by Cat Logsdon
Before you take any pets into your life it is important to learn about their proper care and special needs. Not every pet is suitable for every person, and because it is only fair to consider their needs and whether or not we can properly provide for them , we ask that you please consider the following information before making the decision to adopt a chinchilla.
- Chinchillas are adorable, delicate and interesting companions who can live 12-18 years, some have been known to live to the age of 20!
- Chinchillas must live inside the home where they are safe from predators, extremes of weather and loneliness.
- Chinchillas are crepuscular, which means they’re most active in the late afternoon/early evening, and during the morning hours. They adapt fairly well to human schedules, and generally like to snooze in the noon to afternoon hours.
- Chinchillas are very gregarious and social creatures who enjoy living in large groups (often up to 100 chinchillas in the wild!), so it is best for them to have them in pairs (spayed and neutered, of course).
- Chinchillas should be spayed or neutered by exotics vets experienced in working with chinchillas. Not all vets see chinchillas, so it is important to find one who does before a medical emergency arises.
- Chinchillas need a special dust bath every day to keep their coats healthy. It is also a lot of fun for them, and very cute to watch.
- Chinchillas need toys to play with, as well as a minimum of 2-4 hours out-of-cage playtime, in a chinchilla proof area, every evening.
- While chinchillas do make wonderful adult and/or family pets, they are not particularly well suited to children because they are delicate, prefer quiet – and can be easily injured by little feet or by being held incorrectly.
Chinchillas are active and need large, roomy enclosures to keep them healthy and happy. Large multi-leveled cages are best, because they offer several ‘floors’ for the chin to hop on, play on or look out from. Chins have long powerful hind legs and need to hop about to keep their muscles in good shape. These multi-level types of cages can be purchased or hand made. You can put a basket of hay on one floor, a bed on another, a hidey tube or box, various toys – or nothing. Make it fun for your friend!
Chinchillas do not deal well with high temperatures, so cage placement is very important. The enclosure/cage should be in a well lit area, where the ambient temperature is not above 78F. While you may see your chin snoozing in a sunny spot during his or her out-of-cage playtime, it is important that the cage is not in direct sunlight.
Wire on cage floors as well as the various levels should be covered by low pile carpeting or grass matting to protect little feet from falling through (legs or toes can be easily broken if they fall through). The bottom level can be filled with chinchilla-safe bedding, such as Carefresh or Aspen wood shavings. Pine and cedar shavings/litters are not safe for small mammals, as they have oils in them which can be harmful to the respiratory system and the liver.
Chins like to hide and snooze, so a good sized wooden or cardboard hidey house or tube is a nice thing to put in the cage.
A water bottle and pellet crock should be provided. Water should be changed daily, the bottle should be checked for proper flow each time it is re-filled.
Chinchillas do not need litter boxes, but some may use them. Their homes should be swept out/cleaned every day to rid them of feces and urine.
Toys and Exercise
Chinchillas are active and need toys to play with and chew upon, as well as plenty of out-of-cage time (minimum 2-4 daily hours) to hop around and explore their environments (which need to be “chinchilla proofed, see below). Many chins love to have large plastic running wheels. DO NOT use wire wheels, or the plastic runged wheels, because little feet can slip through while running and your chin could get injured.
Hanging wooden toys, chewable fling toys, plastic keys, little balls, cardboard tubes, toilet paper tubes, mini bunny bags, and Zooh chew wreaths are all fun toys for your chin. Every chin is different, some like some toys and some like others. Check out some of the toys in our Zooh Store! Your chin will love them.
Chew toys are fun, and they are also necessary for your chinchilla’s dental health. It is important to provide your chinchilla with safe things to chew upon, such as wooden blocks for biting/gnawing (front teeth) and various safe twigs and chew wreaths to chew (back teeth). At Zooh Corner we have many wonderful chew toys designed specifically for your pet’s dental health, such as our Molar Munchies™, specially designed by exotics vet Dr. Sari Kanfer and Zooh president Cat Logsdon to help promote good dental health; we also have various chew wreaths, untreated, chewable baskets filled with hay and goodies, and our wonderful herb and chew toy filled BunnyBags™.
For your chin’s out of cage time a cardboard Cottontail Cottage is lots of fun. These two-level cardboard climbing cottages can be purchased at Zooh Corner events or on-line from Cats and Rabbits and More. These Cottages have little cardboard doors and windows – which we advise cutting out for smaller animals, such as chinchillas and smaller breed rabbits (Netherlands Dwarfs).
Hay, the most important ingredient in a healthy chin’s diet, is also a terrific way to keep your chin’s teeth in good condition, which brings us to our next topic, diet.
Grass hays such as timothy, orchard and oat mixes are the most important item in your chinchilla’s diet. Your chinchilla should have access to fresh, varied grass hays 24 hours a day. The fiber and nutrition provided by grass hays is key to good health.
