• Call our surgery044 934 8776
  • Emergency044 934 8776 (24 hours)


Healthcare advice for your exotic pet

  • Rabbit
  • Rat
  • Hamster
  • Guinea Pig
  • Gerbil
  • Chinchilla



How to take care of your pet rabbit

There are a great deal of misconceptions about rabbit keeping, these tips are designed to keep your bunny happy and healthy.

This advice sheet deals with the basics of rabbit care, and things to watch out for- remember rabbits are prey species, therefore hide sickness (in the wild showing weakness means easy pickings for predators).


Food: Rabbits are herbivorous which means they only eat vegetation. The best diet is 80% hay/grass (with no chemicals!), 10% fresh vegetables (greens are best, ie cabbage, broccoli, parsley, spinach, dandelion) and 10% pellets (only two teaspoons daily for your average 2 kg bunny). Alfalfa hay is high in calcium so it is good when they are young and growing, however when they are older, it is better to switch to different hay.

Rabbit calcium metabolism is different to ours, in that the only way they can get rid of it is through their urine, excess amounts can cause stones and very chalky urine. It is for the same reason we recommend a small amount of pellets only as they are also very high in calcium. Commercial muesli diets are too low in fibre and too high in protein fat and carbohydrate. These slow motility of the gut, which is very important in rabbits.

The other problem with these diets is your rabbit will pick out the bits they like and ignore the rest so it is not a complete food source. Carrots are surprisingly unhealthy for rabbits! They are full of carbohydrate so only give half of one once weekly as a treat.

It is perfectly normal for your rabbit to consume their own faeces from about 3 weeks of age. There are two types they produce, hard faecal balls and ‘caecotrophs’. Eating the latter, allows for reabsorption of vitamins and minerals. If you are noticing a lot of soft ‘bunch of grape’ like poos around the house instead of being eaten, it could be a dietary issue, please call us for advice.

Remember! Rabbits are constant grazers of food. If she/he hasn’t eaten in 12 hours they are already in trouble, bring them straight to us for a check up, even if they seem bright and alert.

Water: Use open bowls of water. Studies have proved that bunnies drinking out of water bottles only, drink 40% less than they should (mainly because they get bored having to work so hard for their water!), which will cause dehydration and slower gut motility. A 2kg rabbit drinks as much as a 10kg dog, less so if fresh greens available


Outdoor hutches should be well protected from predators, out of direct sunlight (esp in white rabbits-they, like us, can get skin cancer too), away from the wind and be attached to a run for exercise. It could be worth checking your garden plants on the internet to ensure they are not toxic if your bunny eats them, ie daffodils/lilies.

Indoor hutches should be big enough for your rabbit to hop three times across and three times down in. Hay is an ideal form of bedding, which should be cleaned out daily to prevent build up of faecal matter and urine soakage. Solid flooring covered in hay, not wire meshing is recommended in all cases. If you would like to litter train you rabbit, tips for doing so are in a separate handout.

If they are indoors, THEY WILL CHEW ANYTHING AND EVERYTHING! From sofas to skirting board to shelving to electric cables, nothing is safe! Bunny proofing your home is advised and also providing plenty of safe chew toys (the Rosewood cottage house on the amazon website is particularly wonderful).

Rabbits are very social creatures, therefore getting a mate for your bunny is advised. Intact males will fight, as will intact females – the most stable paring is one male and one female. Neutering greatly reduces the amount of fighting, though all first introductions may be a flurry of fur and legs!! 

Generally three is a bad number of rabbits to have as one may become the ‘outcast’ as the other two bond. They should never be kept with guinea pigs, as your rabbit may be harbouring diseases that may make the guinea pig sick, and due to their smaller size the guinea pig will often be bullied, especially when you are not around.

They should never be kept near ferrets. Rabbits have an instinctive fear of the ferret smell, which is very powerful. It is worth checking if you are leaving your rabbits anywhere while you are on holidays that there are no ferrets present on the premises

Remember! Outdoor rabbits can get ‘fly strike’-where flies lay eggs and hatch into maggots living on their bum. These can easily go unnoticed if you do not check their back end regularly - weekly checks during summer / monthly during winter is sufficient.

