Helping you care for your chinnie


Chinchillas and hiccups

Chinchillas can get hiccups but it is not common. This is how hiccups work and why they get it. Only mammals get hiccups. The mechanism of hiccups is as follows:

The muscles of the diaphragm contracts involuntary, the mammal have no control over it. The diaphragm is the sheet of muscle that separates the lung cavity and the bowels. The diaphragm is also the muscle that allows mammals to breathe. It contracts and relaxes, forcing air in and out of the lungs.

A hiccup causes a strong contraction of the diaphragm, followed by the closing of the vocal cords. This is what makes the “hic” sound. At the same time, the contractions and relaxing of the esophagus is suppressed. You can’t swallow while the hiccup “comes out” because the esophagus is the pipe down which the food or water goes and it doesn’t work at that moment.

There are 2 schools of thought on where hiccups originated. The older version claims it is a remnant of life evolving from amphibians. They gulp for air. When the oxygen levels is higher, it stops. The newer version, explained by Howes in 2012 suggests that it evolved to help infants suck milk while breathing. It stops the milk from going into the lungs. It also clears air from the stomach, allowing more space for milk.
I can’t say which is correct and looking at the causes of hiccups, there is only one that I believe causes hiccups in chinchillas.

The causes

  • Coughing. I could find no evidence that they cough like we do. They do make wheezing sounds when they have respiratory tract infections though. There are references to coughing and there will be a sound, it is just not coughing like we know it, probably their version of it because their anatomy differs.
  • Rapid eating. It can probably happen but in my experience, they take their time. They will eat a bit, do something else and later eat more. They don’t sit and finish a meal, they graze.
  • Intense emotional changes. This includes joy, fear, anxiety, euphoria (being overjoyed with something) and excitement. This applies to chinchillas.
  • Spicy food, carbonated drinks like Coke, alcohol, food like too much bread etc. This should not even get near a chinnie so I can’t see it as a cause.
  • Laughing. They make happy sounds but I never heard one burst out laughing.

Why chinchillas get hiccups

It is a complicated process involving the central nervous system but basically a message is sent out that ends up causing the irritation that gives them hiccups. In every single case I’ve seen it was because of a changed emotional state. In my chinchillas I only notice it when they get very exited and after mating. Other emotional states can cause it but it never happened here. It also doesn’t affect many of my males. When a female is in heat, all the males get exited and 3 gets hiccups. Once they mated the same 3 will get hiccups too.
There are more serious pathological causes for hiccups, like kidney failure, diabetes, pneumonia and a stroke, to mention just a few. With these there will just be other signs and symptoms too and the hiccups is just one of the signs.

I don’t see hiccups in my chinchillas as serious because it is always due to an emotional change and once they relax again, it stops. I will only be concerned if this happens frequently and last for long periods. In a case like this, an underlying pathological condition can be the cause.

With mine the trigger is always the same and it soon stops. It doesn’t even happen every time they get exited but it does happen every time they mated. With the 3 that does get hiccups, I write down the date just to see what happens and found that there will be babies 16 weeks later if the female was not already pregnant. If she is pregnant and another girl comes in heat, they don’t always get exited enough to cause hiccups.

If they get hiccups because of an impact on their emotions it just passes and is nothing to worry about.


Average chinchilla prices in South Africa

This is just an indication of what most people ask. I explained in the past why prices differ and why a breeder like Willie will not sell the whites that took 4 generations to get to the quality they are at these prices. Just like I will not sell a Std that is 5th generation pure just here and come from a pure bloodline before I got them for the same price a back yard breeder sells theirs. Some breeders (very few) plans and work very hard to achieve better qualities, both in looks and in health. I don’t advertize my prices because I still help people who need a friend for a lonely chinnie at lower prices. The prices I then ask is not a true reflection of their value and they are confidential. I decide on the price according to the situation.
Std Male: R 500-R1 200.
Standard female: R 1 000 – R 2 000
Hetero Beige male: R 500 – R 1 200
Hetero Beige female: R 1 000 – R 2 000
Homo Beige male: R 1 000 – R 2 000
Homo Beige female: R 1 000 – R 2 000
White (basic mutations): R 2 500 – R 6 000
White (TOV and Ebony): R 4 000 – R 6 000
Ebony Carrier: Same as Std or Beige
Ebony (light) male: R 1 000 – R 1 500
female: R 1 500- R 2 500
Ebony (medium) male: R 1 200- R 2 000
female: R 2 000- R 3 000
Tan: The same as Ebony.
Ebony (dark) Male or female: R 3 500- R 5 000
Black Velvet: R 4 000 – R 6 000
Brown Velvet: R 4 000 – R 6 000

“Funnies”: We don’t breed them and won’t ever sell them. I have no idea what they cost and am not interested.
Recessives (Violet, Sapphire, etc): Not sure, mine will not be cheap because I will get very few, from carriers.
Royal Persian Angora: I don’t know. In my opinion, the prices should be in line with international prices.

