How long does a Chinchilla live for?

You do get many chinchilla owners that are upset and puzzled when their beloved chinchilla doesn’t live as long as they thought they would - that’s quite understandable, if you have researched on the web, about the lifespan of a chinchilla,  you do get very conflicting views, some websites (especially vet comments) put chinchillas at 8-10 – while breeders/owners that have furballs aged 15 – 20 years, you also find the odd owner
with a pet that lives up to 20 and much older!

So it is understandable that you may think your little furball could hit 15 years of age easy, and that 17 or maybe 19 years
 - if you are lucky

But when your pet dies at 8, or 11 or even 12 – especially if they never saw a vet, ate healthy, limited the treats and such
– it can be upsetting – especially if they never showed any sign of illness, or if it was sudden and unexpected


Understanding the history of chinchillas, the breeding techniques and the underlying many problems of chinchillas (mainly because of breeding now and in the past) does help understand why many chinchillas can die younger than expected
You are not alone if you’ve come to this page asking why your chinchilla died so young, and it’s not always the owners fault!
Chinchillas are complicated little species of fur, that vets are still fumbling ‘in the dark’ about, there are many underlying
problems that show up later in their adulthood, even if they look healthy

What we are talking about is the years of interbreeding, fancy show breeding (by incompetent breeders)
and early years (50’s fur breeding)

Although this type of breeding includes the common and well know teeth problems (we all agree that bad malocclusion is probably the most well known killer) it also causes weaker genetics to flourish,

Breeding anything beyond the natural ‘grey’ chinchilla, aiming for darker grey, or aiming for mutations of all colours – is naturally, and unfortunately, going to cause a strain on the natural selection of the normal chinchilla species.

Even the first established mutation (beige) was a very weak specimen - and produced weak offspring

Obviously good breeding techniques can improve the line, and breeding the strong grey into the mutation, will produce
healthier chinchillas, but it doesn’t make the problem that was caused in the first place to go away that easy
The grey we have today is not the ‘wild chinchilla grey’ direct from that line – it will have inherited a mutation gene and
other problems with breeding for fur from the 50’s

All chinchillas we own today are from farm breeding – so you WILL get strong genes and weak genes

It doesn’t matter how qualified the breeder is, how competent you feel about their techniques, they may be excellent breeders,
but they cannot fully control their livestock genes, they can try to control, and breed with proven specimens,
but it is a bit like Russian roulette
I have know good breeders buy what they thought were good stock from another breeder, and have had lots of heartache discovering the underlying problems that pop up too late to deal with, many kits can look healthy but then show problems
later in life, teeth problems, heart problems and other unusual illnesses that vets cannot explain without many expensive tests, and to the distress of the poor animal

Many chinchilla inherit heart problems, they may live a healthy life, eat and play healthy and then the next day, they have died,
this is quite a common problem, more than what people realize, and you tend to find many that reach age
around 8 develop this problem (mature adult age)

Talking to those that run rescues and sanctuaries, if the chinchilla hasn’t ‘a problem’ (like teeth) then the life expectancy
is around 10 – 14 years of age – if they go past this – then it’s a good gene (you have humans that live to 85 as ‘average’ -
that’s like a chinchilla reaching 14, you can have many humans live to 95 – then you have 17 years with a chinchilla
– if they live longer than that – then they deserve a birthday card from the queen! 

Most chinchillas will live between 10 – 14 – that is a general average, and if they have eaten healthy and lived healthy
and had lots of play time – then you have given them the best years of their life!

Rescue chinchillas can differ – depending on the genes once again, and the diet, I have known rescues to live
only 6-8 years and some even less while others live much longer. If you do not know the history of your chinchilla,
or suspect it’s early years had a bad diet and was bred in doubtful conditions, then don’t expect them to live too long
This includes pet shop chinchillas, most pet shop are ‘quick buck’ pets – unscrupulous breeders wanting to rid of
weak stock onto shops – or low quality animals
Not all pet shops are like this – some independent shops are good and careful (but rare!) but definitely the
larger commercial enterprises! That would include all animals - not just chinchillas

So to sum things up simply and not to get too complicated:

Poor bred chinchilla, these are lucky to hit 10 years on a full life healthy diet
They generally develop problems early on in life (1-4 yrs)

Good breeding chinchillas
, from good breeders, even these chinchillas can develop symptoms, but usually later on
in adult life (between 5-9 yrs) all sorts of complication can arise, heart problems, chest infections that develop into pneumonia, digestive complication – or they may be lucky and live a good many years 15 and over

Looking at a healthy bouncy kit can never be a sure way that they will live to 22


My own chinchillas

Quite a few of the chinchillas I have bought from a ‘very good breeder’ (I have 14 from the same breeder)
 Some have produced different problems:
4 developed bad teeth, mainly because the breeder bought ‘good stock’ from another breeder who was
more into fur quality than health with his animals.
3 died with heart failure
One wonderful stocky specimen, who I thought would live forever, died age 8 with a lung problem
One develop bladder stones aged 1and half years old, he was too young to put this down to diet (he ate a healthy diet anyway) after one expensive operation he is still with me but may develop it again as it's obviously in the genes, I also make sure
 there is not too much calcium in the diet in case it develops again or encourages another problem
One had a very bad prolapse aged 2 yrs, although he survived the operation, he died 2 days later in the vets care (more like a heart problem too) but he also had developed teeth troubles too (sometimes teeth and prolapsed are linked as an
underlying problem to something else)
 Another chinchilla had continual problems, this including an unusual skin problem that the vet was treating, but she died
of heart failure suddenly overnight, she also had  continual eye infections and teeth problems
One died aged 6 years, of a uterus infection that didn’t show until too late, she died after her operation as the infection
was too deep rooted

..... and this is with good stock! – although I do have others that are healthy mature and happy... so far ;-)

I also have 5 rescues with no background history but came to me aged 1-2 years, all healthy back then (although two seem to
developing eye problems aged 6 so may have teeth trouble later)
Their mum was 'bred back' and probably lacked the necessary vitamins during this time, she tends to be slower than the others (she is also very pink eyed and like most homo-beige has bad eyesight) I fear she may also have a weak heart
as she is slower and drifts ‘off’ into a trance sometimes when sitting on her shelf or in the sandbath

The 3 pet shop chinchillas (my first 3 chinchillas I owned):
One died of heart failure aged 11ys 1 month (she was a dozey slow furball and wasn’t robust like my others)
 Her partner lost a massive amount of weight and kept regurgitating her food (chinchillas actually cannot regurgitate, so i put it down to slobbers  but the vet checked her teeth for malocclusion, the vet had never seen such perfect gnashers! - So it wasn’t slobbers!) we never got to the bottom of her problem, even though she ate like a horse too! she died at 11 years 6 months old and was very thin (but over active to the last hours!) – but I feel that may have been the limit in age, for both these two
I still have one 'pet shop' chinnie, who as of writing this, is 11 and half years old, same pet shop, but different breeder, and she bounces around like a spring chicken still, but she was underweight when I bought her, she was taken from her mum too early with her sibling, the sibling clung to her and stressed her out so she stopped eating (although she is a little porker now)
so I’ll have to see how she goes!

So it’s really the genes – you can never tell by looking at them how long they will live –
I’m still hoping out of all the 22 I have owned, one may get to 20! – but I’ll keep dreaming!

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