Fact sheet

Life expectancy -  10-12 years
Body weight - Depends on breed - Belgian hare 6-7 kg / Dwarf 1.5-2kg / Lionhead 2kg / British giant 15kg
Gestation - 30-32 days
Weaning -  4-6 weeks
Puberty - Small breed - 4 months / larger breeds - 5 months – please note male testicles descend from 10 weeks on so it is possible for them to impregnate a female from this time! They will be fully grown at 9 months old
Water consumption - 50-150ml / kg / day


We vaccinate annually for myxomatosis and viral haemorrhagic disease here at Auburn Vets. It involves one injection from when they are at least 5 weeks old and one injection every year from then on. Both diseases are highly contagious and invariably fatal. They can be transmitted by fleas, but it is also possible to track them in from the environment on your shoes so we advise all rabbits be vaccinated yearly.

A second strain of viral haemorrhagic disease, know as RVHD2, has been identified in Ireland and there have been cases reported in Dublin. This virus can survive in digestive tract of animals that feed on rabbits (birds and insects) and it can survive in the environment for several months, and is not killed by freezing.

It only needs a few particles to infect a rabbit and can be spread on fomites, eg food bowls, soles of shoes etc and through direct contact. It is recommended that kits receive a course of 3 vaccinations – first vaccine at 30 days of age, second vaccine at 10 weeks of age and third vaccine at 6 months of age. Adults rabbits should be vaccinated every 6 months.

Worming / Ectoparasite treatment

Rabbits, just like dogs and cats, can get worms and mites and fleas. We recommend a spot on treatment every month, and a liquid oral wormer every 3 months if outdoors or every 6 months to yearly if indoors for prevention.

The most common of these parasites are the ear mite psoroptes, which may cause a brown crust to develop and an intense itch in the ears. In more severe cases a head tilt may develop. If you notice any of these signs, please bring him in to see us, as he will need more than a spot-on treatment to treat this condition.

If you notice any fleas on your rabbit it is very important to treat the environment also, as flea eggs can stay viable in a central heated environment for 2-3 years! There is also a rare mite called cheylietella (walking dandruff) that can be transmitted to humans, so if you notice both you and your rabbit scratching please bring them in for a check up and specific treatment.

How to hold your bunny

Firstly, ensure your bunny does not mind being held!

In general they do not, some can actually get quite aggressive when you attempt to pick them up to let you know they are not happy. A lot of their power is in their hind legs, so these should be supported well when holding. The bulk of their weight is in their abdomen, this must be supported very carefully when picking them up. They have a curved spine naturally, with a specific weak point in the lower spine – the sheer weight of their lower abdomen may cause this to fracture if left unsupported even for a moment.

Always carry them upright, as the weight of their abdomen may press on their diaphragm and impair their breathing. Rabbit bones are also very thin and rough handling may easily cause a hairline / full fracture. If you notice any lameness (which can actually be very difficult to spot) post handling it could be worth bringing them in for a check to ensure this did not occur.

Do not turn your bunny horizontally upside-down. You may have seen people do this on the internet – in general they hate this, it’s placing them in a state of shock and in most cases it is not recommended.

Things to watch out for

We here at Auburn Vets cannot stress enough the importance of bringing them straight in if they stop eating for any reason. If this is left for any lengthy period of time (ie over 12 hours, 6 if pregnant) it will require a lot more intensive hospital care (and fees!) to get them healthy again.



How to take care of your pet rat

These are very intelligent, friendly and highly social creatures. They make good pets with individual personalities that are easy to handle but due to their nocturnal nature would only be suitable for older children / adults. They live in colonies once plenty of food / space (fighting will occur if lack of these vital resources).

Females are usually fine to keep together but males will fight, neuter if keeping opposite sexes together (male is still fertile for 8 days after neutering!). They breathe through their nose only and cannot vomit. Coprophagy is common (eat their own poo, it contains important b vitamins), and rats spend half their waking hours grooming.