These are just indications, I might also have forgotten a mutation. These are not the prices we ask. Willie determines the prices of my chinchillas, except the people I help with pets. Our prices are not based on color, it is based on quality. Quality is determined by the show qualities, which are still far from on par with the world but already a huge improvement. More important, they have a history of generations of good breeders that stay healthy and do not have complications.

Prices will fluctuate with supply and demand. If there are a lot, like now, the prices will drop. Our prices do not fluctuate.

There are very good chinchillas from small breeders available now at low prices. Some of them are my friends. They will take less money in order to find good homes and I respect this.
I try to help them find homes, people just don’t read and don’t realize the difference. It takes a long time to establish a good reputation. I can’t guarantee a chinchilla from any breeder but I know if they breed right and care right, the risk is a lot lower.

I do guarantee my own babies. If they die of a genetic fault that was impossible to see, I replace them. In the past 3 years I replaced 2.

Quality doesn’t play a big role yet simply because people don’t realize the difference. We help the people who do realize it and I will help people with pets. I won’t speak for Willie but I know what he does when it is a special situation. It is enough for me to know, I don’t have to share it.

There is a lot of competition and a lot of babies. Because of all the babies you can buy what you want, you don’t have to buy what a breeder tells you to buy.

Comments from breeders

“The breeder that breed for quality is making way less than the norm , the reason for that is , you pair according to certain qualities , said that , currently I sit with 6 males (4 whites + 2 ebonies ) unpaired and 5 females (2 ebonies + 2 beige + 1 white ) unpaired , will not pair them just to breed , i do wait for the right partner to breed better quality then they are , costing me money , the end result on corrective pairing make a huge impact on quality , a breeders name and future sales in chinchillas”

“I like and agree….a good home is far more important than making money on these beautiful creatures”

How much can you see in a chinchilla?

You can see everything except small genetic disorders. Small genetic disorders are things like a heart problem that can cause a heart attack at any stage. With responsible breeding these disorders are extremely rare but can happen.
You can see what the parents were, if the diet is good or bad, you can even see if the grandparents were good chinnies. There is a lot more. You can recognize malo long before there are any symptoms. If there is a more serious genetic disorder you can see it long before it starts giving problems. You can even see if they are given unhealthy treats.
Apart from the physical things like the condition of the fur, the posture, the ears, eyes etc you can see all the rest in their behavior. You learn to know what they will do, won’t do, if they are happy, sad, depressed or not feeling well. Unlike humans, chinchillas do not hide their moods, people just do not recognize them. Because they are prey animals they must hide the fact that they are sick for as long as possible. If you really know your chinchillas, they can’t hide this from you.
I believe anyone with a genuine love for their chinchillas can learn to see this. Willie will probably slap my head for saying this but when I met him he couldn’t see this. It took me a few years to learn to really see. Willie learned this. The passion is there and he pays attention. It takes a lot of time and you must see them in all situations, at all times of the day or night.
You learn the behavior of each individual. There are a lot of similarities but each chinnie is unique and have an unique personality. I guess it is like being a “chinchilla psychologist”. When you go to a doctor they ask you questions and this helps them diagnose what is wrong with you. A psychologist will do the same to establish your mental health.
Chinchillas can’t speak human. They can’t explain with words. They can’t say they are not feeling well or they do not like the mate you paired them with. They speak chinchilla body and behavior language and you can learn this. You must just spend an awful lot of time with them and pay attention to the smallest things.
This helps you to take action before it becomes serious. You can start treating a disease long before there are symptoms. Often you can fix it before it is necessary to use medicine. With some diseases there is no choice, you must use medicine. With others you can fix it with a change in diet. You can stop diarrhea, prevent bloat and fix constipation long before it is serious. If an aggressive bacteria causes it you will know because what you do doesn’t work. It means you can start giving medicine a day or 2 before they are seriously ill. This saves lives.
There is a drawback to this.I’m not bragging because many people can see the same. I can see if a chinnie will survive or not. I can see within hours after babies are born if they will live or die. I was not wrong once in the past 6 years. The only ones I didn’t see was the 2 I lost to the weather. There was no indication. With all the others there are.
The 2 babies I lost of the litter of 4 was no surprise. I just hoped for a miracle. When the RPAC triplets was born a few weeks ago I told Willie the Beige girl won’t make it to adulthood. I am now losing her, a month later. I’m doing what I can because it is my duty but if she survives it will be a miracle.
You can learn to see all this. In some cases it helps you prevent a disaster. In others, there is nothing you can do but you try anyways. There are clues. Genetics, the parents, the food, all are clues. It tells you what is coming. A big litter tells you some can be weak. The birth weight confirms this but weight alone is not enough. You just see and know.
What you can’t see is what will happen from a few weeks after they are weaned. You can’t see if they will have a heart attack at age 3. You can’t even see it in humans. The 12 weeks they are here just tells you there is nothing obvious, everything works. The 2-4 weeks you keep them after they are weaned is the confirmation. You see how they eat, how they poop and what they do.
There are no guarantees with animals, you can just even the playing field and you can see what to expect if you really want to see.