Pellets are another part of the healthy chin diet. Young chins (under a year old) may be offered an unlimited amount of pellets, but once they turn a year old and the nutritional needs are no longer that of a growing baby, the pellets should be tapered down to about 1 or 2 tablespoons per day. OxBow hay company offers a chinchilla pellet that is high fiber and nutritionally balanced. It is called Chinchilla Deluxe. Not all pet stores sell OxBow products, but many local exotics vets do, or you can order on-line (www.oxbowhay.com ) and also check out their list of local retailers.
**It is important to note that your average pet store is not always the best place to buy pellets and hay. Many pet stores do not carry the proper type of pellets for chins or rabbits, and their pellets and hay have often been in storage or on shelves for a while and they can tend to be a bit stale. Good places to buy hay and pellets: local rescues often sell fresh hays in good sized quantities at good prices to help fund their rescues; local feed stores carry (grass) hays and may be willing to sell partial bales at good prices. Pellets can be purchased on-line at OxBow.com, from some rescues, and often your own exotics vet will carry them.
Zooh Corner Rabbit Rescue offers a wonderful selection of fresh grass hays and we ship throughout the US and Canada. We pack weekly or bi-weekly and track all hays, so our hay is always fresh, healthy and yummy. We offer timothy, orchard grass and Zooh Mix ( a mix of oat, wheat and barley hays).
Veggies are an important part of the h ealthy chin diet. Offer about ½ cup per day (per chin) of fresh leafy greens: parsley, cilantro, dark green lettuces, fresh herbs (mint, basil, etc.), bok choy, carrot tops. All veggies should be washed as if for human consumption. When you first begin to offer veggies, start with a small amount and gradually build to about 2/3 cup per day. Not all chins like the same veggies.
Treats are fun and chins love them, but they should only get them in small amounts: a small slice of carrot, a bit of apple or pear, a bit of a cactus apple (part of wild chins’ natural diet!), a raisin, a piece of a strawberry, a blueberry… Treats should be offered in very small amounts.
Chinchillas need a special dust bath to keep their coats healthy. It is best to offer them this dust bath every day. Commercial Chinchilla Dust can be purchased at most pet stores. A plastic container, square and large enough for them to roll around in, should be filled with about 3 inches of dust. Chins often spend as much as an hour rolling about in the dust, but should not have all-day access, as too much dust bathing can cause conjunctivitis. After your chin has had his or her bath, clean the dust by scooping out any fecal pellets and store container in a dry area. Change dust completely every 2-3 days.
Note: It is not advisable to offer the dust bath in enclosed commercial “chin baths” because the enclosed dust can cause eye and/or respiratory irritation.
Chinchilla Proofing – Making Your Home Safe for Your Chinchilla
Chinchillas are small and they can move fast and jump up on things, so when safety proofing your home several things must be taken into consideration:
- Electrical cords must be covered. Not just those on the floor, but up higher as well. Plastic tubing can be slit lengthwise and the cords stuck inside, or you can purchase commercial cord protectors.
- Chins are small and can squeeze into all sorts of dangerous places: Plexiglas and plywood barricades can help keep them out, and for some ground level areas bricks can be used. Again, keep in mind that chinchillas can hop on top of things to get into all sorts of places, so proofing up only a few inches or a foot may not be good enough.
- Make sure your chin does not have access to poisonous plants and that he cannot get into any cupboards.
Handling and spending time with your chinchilla well help assure that he is friendly and easy to handle and catch. When first letting your chin out of his cage for playtime it is a good idea to do so in a small enclosed place, maybe a bathroom (be sure the toilet is closed). Once you are sure that you can catch him, begin allowing him out into whatever safety proofed rooms you have chosen. His fist trips out should be brief and frequent. This will allow you to discover what mischief he tends to get into so that you can safety proof (or remove) further and will help him realize that he can go back to his own cage for food, water, rest and bathroom breaks.
Be sure that all doors and windows to the outside are properly closed and latched. It is very likely that if your chinchilla got loose outside that you would never catch him!
Not all vets are trained to care for chinchillas, which are considered “exotics” in the vet world. It is best to locate a good, qualified chinchilla vet before you get your chinchilla, then make an appointment for a “well chinchilla” exam within the first week or two, so you can begin to establish a working relationship with your vet. It is also helpful a useful guideline for your vet to know how your pet is when healthy, for comparative reasons. It is good to do this early on in your new pet ownership, so if there is ever an emergency, your vet will be familiar with your pet and better able to treat him or her.
Chinchillas should see a vet at least once a year for a check-up, and of course as needed for special concerns and emergencies. We recommend yearly blood work and dental x-rays. They do not need special shots or vaccinations.
If you would like a local vet referral, please contact us – Please put “chinchilla vet referral” in the subject line.