Baby chinchillas or ‘kits’ are adorable balls of fluff that requiring specialized care. Luckily for us, mama chinchillas take great care of their babies and will make sure they have everything they need.
But what happens when she can’t provide for her babies sufficiently? If you are planning on breeding chinchillas, it’s important to educate yourself on baby chinchilla care and what to do if you need to help care for the new kits.
1) The average litter size is two kits.
It’s normal for chinchillas to have small litters, averaging at two baby chinchillas.
Chinchillas can give birth to as many as seven kits but it’s very rare. Female chinchillas will have a very difficult time providing for large litters so in these cases you might need to rotate kits being fed, hand feed, or give babies to “foster chinchillas”.
Foster chinchillas refer to other female chinchillas who have recently given birth. They will accept the kits, feed them, and keep them warm.
2) Kits can be weaned at eight weeks.
Kits can be weaned from their mothers as early as 8 weeks, but it’s suggested that you wait until kits are 12 weeks and weigh 200 grams before separating from mom.
If weaning occurs before kits are ready, you might see behavior problems, digestive issues, and health problems later in life.
Weaning is a natural process between the mother and kits that usually starts around week 8. In most circumstances you shouldn’t need to intervene but if you aren’t seeing signs by the end of week 8, you might need to help start the process.
3) Kits should be kept in a single-story cage.
Unlike most newborns, kits are active shortly after birth. They can run and climb and will injure themselves if they fall from a high distance. For this reason, you should stick to a simple single-story cage with wire bars no wider than ½”.
If bars are wider you will risk kits escaping or getting stuck between the bars. You can move them to a larger cage once they have been weaned from their mother.
Having a good chinchilla cage in place before you need it is a prudent things to have if you know babies are on the way.
4) Kits must be kept warm.
In most situations, the mother will keep her babies warm enough. Problems occur when the litter is too large for sufficient care of all kits. You can help keep kits warm by placing a heating pad under the cage so only one area is affected.
You’ll need to monitor to make sure the kits aren’t being overheated. If you have another female chinchilla you can try giving her some kits, there is a good chance she’ll keep them warm.
5) Hand feeding might be required every 2-3 hours.
Mother chinchillas usually produce enough milk to keep her babies fed but if the litter is too large or she has trouble with her supply, you will need to try hand feeding kits. Hand feeding involves feeding kits homemade formula designed to replicate a mother’s milk using a syringe.
Depending on the age, you should be prepared to feed the kits every 2-3 hours. With older kits you’ll be able to reduce feedings to 4 times a day. This is not an easy task to do by yourself so try to enlist the help of friends and family.
6) Kits can eat begin eating pellets a few weeks after birth.
Kits will start supplementing their mother’s milk with pellets as early as 2 weeks, but 3-4 weeks is typical. They are too young to be weaned at this age so do not encourage weaning by separating them from their mother. Pellets alone will not provide enough nutrition during this stage of development, but they are fine for kits to eat in small amounts.
When they get a little older, there are a number of chinchilla treats they’ll enjoy trying.
7) Separate males and females by 10 weeks to avoid inbreeding.
Chinchillas can reach sexual maturity as early as 10 weeks so it’s important to separate males and females to avoid inbreeding. You want to avoid inbreeding because kits could be born with health complications and birth defects.
You can determine the sex of your chinchillas by looking at the spacing between the anus and vagina/penis. In females, there is almost no gap between the two openings and in males, there is a distinct gap.
8) You should weigh kits daily.
It is recommended that you weigh kits twice a week to ensure they are gaining enough weight. A healthy newborn kit gains between 5-10 grams of weight per week.
If kits are failing to gain weight it can indicate poor milk supply and you will need to hand feed until they reach a healthy weight. Gaining too much weight is a problem too and you might need to partially restrict meals for kits who are becoming overweight.
9) Handle kits often and early.
Kits are fully developed at birth, so you don’t think to worry about handling them too soon. Chinchilla mothers are not known to reject their kits after human contact, either. By handling kits often, you are helping them socialize and trust humans.
You will also be able to spot injuries and monitor their health while handling them. It’s important to be careful because of their delicate bones and their tendency to jump when scared.
10) Kit survival is 70-80%.
This figure might surprise you but it’s true. Some kits are born weaker and end up rejected by their mothers before we realize what’s going on, and other kits might end up fatally wounded from falls and larger chinchillas.
A proven way to determine the health of a newborn kit can be observed through their tail within the first 48 hours of life. Chinchillas are born with straight tails that lay on the ground. Within the first 12 hours, their tails begin to curl and by the end of the 48 hours, their tail will curl right up into the air. This indicates good health and that they are feeding well.