Starting a chinchilla family requires forethought and planning. Consider where the adults will be bred. Adult chinchillas are a bit fussy about their breeding environment; therefore they must feel secure in their surroundings. A quiet area with a minimum of traffic affords an ideal spot. A busy or noisy location inhibits breeding. Natural predators, such as rats and other animals, such as dogs and cats, should not have access to the breeding rooms.
Plans must be made for the young. Litters range from one to six kits, with two being the average. A separate cage is needed for weaning. If intend to keep the young, each will require its own cage.
If you did not buy a heating pad or low wattage bulb before, one is essential now. The warmth comforts the expectant mother and prevents litter mortalities by protecting the young from exposure to the cold. The firstborn may die without the added heat if the mother cannot attend to it while giving birth to the rest of the litter. The extra heat also helps to dry the mammary gland infections.
When the breeding room is not centrally heated, professional ranchers construct nest boxes that attach onto the mother’s cage. The mother and kits exit not large, but it is roomy enough to provide a cozy area for the mother and her young. A heat source placed beneath a false bottom provides warmth. The electric cord extends out and away from the box, always beyond the chinchilla’s reach.
Do not fashion a nest box from sheet metal. Although it is durable, the metal rusts easily and does not retain heat well. In the event of a power failure, the metal cools quickly.
Water will condense on its interior chill the young, possibly killing them.
Choosing a mate
After confirm the sex of your chinchilla, consider its age and experience. Chinchillas are best bred around eight months of age. At this age they are sexually mature, playful, and less likely to fight than are older animals.
Do not breed an older, experienced chinchilla to a younger one that has never been mated before. The result could be fatal. An experienced male is primarily concerned with mating and may become so impatient with a young female’s playfulness that he will bite her severely. An experienced female may so aggressively reject and frighten an inexperienced male that he will never be capable of breeding. It is best to begin your chinchilla breeding with two young and inexperienced animals.
Introducing The Pair
Your chosen pair must be properly introduced. Chinchillas need time to get acquainted before they are housed together. Once comfortable, the young can share the same cage during and after breeding.
Initially, the animals are confined to their respective cages. The cages are placed next to one another for at least a week. During this time the chinchillas will sniff each other and become accustomed to each other’s distinctive odor. Next, gently place the male in the female’s cage. Monitor their reactions carefully. You must be prepared to separate the animals if one violently rejects the other. Keep a pair of leather or garden gloves close by to protect your hands if you must intervene. You could also trap one of the animals in an overturned oatmeal container and remove it from the cage.
The male will probably spend the first few moments investigating his new surroundings before he acknowledges the female. The female, though, is totally concerned with the intruder in her home. As the male turns his attention to her, some roughhousing can be expected. The pair will chase each other around the cage and may nibble one another’s fur and ears.
The rough and tumble antics are natural. Unless blood is drawn or one panics and attacks the other, do not separate the chinchillas. Fur will really begin to fly at this time. The female may also express her disfavor by retreating to a corner, rising on her haunches, and shooting urine at the male. If she does this, she is readying for a fight; remove the male at once. Don’t let a bad first encounter discourage you. Usually the chinchillas simply need a bit more time as neighbors. Another week side by side should lessen the friction and make them more receptive when they are reintroduced. It is rare for a chinchilla to adamantly refuse a mate. If this is the situation, replace the more aggressive partner.
After acceptance, mating occurs. The female becomes restless, alerting the male that she is physically ready to breed. The vagina, which is normally tightly closed, opens and becomes oval-shped. This cycle(estrus or heat) is repeated about every 28-34 days. (In a young female, the vagina may be blocked by a rigid membrane, making penetration difficult. Apply a mild ointment or petroleum jelly for easier mating.) Some females may discharge a small, white waxy material, referred to as an “estrous” or “heat” plug, from the vagina.
The male senses the change in the female and courts her. Although a female is physically able to mate, she may be less than eager to do so. Remove any “hideouts” in the cage to prevent her retreat. After a slight scuffle, the male is usually successful. If he becomes too rough, remove him for a few hours until the female is ready to accept him. When she is, they may mate several times. It may be quite a brief or taken place at night.
After mating, the male may make a short hiccupping sound. Another wax-like substance, the copulatory plug, may be found on the cage floor the next day. This plug aids fertilization by holding the semen in the vagina. The male may remain with the female until the kits are born. He helps with the delivery by drying and warming the young.
If the chinchillas refuse to mate, consider changing their surroundings. A different room or extra peace and quiet may do the trick. Check the female for a vaginal infection if she has not been conceived after several mating. Undetected infections may result in sterility. An unusual discharge may go unnoticed if the female licks it as she cleans herself. Have a friend securely hold the chinchilla as you gently insert a cotton-tipped swab dipped in Panalog (This can be available from the vet) into her vagina. The swab should come out clean. A brown or red stain indicates an infection should be treated by a veterinarian.
