Animals should be housed in clean cages with a wire bottom or solid tray bottom with shavings. The cages should be provided with a flat piece of pine wood for comfort on the wire bottom and to prevent excessive growth of front teeth (cedar and redwood are poisonous to the Chinchilla). Shavings should be white pine to reduce fur staining and should be changed weekly. Feeders should be mounted on the side of the cage to prevent contamination from soiled shavings. A room with good circulation, temperatures below 80 degrees and free of sudden changes below 60 degrees is important. Depending on the humidity, the animal needs a dust bath in special ground lava rock, ideally every day, but at least three times a week. Dust baths help prevent matting and aid in removal of dead fur. Clean water should be in the cage at all times. Wash water bottle at least three times per week with soap and water and sterilize in the dishwasher once a week.
The Chinchilla diet is simple. The animal should be fed Chinchilla pellets ONLY at the rate of two tablespoons daily or 1/3 cup for an adult. Ideally, the pellets should be supplemented with loose hay or hay cubes. Minimize such goodies as fresh fruit and vegetables, as the natural balance of the digestive system can be disturbed. Small pieces of fruit and vegetables can be fed 2-3 times a week. DO NOT FEED cabbage, corn or lettuce, these vegetables cause gas and ultimately death. Feed alfalfa or Bermuda hay that has NOT been sprayed with insecticides.
Animals may be placed in breeding at a minimum of six months of age and 18 ounces of weight. The gestation period is 111 days and a litter may vary from one to five young, or "kits". Two or three litters per year are normal. Males are usually placed in polygamous breeding units with four to twelve females. This arrangement allows the male to travel at will between the indivdually housed females. Females are collared to prevent their entry into the common male runway, thus avoiding their access to other female cages. The "kits" are born fully furred, eyes open and up and running immediately. There are many philosophies on how to breed quality animals. As in any business, it is important that the new rancher know as much as possible before beginning. Successful ranching requires a working knowledge of genetic principles before atempting to breed on a large scale. Poor quality animals are not marketable. Temperment is extremely critical for the rancher who is intending to breed pet stock. Poor breeding can result in animals that give nasty bites and spray urine with extreme accuracy. These traits tend to reproduce in certain lines and care should be taken to cull such animals out of the herds for pet production.
Chinchillas are hardy and rarely get sick. Most health problems can be avoided with proper diet and clean, adequate housing. When a problem arises, it is usually intestinal in nature. Some signs of illness are listlessness, refusal to eat, watery eyes, and loose or no droppings. Other diseases include respiratory infections such as pneumonia, middle ear infections, bloat, mastitis and uterine infections. Some of these ailments are difficult to identify and diagnose, and veterinary advise should then be sought.
The majority of Chinchillas raised in the United States today are produced for commercial purposes of: pet stock, breeding stock, and pelt production. Each purpose has its good points and its drawbacks. Regardless of which type of production, it is imperative to treat Chinchilla Ranching as a business and consult with breeders already in that field before becoming involved on a large scale. The initial investment for breeding stock, cages and equipment can be substantial, even for small quantities. Investigate and deal with reputable ranchers.