This post is mainly meant to cheer people up, but if you learn something along the way then yay for science. If you have not seen a chinchilla before be prepared for an overload of cuteness.
Chinchillas are rodents native to the Andes of South America. They function in the same niche as a ground squirrel would, but at much higher elevations. Their name comes from the Chincha people of the Andes who used chinchilla fur to make warm soft clothes.
Chinchillas live in colonies which is why it is advised to have more than one at a time as pets. Their diet in the wild consists of desert grasses. This means that as pets they cannot be given high fat foods or too many green plants. Their native habitat also means that they do not do well in warm weather and cannot sweat. In captivity they need to have something to chew on such as pieces of wood. This is because their incisors grow for most of their life, just like those of other rodents and members of the squirrel family.
Their most noticeable trait is their ultra soft fur. Chinchillas are currently farmed for their fur and in the past they were hunted almost to extinction. This fur needs to be kept clean, but its thickness prevents it from air drying after a bath. As such, wild and pet chinchillas need to take dust baths in volcanic ash a few times a week. As pets they can be bathed in water, but caution should be taken to make sure their fur and skin are thoroughly dried with a no-heat dryer as any trapped moisture can lead to fungal infections.
Chinchillas are also used in medical research because their range of hearing and cochlear size are virtually identical to those in humans.
Chinchillas come in a range of colors from white to nearly black. They can make a very good companion as long as they are socialized early. Like any small animal care should be taken around small children to avoid harm to the animal and child. Due to their dense fur their dander is contained and removed by the dust baths this makes them hypoallergenic. The last consideration for chinchillas kept in captivity is their exercise needs. These animals live in the mountains where they spend the dawn and dusk hours running around. As such they need large enclosures with multiple levels to play and run on.