Chinchillas and ferrets can both make excellent pets, but neither pet is suitable for all potential owners. Chinchillas look chunkier than ferrets but actually grow slightly shorter and lighter. Both animals are crepuscular which means they are most active at dusk and dawn, sleeping for most of the rest of the time.
Both have the potential to bite, typically if frightened, mishandled, or they mistake the owner’s finger for some kind of food. This means that neither pet might be the right choice for families with small children. While both are likely and fun to observe, ferrets tend to enjoy being handled while chinchillas can be quite skittish and prefer to be left to their own devices.
Below, we look at these two popular pets, including their differences and similarities, to help you decide which is the best option for your home.
At a Glance
The chinchilla originates from the Andes Mountains in South America. They live at high altitudes among rock cover and survive with minimal vegetation and in dry conditions. They have dense fur to help cope with cold conditions and are very sociable animals, often found in colonies of up to 100 animals. They have excellent hearing and vision, which they use to avoid predators, and are herbivores, living on plants that are found in the mountains. In the wild, they get the water they need from the vegetation they eat.
Chinchillas are quite shy animals, and many prefer their own company to that of humans. They are active and lively little animals, though, and they are fun to observe. Because they are nocturnal, you are unlikely to see chins running around during the daytime but these athletic little rodents can jump up to 6 feet and they need an hour to two hours of exercise every day to meet their physical demands.
Needing a high-fiber diet, chins eat a lot of hay, which should be offered freely throughout the day so your chinchilla can gnaw on hay all day if it chooses to. Chewing hay not only helps meet the fiber needs of your little one but the gnawing action also helps wear teeth down. Choose Timothy hay or another grass hay and only feed Alfalfa as an occasional treat. You can also feed a spoonful of commercial pellets each day and you can occasionally give some fresh leafy greens as a nutritious dietary treat.
Health and Care
Ensure a chinchilla has enough living space with a cage that offers 2 feet by 2 feet of floor space. The cage should have shelves at different layers, and you will need dust-free bedding or shredded paper towels to line the bottom. Ideally, your chin should be let out of the cage or into a larger exercise area at least once a day and for between 1 and 2 hours at a time.
Handling and Sociability
These sociable animals do not do well when kept alone, and it is recommended that you have two or three chins in a single cage. They will keep one another company, and this is especially important to those chins that don’t like to be handled. Chinchillas can be shy and quite skittish. If you encourage handling from a young age, yours might grow to tolerate handling and potentially even form a strong bond with you, but this isn’t the case with all.
Chinchillas do not need grooming in the traditional sense. They require dust baths, rather than water baths, and you will need to provide a suitable container and ensure your chin has time in it every day. These clean little animals do not have a strong smell so can be kept in bedrooms.
Owners that can let their pets out of the cage for an hour or two a day but don’t mind if the pet doesn’t tolerate handling.
Strictly speaking, there is no such thing as a wild ferret. Ferrets have been domesticated for around 2,500 years and are descendants of the European polecat. They were bred to hunt rats and even rabbits but are more often kept as pets and companion animals today. However, there is a population of so-called wild ferrets in New Zealand. These are a hybrid that were created by back-breeding domesticated ferrets with European polecats and are considered a pest.
Ferrets are smart and curious little animals that are related to weasels. Having been domesticated for thousands of years, they are accustomed to being around humans, which means they can make very good pets. However, they are liable to bite if they are handled improperly or if they are scared which means they are not necessarily the best pet for families with young and small children and are best kept by adults.
These strict carnivores need a diet that consists primarily, or solely, of meat and animal-based ingredients. Their diet should be high in protein and fat but with low levels of carbs and fiber. Commercial ferret food is available but can be difficult to find and many owners have raised and kept healthy ferrets by giving a diet of kitten food.
Ferrets should have constant access to their food because they have very fast-acting metabolisms. If you create your own ferret food, do not feed cooked bones, and make sure that raw bones are big enough that your ferret can’t fit the whole thing in its mouth in one go.
Health and Care
A ferret needs a similarly sized cage to a chinchilla, so one that measures 2 feet by 2 feet and is roughly the same height. They love to tunnel and climb, so as well as shelves, provide tunnels. Ferrets also like to sleep in hammocks. They are known escape artists so ensure the door closes securely and can be locked.
Handling and Sociability
Ferrets are sociable animals that also need to be kept in pairs or small groups, but they tend to be more accepting of human handling. Like the chinchilla, though, they can be prone to biting when scared or if they feel threatened. Teach good handling if you have children and be prepared for the fact that they can still bite in certain circumstances.
Owners that want bright, lively pets that enjoy being handled and like to spend time with their humans.
What Are the Differences Between Chinchillas and Ferrets?
Although chinchillas do have a reputation for being somewhat aloof, if you handle a chinchilla when it is very young and keep up with daily handling, yours can grow up to be very affectionate and may form a strong bond with you. Ferrets do enjoy running around people, although often use them as a climbing post rather than for affection. Both species are prone to biting if scared or if they are not handled properly, and both have sharp teeth that can cause injuries when they do bite.
Ferrets and chinchillas need to socialize with others of their own species. If they are forced to live alone, they can become depressed and this can lead to illness. As such, whichever of the species you choose, you will need to consider keeping at least two, and ideally even three of the animals to keep them mentally and physically healthy.
The diet of these species is quite different. Chinchillas need a high-fiber diet, which means primarily feeding hay. Hay should be available at all times of day and night, and it helps maintain healthy teeth length as well as a healthy digestive system. Ferrets are obligate carnivores, which means they need a diet of meat. Although commercial ferret food is hard to get hold of, it is available, and some owners feed their ferrets a diet of high-quality kitten food instead.
Housing and Habitat Requirements
Both species need a decent amount of cage space so they can run around and get a little exercise in their home. They also need time out of the cage so they can stretch their legs and get more intense exercise. There is little difference in the size of the required cages so this likely won’t be a factor in the decision of which is best.
Ferrets live up to ten years while pet chinchillas can live as long as 20 years. However, the longevity of your pet depends on many factors including uncontrollable factors like genetics, as well as some factors that you do directly control. A good diet and regular exercise go a long way to ensuring a healthy pet and a long life.
Chinchillas are clean animals, and your pet chin will need a daily dust bath. Chinchillas do not have a strong odor, which means they can be a good pet for bedroom living. Ferrets are known for having a somewhat pungent aroma, and it can be difficult to control this.
Which Pet Is Right for You?
Chinchillas and ferrets share some similarities. Both live in cages and need similar-sized habitats. Both can bite and can hurt when they do. Chinchillas can be loving and form a strong bond if they are used to human contact but, whereas ferrets will usually be happy tun all over you, they are not as cuddly as a highly tamed chinchilla. Both do make excellent pets for the right owner, but they are not the ideal choice for everybody.