Keeping chinchillas cool

The chinchilla in the wild has adapted to live in a rugged terrain, where nightly and winter temperatures may drop well below freezing.

Being crepuscular/nocturnal creatures by nature, during the day when temperatures may rise, they may rest amongst rocks, boulders, fissures and "scrapes", which would shelter them from the extremes of temperature.

In captivity, the chinchilla has been selectively bred for many years to enhance its already dense fur, to produce an animal whose primary feature is its silky, strong, insulating fur. There are as many as 60 to 80 hairs per follicle, making it one of the most insulating, non-aquatic mammal pelts.

Therefore, bearing all this in mind, it is wise (if not essential) to take certain steps to keep pet chinchillas cool and comfortable during hot summer weather, as failure to do so will result in distress and even death.

On a hot day, the ambient temperature of the room or unit that the chinchillas are kept in should be lowered or maintained at an acceptable level. This can be achieved by keeping curtains closed, or in the case of outside units, any windows can be whitewashed using a greenhouse paint to obscure much of the sunlight. Outside sheds and units can also benefit from having their roof painted white, to help reflect some heat or even have a secondary roof fitted to reflect almost all the heat of the sun.

Good air-circulation and ventilation are absolutely essential, and a simple desktop fan can assist with this, but should not be aimed directly into the cages.

Many chinchilla breeders, including myself, use air-conditioners (non-evaporative) in their units to maintain cooler temperatures. They are extremely effective and are highly recommended.

However, this may be a rather expensive option for the average chinchilla owner with only one or two chinchillas - but there are other solutions ......

Cheap ceramic or terracotta tiles can be purchased from garden centres and DIY stores. These can then be placed in a refrigerator or freezer and can then be placed in or around the chinchilla cages. Jam jars filled with water and then frozen will also provide cool spots for the chinchilla to sit up against or close to.

In fact, anything that is non-toxic and chew-proof can be used in this manner. But I don’t recommend using plastic cool-blocks, unless they are placed inside a metal biscuit tin for protection.

Items removed straight from the freezer should be wiped down to remove any "frost" before use, to prevent freezer-burns from the ultra-cooled surfaces coming into contact with skin (both animal and human).

Anything that may stress or increase the chinchilla’s heart rate during the hot weather should be avoided. This includes both exercise and the stress of transportation (although this can be limited by the use of car air-conditioning these days). Even sandbathing should be left to the cooler parts of the day (a useful hint is to put the sandbath into the fridge for a while, so the chinchillas can bathe in cool sand).

Allowing a chinchilla out of its cage for exercise should also be restricted to the cooler hours of the day and for much shorter periods of time than usual. On very hot days exercise should be restricted completely in order to prevent overheating.

Any unnecessary journeys and even trips to the vet should also be left to the cooler early morning or evening hours, if possible.

It goes without saying that chinchilla cages should not be positioned in direct sunlight by a window or kept in hot conservatories. Neither should the chinchilla cages be placed on a sunny patio to enjoy the sunshine on a hot day (yes - I have heard of this happening, with fatal results sadly).

Heat exhaustion can set in very quickly and unless action is taken the chinchilla can lapse into a coma and die.

Here are some helpful tips on spotting the signs and how to deal with them in an emergency.