Chinchillas can make great pets but they are high-maintenance, so you need to make sure you have enough time to spare. If you want to learn more about these rodents and how to offer them a good life, make sure to check our recent article where you can read all about their special needs and how to find a proper house for chinchilla pets.
What are chinchillas?
Chinchillas are quite large rodents originated from the Andes mountains in South America. They are closely related to squirrels and Guinea pigs and long-distance relatives to mice and other small rodents, including hamsters.
The first proof of the existence of this animal dates back from the 17th century when Spaniards began traveling to South America. In their travels, they encountered a tribe of Indians names Chinchas, who were the ones that introduced them to chinchillas.
Historically, these furry creatures lived in large herds scattered around parts of Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, and Peru but can now be found only in Chile. As of 2016, the rodents are listed as an endangered species and are protected by the law.
Are there differences between wild chinchillas and domesticated ones?
Since there are only around 10,000 individuals left in wild colonies, most of the chinchillas we are seeing today are the result of domesticated breeds. These rodents traveled to Europe together with the Spanish conquistadors upon their return from South America, and have been bred for their fur ever since. It was only recently that chinchillas became popular as pets.
There are various differences between the domesticated chinchillas and their wild ancestors, from their diets to the temperatures they withstand, lifespan, and other aspects.
In the wild, chinchillas have restricted food choices given that they live at altitudes up to 14,000 feet. Their domesticated counterparts are mainly fed pellets, certain types of flowers and nuts, as well as a short selection of fruits that are low in water such as dried apples, bananas, Goji fruits, and cranberries.
How long do chinchillas live?
Another interesting difference between the two types of chinchillas is their lifespan. The wild herds of individuals face harsh weather conditions and cold winters with temperatures well below 15 degrees Fahrenheit. Therefore, their lifespan in the wild is around 8-10 years.
The domesticated “version” of the chinchilla cannot withstand such cold temperatures but still does well in temperatures up to 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Due to a more diverse diet and a lot of pampering from their owners, they live well into their 20s.
Why do wild chinchillas live less?
There are several reasons why wild chinchillas don’t end up living more than a decade as opposed to the domesticated ones that can easily double the lifespan. Apart from the scarce diet in the wild, chinchillas are often preyed by other large animals such as foxes, wild cats, and owls, which means there are few places where they are safe.
Another reason why wild chinchillas rarely exceed the age of 10 years is that their natural habitats have been widely affected by humans. They were turned into developing land, pushing chinchillas further into the habitat of other animals, which made them easily targeted by predators. It is also one of the reasons why these rodents are an endangered species today.
How can you increase the life of your chinchilla pet?
If you decided to adopt a chinchilla as your pet, there are several things you need to know, aside from keeping them in a room with cool temperatures.
These creatures are extremely affectionate but sensitive also, so they need to be handled carefully. You shouldn’t make any sudden moves around chins, especially if they are not used to you yet. Keep in mind that they can be easily scared, which causes them further stress and anxiety.
When approaching your chin for the first time, you need to make gentle moves. Don’t try to hold it just yet, but merely come near it. Chins may take a few weeks until they get comfortable enough with their owners to let their guard down and allow them into their personal space.
In other words, you should be patient and don’t try to suffocate your pet with too many affections in the beginning. Yes, they enjoy cuddling and being pet, but it will take you a while until you get there.
Secondly, you should look for proper grooming products. These animals have thick fur so they’ll require special brushes to comb it and prevent it from getting tangled.
And, speaking of personal hygiene, you should never bathe a chinchilla in water. These animals have their personal ritual consisting of a “dirt bath” to get rid of excess oils and potential pests.
Lastly, don’t forget to provide them with a source of entertainment and fun. As with all other rodents, chinchillas grow their teeth constantly, so they will require chewing toys and wood treats to prevent dental problems.
Often enough, chinchillas can suffer from depression if they are left unattended or live alone. So, a safe way to increase the life expectancy of your pet is to offer it a partner or to cater to its needs all day long. Don’t forget that they tend to live up to 20 years and even more in captivity, so make sure you’re up for this long-term commitment.
Who is Radar?
If you think you have a chance of awarding your pet the title of the most longeval chinchilla in the world, you shouldn’t pop the champagne just yet. The competition is harsh since the Guinness world record for the oldest chinchilla is still held by a male named Radar.
Radar was born in Germany back in 1985 and has even survived a transatlantic journey. He was brought to America by his owners and finally passed away in California 136 days before his 30th birthday.