A chinchilla is a long-furred rodent native to the Andes Mountains of northern Chile. They’re a common exotic pet, so many people choose to keep them alongside other animals, such as cats.
A cat and chinchilla are unlikely to live in harmony with each other as they share few similarities. Cats are predatory, and chinchillas are prey animals. Chinchillas will both become stressed around cats.
They are very different animals, so it’s essential that before any decision is made, you carry out plenty of research beforehand to understand how they are as pets. The end goal is that both animals live a happy, healthy life. It’s not fair to have both as pets if they can’t either enrich each other’s lives or live alongside each other in harmony.
What Is A Chinchilla?
As described by the Oxford Academic, a chinchilla is a hystricomorph rodent of the Chinchillidae family – a highland species that inhabit the Andean foothills of northern Chile and southern Bolivia at an elevation of 3,500 – 5,000m. They’re social creatures that live in colonies of up to 100 in underground tunnels or rock crevasses.
Chinchillas have soft, long, and dense fur, which is bluish, pearl, or brownish gray. Regardless of the chinchilla’s fur color, the tips will always be black. Unfortunately, chinchilla fur became popular in the 1700s and, as a result, the animal was hunted to near extinction. To try to combat this, Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, and Peru banned the hunting of wild chinchillas in the 1900s, and their numbers have since bounced back.
Because of their thick fur, chinchillas can tolerate freezing temperatures but struggle to survive in temperatures higher than 80 F (27 C). This is because they’re at too much risk of heatstroke and other heat-related conditions.
Chinchillas are crepuscular and nocturnal creatures who prefer peace and quiet during the day. Most of their time is spent sleeping as they are most active at dawn or dusk. As omnivores, they eat both plants and meat, including grass, seeds, insects, and bird eggs. They hold their food with their front paws and nibble on it like a mouse.
Are Chinchillas Good with Cats?
It’s common for animal lovers to own more than one pet. Unfortunately, when it comes to cats and chinchillas, there are few similarities between the two. For a start, chinchillas are rodents and natural prey for many animals, including cats.
Cats are predators with strong hunter instincts. According to Nature, it is estimated that free-ranging domestic cats kill 1.3–4.0 billion birds and 6.3–22.3 billion mammals annually. When these two elements are combined, it’s clear that chinchillas are vulnerable animals when in the presence of cats. Cats, on the other hand, are likely to see themselves as the alpha animal.
Aggressive hunter cats are unlikely to accept a rodent pet into the household. Their instincts will cause them to stalk and hunt the animal instead of coexisting alongside it. In turn, the chinchilla will become stressed and refuse to eat or drink. This can cause serious health implications and, in extreme cases, lead to death.
Before you bring the two animals into the same household, there are various things to consider, including:
Cats are predators, regardless of their personality. They view hamsters, guinea pigs, birds, chinchillas, gerbils, and other small animals as their prey. Hungry cats may look at these animals as a tasty meal. As a result, they will spend lots of time stalking the animal and will become intent on catching and killing them.
Hunter cats are, therefore, a danger to chinchillas. At the first opportunity they can get, they will attack. If you’ve left your chinchilla unsupervised, the rodent could become your cat’s next target. And if the chinchilla runs away, your cat’s chase response will be triggered, causing your cat to enter predator mode. Once this happens, it will be almost impossible for both animals to coexist as they will start to see each other as enemies.
However, cats that have grown up around small mammals may be able to adapt much easier than cats that haven’t. If both animals are raised together at the same time, especially from kittenhood, harmony can form between the cat and chinchilla.
Animals that share the same scent may begin to view each other as family and won’t be affected by each other’s presence as much. Introducing the two from the start is often a good idea.
Type of Environment
Cats and chinchillas should be separated at all times unless supervised. Because of this, you should only have both pets if you have enough space in your house or residence to keep them apart. If you live in a one-room apartment, there might not be enough room for both animals to coexist happily and healthy.
Also, chinchillas require a specific environment to live in. The room they are kept in should be well-ventilated, dry, and free from draught. Chinchillas originate from a cool, dry climate, which needs to be emulated as closely as possible. The temperature of the room should be between 10-18ºC. Any hotter may cause suffering or illness because of the animal’s long, dense fur.
