Still Life With Chinchilla
March 11, 2009 11:54 AM   Subscribe

My wife and are giving thought to adding a chinchilla to our family. What will I love? What will I hate? What do I absolutely need to know that only other chinchilla owners can tell me?

We have three children, ages seven, five, and three. The chinchilla would be primarily a pet for our five-year-old daughter, but we understand and accept that the responsibilities of caring for our new critter would fall upon us until such a time as our daughter demonstrates that she can do it.

Specific questions:
1. We have no other pets. Do chinchillas get lonely?
2. My wife is allergic to cats. Is she likely to be allergic to our new critter?
3. Our house is drafty in the winter. Do I need to take special precautions to keep him warm?
4. What does a chinchilla require in its living space?
5. Are they cuddly? Playful? Aloof?

Ultimately, I want to be a responsible caretaker to this new critter. I want him to live a happy, healthy, long- and well-loved life. What are the important things I need to know about having a chinchilla?
posted by DWRoelands to Pets & Animals (17 answers total)
 
This looks like a good place to start. From what little I've read, it seems as though they are a lot of work, and can become sick VERY easily. Wouldn't a cat or a dog (preferably from a rescue organization) be a better choice?
posted by Hanuman1960 at 12:46 PM on March 11, 2009


A risk.
posted by mkb at 12:47 PM on March 11, 2009


Hanuman1960: I love cats and would love to have one, but my wife is allergic and having one in the house would be very unpleasant for her. The Wikipedia link is very helpful and gives a lot to think over, thank you!
posted by DWRoelands at 12:55 PM on March 11, 2009


We had chinchillas when I was a teenager. I would not recommend them for a five year old. They can be squirrely and leap out of your hands and run away. They do not like drafts. They are nocturnal and can be crabby in the daytime. They can live to be 15. I think a much better choice would be a rescue dog, or maybe a rescue bunny from a very good house rabbit society that can match a calm bunny to your family.
posted by oneirodynia at 12:57 PM on March 11, 2009


Seconding that a bunny is a much better pet for a five-year-old. Chinchillas are super-fuzzy and really cute, but a better pet for a patient grownup.
posted by desuetude at 1:07 PM on March 11, 2009


I had a chinchilla named Palmer growing up. He was sweet, cuddly, and super-duper-soft. Some things I learned from Palmer:

- I was super-allergic to him, but only if he was right in my face.
- Dust baths can get everywhere if you're not careful.
- They'll jump if they get nervous (totally agree with "squirrely")
- They poop teeny pellets all over the place

The best place to play with our chinchilla was in any room with a door that could close and places he couldn't get stuck hiding behind. A big bathroom is a good option.

If you do decide to get a chinchilla, see if you can rescue one from a furrier. Chinchillas die really terrible deaths as they metamorphose into rich people coats.
posted by harperpitt at 1:16 PM on March 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


Thank you, all! I think we'll table the chinchilla idea and consider a rabbit.
posted by DWRoelands at 1:25 PM on March 11, 2009


Be aware that your wife may also be allergic to rabbits. I grew up having them as pets but my sister developed a really bad allergy to them when she was a teenager. However, she isn't allergic to cats.
posted by horses, of courses at 2:19 PM on March 11, 2009


Okay, now that the chinchilla question is answered, let me try to steer you away from a rabbit. I had one when I was in college and even though I took really good care of her and her dwelling, my room stank (stunk?) to high heaven. All the time. I love bunnies, do not get me wrong. LOVE THEM. But they aren't necessarily...lovey-dovey? Super friendly? It's hard to put into words. My bunny was very well socialized and didn't mind people at all, but bunnies just aren't dogs or cats. They just don't seem to need people like dogs and cats do.

YMMV, please don't anyone jump all over me, just trying to be helpful.
posted by cooker girl at 3:13 PM on March 11, 2009


cooker girl is right...bunnies are very different from dogs and cats. They are super cute but you have to work hard to socialize them, otherwise they can be rather unfriendly. I tried to pick up my cousin's bunny once and it bit my arm...and even through a sweatshirt those teeth *hurt*.
posted by radioamy at 3:46 PM on March 11, 2009


I agree with the others that a chinchilla would not make a good pet for a five year old - they are sensitive creatures and they even have the ability to release their fur when frightened. I know that my own four-year-old would be far too rambunctious around one and I would have a bald chinchilla!

If you have a significant amount of space, you may consider a couple of guinea pigs. Cavy Spirit is the best guinea pig site for information.

