Sub-order: Hystrichognathes (Wilson et Reeder) or Caviomorphes or Hystrichomorphes
Species: laniger x brevicauda
Common noun: chinchilla
There are two chinchilla species in the wild. Chinchilla laniger inhabits the Andes Mountains of Chile at elevations between 3000 and 4000 meters high. They are practically extinct but a colony has settled in Tajikistan. The other wild species Chinchilla brevicauda inhabits the limits Argentina- Chile-Peru.
The commercialised and domesticated species corresponds to the crossbreeding of C. laniger X C. brevicauda.
Biotope: rocky slopes in the Andes Mountains, sparse and poor vegetation.
Historical account : bred in captivity since 1923 for its fur in the United States and then in Europe after the Second World War.
Breeds and varieties
Standard colour: grey with a lighter ventral colour
Mutations with most black: black velvet, charcoal, ebony
Mutations with most white: Wilson white (silver or mosaic) , starlit, albinos.
Mutations with most beige: brown tower, champagne, almond blossom, afro-violet, pastel, beige velvet.
Mutations with most blue: Sapphire, Sapphire velvet
NB: the Velvet and Wilson White animals have got a lethal gene.
The genus Chinchilla in the wild belongs to the annex I (A) in the Washington Convention.
C. laniger X C. brevicauda is considered as a domestic species since 1992 under the French Rules. Only the animals born in captivity from parents born in captivity as well can be sold.
Morphological And Anatomic Features
Adult body weight:
Male: 400-500 grams
Female: 450-600 grams (females are larger than males)
Body length: 25-30 cm
Tail length: 7-15 cm
Corporal surface: 550 to 700 cm2
Dental formula: 20 teeth, hypsodonte incisors (continuous growth, growth 6 cm per year) , PM and M are hypsodonte as well.
5 fingers at the front legs, 4 at the hind legs.
Vertebral formula: 7C 13 T 6L 4S 12 Co that is 42 vertebras
Behaviour: crepuscular and nocturnal activity. Chinchillas can easily adapt to their owners' diurnal life. Excellent climber.
Social life: colonies with 10 to 100 animals, using acoustic signals against predators attacks.
Natural hibernation: none
Food consumption: 30-40 grams per day
Water consumption: 10-20 mL per day
Respiratory rate: 45-65 /min
Heart rate: 150 / min
Total blood volume: 20-32 mL
Life span: 10 years, sometimes up to 20 years.
Body temperature: 38-39 °C
Physiology of reproduction
Male: 9 months
Female: 4-5 months
Main breeding season: November to May , anoestrus in Summer and Autumn during 5 months
Cycle length: 30-50 days, polyestrus
Estrus length: 31 days average
Gestation period: 110-120 days (average 112 days)
At birth: open eyes, with teeth
Weight at birth: 40-60 g
Litter size: 1-3
Number of gestations per year: 2
Weaning age: 6-8 weeks, the parents and young must be separated
Teat number: 3
Post-partum estrus: fertile (12 hours after parturition).
Erythrocytes: 6-8 x 106/mm3
Hémoglobin: 8-15 g/dl
Hématocrit: 27-54 % (average 38)
Leucocytes: 6-15 x 103/mm3
Neutrophils: 40-55 %
Eosinophiles: 0-9 %
Basophiles: 0-11 %
Lymphocytes: 45-60 %
Monocytes: 0-6 %
Blood platelets: 450-740 x 103/mm3
Urea: 0,1-0,25 g/L
Proteins: 38-56 g/L
Glucose: 0,6-1,2 g/L
ALAT: 10-35 UI
Bilirubin: 6-12,8 mg/L
Cholesterol: 0,4-1 g/L
Colour: yellow to amber
Glucose, nitrates, cetons, bilirubin, sang: negative
Urobilinogen: 1-10 mg/l
Strictly herbivorous rodent that eats 50 to 90 grams of food a day
Dry food: 30 grams of complete food such as pellets dosed at 18-20 % of proteins, good quality hay given ad libitum
NB: avoid fresh vegetable, food for rabbits or Guinea pigs.