They have a poor sense of vision (though can see UV light) and use their whiskers (‘vibrissae’, which are as sensitive as your fingertips) to help them navigate. Their sense of smell is most important, they can learn everything about eachother from how their breath / urine / faeces smells. They use their urine to mark territory / preferred foods / eachother / humans. They have an innate aversion to cat odour – keep away from cats!

Fact sheet

Life expectancy - 26-40 months
Weight - Female: 225-325g / Male: 300-500g
Gestation - 21-23 days
Litter Size -  6-12
Weaning - 3 weeks old (eat dry food at 2 weeks)
Puberty - 5-6 weeks old
Feed - 20g a day / 30-40 mls water


Metal / glass cages best – no wood / plastic as these materials are easy to gnaw through. If breeding, must be small enough space between bars (1.5cm) to prevent escape of young. Min height 30cm, must be well ventilated as pneumonia very common (build-up of ammonia from their pee / droppings, this makes fish tank style cage unsuitable). They benefit greatly from environmental stimulation in the form of furniture ie. branches / ropes / tubes / ladders / exercise wheels (solid NOT open-tail will get caught and injured) and a ‘hidey hole’ (small cardboard box).

Suitable bedding material include wood shavings or chips / sawdust / paper nesting material, or commercial ‘dust-free’ bedding. This must be cleaned out twice weekly to prevent ammonia build-up and also skin disease of feet / tail / underbelly from urine soaked bedding.

Unsuitable bedding includes newspaper / corncob / cedar / pine / aromatic woodchips. Their hearing range is very different to ours and so should not be kept near TVs / dvd players / computers / as all of these emit a high frequency noise that can stress them out.


Omnivorous, meaning they eat both animal and plant material. Feeding preferences are socially transmitted—ie they prefer what their mother eats. Commercial rodent mix like Burgess supa rat pellets etc (best ratio of ingredients : 16% protein, 5% fat, must increase protein to 20% if breeding) supplemented with fruit and vegetables are best.

They are prone to obesity and will ‘pick and choose’ high fatty / sugary diets, so seed diets are not suitable (they pick out the fatty, sugary parts ignoring other elements that contain important nutritional requirements). They tend to avoid new foods so if changing diet, they may not eat it until they are familiar with it (present same food over multiple days). Scatter food through cage / in plastic kongs to encourage foraging, this helps stimulate them.

Food restriction instead of constantly having food available has been found to decrease incidence of tumours, which these species are very prone to, and generally increase their lifespan. Never feed your rat through the cage – they may mistake your fingers for food! Water should be provided at all times, changed daily and if using bottles, check daily for blockages.

Things to watch out for

DO NOT GRAB BY THE TAIL – this may cause the rat to ‘deglove’ the skin over the tail and expose the bone. No cure except to remove tail surgically. When lifting, use one or two hands around the rats chest and support the hindquarters.



How to take care of your pet hamster

These creatures are so named from the German word hamstern, meaning to hoard (Syrians can hoard half their body weigh in food!!). They are nocturnal, with their vision working best at dusk into the early evening. The most common kind are:


These are the largest, come in a variety of colours and are solitary-they will fight if kept with others. They will hibernate if temperature drops below 5 degrees (lasting for 2-3 days, alternating with short periods of alertness), during which they are still responsive to touch. They don’t generally bite and as the easiest to handle are the most suitable for children.


The smallest breed, 4-5cm in length. These are the most likely species to be awake during the day, are less likely to bite but are very quick and difficult to handle. They can be kept on their own or in groups/ with a mate.


Shy, very entertaining to watch as they climb the most and tunnel a lot. They can be kept on their own or in pairs if introduced at a very young age. They reach about 10-12 cm in length, and sleep a lot when days are short.

Russian Dwarf Campbell

Most common dwarf species, can be 10-12 cm in length and have fur along their feet. They do not hibernate and may bite, in general these are faster and more difficult to handle. They are quite sociable and are best kept with others of their kind.

