We often receive applications requesting a chinchilla as a pet for a young child. This page focuses on what chinchillas are like as pets and our view on chinchillas as pets for children.
Many people do not realize what chinchillas are really like as a pet. It would be hard for them to, since they are not nearly as common as a dog or a cat. Many of our applicants have never even held a chinchilla before.
There seems to be a very common misconception that because chinchillas have extremely soft fur and they are so cute, that they must naturally enjoy being cuddled, held and petted. Most chinchillas want to do everything BUT be held and cuddled. Because of this, they can sometimes be very difficult to hold onto. They are a fairly fragile little animal and children usually do not understand and will try to hold tighter as the chin struggles to get free of them. A serious injury or extreme stress to the chin can be the result. Sometimes, depending on the chinchilla, a small bite may be in store for the child. Chinchilla bites are certainly not life-threatening by any means, but they do hurt and can scare a child so they do not want anything to do with the chinchilla in the future. We have received several chins as a result of it being the pet of a child (or children) who quickly became bored with it or scared of it.
Chins are a nocturnal (awake at night) animal, so they are not really interactive during the day, but at night, when most children are (or should be) sleeping. They require daily interaction with their families which can be difficult as children grow older and become more involved with school and extra-curricular activities, and then begin dating. Chinchillas also cannot be left out of the cage unsupervised (like a dog or cat), but need to be watched constantly while they are out of the cage playing for their safety.
Chinchillas also have a very long natural life-span, which can be over 20 years in some cases. Some thought also needs to be given to what the future of the chinchilla will be once the child is ready to go to college, get married or just start out on their own. Most of the chinchillas that we take in are under the age of 5 years. This would likely mean a commitment of approximately 15 or more years. For some children, this could mean they would still have the chinchilla when they have children of their own!
Placing our chinchillas in the very best home for them matters a great deal to us, and we take this decision very seriously. This is why we ask many questions. It isn't just us and the applicant that are affected by our decisions. The chins that were entrusted to our care cannot speak for themselves, and have to live with the decisions we make on their behalf. Most of the chinchillas that we place in new homes were once "someone's babies", and had to be tearfully given up for whatever reason. Because these are "recycled pets" does not mean that they deserve any less than the very best we can provide for them.
Although we will cheerfully consider any application that is submitted to us, we feel that chinchillas really are not an appropriate pet for young children. We have a pretty strict policy here of not placing chinchillas in homes with young children, especially if they would be pets for the children. To date, we have only placed two chinchillas as pets for children. In both cases, they were very mature young teens, and showed they were very responsible and they'd done their own research on chinchillas. We encourage parents to seek out a pet that is more appropriate for their children and their lifestyle.
Please also read Oscar's story.
It illustrates why we do not feel that chins are appropriate pets for households with small children.