How to Care for a Chinchilla
You just need some basic knowledge to keep your chinchilla healthy and safe.
A Safe Space
When your chinchilla is not interacting with you, he should live in a safe cage. For a single animal, the cage should be at least 22 inches wide, 22 inches long, and 18 inches high. A larger cage is even better, because chinchillas enjoy running around the space.
The cage should have a metal tray floor and be made of galvanized wire mesh. A plastic or wooden cage can be dangerous. Chinchillas chew a lot, and they can die from eating treated wood or bits of plastic.
A smaller carrying cage is useful for taking your chinchilla on trips, whether you’re going to the vet’s office or to visit your grandmother.
A chinchilla’s cage should be kept in a cool area. Don’t let the room temperature rise above 80 Ã?Â° Fahrenheit, and make sure the air can circulate freely.
Chinchillas originated in the high Andes, and they are adapted to those weather conditions. Their thick fur retains heat by trapping warm air close to the skin. They cannot sweat. They can overheat easily, and it can be fatal. If the veins in your chinchilla’s ears are larger than usual, so that the ears look bright pink, move him to a cooler place immediately! Placing a small fan so that the breeze ruffles his fur will also help to quickly bring his temperature down to a safe level.
Chinchillas are usually happiest when their cage is placed against a wall, because they are easily startled by loud noises and sudden movements. A corner location is also good.
A few layers of newspaper placed on the bottom of the cage is really all the bedding your chinchilla needs. Newspaper is easy to replace daily.
Kiln-dried pine shavings are safe for chinchillas, if you want a soft bedding material. Change the bedding at least once a week. Don’t ever use a red cedar bedding. It contains phenols, which are toxic to chinchillas.
Most chinchillas will make a racetrack on the sides of their cages. Wooden shelves or perches along the side will give them a chance to jump from one spot to another. You don’t need an exercise wheel, because most of them are unsafe for chinchillas.
Chinchillas are nocturnal animals! Expect them to do most of their running at night.
Many cages come with a food dish and a water bottle attached. The food dish doesn’t have to be large, but it should be made of a material like ceramic or metal so that the chinchilla can’t chew it. Never use a plastic food dish! The dish should be attached to the side of the cage with a clip, so that your chinchilla can’t tip it over, or else it should be too heavy for him to move. The water bottle should be clipped to the outside of the cage, and there should be a metal plate between the cage and the bottle, so your chinchilla can’t chew it. Keep the watering tip of the bottle clean, and change the water daily.
Chewing Toys, Treats, and Feed
Chinchillas really need to chew! They have to chew a lot, because their teeth never stop growing.
The best chewing toy for a chinchilla is a block of untreated pine wood about eight inches long. A block of pumice stone makes a good chewing toy, too. Willow, cottonwood, and pear are also safe materials.
Never give a chinchilla a toy made of red cedar or a citrus wood. Their resins contain a chemical that is toxic to chinchillas. Don’t let them play with toys that have been painted or stained.
Buy a pelleted feed that has been designed specially for chinchillas, and stick with one brand. Their digestive is quite delicate, and it’s easy to cause a problem by switching from one brand to another. Don’t try to use rabbit food as a substitute.
Chinchillas should be given a little hay every day. Be sure the hay smells sweet and fresh and is not dusty. Feed alfalfa if the pellets are timothy-based. Feed timothy hay if the pellets are alfalfa-based.
Treats are fine, as long as the amounts are small and they are not offered more than once a day. A raisin or a Cheerio makes a good treat.
Wild chinchillas clean themselves by rolling in the dust, and a pet chinchilla should be given the same opportunity. Fill a shallow metal bin with about an inch of sepolita sand, and leave it in the cage for about twenty minutes. Your chinchilla will roll around in the dust and clean himself. You should provide a dust bath two or three times a week.
Never try to give a chinchilla a water bath! Their fur doesn’t dry easily, and wet fur is an ideal environment for skin fungus.
You don’t need to worry about fleas and other skin parasites, because chinchilla fur is so dense that they simply can’t survive. Chinchilla grow at about fifty hairs from each hair follicle, so that they average more than 20,000 hairs per square centimeter. Compare that to humans, who grow a single hair per follicle!
Don’t ever let anyone snatch or grab your chinchilla, especially by the tail. In the wild, chinchillas shed large patches of fur to escape from a predator’s claws or teeth. They’ll do the same thing if they’re startled by a rough touch in your home.
Provide a calm, safe environment and handle your chinchilla gently. You’ll have a wonderful time with a wonderful pet!