Russian Dwarf Winter White

They are 8-10cm in length, also have fur on their feet and do not hibernate. They are easier to handle than the Campbells but may bite. They can be kept in groups/ singly or with a mate. Their coat turns white in the winter with shortening day length.

Sound is one of their most important senses, they use echolocation when exploring their environment and navigating. They will only make a noise if they are hurt, fighting or frightened. Smell is also very important, they have several scent glands to mark territory, on their flanks, ears, ventrally under belly, this can get quite dark and prominent in males, you may see them rubbing these against walls and entrances to resting areas.

Their whiskers are incredibly important sensory devices that allow for communication and exploring territory. They tolerate cold well but not heat, at 34 degrees they become very stressed and as high as 36 they can die. They are incredibly active little creatures and must have plenty of environmental stimulation to occupy them. Caged exercise balls, exercise wheels, flying saucer wheels are all available in local pet shops for this purpose.

Fact Sheet

Life expectancy - 2 years (Russian – 9-15 months / Roborovski – 3-3.5 years)
Weight - Syrian 100-200g / Chinese 20-40g
Puberty - Chinese 90 days / Syrian 34 days
Gestation - Syrian 15-18 days / Chinese+Roborovski 20-21 days
Litter size -  3-5 on average, except Syrians – anywhere from 4-16!
Weaning - Syrian 20-25 days / Chinese 21 days



They are omnivores, which means they eat both meat and vegetables. Most petshops have a commercial rodent mix available. These are a complete diet if your hamster chooses to eat each different part of the mix, which inevitably they will not! They tend to pick and choose the sugary bits and leave the other parts, therefore a diet that prevents selective feeding is best ie Supreme science Selective.

Protein content of food should be no more than 14% for a mature hamster. Fruit veg and nuts can also be given ie apple, carrot, broccoli, pear, parsley, cabbage, walnuts, raisins etc. they eat from the cage floor, NOT the food bowl. They hoard food in the nest box, this must be cleaned out once weekly. Syrians eat roughly 5-7 g per day. Small amounts of hay can be left in with them also, for bedding and for fibre intake. Avoid sugary treats as these species are prone to diabetes, unfortunately a lot of these are available commercially.

They gnaw a lot, so always leave hamster wooden chews, branches from untreated fruit trees, even dog biscuits for them to chew on. They also prefer eating from the cage floor as opposed to from a bowl!


They consume on average 10ml per 100g bodyweight, in a water bottle or open space in the cage.


Clear plastic or glass tank with a system of tunnels and living ‘nesting’ rooms is better than the wire cages, as in these they tend to climb, fall and injure themselves (leg bones can be broken, just as in humans. Also dwarf species can get through the tiniest of spaces and escape!).

They are meticulous about their toilet habits, always using the same place as their latrine – a small jar turned on it’s side containing soiled bedding encourages toilet training and helps in cage cleaning.

They need a lot of exercise (in the wild they can travel up to 5 miles a night!), exercise balls and wheels are ideal for this. They need very deep shavings to allowing for burrowing. Paper towels or hay is ideal for nesting, do not use cotton or synthetic fibres as they can impact in the cheek pouches, or wrap around their limbs causing constriction of blood flow.

Once weekly cleaning of all tunnels (plastic ones can get dirty and as no ventilation, ammonia can build up in them) and bedding material is sufficient. It is useful to keep some of the old bedding as they do not take change well and total ‘upheaval’ of their home can be very stressful!

Remember! If your hamster becomes pregnant she may not be able to fit in the tunnels anymore! Alternative housing may be needed on a temporary basis.


The most common kind are demodex mites that cause alopecia (fur loss), possibly not cause any scratching at all, just very dry scaly skin. There is an ear mite that can cause scabby lesions on the face/neck/feet/bum. They can pick up ringworm and fleas from your cat so remember to watch out for him if you notice these on your cat! Skin infections are common and may be associated with mites, so it is always worth bringing them in for an exam if you are suspicious of this.

