If you love animals but live in a small space, then a chinchilla or guinea pig may be the ideal pet for you. These gorgeous creatures are loveable pets, but chinchillas and guinea pigs are very different pets to own.
It is essential to understand their differing needs and behaviors when deciding between getting a chinchilla or a guinea pig.
Guinea Pig vs. Chinchilla
Guinea pigs and chinchillas have different needs. Guinea pigs are more sedate than chinchillas and can be better suited to being pets for younger children. Chinchillas do best when cared for by teenagers and adults. Chinchillas learn faster than guinea pigs, but guinea pigs are better at being handled by people.
Guinea pigs and chinchillas are both ultra-cute herbivores that make wonderful companions for people. Although distantly related, the needs and behaviors of chinchillas and guinea pigs are very different.
Before embarking on your pet ownership adventure, it is essential to understand how the difference between chinchillas and guinea pigs will impact your relationship with your new pet.
Basic Chinchilla and Guinea Pig Statistics
When deciding between a chinchilla or a guinea pig, parameters like the average size of the animal, lifespan, and cost can play a significant role in influencing your decision on which pet to choose.
Guinea Pig vs. Chinchilla Size
- Female Chinchillas: 900g to 1.4kgs (2lbs to 3lbs)
- Male Chinchillas: 500g to 900g (1.1lbs to 2lbs)
- Female Guinea Pigs: 700g to 900g (1.5lbs to 2lbs)
- Male Guinea Pigs: 900g to 1.1kgs (2lbs to 2.6lbs)
One thing to note, is the female chinchillas are usually larger than male chinchillas. Whereas, male guinea pigs are usually larger than female guinea pigs.
Cost of a Chinchilla and Guinea Pig
A chinchilla’s purchase price will vary between $150 and $360. You can purchase these animals from a breeder, a pet store, or adopt one from a rescue.
Guinea pigs are much cheaper to buy than chinchillas, however, they do better in pairs than alone. Accordingly, you should strongly consider getting two guinea pigs. The average price per guinea pig is $10 to $40, although exotic breeds can be considerably more expensive.
The upkeep costs of chinchillas and guinea pigs are relatively similar and will vary between $22 to $50 per month.
Temperament and Behavior of Chinchillas and Guinea Pigs
Guinea pigs and chinchillas are crepuscular rodents and are most active at dawn and dusk.
You will often hear your chinchilla leaping around their cage throughout the night. Guinea pigs are a bit quieter than chinchillas and enjoy cuddling with their owners. They are more sociable during daylight hours than their chinchilla cousins.
Guinea pigs only take short naps, which means a guinea pig is more likely to be willing to play during the day, unlike chinchillas, who will be fast asleep during the day.
Sociability with Cage Mates
Both chinchillas and guinea pigs are social animals preferring to spend time with others of the same species or with their owners.
Guinea pigs like to cuddle with other cage mates. Keeping two to four guinea pigs in a large cage is generally the preferred housing arrangement. Guinea pigs can become distressed if left alone for long periods without companionship.
Many professionals advise that chinchillas do not be kept in groups. However, in the wild, chinchillas would often live in colonies. Some of these colonies grow to include 100 chinchillas or more.
However, many breeders and experienced chinchilla owners have found that they can keep 2-3 well-matched chinchillas together in a single cage. Typically, the chinchillas that get along well together would be either all females or 1-2 females paired with a male.
Guinea Pig vs. Chinchilla As A Pet
Both chinchillas and guinea pigs are lively, curious pets.
Chinchillas are known to be highly intelligent. They can learn tricks, especially if they are rewarded with their favorite treats!
Guinea pigs are very vocal and will often call out and chatter with each other and their owners. Guinea pigs are slightly less energetic than chinchillas and better for younger children (7 – 10 years old) if the parent is willing to supervise them.
Both chinchillas and guinea pigs are excellent pet choices for teenagers and adults.
Handling For Medical Procedures
It is crucial to ensure that your chinchilla and guinea pig are comfortable with being handled and restrained before they need a medical procedure. If a guinea pig becomes frightened, it may freeze or, like a chinchilla, fight desperately to get free.
Chinchillas and especially guinea pigs have been known to go into cardiac and respiratory failure due to the stress of being handled and restrained for a medical procedure.
Care For Chinchillas And Guinea Pigs
There are both similarities and differences between the daily care requirements for chinchillas and guinea pigs.
Diet and Nutrition
Both chinchillas and guinea pigs are strictly herbivores and cannot tolerate eating any animal products. In the wild, both species would primarily eat roots, leaves, and flowers.
Guinea pigs should receive fresh food twice a day. Guinea pigs require guinea pig pellets, hay, and fresh vegetables like green beans. Guinea pigs need an adequate amount of vitamin C on a daily basis to be healthy as their bodies don’t produce this vitamin on their own.
Chinchillas primarily eat dried pellets and hay and only fed once a day. Chinchillas do best on a more restricted diet of chinchilla pellets and hay, as their stomachs are easily upset.
However, your chinchilla may enjoy occasional treats such as rosehips, dried cranberries, dried dandelions, and rolled oats.
Chinchillas and guinea pigs must have access to fresh water at all times throughout each day.
Cages and Exercise
The safest enclosures from both guinea pigs and chinchillas are cages with solid floors. This can make keeping the enclosure clean a challenge, but it is much better to figure out a cleaning solution than to damage your pet’s tiny feet with a wire-bottomed cage.
