Are Chinchillas from PetSmart Healthy?


Having a chinchilla as a pet is a big responsibility, and you should make sure you do your homework before buying or adopting one. PetSmart is one of a number of large-chain pet stores that sell chinchillas, but are they a humane seller, and are you buying healthy chinchillas?

Although many pets from PetSmart are healthy, there is evidence that chinchillas bought from the store are typically not healthy. This is mainly due to them having been sourced from disreputable chinchilla mills. At best, there will be no age, pedigree, or health history provided.

While some people who have bought chinchillas from PetSmart have had no problems whatsoever, there are indications that many of the chinchillas purchased from their stores are not healthy overall. I’ll go over a list of pros and cons below, as well as the details of how to get the healthiest (and as a result, hopefully, the happiest) chinchilla.

Where Does PetSmart Get Their Chinchillas From?

Most large chain pet stores typically get their chinchillas from pet wholesalers, or brokers (also sometimes referred to as animal mills).

Are Pet Wholesalers A Problem?

According to PETA, PetSmart chinchillas are often bought from chinchilla mills, where they are kept in overcrowded plastic tote bins with little food and water and no veterinary care. 

Pet wholesalers[1] are the root cause of the unhealthiness of chinchillas found at PetSmart. In several different investigations, the USDA found these breedersOpens in a new tab.[2] stocking hundreds of animals together in small cages with feces and urine all over them. Many of them had no food or water, and there were always at least one or two dead animals in each cage.

Investigations conducted by the USDA and acknowledged by the US Securities and Exchange Commission[3] have recorded hundreds of incidents of abuse and mistreatment of animals. In many cases, the animals at these wholesalers are in desperate need of veterinary treatment 

Why Shouldn’t I Buy A Chinchilla From PetSmart?

PetSmart are not considered to be a humane seller by the USDA. According to PETA, “PetSmart is standing by a company that has just been cited for at least 117 violations of the federal Animal Welfare Act.”

Each time a disreputable wholesaler is exposed, PetSmart does stop using them. However, they’ve always able to find another cheap breeder to fill their needs, and they don’t seem to be prepared to develop relationships with reputable breeders.

They’re unwilling to pay the high price it would cost to get the healthy and well-cared-for chinchillas from a reputable breeder, so they end up using those breeders[4] who do not take good care of their animals and instead treat them as a commodity.

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Sadly, even if you get a healthy chinchilla from PetSmart, they may or may not be young enough to be a long-term pet, and they are not bred to be friendly and easily handled.

Additionally, whilst they are probably well-meaning, the folks at PetSmart are not veterinarians, and most do not have any training at all as far as caring for animals. In fact, just about anyone can get a job working there with no pet experience at all. And while most of the employees are probably decent, hardworking people, there are often those who should not be in the same room with pets, let alone take care of them.

What About Chinchillas from Petco?

Unlike PetSmart, Petco has severed ties with the most disreputable wholesalers[5], , large pet stores are quite simply not appropriate places for chinchillas to live whilst waiting for their new owner to purchase them.

PETA recently (March 1st, 2021)[6] released a statement calling for Reptile Express to sever ties with a breeding mill, and have undercover footage of the neglect and cruelty these poor creatures have been subjected to.

This is clearly not an isolated incident, and unfortunately, it will keep happening until either the laws are changed, or people stop buying from pet stores.

Reasons Why Should You Not Buy From A Chain Pet Store?

In all honesty, you should avoid buying chinchillas from any chain pet store, as the staff are not usually educated in how to care for these delicate and unique creatures, and should not be selling them at all.

The shops do not have the correct facilities, and the staff don’t generally have the time to care properly for chinchillas (or other mammals like rabbits, guinea pigs, etc). Even in the very best stores, they are often housed in inappropriate (at best) cages with little to no stimulation, or environmental enrichment.

At worst, they are suffering from malnourishment, malocclusion, dehydration, and in need of veterinary attention.

When you buy these chinchillas, you are not “saving them” from their unhappy caged existence, you are instead promoting the sales of more chinchillas. Unfortunately, you may have saved that one, but two more will be bought from a wholesaler to replace it.