If you want to be sure your pet never gets these diseases, preventative treatment using a spot-on product applied to the back of the neck on a monthly basis is recommended.

Guinea Pig

Guinea Pig

How to take care of your pet guinea pig

These species were first domesticated in South America about a thousand years ago, now they are beloved pets all over the world. Highly social animals, so should be kept in breeding pairs or single sex groups (females after mating immediately change to aggressively defensive). They are crepuscular in nature (ie feed at dawn and dusk) and coprophagy (eating certain parts of their faeces several times daily-termed caecotrophs) is very important for certain vitamins.

They do not jump or climb, and their response to danger is either freeze or flight (this behaviour is contagious). They love their food (have been observed excitedly squealing when fridge door is opened!) but do not take well to changes in diet. Guinea pigs do not like loud noises, and will get severely stressed if exposed to them. Sense of smell is really important, they recognise individuals via nose to nose contact, and you may see them rubbing against surfaces, this is a process known as scent marking, and is something they do to mark their territory. You will get to know the several different kinds of vocalisations your new pet will make, the ‘chut’, ‘purr’ or the ‘chutter’- if he/she squeals or screams however they are in pain or very stressed.

Fact sheet

Life expectancy - 4-7 years
Weight - Female: 700-900g / Male: 900-1100g - Reach full size by 15 months
Gestation -  60-72 days (shorter if small litter)
Size of litter - 2-6 (can have 4 litters a year)
Weaning - 3 weeks old
Puberty -  Male: 8-10 weeks / Female: 4-5 weeks
Feed - 40g a day / 100 mls water


Can house outdoor or indoor. If outdoor, ensure wooden hutch is raised off the ground to avoid damp, and place indoors in winter. Hutches should be at least 25cm height and well ventilated. Wire mesh floors can lead to foot and leg injuries. 2 compartments are ideal, one mesh fronted for ventilation and the other solid for nesting.

Suitable bedding material include wood shavings / hay / straw. Cardboard boxes can be used as a hidey hole but these may be chewed so plastic best. They should have access to a run for exercising and grazing (should be protected from predators).

NEVER KEEP WITH RABBITS, as bullying occurs by the rabbit and can carry diseases that will not show in the rabbit but will severely affect your guinea pig ie respiratory infections or abscesses. Keep at a temperature of 18-26 degrees, as guinea pigs are very susceptible to heat stroke, especially if pregnant. Cage should be cleaned out once weekly to prevent build up of bacteria


MUST CONTAIN VITAMIN C (at least 10mg/kg/day but 5 times this if pregnant or sick). Most species make their own, guinea pigs however need it in their food. Commercial guinea pig diets are supplemented with it, but their shelf life is short and the vit c content depletes with time, and it must be kept in a cold dark place. If supplementing with human products ensure only vit c present as multivitamins contain too high levels of other things ie vit D. Vegetables high in vit c include kale / parsley / spinach / red and green peppers / tomatoes, fruits include kiwi and oranges. All veg must be removed after one day. Can also put rubex (a small piece of dissolvable vit C tablet) into water but this must be changed after one day as it also degrades quickly.

Good quality hay and lots of green foods ie grass / dandelions / broccoli are also essential for fibre, intestinal motility and tooth wear.  Avocado is highly toxic so avoid this. Guinea pigs develop their tastes early in life and find it difficult to change – even a different brand of food may be refused.

Water bottles easily plug with food remnants from the guinea pigs mouth-check daily while changing. In general it is better to have a water bowl as they will drink more from this and so keep their gut contents hydrate-important to avoid gut stasis which is a common problem in herbivores. Avoid sugary treats like apples or carrots as these can predispose to diabetes

Things to watch out for

Handling – hold around the chest and support the hindquarters, then reposition fingers so one or two support the collarbone, remaining ones support the chest and thumbs wrap around the shoulders. Bring him/her into your chest and allow to acclimatise before moving again

Hair pulling and nibbling are signs of stress, along with vocalisations mentioned earlier. If a guinea pig ever goes off their food for more than 12 hours, something is wrong, bring to us for assessment immediately.