Breeding and selling chinchillas : the basic economics

I am not clever with economics but this I can explain. I bred hamsters from when I was a small boy till about 4 years ago, when the rescues started taking up too much time. I’ve seen this in many other species of animals and the same will happen with chinchillas. It happened all over the world. We are no exception, it will happen here too.
Breeders will get hold of some rare exotic animal and start breeding more. Because they are rare they sell for a lot of money. It happened with hamsters, gerbils, iguanas, bearded dragons, snakes, marmoset monkeys, etc. Every species you can think of went through this process.
The moment it becomes known that there is money to be made, people get interested. When I bought my first pair of chinchillas in 2004 I didn’t even know anyone who owned one. There was not a single ad in the classifieds. Chinchillas were extremely rare.
It took me about 2 years before I met other people with chinchillas. In this time I learned an awful lot and when I then met people I could see how much they knew. A few knew more than I did, most knew nothing.
Chinchilla prices were high, especially the then rarer mutations. A breeder got good money for any chinchilla. I sold babies for the same price the few other people sold them. In 2006 I asked R 800 for a Std boy. It is now 2013 and prices are as low as R 400. If you get a buyer.
Everyone wanted to make money so they started breeding chinchillas. Not the people who have a pair of pets that breeds, you will always have that. The breeders who breed for the sole purpose of making money. The more money they made the more breeders it attracted. Breeding conditions, show qualities, health etc didn’t play a role. The more the better.
Open the classifieds today or look on the Internet. There are hundreds of ads. The market for chinchilla babies is now over saturated. There are too many, they are not a novelty anymore and prices hit rock bottom. To survive, breeders try to breed the rarer mutations or breed something “unique”. This is where “double recessives” like Blue Diamond comes from. It didn’t stop there and it will never stop.
There will always be the quest for a new mutation, no matter how weak they are. They must just be new and rare, it will make money. This is where the world is now. In South Africa, some mutations are still uncommon but not rare. All the basic mutations are here, except a few of the recessives. To get them is no problem, you just import them.
With the chinchillas comes the accessories. Food, dust, toys, cages, etc. When I started making MiniMagic food there was only 2 other brands. The one was local, I don’t know if it exists anymore. The other was imported and still is. Because of heavy and heartbreaking losses on the imported food we had to make a plan. My friends fed rabbit pellets because there was nothing else. I found what we use now after a long search, by pure luck.
I started selling it to my friends because they asked and I knew it was good. It was never about money, it was desperation to get good food. Nothing changed over the years, it just became more popular. It took 5 years for others to catch on. Now I personally know about 10 people that sell some variant of what I sell.
We started making toys years ago, when I started the website. About 4 years later they started importing the same stuff for a fraction of the price so we stopped. We can’t compete and it’s fine because it’s not about the money.
The imported food changed drastically a few months after we lost all those chinnies. Instead of selling the staple diet the chinnies should eat, the shops sell the food full of treats because it sells faster. They don’t care what the difference is.
It will now start to turn for breeders. It will be a year or 3 but it already started. Breeders who thought they would make a fortune now sit with babies they can’t sell. They still hope they can so they breed more. There is one way for these breeders to survive, they cut costs. Cheaper food, smaller cages, etc. Chinchilla mills were born in SA only 4 or so years ago.
Some breeders already sold everything but since there are now chinchillas everywhere people still assume there is money in it. So they buy and they breed. Over the next few years more will try this and more will stop. In 3-4 years from now the effects of bad food will only become clear, when the original adults start dying at age 6-8years.
It is already obvious in the babies and the newer generation of “breeding” chinchillas. Since they still get them sold and buyers think it is their fault, breeders don’t realize this. They will only realize this when their own chinchillas start dying.
