Evaluating chinchillas gets much easier with experience. So how do we start? Let's look at the way we judge chinchillas, both for pets and for breeding.
If you are picking out a chinchilla for a pet you have two primary considerations: is he healthy and does he bite?
But really, you want a nice animal. It's much better to start with an animal that is used to people and doesn't mind being handled. Is the chinchilla interested in people? Can you hold him without too much of a struggle? If you're looking just for a pet, this is the most important quality.
Other than that, look for signs that chinchilla is healthy. Good size, clear, dry eyes, a clean underside, yellow or orange teeth. It's also useful to ask for a pedigree, even if you don't want to breed, just to know where your chinchilla came from (colors of parents, breeder, age). It can't hurt to get the best quality chinchilla you can, so look below for more ideas.
Note, you won't be able to judge these features in a young chinchilla. You'll have to wait until they are prime, or at least seven months old.
Personally, I think that size IS EXTREMELY important when picking a chinchilla. A large chinchilla (not overweight, but long and well-formed) is more likely to be a healthy animal. If you're breeding you want large offspring, so you need to start with large parents.
For a breeding animal, you need to focus on getting a large female more than a male. For the male you can concentrate on color, shape, fur, etc. Never breed a large male to a much smaller female - it can lead to birthing problems. If an animal is too large (usually over 1000 grams) they are probably going to be a slow breeder.
Grading your Chinchilla
Imagine grading your chinchilla in each area (A being best, C being worst)
The chinchilla should have good conformation, or a "blocky" body shape. When looking down on your chinchilla imagine a rectangle between the neck and hips. A rectangle is an "A", a triangle or wedge shape is a "C".
Your chinchilla should have a thick neck and large head. A bulge on top, called a “roach”, is desirable. It should not dip at the neck. See the dip below?
The fur should be thick and plush. It should be so tightly packed that it is difficult to see the skin if its is parted and stand up straight. A longer hair is also preferable to a shorter haired chinchilla. To check density, blow into their fur. If you don't see any skin and it springs back into place, give it an “A” rating. If you see the skin and/or the fur lays down, give it a “C”.
We also look at their clarity, or color. Think of each hair as having three parts. The middle part is called the "bar", and is should be a bright white and level throughout the coat.
The "veiling" is the top part of each hair. Every mutuation will have a different veiling, but the standard should be black or have a blue hue. The belly on a standard (and several mutations) should be a bright white, not yellow or grey. The underfur (the bottom part of each hair) is slate gray in the standard chinchilla.
At chinchilla shows they will also look at the condition of the chinchilla. To prepare you chinchilla for a show you will want to groom him to make sure that he is in the best condition possibly.
A chinchilla should be in it's prime. That is, not moulting (or shedding). Chinchillas will moult about every three months, so you might have to time your showing of a particular chinchilla. The "priming" starts in the center of the back and moves outward in a horseshoe shape, and is quite noticeable.
As a breeder, carefully evaluate your herd. In what areas are you lacking? Seek out chinchillas that can improve your weaknesses.
Of course, this is just a starting point. You will learn more by looking closely at top chinchillas in person by attending chinchilla shows or visiting breeders.
Pictures provided by Amanda Gibbons of Cross Creek Chichillas
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