When it comes to the chinchilla’s living area, a large metal cage with solid wood floors will provide ample space and comfort. It’s essential that the floor is solid; otherwise, your chinchilla’s paws might become damaged over time from standing on wire mesh.
A chinchilla should be housed in a quiet space away from other animals – including your cat. Chinchillas need to hide away from predators and may become stressed by too much noise and activity. Thus, placing the animal in a separate, unused room where a cat can’t freely enter will benefit the chinchilla best and allow it to sleep in the day.
Other Animals in the Household
Having other animals in the household, like a dog or another rodent pet, can cause a hectic living environment that might be too much for either animal. Animals feed off each other’s personalities and temperaments, so if a dog is scratching to get into the room that your chinchilla is in, for example, your cat might join in by stalking the area.
This will heighten your cat’s predator instincts. It will cause your chinchilla to live in fear, too, and the animals trying to reach the chinchilla are likely to stress each other out as they bounce off each other’s desperate energy.
Also, having multiple pets – including more than one cat – can sometimes be challenging to manage. What if your cat sneaks into the room your chinchilla is living in without you noticing? Without supervision, your cat might be able to use its curiosity to find a way to reach the chinchilla and harm it.
Environment for a Cat and Chinchilla
If you want to own a cat and chinchilla or have them both as pets already, there are ways in which you can help them live in harmony with each other. It’s important to create a relaxed environment for both animals. Otherwise, your cat might become obsessed with hunting the chinchilla, while the chinchilla may become fearful.
Let Both Animals Acclimatize
Once your chinchilla is set up in its cage, allow some time for your cat to get used to the new arrival. Let your cat sniff around the chinchilla’s environment so it becomes acclimatized to the scent. In time, the cat will get used to the chinchilla’s presence and won’t be so interested in it.
It’s essential, though, that your cat is never left unsupervised around the chinchilla. Even if the animal is in its cage, your cat could terrorize it by getting too close, hissing at it, or attacking the animal through the bars. This will undoubtedly cause anxiety and stress the chinchilla out.
When it’s time to get your chinchilla out of the cage, play with it in a safe, secure environment and allow your cat to watch. This will help your cat get used to the chinchilla’s behavior and personality. It will also allow your chinchilla to become more comfortable around the cat.
Never risk your cat and chinchilla becoming too close, however. If your cat’s hunter instinct kicks in, it can only take seconds for the feline to pounce and seriously harm the rodent.
Give the Animals Space
Only allow your cat and chinchilla to come face to face for short periods. And once they have spent some time with each other, allow plenty of space between the next meeting. Your chinchilla will likely feel fearful after being in your cat’s presence and will need time to decompress.
Your cat will also need to get into a routine where it can leave the chinchilla alone. Neither animal will have a good quality of life if one is desperate to hunt and the other is being hunted. Dedicate one room to your chinchilla and forbid your cat from entering.
Always Keep an Eye on Your Cat
In this scenario, your cat is the animal that can’t be trusted. Its hunter instincts are simply too strong and unpredictable. Older cats might fare better, but there’s always the risk that they might turn on the chinchilla one day. While your pet chinchilla is likely to be safe in its cage, accidents can happen. And when they do, they are heartbreaking for all parties involved.
Your chinchilla might not associate being in its cage with feeling safe, so it may always feel stressed and anxious every time the cat is nearby. This isn’t a fair way for the chinchilla to live, so both animals should be separated when you can’t keep an eye on what your cat is doing.
Will A Cat Eat A Chinchilla?
If a cat manages to catch and kill a chinchilla, there’s a chance the feline might eat it. Not all cats eat their prey, though. Some cats kill animals purely for fun, while others will present their prey as gifts. In most cases, the likelihood of a cat eating its chinchilla prey or not comes down to personality. The following are common reasons why a cat will hunt:
Hunting is about instinct. Even domestic cats will kill small birds and mice. This is because they are descents of the African Wildcat and, during their time in the wild, needed to hunt to survive. Today, our pets are bred from the best feline stock – the survivors – and have retained their predatory instincts despite various breeding programs.
