I want to say up front that I do not promote breeding. I have however, rescued many pregnant chinchillas, so I do have experience with births, hand feeding and some of the tragedies that accompany pregnancy. I am contacted often by people who have unexpected chin babies born. Often they are unaware that their chin was even pregnant or that they had a male and female. I am not an expert on the subject, but have learned enough to help guide you if you have an unexpected pregnancy. My advice in no way is intended to encourage anyone to breed.
Once a chin reaches 10 weeks old, do not keep males and females in the same living space or you will have babies! Even letting a male and female have play time together could produce a baby which has happened many times. It does not matter whether they are related. Any mixed sexes; mother/son, father/daughter or bother/sister will mate. Having chins mate that are related in any way is called 'inbreeding'. This is very unhealthy for chins and result in smaller chins with a weaker immune system. It also means the offspring have a good chance to suffer health issues throughout their life.
A chin can get pregnant any time of the year, but October – April are known as their breeding season. A chins pregnancy will usually last 111 days, which is the longest gestation period for any rodent. On average a chin will give birth to 1-3 kits, although more have been known to be born in one litter. If you know your chin is pregnant, you will need to pick her up to check on her and maybe weigh her, but you really don't want to handle her unnecessarily. If you need to pick her up, just try to be careful and not handle her around her belly. You may see the babies moving as the pregnancy gets closer to the due date. She should be supplemented to prepare for a healthy pregnancy and to assure she will produce enough milk to feed her newborns. As with any mom, calcium is needed so giving alfalfa hay along with timothy hay will help to supplement her. You will see that she will eat and drink more as the pregnancy progresses. I have often read that adding apple juice to chins water will help product a mother's milk. I have done this only a couple of times in the past and once it caused severe diarrhea for the mom so I never used it again as I found it really is not necessary. I personally don't recommend giving apple juice. I have found that the alfalfa hay is enough to help with calcium which in turn will help with milk for nursing.
A baby chin is called a 'kit'. Having an appropriate pregnancy cage prepared is vital to keeping kits safe. The wire mesh should be no bigger than ½" x 1" with a solid bottom. Any larger mesh and the kits can escape. You would be surprised at how kits can escape through the smallest area. Kits could easily die if they escape the cage. They need to keep warm with mom and to nurse often, so please be sure to provide a baby safe cage. You should keep the cage to one level. Keep things simple, you want a small low ledge (I place this next to the house), wooden house, small tube for the kits to hide in, pellets, alfalfa and timothy hay.
A healthy kit is born fully furred, eyes open with several teeth. A kits teeth are white at birth and then turn yellow at about four months old. The mom usually has them cleaned and dried off in about 15 minutes after birth. If more than one kit is born, time between deliveries can be approximately 30-40 minutes, although it is possible for her to deliver one kit right after another. In these cases the mom is so busy delivering another kit that she does not have time to clean off and dry the first one born. You want to make sure the fist kit stays warm until mom has the time to tend to both kits. Don't interfere unless the kit really seems to be in distress. Usually the first kit will be fine by staying close to mom while she is giving birth to a second kit and then mom will tend to both kits. There will be some blood from the births. I have seen so little blood after a birth, it is almost like it never happened. I have also seen a good amount of blood, but nothing that has continued after the last birth. Excess bright blood or bleeding after the births could be a sign that mom is in trouble, so please keep an eye on her to make sure the bleeding is minimal. The mom will need to deliver the afterbirth. This is a firm mass that is about the diameter of a large quarter. You may never even see this as the mom will eat it to re-ingest nutrients which it contains.
Kits will stay under mom to keep warm and will follow her around as she eats and drinks. When you have two kits, if their bellies are nice and full, they will snuggle with each other in the house while mom gets a bite to eat. A healthy kit should have no problem keeping up with mom. If a kit is having a problem nursing, following mom or is being bullied by a sibling, you may have to intervene. It only takes a day or two for kits to become very active. They are also very vocal and will communicate with mom a lot by making a squeaking type sound. Mom will groom the kits and clean their bottoms often. This stimulates the kit to go to the bathroom until they start eating hay and start to have formed poops. Every time she cleans them, they will be very vocal and loud about it. Keep in mind that kits are incredible climbers and will climb the sides of the cage easily. The problem is once they get up there, they don't know how to climb down, so they jump or flop to the bottom of the cage. That is why it is so important to have nice thick bedding for them to land on (2-3" thick).
A female chin has six nipples but the two that are close to the arm pits are always the most popular with kits and seem to produce the most milk. If there is more than one kit in the litter, they will often squabble over who gets the best nipple. You need to weigh the kits every day as that is your best indicator of how well they are doing and if they are getting enough milk. It is normal for a kit to lose 1-3 grams in the first 24 hours after they are born, but they should gain 1-3 grams every day after that. Rarely, I have had a chin maintain the same weight for a couple of days before starting to gain again. Chins are always weighed in grams, so you should have a digital scale that weighs in grams to make things easy. You should also weigh them at the same time each day.
A female can become pregnant within hours after giving birth which is referred to as 'breed back'. This is very taxing on the mom's body and can produce smaller kits that experience more health issues for the second litter, so breed back should be avoided. As much as male chins can be great fathers who care for their kits, he should be removed when mom approaches her birth date to avoid breed back or be neutered by a qualified vet if he is of appropriate age and health.