But even assuming they don’t die and the food is fine, how many more baby chinchillas can this country accommodate? If breeders already can’t get buyers, what will they do in a year from now. when there are double as many babies? Many more will then give up, flooding the market with adult chinchillas. They have little value already, especially males.
The result of this will be a huge increase in rescue chinchillas. They will have no value and nobody will want them. Apart from this, in 4 or 5 years from now there will be a lot of females that will stop breeding. If they can’t breed, they are an expense. They will be sold. Breeders are already doing this. There are some of them here.
Many people will still buy them in the hope of making money. When they don’t breed they will be sold. Soon they will be in a terrible condition from all the stress and they will become rescues. It is going to cost greedy people a lot of money. I hope it costs them a fortune.
This is when greedy breeders will give up, when even the pet stores won’t buy them anymore. There is no fur industry in South Africa, thankfully. The only value they have is as pets. The moment they lose this value they become rescues. Chinchilla mills will still breed for shops. To survive they will cut costs.
It will not be safe to buy a chinchilla from just anyone because they will die young. Shops will be too scared to keep them because they will get a bad reputation, they will be known as weak pets. The more educated buyers are already careful. The people who buy them for pets don’t just buy anymore.
Just think of cats and dogs. How much value does a stray dog have? People give kittens away because they have no value. The shelters kill them on a daily basis to make room for more.
Unlike cats and dogs, where there are many breeds and many mongrels, there is only Chinchilla Lanigera. Just like with other exotic animals like marmosets, there will always be a market. It will just stabilize. Dog and cat breeders who breed pedigree animals still find buyers. Mongrels don’t get bought. If they are lucky they get adopted.
The mongrels of the chinchilla world will be the “mistakes”, the experiments that failed. Even with dogs they bred them weaker, just look at “pocket” Yorkies. Pairing weak genes results in smaller dogs. Chinchillas are a lot more sensitive than this. At some stage they just stop reproducing. Not only bad breeding causes this, bad food does too. It was proved with hamsters, that are a lot hardier. On a bad diet, hamsters totally stopped reproducing in 2 years. They went sterile. This is roughly 8 generations. With chinchillas, that is 4 to 6 years.
There will always be breeders and there will always be chinchilla owners. There will and already are only 2 types of breeders. The breeders who breed for profit will do it at any cost. Most of them will give up because nobody will buy from them. There will not be enough profit.
The genuine chinchilla lovers who breed selectively and only to strengthen the species will survive. If there are too many chinchillas I just don’t breed. If I do breed for a reason like strengthening Standard or Violet, I don’t have to breed hundreds. I can breed 2 at a time and keep them. Or I just give them to people who will provide a good home. Not people who ask for freebies. Since I’m not in it for the money, I don’t have to sell. I don’t have to breed to survive. It will be hard splitting pairs but if need be, I will do it. They will just all stay right here.
For me it was never necessary and I don’t know if it ever will be. I don’t breed a lot and I give people good pets. There will always be a market for this. I don’t make a profit but since it is not my aim, it doesn’t bother me.
When your chinchillas start costing you money it proves if you love them or want to make a profit. No business can run at a loss, so they quit. The sad part is that the real chinchilla lovers who breed 4 excellent pets a year can’t find homes for them. As long as the market is flooded like it is now, every one of them will suffer. Pet owners are neutering males to prevent them from breeding. I don’t sell breeding pairs, I sell same sex pairs to good homes as pets.
Animals are not groceries or stock. They are living beings. Their existence is still controlled by economics, driven by greed. As long as there are people on this earth, it will never change.
This is the sad part of breeding, when things go wrong. It results in an awful lot of rescues. Hopefully it also results in greedy breeders with no heart to lose a lot of money.

