Chinchillas have an exceptionally long lifespan for rodents, making them an appealing pet choice for people looking for long-term companions. In their natural habitat in the Andean regions of South America, they typically live for 8 to 10 years; however, in captivity, chinchillas often live 15 to 20 years. To maximize a pet chinchilla's lifespan, proper care is essential.
In the Wild
Chinchillas reside in the foothills of the Andes Mountains in areas of Peru, Bolivia, Argentina and Chile. In the wild, their lifespan averages a decade or less. Predators -- such as owls and other birds of prey, as well as foxes and wild cats -- can prevent them from living as long as they are biologically capable. More significant, perhaps -- and the reason chinchillas are critically endangered today -- is man's interference. Plush chinchilla fur is highly prized as clothing material, and although hunting them is illegal, it still goes on. Also, human destruction of the chinchilla's natural habitat shortens their lifespans and reduces their numbers.
Like many animals, chinchillas live considerably longer in captivity, with a potential lifespan of about 20 years. In zoos and as pets, chinchillas don't fall prey to natural predators or hunters, obviously. Also, they don't have to contend with the elements and are provided with all the nutritionally balanced food they need. The veterinary care available to chinchillas in captivity also helps maximize their lifespan.
Maximizing Captive Lifespan
Nutrition is essential to keeping a pet chinchilla alive for 15 or more years. Buy specially formulated pellet chinchilla food without nuts, seeds, dried fruit, corn, or other morsels. These animals need unrestricted access to timothy hay and fresh water, toys, exercise and safe items to gnaw on to remain healthy. Provide pelleted paper or aspen shavings as bedding; never use pine, cedar or sawdust, which can cause respiratory and other health problems. Give them plenty of space, and chinchillas fare better with at least one other companion of their species. A sanitary environment promotes longevity. Take out soiled bedding and old food daily and replace all bedding and clean the cage weekly. Also provide veterinary checkups and attention to possible concerns.
While hamsters, mice and other rodents commonly kept as pets tend to live for a few years, the chinchilla lifespan is considerably longer. Consider that a pet chinchilla is potentially a 20-year commitment. This means up to two decades of cleaning cages, filling water bottles, buying food, bedding, chew toys and other supplies, providing out-of-cage time and interacting, arranging care if you're traveling, paying veterinary bills and buying the occasional medication if necessary, and otherwise acting like a responsible pet owner. Also, remember that chinchillas should be kept in pairs at least, so ideally you're caring for more than one.
Eric Mohrman has been a freelance writer since 2007, focusing on travel, food and lifestyle stories. His creative writing is also widely published. He lives in Orlando, Florida.