Here are just some of the reasons why it is not a good idea to buy from a chain pet store:

Pet store employees do not know how to spot or take care of most chinchilla illnesses like ringworm or viral infection

Pet stores are in it for the money, so they buy in bulk from unethical wholesalers who sell their animals cheap

Pet stores often use the cheapest bedding and food possible, which can have long-term implications for their health

Pet stores sell items for chinchillas that are not safe for them. For example, they often sell an exercise ball that says it is for chinchillas and even has a picture of one on the box, but exercise balls are completely inappropriate for chinchillas

The conditions in which they keep the chinchillas are not healthy. They are usually housed in small cages with too many other chinchillas. The stores are often too hot, and the lighting will be inappropriate for chinchillas

The advice you get from the employees at the pet stores is often not accurate as the employees are typically not well-trained, or knowledgeable about chinchilla care

They keep their chinchillas in plastic cages and sell plastic cages and accessories. Chinchillas will eat plastic, and this can cause intestinal blockages

Where Is The Best Place To Buy A Chinchilla?

The best idea is to find a reputable chinchilla breeder that has been referred to you by someone who already has chinchillas. Breeders have a reputation to uphold, so they tend to take better care of their chinchillas. They know that if they get a bad reputation for selling sick animals, they will not be in business long.

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If you do not know anyone who has chinchillas, you can often find online chinchilla forums or groups with lists of reputable breeders. It is important to ask for and check their references, though. Do your homework. Check around and make sure you know who you are buying from before you buy. A reputable breeder won’t mind you coming over a few times to see and hold the chinchilla.

What To Look For When Buying A Chinchilla

Before you commit to anything, you should know what to look for when buying a chinchilla. There are signs to look for that can indicate an unhealthy animal. Some of the signs of illness[7] in chinchillas include:

  • Acting different than the other chinchillas, being aggressive or shy
  • Bald patches or lesions
  • Diarrhea
  • Lack of energy
  • Limping or walking strangely
  • Signs of bleeding or dried blood
  • Teeth are overgrown
  • They are sensitive to touch in a certain area
  • They have a runny nose or eyes
  • Unusual lumps or swelling
  • Difficulty breathing

If they are wet under their chin, then this could indicate malocclusion (which is a sign of poor nutrition, genetics, or care, and can be fatal).

Learn About Chinchillas Before You Get One

No matter where you get your chinchilla, you need to be certain that you know exactly what you are getting. Getting any kind of animal is a big deal, but chinchillas are exotic animals, so there is less information commonly known about them than dogs or cats.

Important things to know before you buy a chinchilla:

Chinchillas are a long-term commitment as they can live up to 20 years

Chinchillas are crepuscular (this is similar to nocturnal, but not the same), so they sleep during parts of the day and night, and are usually most active during the twilight hours between dusk to dawn. They are often noisy at night.

Chinchillas do not make good pets for young children

Chinchillas often do not like to be bothered by other pets such as dogs or cats. In fact, many other pets may see your chinchilla as food or prey

Many chinchillas do not like to be cuddled, and some do not even like to be picked up

Chinchillas will chew on everything from wood to carpets and furniture to wires, and plants. You will need to chinchilla-proof your room/house if you intend to let them out (which is highly recommended for their socialization, health, and well-being)

With their thick coat, chinchillas get overheated easily. Even if you’re not hot, your chinchilla may be. Chinchilla fact – they have 60 hairs per follicle, while humans have one per follicle

You have to clean your chinchilla’s cage often to keep them healthy and the cage from smelling

You will not be able to leave your chinchilla alone for days to go on vacation, and they do not travel well either. You will need to make sure you have a well-trained chin-sitter on hand whenever you’re away longer than overnight

Good Reasons To Have A Chinchilla As A Pet

Of course, there are many good reasons to have a chinchilla for a pet as well. In addition to being extremely adorable and soft, they’re also curious creatures (one might even say nosy), and will want to know exactly what you’re up to, and why they’re not involved!

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Chinchillas love attention, and are highly sociable
Chinchillas are extremely affectionate
Chinchillas are fun to watch, they do a lot of hopping or ‘popcorning’ rather than walking
Chinchillas will often sit in your lap and watch television with you
Chinchillas are relatively quiet, and don’t bark or meow

Unlike most rodents, chinchillas have their own individual characters – some will be quiet, some will be talkative, some playful, some lazy, some energetic, some sleepy. The joy is in finding out what characteristics your chinchilla displays when they’ve settled in, and become comfortable with you.

Once your chinchilla gets to know you, if they’re treated well, you’ll have a loyal and loving pet that should live for many many years.


In summary: chinchillas make amazing pets, but only when they’re ethically sourced. When bought from a reputable breeder, chinchillas will live a long life, and be an awesome companion for many many years.

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Jo

I'm a Biomedical Scientist by trade, (over 22 years and counting), but my goal is to rehabilitate animals for an living. I started offering Canine Massage, and Equine Shiatsu alongside my lab work, but this has had to take a backseat to the pandemic. So I thought I'd put together a blog of (what I consider to be) helpful advice for chinchilla owners, and prospective chin parents. I hope you find something useful.

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