Both species do best when given places to hide in and toys to chew and play with.
Chinchillas need cages that are two or more stories high as they need to jump as part of their exercise requirements. Chinchillas love doing aerial acrobatics and often spend their nights launching themselves around their cages.
They make many parkour enthusiasts look like amateurs as they leap off the sides of their pens. For the same reason, chinchillas need a roof on their enclosure to prevent them from jumping out, whereas the sedate guinea pigs do not.
The minimum acceptable cage size for a single chinchilla cage is 3ft x 2ft x 2ft.
Guinea pigs need cages that cover a lot of floor space to allow them to run around and investigate their surroundings. However, they do not jump and so don’t require tall cages.
Cages measuring 10 square feet is the minimum acceptable size for two guinea pigs. The larger the cage size the better.
Both chinchillas’ and guinea pigs’ cages need to be changed a minimum of twice a week, with a deep cleaning done every few months.
Play and Interaction Requirements
Guinea pigs are snuggle-bugs and enjoy spending time cuddling with their humans. Once comfortable with you, guinea pigs are happy to be held and spend time chilling on their owner’s lap while their humans watch TV, study, or read.
Chinchillas, by contrast, are highly energetic and resist snuggling with their owners. However, chinchillas are very clever and easy to train and teach new tricks.
They need to spend at least 2hrs out of their cage each night exploring and exercising. When let out of their pens, chinchillas should always be supervised in a chinchilla-safe room.
Temperature Tolerance and Climate
Chinchillas live in cold, dry climates high up in the Andes mountain in South America. As such, they are highly susceptible to overheating and health problems associated with excess humidity.
Chinchillas do best at temperatures between 60 °F – 70 °F and 40 – 60% humidity. Temperatures and humidity levels exceeding those ranges can become fatal for chinchillas.
Guinea pigs are more tolerant of warmer climates than chinchillas. They do well at temperatures between 60 °F – 75 °F, although short-haired breeds can tolerate marginally higher temperatures.
Guinea pigs need to be protected when temperatures fall significantly below 60 °F, as they get cold easily and can potentially die from hypothermia.
Chinchilla vs. Guinea Pig Health
Both chinchillas and guinea pigs often suffer gastrointestinal diseases due to incorrect diets. They may also develop under- and over-eating disorders, pica, hair pulling, and skin diseases due to stress.
Chinchillas are slightly more delicate than guinea pigs and will be harmed more easily by rough handling.
Veterinarians generally advise that both chinchillas and guinea pigs receive yearly check-ups to ensure everything is in tip-top shape.
Grooming Requirements For Guinea Pigs vs. Chinchillas
Guinea pigs and chinchillas have very different grooming requirements. Guinea pigs benefit from being groomed once a week, with long-haired guinea pigs needing more frequent grooming. In contrast, unless a chinchilla is being prepared for a show, it is better to let your chinchilla groom themselves.
Grooming Guinea Pigs
Short-coated guinea pig breeds like the Rex or Himalayan guinea pig breeds will manage with being groomed once a week. Long-coated guinea pig breeds like the Peruvians and Abyssinians need to be groomed 3 – 4 times a week.
Guinea Pig Natural Grooming Behavior
Guinea pigs do not often groom each other and will pull each other’s hair out when fighting. It is imperative to avoid tugging your guinea pig’s hair as they may interpret the hair-pulling action as an act of aggression from their owners.
Bathing Your Guinea Pig
Guinea pigs don’t often need baths, but there may be occasions where you need to bathe your guinea pig if they get dirty. For example, if you need to clean off urine and feces that has become stuck to their coat.
Feces sticking to the fur occurs more commonly in long-haired breeds.
Typically, a “butt-bath” is sufficient to clean away the feces and urine. Always make sure to use shampoo designed for guinea pigs or unscented non-medicated kitten shampoo.
Chinchillas shed out their old coat approximately every three months. Although chinchillas are small animals, they shed A LOT of hair.
A human has 2 to 3 hairs per follicle, whereas a chinchilla has 60 to 80 hairs per follicle!
Chinchilla Natural Grooming Behavior
Despite shedding a lot of hair, it is best to let your chinchilla shed its old coat naturally and NOT brush them. You can accidentally injure your chinchilla’s ultra-delicate skin when grooming them.
Occasionally breeders and professional chinchilla owners will groom their chinchillas when preparing them for a show.
The best way to keep your chinchilla’s coat healthy is to provide them with a daily dust bath. Chinchilla dust is fine-grained dust that has been developed to mimic volcanic ash.
The dust sticks to any grease and dirt in your chinchilla’s fur. The “dust clumps” then fall off, removing the oil and dirt from your chinchilla’s coat.
Which Pet Is Right For You?
Before deciding between a guinea pig vs. chinchilla, you should make a list of what you’re willing to spend on your pet, age and temperament of your family members, and the time you have available to care for your pet.
When making your list include all the criteria that are important to you and your family. Do you want a more independent pet, or want that needs more human interaction? How much space do you have for a cage? Do you want one small pet or two?
If you are still unsure about which pet would be best to choose, contact some chinchilla and guinea pig breeders and owners. Most pet owners are more than happy to share information and may even allow you to come and visit.
Both chinchillas and guinea pigs can be wonderful pets for children and adults alike. It is essential to consider the different needs of chinchillas and guinea pigs when deciding which pet to choose, as this help make sure you selec the pet that best fits within your family and lifestyle.