By Liz Genest Smith
From micro-pigs to marmosets, the exotic pet trend shows no signs of slowing down. People who find common household pets a little ho-hum are often looking for an unusual new option. Both boutique and large chain pet stores have started carrying a critter that fits the bill. It looks like a giant, velvety mouse with enormous, cartoonishly cute round ears. Would you believe it’s a chinchilla? Most people have never seen one, much less know anything about them — so, do they make good pets? We’ve done some research to help you decide.
Adult female chinchillas weigh about a pound-and-a-half, while males are a bit smaller. They’re most commonly silvery-gray, but they also come in white, beige, ebony and sapphire. They can live 12 to 20 years, so make no mistake — this is a committed relationship. It’s recommended that they live in households with older children because, though they are usually friendly, they may bite if handled roughly.
Active and playful, they’re often compared to squirrels, meaning they need a good-sized habitat with plenty of room to play and things to gnaw on. Originally from the mountains of South America, they are a bit temperature-sensitive and do best in 60-70 degrees. As for food, there is specially formulated chinchilla chow on the market, and you can supplement with Timothy Hay and occasional treats.
As with most animals, to ensure health and pleasant temperament, experts recommend that you buy them from a reputable breeder, such as members of The Chinchilla Club. Their directory can be found at www.chinchillaclub.com/breeder.
Despite the objections of many animal lovers, the fur industry is still thriving. And even though chinchillas are farm-raised for their pelts, people continue to hunt them illegally, making them an endangered species. Maybe if they grow more popular as pets, more people will come to hold them in the same esteem as cats and dogs, making them off-limits to furriers. In that respect, perhaps we can consider them to be adorable little ambassadors for their species in addition to great pets.