By Laura Doering
Compared to other companion animals, chinchillas certainly have an exotic, cartoon-cute look that draws in both children and adults. Looks aside, here are some considerations to take into account when deciding if a pet chinchilla is the right small animal pet for a family with children.
Does the child(ren) demonstrate gentleness and patience?
Chinchillas, like rabbits and guinea pigs, are prey animals; so gentle handling goes a long way in fostering the trust needed to have a pet who enjoys interaction. By nature, a chinchilla is inclined to react to uncertainty with a flight response — and a literal “slip of the fur.” This go-to natural defense mechanism causes a chinchilla to lose fur when grabbed, the result being a bald spot where the chinchilla was touched. While fur slip can serve as an effective visual reminder to a child that he/she must not grab at the chinchilla (and it might also be a little traumatizing for younger children), adults in the household should demonstrate respectful interaction and instill an expectation that a chinchilla should not have to resort to fur slip to avoid handling.
Children should also be made aware of a chinchilla’s sleep habits. Chinchillas tend to sleep a good part of the day, and are most active in the morning and at dusk. Some may sleep with their eyes open — if the chinchilla appears to be staring but strikes a sleep pose, children and adults should leave the chinchilla be.
One thing that makes chinchillas a good family pet is that they are a bit sturdier than other small animal companions.
“They can take drops/falls that would injure rabbits or guinea pigs,” said Lani Ritchey of California Chins, a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization dedicated to furthering a better understanding of the needs and ways of chinchillas.
However, that’s not to say that they can or should be handled in a forced or otherwise rough manner.
“Parents need to be involved at any age,” Ritchey said. “Small children really need an adult’s supervision.”
She also pointed out that chinchillas can be a little easier to care for in that they don’t have claws or nails that need to be trimmed short.
Can the house be chinchilla-proofed?
According to Ritchey, chinchilla proofing is an important consideration.
“Electrical cords and other things must be put up,” she said.
And, although they might not look athletic, chinchillas can jump up onto countertops and tables to get to electrical cords, which, if not addressed, can be the end of a child’s Xbox connection, iPad, phone charger or other coveted electronic device. Avoid potential resentment directed at the family chinchilla by covering cords in protective tubing. Take a family outing to your local home improvement store and stock up on tubing that will protect cords and electronic devices so as to maintain harmony in the home.
Is the whole family onboard?
Another important consideration is making sure that the whole family is on the same page when it comes to the chinchilla’s feeding schedule and cage maintenance. Households with younger children need diligent supervision to ensure that the chinchilla is not fed the wrong foods, like a child trying to share a piece of his/her chocolate. Ritchey pointed out that treats also need to be monitored, especially because younger children might be more inclined to lavish treats on the household pet.
“Not too many treats and no junk food for chinnies,” Ritchey cautioned.
A good rule of thumb for young children to follow would be to ask for permission before offering any food. Similarly, adults in the household should coordinate with older children to work out a feeding schedule that ensures that the chinchilla is fed and given fresh water daily.
Ritchey said that the family also needs to discuss who cleans the chinchilla’s cage and how often, a job that can either be rotated equally among family member’s or added onto a child’s chore list. Ritchey pointed out that the ultimate responsibility for the chinchilla’s health and well-being falls on the parents.
“Parents need to be involved no matter the child’s age,” she said, adding, “My 92-year-old mother always asks if the dogs have been fed. I am going to be 62 in March!”
The best way to set a chinchilla up for success in a household with children is for the whole family to be involved. While a child can be designated as the main caretaker (which heavily depends on the child’s maturity level), the parents must be willing and able (i.e., have the time) to step in as needed to ensure that all of the chinchilla’s needs are met, including enrichment and interaction.
Don’t Be Surprised
Families should be aware of some unique chinchilla behaviors to avoid any unwanted surprises:
- Chinchillas can jump. A chinchilla might not look athletic, but this little critter is capable of jumping up to 6 feet, which means that he can make it onto countertops, desktops and other areas you might think are out of reach.
- Hold the bubble bath. Children with pet dog experience might be inclined to want to give a chinchilla a bath, but a chinchilla’s fur is too dense for water and a water bath can, in fact, cause fungal growth on the chin’s skin. One fun aspect of having a chinchilla companion is watching him enjoy a dust bath, which is how these small critters keep their fur clean. They require special dirt that is available from pet stores and online suppliers — and this needs to be explained to your child before he/she decides to dig up some backyard dirt!
- Dodge the urine. A chinchilla might spray urine on a perceived offender, especially as the chinchilla adapts to his new surroundings — a time when he might feel especially vulnerable. You can use this tidbit of information as an incentive for the child(ren) to go slowly with introductions — or face the prospect of a wave of pee!
Like this article? Please share it, and check out:
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