How to take care of your pet gerbil

These furry friends have adapted to desert environments, meaning their droppings are dry and odourless and produce small amounts of concentrated urine. During hot months they are nocturnal, cold months they are active in the day, temperate climates make them active at dawn and dusk. Very social animals, so single sex groups introduced before puberty are best (fighting will occur if introduced after ten weeks of age) or as a breeding pair.

These agile creatures love to burrow into and climb things, making them expert escape artists!! They are very territorial and like to outline their home with a waxy yellow secretion from a scent gland from their ventral abdomen, occurring as early as 19 days of age in both sexes (males moreso). They live naturally in a breeding pair with their children-older children help to rear the younger ones. Usually only the dominant pair will mate, the others being suppressed by the older couples presence. They have poor long distance vision but localise sounds well with hearing similar to us.

Females are more aggressive, and are especially fertile 8 hours after giving birth!! They can jump as high as 30 cm. they ‘foot-thump’, this is a behavioural trait that is thought to be an alarm response. If they stand for ages and wave their tails, it means they are alert and something is frightening them-please have a look and try and identify what this stressor could be.

Fact sheet

Life expectancy - 2-4 years
Weight - 70gms to 130 gms (females are smaller end of scale)
Gestation - 24-26 days
Size of litter - 3-6
Weaning - 3-4 weeks old
Puberty - 10-12-weeks old


Glass or plastic tank with wire mesh lid that is at least 15cm high (they like to rest on their hindlegs!) half filled with mixture of peat and sawdust OR shavings is preferred-substrate must be at least 3cm deep to allow for burrowing. Nesting material and wood (great for gnawing) is destroyed quickly, with the entire tank needing cleaning and replacement of materials only every month or two-best to do this in small stages as total environmental change can be stressful to them. Can add paper/hay/plastic tubing/flower pots/glass jars for stimulation. Keep tank out of direct sunlight / away from radiators. Humidity must not be above 50% as respiratory infections can occur.

A sand or dust bath (as for chinchillas) is important for coat quality and to keep themselves at the right temperature, and should be readily available at all times. It also serves as social enrichment, serves some type of smell communication function.


Commercial rodent mix PLUS fruits/vegetables (ie broccoli/kale) should be given. For younger animals soaking pellets in water may help digestibility (esp at weaning), and hiding food in tubes helps stimulate foraging behaviour. For an adult gerbil, about 4-10g per day should be fed, females needing the lower quantities.

For treats, they love dried pumpkin seeds and also sunflower seeds – HOWEVER, the latter are high in fat and low in calcium. Gerbils are very prone to obesity (and as a follow on, diabetes) so do not overfeed these. Water should be available ad-lib and changed daily. They store food in the ‘tunnels’ they burrow-removing spoiled food weekly is advised.

Things to watch out for

DO NOT GRAB BY THE TAIL: this may cause the gerbil to ‘deglove’ the skin over the tail and expose the bone. No cure except to remove tail surgically. When handling, never do anything abruptly, use slow and gentle movements, with practise and training they may eventually walk into your hand!



How to take care of your pet chinchilla

These species originate from the Andes Mountains. Their fur has adapted to these cold conditions by being exceptionally thick–they have up to 90 hairs coming out of each hair follicle!! In general, they are a quiet, shy, agile animal, most active at dusk and at night. Their hind-limbs are very long, and well adapted to leaping, and their tail is very long to help them balance when standing up looking for predators.

The females are larger than the males, and if handled frequently when young, can habituate to humans very well. They can be easily stressed by noises and external commotion. Their sense of smell is their most developed sense, used to sense gender/likelihood of predators/spatial boundaries. With excellent hearing also, they use their giant ears to localise sounds. They are easily startled by loud noises and will try to avoid new sounds they have not previously been de-sensitised to.


As herbivores, the main part of their diet should be hay/grass. This is important for dental wear (their teeth grow continuously-an adaptation to their diet of course mountain vegetation) and to stimulate their intestines. They eat most of their food at night (70%), or early morning. Due to the sparse nature of nourishing food in the Andes Mountains they have adapted to very low nutritional needs.

