Q: My husband and I have fallen in love with chinchillas and currently have two pairs, one of which has two kits that are about 2 months old right now. We live in Alaska and in a month are moving to Pennsylvania. Our only choice is to drive through Canada, and I’m worried about our chinchillas. We’ve had them for so long and are really attached. How well do chinchillas travel on a trip like that? We’re going to make sure the cab is climate-controlled and quiet. We’re planning on putting their cages in the back seat so they’ll feel more comfortable and have familiar surroundings. Will a trip like this be too hard on a chinchilla, even with our efforts to keep everything less stressful? I don’t want to lose them on the trip, but I don’t want to rehome them if at all possible. They are our babies, after all.
A: When traveling with exotic pets like chinchillas, keeping them cool, calm, eating and drinking is very important. Travel may involve time in the car or van and also time in hotels or motels. Be sure both have air conditioning so temperature can be controlled.
Follow these five basic rules for traveling with chinchillas:
1. Control Temperature: Do your best to keep the temperature below 78 degrees Fahrenheit. At temperatures above 80 degrees Fahrenheit, chinchillas may suffer heatstroke if conditions are humid.
2. Provide Usual Water: Take enough water for several days. Your chinchillas are accustomed to the water you have been using. If your chinchillas need additional water during the trip, purchase good-quality, bottled water. Tap water from other areas may contain unwanted chemicals or microorganisms that may cause sickness.
3. Be Food Wise: Take all the feed that you need for the trip. Include extra fresh timothy and alfalfa hay. Chinchillas can “go off their feed” due to stress when traveling. For this reason, you must monitor food/water consumption as well as the number, consistency and color of droppings. A decrease in food intake, a decrease in number or size of droppings or a change in color of droppings from very dark brown to a light brown, tan color are all early indicators of developing digestive problems. Timothy hay is helpful in stimulating digestion so be sure to make timothy hay readily available to your chinchillas. You might also pick up some live culture yogurt and feed this to your chinchillas using a Popsicle stick or spoon. Chinchillas handle stress better if nutrient intake and digestion continues uninterrupted.
4. Cage With Care: If the travel cage is smaller than the chinchillas’ normal cage, introduce them to the travel cage beginning a week prior to your trip so they can become accustomed to it. Make the travel cage feel like “home” by including some of the accessories in the “home” cage. Chinchillas usually do not like change in their daily routines. Try to keep close to their regular routine. Most of the time, chinchillas sleep while traveling in the car. Keep a light-colored towel or cloth over the top and sides of the cage to reduce visual stimulation, which can cause added stress. However, be sure you do not cover the cage so completely that there is inadequate ventilation. Never place the traveling cage in direct sunlight, as this may cause the chinchillas to suffer heatstroke. If you attach a water bottle to the side of the cage, be sure it does not leak while traveling. Sitting on wet shavings or a wet towel is not healthy for the chinchillas and may lead to sickness or respiratory problems.
5. Schedule Playtime: If your chinchillas are accustomed to having some out-of-cage playtime during the evening, consider allowing them some supervised play in the bathroom of your hotel (provided you have chin-proofed the area first). This allows them a bit of exercise after being caged all day. The exercise also helps stimulate digestion, which is an important benefit. If you have their larger cage easily accessible, then you can always transfer them to their regular cage during the evening hours.