Chinchillas are peaceful, small rodents that do not disturb anyone. Their dense fur, whiskers and long, bushy tail are distinctive. When threatened or pursued they rely on their agility, their teeth and their ability to shed patches of fur. When frightened or captured they tend to give off a pungent odor similar to that of scorched almonds. This scent is sprayed from a gland located just inside the anus. In addition, females have a further defense mechanism; they stand up on their hind legs and, lightning fast, excrete urine at a presumed attacker. The loss of fur patches is of understandable significance to the chinchilla keeper. Shed fur or fur ripped out due to clumsy handling of the animals causes bare patches where the skin shines through. It takes about 6 to 8 weeks for the patches to be covered with fur again, and it make take several months for the fur to grow to the same length as the surrounding areas. Of course, the loss of a little fur is of no real consequence to the animal itself, as it is a painless natural method of defense, but it does make an unsightly animal and never fails to worry the owner the first time it happens. The danger of hair loss is particularly likely when an animal becomes frightened or is being handled. In order to avoid this problem, chinchillas are best handled by their tail or ears, a practice that may seem somewhat unusual to a beginning chinchilla breeder.
Chinchillas are not aggressive by nature. They will use their teeth only when handled, touched, or held clumsily. They do not like to be petted without being firmly restrained, although they can sometimes be scratched under their chin. Most pets soon adapt to some handling and even enjoy being scratched, but this may take some time. As more and more pet-bred chins become available it is likely that their offspring will become more accustomed to handling and friendlier and friendlier.
Chinchillas need a daily bath... a sand bath, that is! This serves to keep up their well-being as well as promoting cleanliness and beauty of the fur. Chinchillas, like most rodents, are mostly nocturnal (active at night) animals. During the day in nature they sleep in hollows, caves, and other hiding places. With the onset of dusk they become active and start looking for food. Because these animals are crepuscular (active at dusk) and nocturnal they must be kept in breeding rooms that are in quiet locations so that their rest is not disturbed during the day.
Chinchillas are very clean animals. When kept under proper conditions in a well-ventilated area they do not omit an offensive odor. They are, however, sensitive to various pests, particularly mice, dogs, and cats, which must be kept away from them. Their fur does not harbor such parasites as fleas or lice, presumably because it is so extremely dense.
A somewhat less desirable characteristic, more like a vice, is what is known as fur biting. Similar to chickens that peck each others feathers, some chinchillas gnaw occasionally on their own fur or on that of others around them. When chinchillas vocalize, their sounds resemble a frightened chirp and peep or an angry cackling sound when annoyed. The male is often referred to as a buck, but there is no standard name for the female, although many keepers of course call her a doe. Chinchillas do not build nests. Their young are usually born during the early daylight hours. At birth they have already short fur and their eyes are functional. Their teeth are already present, and they grow continuously.