Playing predatory games with your cat that encourage stalking and pouncing will actually help develop these instincts. Your cat might be having fun, but it is also learning what to do in anticipation of finding small animals to kill. Switching feathers and mice-related toys to puzzles will help entertain your cat while discouraging hunting.
Some cats hunt because they enjoy the chase of the catch and see it as a fun game, especially in cats whose owners use toys that resemble birds and mice to play with their pets. They don’t see small animals, such as chinchillas, as food, but see them as something they can chase after. The chase will get a cat’s adrenaline pumping and give them a thrill, which can become quite addictive over time.
Some cats play with their prey because they have never been shown how to kill. Kittens learn how to stalk and grapple with their littermates while they’re growing up and take these skills into adulthood.
What they don’t learn, though, is how to incapacitate prey by delivering the killing blow. Wild cats learn this skill from their mothers, who kill prey that their kittens have presented to them by delivering a fatal bite. Domestic mother cats who receive food from humans will never have to do this in front of their kittens, meaning these skills are somewhat lost.
Like their wild ancestors, many domestic cats hunt for food. This is more commonly seen in feral or stray cats who rely on their hunting skills to eat. Because wild chinchillas aren’t found in the same regions as cats and most are kept as pets, it’s highly unlikely that a chinchilla will be hunted for food. A chinchilla is likely to provide excellent sport for a cat.
However, greedy cats or felines that aren’t getting an adequate diet from their owners may consume small rodent pets if caught. Cats are obligate carnivores, which means they must eat meat to survive and fulfill their nutritional requirements. Cats are solitary hunters, so they will look for small prey animals they can quickly kill on their own. Domestic cats may take advantage of alternative food sources to get the sustenance they need.
Gifts for Humans
While highly unpleasant, it’s not uncommon for a cat to bring a dead animal home to its humans. Spayed females are more likely to do so. This is because they have the instincts to bring dead animals home to their kittens, but have no kittens to bring the animal to. This is why some humans believe they are being left a gift of some kind.
And in some cases, the killed rodent is, in fact, a gift. Cats share their bounty with their families, which in this case, is you.
Can Chinchillas Get Fleas from Cats?
Fleas are easily spread between animals. Because pet chinchillas don’t spend any time in the wild, they can only catch fleas from other animals, including cats. Infestations are spread through contact, but the interaction doesn’t have to be direct for fleas to jump onto another animal’s skin.
If your cat and chinchilla spend time in close contact, cats who roam outside could easily pass fleas onto the rodent. Fleas can also live in upholstery and carpets. If a cat has brought fleas in from the outdoors, a chinchilla may pick them up after roaming around the room.
However, the good news is that because a chinchilla’s fur is so dense, it’s hard for fleas to penetrate. This makes infestation unlikely, but chinchillas can still catch them. This is another reason why cats and chinchillas should be separated.
Fleas are a problem for both cats and chinchillas and can cause the following issues:
Anemia And Low Iron Levels
Fleas are bloodsuckers and can consume up to 15 times their body weight in blood. Pale gums and a general lack of energy are two significant indications that your pet is suffering from a low blood count.
These are flat, segmented worms that live in the intestines of some animals. They absorb nutrients from the gut and can be irritating to the affected animal.
Cat Scratch Fever
This is a bacterial infection that mostly affects humans and is passed on through cats. According to the CDC, around 40% of cats carry it at some point in their lives. It’s not serious to cats, but infected humans may develop swollen lymph nodes, headaches, fever, lethargy, and aching joints.
Some animals can be allergic to flea saliva, which can cause extreme itchiness and bald spots to occur.
While it may be a difficult choice, it’s not best advised to keep both a cat and chinchilla as a pet unless you can guarantee that your chinchilla can get some peace and quiet away from the stresses of living with a predatory cat. Similarly, if your cat is going to drive itself mad from stalking the chinchilla and trying to break into its living quarters, it may not be fair to tease it. Your cat’s predatory instincts may simply be too strong.