Spacious and large cage: 80x50x100 cm minimum (that is 400 cm 2 on the floor) with several levels.
Litter: a thick layer of hay, wood shavings, saw dust. Avoid cat litter which could be eaten.
Dust bath with specific ground for their bath or for want, equal quantity of talc and thin sand. Those dust baths allow them to get rid of the excess of sebum in their skin.
Avoid leaving the cage in a humid place or in drafts. Place a wooden nest box up on one of the sides.
Put some large branches in the cage for exercise.
Temperature: 18-20 ° C
Lightning time: 12 hours
Humidity: 30 to 70 %
Handling And Restraint
Gentle manipulation to avoid being bitten
Place a hand round the shoulders and the other hand under the croup, it can be seized as well by the tale base.
NB: avoid the end of the tail and pinching the skin (risk of shedding patches of fur or "fur slipping" due to a reflex vasoconstriction)
To be suspected in any animal that looks hungry but will not eat; the lips and chin get wet because of excessive drooling.
The reason is genetic (incisor or cheek teeth malocclusion) or dietary (long anorexia with lack of chewing and as a consequence lack of usury)
Gastro intestinal disorders with nutritional origin
Pendulous abdomen: due to an excess of fresh food. The abdomen is enlarged by gastro intestinal fermentations.
Constipation: mainly by lack of drinking, in some cases by intestinal atony in old animals or by lack of exercise. Caecal stasis.
Enteritis: after a sudden diet change, diet too low in cellulose or too high in proteins, mouldy hay, fresh vegetables.
Yersiniosis to Yersinia enterolytica. Responsible for important epizooties in French breeding in the 80's. Necropsy: generalized enterocolitis, necrose , mesenterical adenite.
Salmonellosis to Salmonella typhimurium. Acute forms with death occurring within 24 hours , or chronic with deterioration and intermittent diarrhoea.
Listeriosis (Listeria monocytogenes) -> zoonotic disease
Other bacterial enteritis: Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Proteus vulgaris, Escherichia coli.
Pseudomonas may cause sudden death, bronchopulmonary disorders, haemorrhages and abscesses.
Iatrogenic enteritis is due to a wrong antibiotic use such as beta-lactamines that result in Clostridium development (Clostridium difficile, Clostridium perfringens) that contain toxins causing a necrosis of the intestinal epithelium. The death usually occurs within 3 to 6 days.
Coccidiosis (Eimeria chinchillae): acute form with important aqueous and hemorrhagic diarrhoea. Abdominal tympanism and convulsions.
Giardiasis (Giardia sp.): Trophozoites in small intestine, liver and caecum.
Infestations with helminths are rare. Hymenolepis nana, larvae tapeworm infections
Caused by diarrhoea , strong expulsive efforts ( constipation, parturition), any stress. It is often related to a colorectal intussusception and in some cases a volvulus of the small intestine. The prognosis is very poor and surgery is often to fail as the intestine is very thin and the animal is shocked.
Disorders due to fur swallowing
Trichobezoars, constipation, intestinal occlusion
Drafts, poor ventilation, wrong humidity, transports, any stress
Etiology: Pasteurella multocida, Bordetella bronchiseptica, Klebsiella pneumoniae, Diplococcus pneumoniae, Staphylococcus sp., Streptococcus sp.
Infection withPasteurella multocida. The acute form is mostly observed in young animals: purulent nasal discharge, tachypnea, hyperthermia, septicaemia-like evolution with congestive and hemorrhagic lesions. Otitis media and meningo encephalitis with purulent lesions. The chronic form : rhinitis and conjunctivitis, purulent otitis, cutaneous or subcutaneous abscess.
Other bacterial affections: conjunctivitis, rhinitis, bronchopneumonia, often turns into a septicaemia, otitis media, meningitis. Necropsy: fibrino-purulent pleurisy, pericarditis.
Dermatophytosis: mostly due to Trichophyton mentagrophytes, sometimes Microsporum canis, M. gypseum.