Chinchilla Intelligence

I spent the whole of last night and this morning trying to find scientific proof for what I am about to write. There is a lot of speculation and comparisons to other animals but nothing of real value.
I often wrote about the psyche of the chinchilla before and how I believe it influences their daily lives. You learn to “read” your chinchilla from how it behaves. It came up yesterday when we discussed how easy it is for Willie and I to pair up chinchillas, even difficult ones.
Chinchilla intelligence is estimated to be lower than that of a cat or dog but higher than that of a guinea pig or rabbit. It is estimated to be about the same as a rat. Rats are very smart. Just a question. How do they measure it? Compared to what actions? The same things are not important for different animals. You can give them tasks but chinnies are a lot like cats, they do what they please.
My chinnies all know their names and they learn it quickly. I talk to them all the time. When I still gave them the dust bath only a few times a week, they knew the word “bath” and got exited. They knew the word “treat”, now it is part of their food. Willie taught one of his tricks, specific actions performed on specific commands.
I believe they are more intelligent than they get credit for. Their “feelings” are also more sensitive than we think. Over the years I took many rescues from people “because they bite”. I never once got bitten. I took in rescues because they didn’t get tame, were scared of their owners or showed aggressive behavior. A few weeks here and I walk around with them on my shoulder.
Just like you should be able to “read” their behavior, they read yours. They also read your state of mind. Every year I nurse a few chinnies I took in with injuries, I give them medicine that tastes like hell, put drops in eyes, apply foul smelling ointment they hate, etc. They hate it but I don’t get bitten and they don’t end up hating me. I have a girl on medication now. When she sees the syringe she runs like hell. Once she took the medicine it is all over and she comes to play.
I think it is a mindset thing, like when pairing them. If you have to pair 2 chinnies and you are as nervous as a politician at the pearly gates, they feel it. If you are scared or nervous, they will be too. They know. Why are you scared? What is a scared human going to do with me? By the time you pair them they are both already nervous and the defense mode kicked in. They will protect themselves and the best means of defense is to attack.
This is why it works to take a pair to someone like Willie who can then pair them in minutes. We are not scared and totally at ease. It’s the same when I treat them, cut front teeth of other people’s chinnies, clean wounds, etc. I lost my fear for animals when I was a small boy. I believe they feel it and they feel your intentions.
Off course it also means they will learn certain types of behavior. Babies from us are relaxed, adapt quickly and are social. BUT just like humans, they have different personalities. You will get shy ones. It often happens that they end up with the same personalities the parents have. It also means the way you breed influences their future behavior.
I believe the way you breed and how the babies are raised will determine how they will behave as both adults and parents. We breed with pairs and the babies grow up with a mother and father. Every male that caused trouble I know of and where I could trace it back to how he was bred and raised came from a single mom where the breeder bred polygamous. Polygamous doesn’t mean breeding runs. Yes, that is polygamous too. So is putting a female with a male till she is pregnant and then putting the male with another female.
They develop herd behavior. Chinchillas are not stupid. If a male grew up in an environment where all he ever does is make females pregnant he will accept it as “normal” and kits are competition because he wants to mate again. Repeat this for a few years and you have a herd where the males couldn’t care less about kits. There will always be exceptions. You can even fix this, if you get the male in time and have the right environment.
A while ago Willie bought a “baby killer”. He breeds like I do, all pairs. He took the risk because he believes in our way and paired the boy with a girl. Before the babies came we discussed it. Should he risk it? From how the behavior of the boy changed over a few months in the perfect environment, we both agreed he should risk it and leave him with the female. The kits came and everything was fine. We shared the pics. The “baby killer” turned out to be a wonderful dad in the right environment.
Every move you make influences them. That cage is their domain. Even moving cages around have an influence. The neighbors are not the same anymore and they must get used to each other. This is why a scared male will attack a female you put in his cage and why a scared female will attack a male in his own cage. They protect what they have and themselves.
There are probably a lot more examples. I can write about this for days. I believe this with all my heart and base all my decisions on it. I try to think like a chinchilla and I keep both their intelligence and feelings in mind when I do anything.
This is not the right way to breed a lot of chinchillas and it is not the right way to “optimally” use a good male like Axl, my imported Black Velvet or Gucci, my stunning Mosaic. It is a slow way of improving on show qualities because every improvement means a whole new pair.
For me it just means happy, well adjusted chinnies and I believe I have a bigger responsibility to both the happiness of my chinchillas and the peace of mind of pet owners or the occasional breeder I help.
Chinchillas are not toys or objects. They are highly intelligent animals with emotions. They have feelings and if you understand this, you understand chinchillas. If you then base your decisions on this, you will not go wrong. All that is left then is not to breed with chinnies that is not suitable to breed with, creating a comfortable environment and providing good care like food, love and attention.
Willie summed it up yesterday. The day you can see a chinchilla cry over a lost baby is the day you understand their emotions. By understanding their intelligence and emotions, you can safely predict their behavior and plan accordingly.
My opinion on this will never ever change. I will learn more about it but it determines every decision I make.

A busy family of chinchillas

A busy family of chinchillas