Chinchilla Care Sheet

With their incredibly soft, plush fur and cute appearance, Chinchillas are some of our favorite exotic pets. They do well in captivity if they’re cared for properly, but Chinchillas do tend to be picky and have very particular requirements.

This Chinchilla Care Sheet will help you to give your Chinchilla the best possible care, but we still advise purchasing a dedicated Chinchilla care guide so you’ve always got a reference book handy at home. Lots has been written about Chinchila care so there are plenty of choices. Some of the best are The Chinchilla Handbook, Ultimate Chinchilla Care and The Chinchilla Care Guide.

Chinchilla Size

An adult Chinchilla will grow to be about 12″ (30cm) long, not including the tail, and weigh around 1.5lbs. They’re not particularly big creatures, but they’re very active and need much more space than most animals of a similar size.

Chinchilla Lifespan

You can expect your Chinchilla to live anywhere from 10-20 years if cared for properly. Make sure you’re ready for a long-term commitment before you buy a Chinchilla!

Chinchilla Cage

A Chinchilla cage needs to be larger than you might expect for such a small mammal. The minimum for a single Chinchilla would be about 3’x2’x2′ and of course a pair of Chinchillas will require an even larger cage. A good guideline for keeping multiple Chinchillas is to allow at least two square feet of floor space per animal.

Bigger is always better for Chinchillas. They need plenty of room to run around, play, jump and explore. Get the biggest cage you’ve got room for.

The cage needs to be chew-proof (Chinchillas will chew anything and everything) and should ideally feature multiple floors or platforms to make things more interesting. Choose a wire cage with a solid floor, as wire floors can cause foot injuries in Chinchillas or trap and potentially break a limb when the animals are jumping around. The wires that comprise the rest of the cage should not be any more than 1″ (2.5cm) apart. Be careful with ramps between platforms too. They should either be solid or have the option to cover the wires.

There’s no shortage of Chinchilla cages on the market, but only two that we would recommend. The cheapest is the Prevue Hendryx 485 Feisty Ferret Home, and it’s a great Chinchilla cage at a great price. The more expensive cage we recommend is the Two Story MidWest Critter Nation. This cage is highly customizable and superb in every way, making it well worth the slightly higher price – Chinchilla cages don’t get any better than this!

Never try to keep Chinchillas in a glass tank – they don’t provide enough ventilation and can lead to dangerously high humidity.

Place your Chinchilla cage in an area out of direct sunlight and away from any drafts or heat sources. Also try to avoid too much artificial lighting, as Chinchillas tend to be most active in the evening and spend much of the day asleep.

Chinchilla Bedding

Shredded or pelleted paper is often used as a Chinchilla cage substrate. It’s cheap and readily available, safe if it’s chewed and great at absorbing any liquids or unpleasant odors. Hardwood shavings are also a good choice, but avoid pine and cedar. These can be sharp and painful, or could cause your Chinchillas to suffer from respiratory problems.

The substrate should lay 1-2″ deep on the floor of the cage.

Chinchilla Cage Accessories

You will of course need to feed your Chinchillas (more information on feeding and diet below) and for this you’ll need a secure feed bowl or feeder that prevents excessive spillage. A hay rack is ideal for keeping your Chinchilla’s hay both dry and clean.

Chinchillas require dark, quiet hide areas to rest in. These can be Chinchilla nests or tunnels or any other hiding area you might be able to think of. Just make sure it’s chew-proof!

You’ll also need to buy a large exercise wheel. Chinchillas need lots of exercise and cage life doesn’t give them enough without an exercise wheel. Make sure the wheel has a solid floor (again, anything else will cause injury) and try to get a quiet one if the cage will be anywhere near where people sleep. Chinchillas do a lot of their exercise at night, and a squeaky cage is bound to drive you crazy!

A selection of toys is also essential, both to avoid boredom and to be incessantly chewed upon. Safe chewable toys are easy to find in pet stores or online. It’s best to err on the side of caution with regard to bringing in branches from outside. These may have come into contact with pesticides or carry harmful bacteria. Again, pine and cedar are to be avoided.

Chinchilla Temperature and Humidity

Chinchillas are not capable of sweating, so they need to be kept between about 60-70F. Average room temperature will be fine in most houses, but make sure the cage is not in direct sunlight. If the temperature rises too high, your Chinchillas will be at serious risk of heatstroke, which can be fatal.

Pet ChinchillaHumidity is also a problem, as Chinchillas are adapted to live at high altitudes in the Andes mountains, where the air is usually very dry. A dehumidifier may be necessary in some areas, and it may be impossible to keep a Chinchilla healthy in particularly damp or tropical parts of the world.

Cleaning

Chinchillas are very clean creatures, and they demand similar standards in their enclosures. The bedding needs to be changed at least once per week, and you should remove any wet patches on a daily basis.

You also need to wash the water bottle, food bowl and anything that may have become dirty or smelly. Using soapy water is fine, but be sure to rinse and dry everything thoroughly before putting anything back in the cage.

Chinchilla Food

Chinchilas are herbivores with sensitive stomachs. They require specific foods, but a wide variety is not necessary to achieve a well balanced, healthy and nutritious diet.

Specially designed Chinchilla food pellets are available and should be provided. Hay is also an essential, both for roughage and to help keep those ever-growing teeth worn down. Buy alfalfa hay or Timothy hay and make sure it is kept clean, dry and fresh by using a hay rack.

