Firstly, the fine print: animal rescue centres are awash with unwanted pets, some of them a result of unwanted breeding.
Before you decide to breed any animal at all you should be certain that you have homes for any babies produced.
In addition, it is important to appreciate that there are always risks in breeding any animal – least of all chinchillas – so breeding should only be undertaken after careful consideration of the risks and potential consequences.
The Happy Couple
If you decide to breed chinchillas then it goes without saying that you’ll need a healthy adult pair. While females can reach maturity in as little as 4-5 months most breeders recommend holding off to breed your chinchilla until she is at least one year of age.
The process of reproduction can take a lot out of female chinchillas, so it is critical that your female is the best of health before you start the breeding process. Females should be given time to recover after a litter before they are given the opportunity to try again.
Generally introducing male and female chinchillas is reasonably simple. Fighting is unlikely, though the female may scold an over-zealous male and may even chase him off. It is key, therefore, to give him somewhere to hide if necessary, such as providing extra nesting boxes in the cage.
The female oestrus cycle is around 28 days in length, and she will be on heat for just 2 of those. Unlike some animals, where male and female can be introduced and then separated a few days later are the “deed is done”, with chinchillas it is often necessary to leave the happy couple together for weeks on end.
Female chinchillas are known to be quite fussy about their choice of mate. It may be necessary to be patient, as some females can take months to fully accept their potential mate. In other cases females may never accept your chosen partner for them, and it is not unusual to try two or three males before she finds a suitable partner. As a result, even owning an adult pair will not necessarily guarantee successful mating.
Mating & Gestation
With the long oestrus cycle that chinchillas go through it can be very difficult to confirm whether or not a female is actually pregnant without observing the act of mating. In some instances a female chinchilla will produce a “mating plug” – essentially a small dry white object emitted after successful reproduction. These may be up to an inch or so in length, and if found on the cage floor are a positive sign.
As chinchillas are naturally quite stocky animals, and benefit from thick fur, your female may not become visibly pregnant until the last few weeks of pregnancy; a process that takes around 111 days in chinchillas. Indeed, there have even been cases in the past of “surprise births” where an owner wasn’t even aware that their female was pregnant.
Typically towards the end of this period the female will, however, become visibly larger. You may even be able to see the young inside her actually moving.
Chinchillas may give birth at any time of the day, but early mornings are the most common time. Chinchilla litters tend to be small, with just two kits being a normal litter. In litters of four or more it is common for at least one of the youngsters to pass away soon after birth.
Baby chinchillas are highly developed at birth, being miniature versions of their parents. They are born fully-furred and ready for the world.
The mother will provide milk to the youngsters, so it is important to ensure she has suitable food to product this. Babies may sample adult food within days of birth, but are typically not fully weaned until around 8 weeks of age. Experts recommend waiting till around 12 weeks of age before rehoming the babies, to be certain they are in the best of health.
It is important to point out that female chinchillas can fall pregnant again within hours of giving birth. The risk here is that her partner may impregnate her again almost instantly, leading to a second pregnancy. As carrying young is so physically demanding for a chinchilla this is normally best avoided. If a second litter is desired then it is best to give the female some time off to recover before trying the pair again.
To this end, once you feel confident that your female chinchilla is pregnant it is normally best to remove the male entirely, thus preventing the risk of repeated pregnancies in quick succession.