuddle this cute little animal. However, chinchilla are not always safe to handle. Since they are a prey animal in the wild, they do not have the same kind of confidence that a cat or dog would when being handled.
After a while, most chinchillas do grow to allow their trusted caretakers to scratch and pet them. This often takes years of positive interaction. You’ll want to make sure that your child is aware of this and is ready to have a no-touch policy for a long time. This is both for the animal’s safety, as well as your child’s.
Chinchillas have very delicate ribs and legs, and if they are not handled properly, they can easily be broken. The safest method of handling is by holding them with one hand at the base of the tail and supporting the rest of the body with your other hand without squeezing. This can be a hard task to accomplish with smaller hands.
They are also mostly nocturnal animals, and their most active times are during dawn and dusk. So your child will not see them active except for a few hours per day. If you are planning on keeping the chinchilla in your child’s room, consider that they may disturb early morning sleep.
In the wild, chinchillas have a dry diet with almost no sugar and fat. They can become very sick from even a small amount of food that their stomach disagrees with. Remember, you will have to take your chinchilla to a specialty vet in order to get any kind of care.
One of most children’s favorite pastimes with their pets is feeding them treats. You’ll need to make it very clear that your pet chinchilla cannot be fed anything except approved healthy treats. Even healthy treats should be fed in moderation. You may want to purchase a whiteboard or something similar to create a “treat chart” to keep track of your chinchilla treat intake.
Your chinchilla will have a diet of specially formulated pellets just for chinchillas and fresh grass and hay. Take into consideration any allergies to grass or hay that your family members may have. For treats, twigs and branches from apple trees and other safe trees will make your chinchilla go wild!
Not a fan of other furry friends
As mentioned before, chinchillas are naturally prey animals. This means that your chinchilla will most likely not want to interact with other pets in your home. Chinchillas can also carry diseases that can be dangerous to other pets. It is best to explain to your child that a pet chinchilla is a loner and will not want to be friends with the dog or cat. You may want to reconsider adopting a chinchilla if you already have other pets and cannot have a special place just for your new chinchilla that your other pets will be restricted from.
Dusty, but not musty
Chinchillas cannot get wet! So, in order to clean themselves, they require dust baths twice per week. The dust you will need to provide for them is made from pumice stone. You can find it at most specialty pet stores or order online. It can be difficult to find if you need it in a pinch and live in a rural area.
Be warned, the dust will get EVERYWHERE as they roll around in it like a little Tasmanian devil. The dust is very fine and will need to be vacuumed up as sweeping will just spread it and sending it back into the air. Not only will this cause problems with your cleaning routine, but it can also inflame respiratory issues like asthma.
If a chinchilla is safe and content with their home, they can make a great pet! Some chinchillas do enjoy being handled and played with by their trusted caretakers, but it takes a while and not all chinchillas will warm up. Make sure your child is prepared for these considerations before bringing home your chinchilla.
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