After several copulations, the male may develop a “hair ring” around his penis. The chinchilla is unable to remove this himself, and it prevents the penis from being withdrawn into the protective shaft. The penis dries and the area becomes quite painful. Apply the petroleum jelly to moisten the penis and remove the hair. Gently exercise the penis back into the sheath. Check him periodically for redness or swelling, which indicate infection. If you cannot pinpoint any problem yet no pregnancy results, consider the possibility that one or both of the chinchilla may be sterile.
Preparing For The Litter
The litter will be born 111 days, give or take a day or two after conception. Provide the female with extra hay and feed to accommodate her increased nutritional requirements. A homemade mix of equal parts of rolled oats, powdered milk, wheat germ, and baby cereal is fortifying. About midway through the term, the female may have a loss of appetite and drop some weight. There is no cause for alarm unless other signs of diseases are present.
This is a particularly stressful time for the chinchilla, so provide a relaxing environment and do not handle her at all. Any strain or handling may injure the fetuses and cause the female to abort them. Hence resist the urge to check the mother’s growing tummy and certainly don’t remove her from her familiar surroundings.
A few days before the litter is due, the mother may lose her appetite, drink more water, and have soft droppings. She may be less active, lying around and stretching more. A dust bath is not given at this time, since she may contract a vaginal infection. Irth typically occurs during the early morning hours. Although she usually doesn’t need help, you should be available in case of an emergency. She may have a difficult delivery or she may need to help caring for the newborn. Make sure the cage is remains warm.
During labor, the chinchilla is obviously uncomfortable. She may stretch up, perspire and cry audibly. The fluid in the sac surrounding the kits is released and the contractions are visible. The babies should appear in two to three hours. The mother gently pulls a kit out with her teeth, removes the sac from the kit, then cleans and dries the baby’s fur. When afterbirth arrives, the birth process is over. The mother normally eats the afterbirth(for hormones to produce milk), but some breeders prefer to remove it. If the labor lasts over four hours, or if the contractions stop before the kits arrive, call the vet immediately.
Should the mother be unable to care for the firstborn while more kits are emerging, and the father makes no attempt to warm them, the kit may become rigid from the cold. Remove the baby from the cage warm it slowly in your gently clasped hands. Exhale short, easy breaths close to its mouth to encourage respiration. You can also try submerging the kit in warm water up to its neck. It may take up to 15 minutes until you see a response from the kit, but keep up the effort. When the baby is able to stand, dry it gently and return it to its mother.
Care Of The Mother
The new mother will be understandably weak after giving birth. She must eat well to properly care for her kits. If her appetite declines or she does not produce enough milk for nursing, add some organic apple cidar vinegar to her drinking water. The vinegar sparks her appetite and helps her to regain weight. Authorities recommend about half a teaspoon per 250ml. (about half a pint – one cup) of water, Change the water daily and discontinue the vinegar when she is eating well.
The female needs time to be in top breeding condition again. Since she can conceive shortly after birth, remove the male when all the young have been delivered. Do not reintroduce him until the kits have been weaned.
Kits look for their first meal within one hour of birth. The mother feeds them from a standing position. If the young fight over the teats, check the mother for bites and apply a mild ointment. If they continue fussing, ask your vet to clip their teeth to protect the mother. Nursing is difficult for a mother with swollen, inflamed teats. Apply camphor oil to each nipple to restore the free flow of milk.
A well-nourished female should have no problem supplying up to three kits with adequate milk. Since most litters consist of only two young, lack of milk is usually not a problem. If there are more than three young, select the strongest kits and feed them from an eyedropper or small doll’s bottle. Leave the smaller kits to nurse with the mother. Prepare a formula of one part milk powder, or sweetened condensed milk, with two parts lukewarm spring water. Whole milk mixed equally with spring water also works well. Do not boil the water and do not use water from a tap. The chlorine in the tap water is toxic to the kits.
To hand-feed a kit, hold it upright and dab a little formula on its lower lip. The baby may be confused and will need some time to learn what is expected. Eventually, the kit licks its lip and swallows the milk with a chewing motion. Never force the liquid into the kit’s mouth – the milk may enter the lungs and kill it.
Kits eat small amounts at each feeding and must be fed often. The fist week they must be fed every three to four hours. Gradually reduce the feedings to three times a day. Stop the meal when the kit turns its head from the dropper and licks its lips. A mere dropper or two is sufficient feeding. If you cannot be home for all the feedings, put a small amount of formula in a bottle and hang it on the side of the cage. Be sure it is within reach of the kits. Gradually introduce solid food into the kits’ diet.
When the kits are six to eight weeks old, they must be separated from their mother and placed in another cage. Keeping the kits together at this time eases the stress of leaving their mother. If the female still has milk, return the young to her once or twice a day for a meal. Within two weeks, the kits should be content on their own and each must be given its own cage.
It is very important that you do not over feed the young at this time; overfeeding kills adolescent chinchillas. Give them half the adult ration of pellets and hay. When they are five to six months old, slowly increase the rations to a full adult portion.