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Chinchillaen er på størrelse med en dvergkanin, men veier ikke mer enn 500-800 gram. De har god hørsel, men ikke så godt syn. Til gjengjeld har den lange værhår som den bruker til å føle seg frem med. Den sitter ofte oppreist på bakbeina, f.eks når den spiser. En chinchilla kan hoppe over 1,5 meter i sprang. Den lange buskete halen brukes som balansestang.

Chinchillaer er aktive i skumringen og ved daggry. Dette gjør dem velegnet som kjæledyr for deg som er på jobb eller skole, siden de sover på dagtid.