The pellets and hay should form the basis of a well rounded Chinchilla diet, but an occasional treat is a good idea too. Your Chinchillas will very much appreciate sunflower seeds, unsalted nuts and dried fruits such as apple, peach, banana and cranberry. Chinchillas often enjoy these treats far too much and will eat more than is good for them. They’re all fattening, and it’s in your Chinchilla’s best interests to only offer these treats occasionally.

Avoid anything sugary, and chocolate, alcohol and caffeine must never come anywhere near your Chinchilla. It’s a shame this even has to be said, but people’s curiosity, carelessness or indifference all too often kill Chinchillas when they’re fed these products.

Baby Chinchilla

Photo by Michelle Tribe on Flickr

Food should be available at all times, but you may also see your Chinchillas eating their own feces. This doesn’t mean you’re doing anything wrong. The habit is called coprophagy and is both normal and necessary for your Chinchilla to get the nutrition it needs.

Supplements

You should provide your Chinchillas with a salt block or wheel, which will allow them to get any essential minerals their diet does not provide. Vitamin C is also very important for Chinchillas, and many owners choose to dissolve occasional vitamin C tablets in their Chinchilla’s water supply in case the Chinchilla pellets alone are insufficient.

Chinchilla Water

A no-drip chew-proof water bottle is the best way to provide your Chinchillas with fresh drinking water, which should always be available. Change the water daily, and make sure that it’s fresh, filtered and chlorine-free. Tap water can be dechlorinated using commercial products.

Chinchilla Dust Baths

Instead of taking water baths, Chinchillas maintain their fur by taking regular dust baths. This works very well for them, as Chinchillas are remarkably clean animals with almost no odor. You can find special Chinchilla dusting powder online, as well as a dust bin to put it in. Offer the dust bath at least twice every week, but you don’t need to leave it out all the time.

Never try to bathe your Chinchilla in water. It might intuitively seem better, but it categorically isn’t. If a Chinchilla’s fur gets wet, then fungal growth is likely and skin infections may follow. Dust baths are always the way for a Chinchilla to clean itself.

Handling Chinchillas

With some of the most luxurious fur in the world, there’s probably something wrong with you if you don’t enjoy handling Chinchillas. They sprout an average of sixty hairs from each follicle, resulting in wonderfully soft fur that happens to be naturally hypoallergenic.

Pet Chinchilla

Photo by elishka on Flickr

However, you do need to be careful when handling Chinchillas. They are delicate animals, and their rib cages in particularly can be easily damaged. You need to be careful and gentle, and children handling Chinchillas should be watched very closely. A Chinchilla may bite if squeezed.

Personality

While they can make wonderful pets, Chinchillas are undeniably highly strung. They can be stressed and disturbed by the smallest of things, and what you might consider a minor annoyance can so distress a Chinchilla as to lead to physical health problems.

Making changes to a Chinchilla’s diet, feeding them at a different time to usual or even seeing another Chinchilla feeding first can all have an effect. Switching out breeding partners during the mating season may also cause distress, but that’s a little easier to empathise with!

Sharing A Cage

In the wild, Chinchillas live in communal groups called herds. These may contain as many as 100 individual Chinchillas all living together, so they’re naturally social animals. Chinchillas can be kept alone, but they’re normally happier in pairs.

A single Chinchilla will need something to replace the companions it would have if not in captivity, and that replacement is you. Solo Chinchillas will become very affectionate and bond very strongly to their owners, happily playing and enjoying cuddles.

Pet Chinchilla

Image by nparker13 on Flickr

It sounds lovely (and it is!) but it requires a tremendous amount of time on your part. Some people wouldn’t want to spend that time any other way, but remember that a single animal using up so much of your free time may not be so much fun in ten or twenty years.

Chinchillas should not be kept in the same cage as other species.

Chinchilla Teeth

A Chinchilla’s teeth will never stop growing. They have to be constantly worn down to prevent them from overgrowing and causing health problems. This is why pet-safe chew toys are so important – it gives your Chinchilla something to gnaw on.

Problems can arise if a Chinchilla’s teeth aren’t straight, become overgrown or wear down unevenly. Any of these problems can cause the teeth to grow into the surrounding soft tissues, causing severe pain. The symptoms may include trouble swallowing, bad breath, drooling and not eating. Weight loss is an inevitable consequence, and your Chinchilla could starve to death if left untreated. Keep an eye on the little guys!

A baby Chinchilla’s teeth are white, but they slowly turn yellow with age. This is normal and nothing to worry about. You don’t need to clean your Chinchilla’s teeth.

Chinchilla Health

ChinchillaA pair of Chinchilla’s kept in the same cage may occasionally fight. They could bite each other, and these bites can become infected. Clean the wounds and apply antiseptic. If a bite becomes infected, contact your local vet.

A number of other health problems are known to occur in Chinchillas. If you follow the advice in this Chinchilla care sheet, then you won’t have to worry about most of these illnesses, but some will occur no matter how well you care for your pets.

In no particular order, some of the most common Chinchilla health problems are heatstroke, broken bones, constipation, diarrhea, dehydration, sore feet, respiratory infections, bloat, gastroenteritis, shedding, eye problems, choking, ringworm, hairballs, weak fur, ear infections and ulcers.

Obviously some of these health problems are more severe than others. Some are easy to prevent or avoid with the right cage, right diet, right temperature etc. Others can happen for no apparent reason. All you can do is provide your Chinchillas with the best home possible – it might be a good idea to bookmark our Chinchilla care sheet and refer to it whenever you need to.