A kit should be allowed to stay with mom and nurse for 8 weeks. Kits will gain a healthy immune system from nursing because they will get moms antibodies. Kits learn about eating habits, social behavior, and taking dust baths from their mom. Once a healthy kit is 8 weeks old and is at least 200 grams, males should be removed to prevent future inbreeding. Kits will start to play with hay very early on and will begin to nibble it at about two weeks old. They often start eating pellets about three to four weeks old. Please feed a very high quality pellet and hay to your chins from the start of their life. I recommend Oxbow Chinchilla pellets and hay. I always stress to keep healthy treats to a strict minimum with chinchillas, but do NOT give any treats, even healthy ones, to a chin that is under six months old.
You should wait 10-14 days after giving birth before allowing the mom to take a dust bath. You want to make sure her vaginal opening has closed completely to prevent possible infection. When she does take her first dust bath, use a shallow large pan because this will also be the first dust bath for the kits. You want to allow plenty of room for the mom to roll around without crushing or rolling on her kits. Kits will learn about taking dust baths from their moms.
Hand Feeding a Kit
If a mom does not produce enough milk to nurse her kit or if a mom should pass away after giving birth, you will need to hand feed the kit for him/her to survive. Pasteurized Goats Milk is what you want to use for hand feeding a baby chinchilla. If you can get fresh, then great, but that is not possible for most people. Many health food stores will have goats milk available. You can also use canned or powdered. I try to avoid powdered milk. Try to use fresh or canned. Hand feeding a kit is exhausting. A new born kit needs to be fed every two hours around the clock for the first two weeks. Then you will feed every 3 hours for another week or two. The kit will start to eat hay very early on and will start to eat pellets at about four weeks old. However, you still need to hand feed for several weeks. After they are four weeks old, you can usually cut down feedings to 3-4 times a day. Even though they are very tiny, hand feeding a kit can be very difficult. You want to use either an eye dropper or a 1ml syringe for feeding. You need something very small to hand feed. Kits tend to squirm in your hand a lot when you first start to hand feed them until they get adjusted to it. They will learn that you are their source of food and it will become easier over time. Do not try to feed the kit too fast, especially when they are very young. You need to place a single drop at a time onto their lower lip and allow the kit to lick it off. Yes, this takes forever and is a slow process in the beginning. It is very important that the kit does not aspirate by you giving too much too fast.
I heat a small amount of goat's milk in a 1oz glass bottle under hot running water. I rotate the bottle between my fingers to distribute the heat. I warm it just till tepid. You should test the temperature on your wrist. Try feeding the kit as much as he/she will eat or at least 2-3ml per feeding. If you find yourself in a situation where the mother passes or she rejects the kit, you will have to set up a small baby safe cage to keep the kit warm and safe. You want to use fleece on the bottom of the cage and place a heating pad on warm or low under half of the cage. Place a towel between the heating pad and the cage. Do not allow the cage to get too hot. You want to just warm it. You only want the warmth under half the cage because the kit needs to get away from the heat if he needs to. You should put a small stuffed animal in with the kit for him to snuggle with and feel protected. A ChinnieBuddie (sold in Our Store) is a great choice. If you choose to buy a stuffed toy from a store, make sure the toy does not have anything the kit could chew on or choke on. So avoid fake whiskers, plastic eyes or noses. You will need to clean the kits bottom on a regular basis because they can not go to the bathroom on their own when they are very young. You need to gently wipe his bottom to clean him and stimulate him to pee with a warm damp cloth or gauze pad. If you need to hand feed, it is a wonderful opportunity to bond with the kit.
If you have sibling kits that fight to the point of causing injury to each other and they need to be separated, then you may need to rotate the kits time with mom. This is when you use the smaller baby cage to put one of the kits for two hours (no longer) while the other kit stays with mom to nurse without interference from the sibling. You then will put the kit that has a full belly in the small kit safe cage and allow the other kit to nurse with mom. This usually only has to be done for a week or two until the kits start to eat hay and they are able to share time with mom without fighting. Since kits are born with many teeth, they can get pretty vicious with each other when they fight. They can also be very aggressive, at times when nursing, so you want to keep an eye on kits to make sure everyone is doing ok and getting along.
Problems with Breeding
Everyone who wants to breed thinks that they are going to have cute little babies with no problems. Many things can go wrong when a chin is trying to give birth. You can experience anything from a still born kit, breach births, excess bleeding and times when a mom can not push the baby out on her own and you will need to help her deliver. A mom usually can not deliver on her own because the kit has died. This can make the kit very difficult to pull out. The mom will usually help to push when you try to pull the kit. Unfortunately, any number of bad things can happen when doing this such as the kits body stretching or the body coming out in pieces. You do not want to experience any of these things as they are devastating. There are no guarantees in breeding and it should not be taken casually. In emergencies, a vet visit may be needed and a c-section performed. Always remember, all kits grow up and they do it very fast. So these tiny little fur balls become adults that most people will not be able to keep. Finding a good home for chinchillas is not easy! So you may be keeping your chinchillas much longer than you plan. This is when many people become overwhelmed and then call a rescue or bring them to a public shelter. Please keep all of this in mind if you are thinking of breeding.
If you still insist on breeding, please get your chins from a source you can trust and where you will have a history of the chins genetics. Pet store chins, rescues or BYB (Back Yard Breeders) are not chins you should ever think of breeding since you will not know their medical or genetic history. Many health issues are hereditary such as malocclusion, fur chewing, weak immune systems, heart issues, small stature, etc. These issues are very serious and can give your chin a life of great suffering. Do not ever take breeding lightly, especially when there are so many chins that need homes already.