I've never been that fond of rabbits, though I had one of my own when I was 6 years old. His name was Thumper. I bonded much better with my childhood guinea pig.
posted by Ostara at 3:52 PM on March 11, 2009


cooker girl is right...bunnies are very different from dogs and cats. They are super cute but you have to work hard to socialize them, otherwise they can be rather unfriendly.

This is why I recommended a bunny adoption from a good house rabbit society. The people who foster bunnies are able to recommend them based on whether or not they will be appropriate for children. Be that as it may, even the best dog, cat, hamster, chinchilla, rabbit, mouse, or rat can give a painful bite if they are hurt, unhappy, or stressed. I was bitten as a kid by pretty much every common domestic animal at least once (OK, we never had pigs or cows). It comes with pet-caring territory.
posted by oneirodynia at 4:26 PM on March 11, 2009


Please don't get a pet for your five-year-old; get a pet for yourselves. She will like whatever animal you guys get - okay, maybe not a tarantula or a snake if she's phobic, but hey, she might even like those! - and she's way too young to have a pet "of her own" even if you're doing all of the dirty work and she just has the fun parts. Pets almost universally take more time, commitment, money, and dexterity than we expect before we get them, and if you're not prepared for that you may find yourself resenting or neglecting an animal you got for the sake of a kid who's too young to treat it properly anyway, not through any fault of her own, but because hey, she's an exuberant little kid who's still learning. The only pet I've ever had that I would call easy to care for are my pet mantids, and, well, you can't give a five-year-old a pet insect.

Anyway, my suggestion would be that if you guys want a pet, get a pet that you and your wife want and which works for your lifestyles, and I'm sure your children will enjoy playing with it too. If you guys don't want a pet, then don't get a pet. In a few more years they'll be old enough to start taking responsibility - I recommend waiting until 10 or 11. My parents let me get gerbils for Christmas when I was 11 on the condition that I showed them I could do all the research and pick out the right equipment to take good care of them, and it was a very good learning experience. Plus, since I was much more invested in getting gerbils than my parents were, I'm certain that they were much better cared for than they would have been if we'd gotten them when I was five. (Not to diss my parents - it's just that I went the extra mile because ZOMG GERBILS MUST HAVE GERBIL PARADISE, etc.)

I'm sorry if this sounds discouraging - I don't mean for it to be. Basically, I'm just saying you should get a pet on your own terms, not hers. (And if you decide you want gerbils or fish, btw, mefi-mail me; I'd be happy to give you more specific advice.)
posted by bettafish at 5:17 PM on March 11, 2009 [3 favorites]


Seconding what horses says. If you're allergic to cats, there's at least a decent chance that you're also allergic to rabbits. If you're concerned, consider a short-haired variety of rabbit, like a mini rex.

What about a guinea pig?
posted by pecanpies at 6:22 PM on March 11, 2009


A friend of mine who is allergic to cats and dogs is not allergic to bunnies...however, be aware of the creepy/sad/nervewracking fact that many bunnies can literally be scared to death-- make sure you have a calm household and it won't get ganged up on, manhandled, or accidentally dropped by eager little hands.
posted by availablelight at 6:46 PM on March 11, 2009


If you get a bunny - this site will be very helpful, I wish I'd seen it back when my brother's kids had a rabbit.

http://language.rabbitspeak.com/
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 7:19 PM on March 11, 2009


Had two chins, they were pretty awesome - they soft, jump like crazy, a little hyper (in a cute way), and the dust baths are just a trip.

Downsides:
1. Projectile urination - this was my favorite. A friend really seemed to piss them off so they would approach the edge of their cage, stand up on their rear legs, and a mist of urine (like someone gleaking) would hit him. It was so fine a spray that he often didn't feel wet until after they'd been at it for a few seconds.
2. They explore by chewing on stuff. And the explore everything they can reach ... which is everything when you consider their lack of fear and 4 foot vertical leap.
3. They need a decent amount of space (large home) and attention (to be let out often ... so they can chew on your stuff).

A chin for a 5y/o? Agreed, not a super idea.

A guinea pig - easier to care for generally, fairly hardy, mine was not very playful but many are.

Rabbits - least emotionally connective of the above, but pretty damn cute and relatively easy to care for if you have the right space for them. Seconding the mini-rex recommendation.

A rat - we had one who was pretty funny, but they have fairly short life spans and losing a pet is pretty hard. Some don't smell great (ours was fine though)

Current pets: a dog and a leopard gecko (wife's class pet).
posted by unclezeb at 10:20 AM on March 12, 2009


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