Alopecic lesions with scabs on the head and feet. The fur looks moth eaten.
Fur chewing: it appears to be a vice of chewing its own fur on the flanks and behind. Stress and poor housing conditions have been incriminated, as well as absence of dust bath.
Ectoparasites: fleas (Xenopsylla cheopis, Ctenocephalides felis), scabies to Atricholaelaps chinchillae.
Cardio vascular diseases
Heatstroke: when the temperature rapidly reaches 30 to 35 °C.
Conjunctivitis: mechanic irritation (from the dust bath) or lack of ventilation, infectious (Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Chlamydia spp.), deficiency in A vitamin.
Traumatic ulcerous keratite
Penile hair ring: a ring of twisted hair around the penis can cause a necrosis of the penis.
Infections in females: Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Staphylococcus aureus.
Dystocia in females that were covered when too young or if the foetal volume is excessive.
Gestation toxaemia: post partum or during lactation
Mortinatality by foetal anoxia, agalactia or puerperal cannibalism
Convulsive crises: deficiency in B1 vitamin, circulatory disorders
Calcinose by hypervitaminose A
Deficiency in E vitamin: degenerative myopathy, sterility.
Dermatophytosis (T. mentagrophytes, M. canis, M. gypseum)
Listeriosis (Listeria monocytogenes) : rapid evolution (2 to 3 days). Anorexia, diarrhoea, constipation, rectal prolepsis, nervous disorders (ataxia, convulsions, hind paralysis)
Yersiniosis (Yersinia enterolitica, Y. pseudotuberculosis)
Tuberculosis (Mycobacterium bovis, M. avicum)
Pasteurellosis (Pasteurella multocida) : transmitted by bite
Sexual dimorphism is poor at the beginning and a close examination is required.
Male have a longer anogenital distance, about 1 cm. The penis is easily exteriorised.
Female have a urethral penis-like orifice that can be mistaken for a penis. It is close to anus and separated from it by a thin horizontal skin fold.
a. Lethal genetic crossing
i. The Velvet and Wilson White mutants are dominant heterozygote and have a lethal gene.
ii. Two chinchillas who have the same Velvet gene cannot easily breed.
b. Wrong housing
c. Genital infections
i. Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Staphylococcus aureus can cause vaginitis, endometria, metritis, sterility or in some cases foetal mummifications.
2. Difficult covering
a. Penile hair rings
i. Rings of twisted hair around the penis can prevent the male from covering or cause a permanent penis prolapsus.
b. Vaginal membrane persistence
c. Incompatibility of the couple with aggressiveness between the partners
d. Vaginal or uterine prolapsus after too violent covering
a. Etiology: too important foetal volume, female who was covered too young, too large litter size, covering at the post partum oestrus (12 hours after parturition with ovulation 30 hours later)
b. Treatment: Ocytocine 1 U and Calcium Gluconate 40 %: 0,5 mL
i. If that is not enough, caesarean
4. Post partum disorders
a. Gestation toxaemia in females that are obese before parturition or during lactation. The treatment is illusory.
i. Etiology: due to trauma inflected by the suckling young teeth, too early weaning, bacterial infection.
ii. Treatment: warm compresses, antibiotherapy (chloremphenicol, quinolones)
iii. Prevention: polishing the teeth and nails of the neonates.
5. Neonates mortality
a. Foetal anorexia after difficult parturition
b. Primitive or secondary (due to mastitis) agalactia. Artificial milking every three hours with maternised milk for domestic carnivores.
c. Puerperal cannibalism
1. Carpentier F. Contribution à l'étude du chinchilla considéré comme animal de compagnie. Thèse Doc. Vét. E.N.V. Lyon, 1994: 121 p.
2. Harkness J.E., Wagner J.E. The biology and Medecine of rabbits and Rodents. 4th Ed. Williams x Wilkins, Media PA, 1995: 372 p.
3. Hillyer E., Quessenberry K. Ferrets, Rabbits and Rodents. W.B. Saunders Compagny, Philadelphie, 1997: 241-289.