Their diet should be supplemented by pellets (good formula is 16-20% protein, 2-3% fat and 15-35% fibre), only 1 tablespoon daily. Avoid too much fruit or sugary treats as dental disease will develop i.e minimal amounts of corn/peas/broccoli and cabbage. As treats, a very limited intake of dried apple/raisin/figs/hazelnuts/sunflower seeds can be given (no more than half a teaspoon daily). There should be access to clean fresh water that is changed on a daily basis, water bottles are acceptable for this purpose – though be sure to check the ends of them have not been chewed beyond working!

It is perfectly normal for your chinchilla to consume their own faeces. There are two types of faeces produced, hard faecal balls, and ‘caecotrophs’. Eating the latter allows for reabsorption of vitamins and minerals. If you are noticing a lot of soft ‘bunch of grape’-like poos around the cage instead of being eaten, it could be a dietary issue, please call us for advice.


Must be indoors as they do not tolerate wet environments. They gnaw everything so all wire cages are best. Avoid plastic and glass cages as this will increase temperature and humidity. For the average size chinchilla, a 2m x 2m x 1m multilevel cage is recommended, with a nest box (30x25x20cm) clipped to the inside wall as they prefer to roost off the ground.

They also require a ‘dust bath’ to keep their fur in good condition as it is so dense. PVC plumbing pipes make good hiding places and can go in the dishwasher (10-13cm diameter, Y and T sections), one hiding place per cage level is recommended. Wire mesh floors are not advised as they cannot eat their caecotrophs with these kinds of floors. Avoid pine and cedar as these are toxic, and they tend to eat most cat litters. Hay/straw or kiln dried wood shavings are best for bedding.

They love toys but again tend to chew them-avoid yew plants and walnut shavings, most wooden branches are ok but avoid plum/peach or apricot branches

The females tend to be aggressive so keep singly or in a breeding pair.

It is best to keep them in a dry environment (less than 50% humidity) at a cool temperature ie 18-20 degrees celcius–these animals are very susceptible to heatstroke due to their thick fur, often approaching distress at temperatures of 28 degrees. If you feel warm, your chinchilla will be boiling!

Fact sheet

Life expectancy - 10-15 years
Puberty - 8 months (anywhere from 2-14 months!)
Oestrus -  Every month November to May
Gestation -  111 days
Litter size -  1-6 (2 is usual)
Weaning age -  6-8 weeks
Adult weight - 400-500g

How to handle your pet chinchilla

They do need a quiet time during the day when they are not handled, and it is inadvisable to hold them for extended periods. Their natural predator is the owl so avoid approaching them from above-for this reason also it is not recommended to have a fan overhead. Scoop and lift with one hand under the abdomen while securing it with the other hand at the base of the tail.

BE CAREFUL OF FUR SLIP - patches of hair are released when restrained too firmly, and will take several months to grow back. Chasing them in their habitat with an extended arm in the cage is very stressful and may cause handling difficulties. It is best to approach with a still hand holding a treat, use word association like ‘yes’ when doing so and soon he will be dashing over to you! Though some may not come near you at all, these should be conditioned using a treat bowl first, then use the ‘safe’ word, then toss treat in. Eventually they will recognise the word and approach you.

NEVER CATCH BY THE TAIL – you will be left holding the skin around it.

Dust Bathing

This is very important to do to clear off any dust that adheres to their very thick fur and prevent matting. They should have access to these for fifteen minutes daily (over-grooming can lead to eye and skin problems). If the weather is quite humid or hot they may need it more frequently. It must be a fine and dry dust from a pet shop, volcanic ash/pumice/blue sparkle chinchilla dust.

It is advisable to use a metal dish/terracotta planter/small glass aquarium as they will chew through plastic. Recommended dimensions are 25cm x 18cm x 10cm high, with one inch of dust provided.

Return to Pet Healthcare Advice