Chinchilla Care Information
This page covers many aspects of chinchilla care. If you ever have questions or feel that something isn't covered on this page, feel free to contact us.
Housing / Cage Setup
Temperature – Chinchillas prefer temperatures at or below 72 degrees, and require air-conditioning in the summer. If they are kept in a room above 75 degrees, they can get heatstroke and die. Please keep your chinchilla away from the direct flow of the air conditioner and away from drafts. Chinchillas are perfectly fine living in temperatures that we might find too cold – as long as the water in their water bottle is not frozen, they are perfectly happy. They often tend to be more active when it is colder.
Bedding – Kiln dried pine or aspen bedding should be used in your chinchilla’s cage. Carefresh-type bedding can also be used, but only if your chinchilla does not eat this type of bedding (though most people choose to err on the side of caution and stay away from this type of bedding). Never use cedar bedding, as it is toxic and can eventually kill your chinchilla. Some, but not all, chinchillas can be litter trained to pee (but not poo) in a small litter box. In place of bedding, fleece liners may also be used, and need to be changed at least weekly, if not more often.
Water Bottle – Chinchillas chew everything, so it is often best to go with a glass water bottle. We sell Ryerson glass water bottles which your chinchilla will not be able to chew through. Also, you can find glass water bottles at pet stores – both in the small animal and bird sections. Be careful with getting a SuperPet glass water bottle – they are known to sometimes have problems with water flow.
Food Bowl – Again, due to chewing, avoid using plastic food bowls. A heavy ceramic bowl or glass bowl is best, particularly one that cannot easily be knocked over. Another alternative may be a metal bowl – specifically, a coop cup. Coop cups attach to the side of your cage so that they remain in place and cannot be moved around by your chinchilla.
Cage – Chinchillas need room to run, hop, and jump; they are not meant to be kept in an aquarium. The general rule of thumb is 2-4 square feet of cage space per chinchilla. The best cages are wire with no plastic, or a wire cage with a plastic base. We prefer height to width, though be careful not to have large open spaces in the cage where the chinchilla could fall and hurt itself.
Shelving is an important part of the cage. If you have/buy a cage with plastic shelves, we highly recommend that you replace them with wooden shelves. Shelves can be made out of pine or poplar lumber (untreated). If you are not handy, we offer pine shelves for purchase. Wire grid-type shelves are acceptable as well – though please be sure that the wire spacing is small, so that your chinchilla’s feet cannot fall through. Also, with wire shelving, please be sure to provide your chinchilla with places to rest their feet, so that they are not sitting on wire all day. Some good places to rest include a ceramic tile, a hidey house, or even a piece of chin-safe wood placed on the wire shelf.
If you are looing for a cage, we often sell new and used cages (please inquire). Many people use Critter Nations / Ferret Nations for their chinchillas (with modifications, to remove the plastic). The only differences are the bar spacing and bar direction, with the Ferret Nation being the sturdier one.
Please note that chinchillas cannot be caged outdoors, during any portion of the year, due to their specific temperature requirements. In addition, chinchillas should not be kept in direct sunlight.
Hidey-House – Being prey animals, chinchillas like to have something to hide in so they can feel secure and so that they do not get overly stressed. They should not have any plastic igloos / houses (or tiki huts), but rather, can have wood houses! If you are not handy, we make and sell these as well.
Your chinchilla is either being fed Mazuri Chin Chow or Tradition Chin Chow (also known as Hubbard Life Chinchilla). We sell Mazuri at $1.25 per pound or a 25 pound bag for $30. We sell Tradition at $1.00 per pound, or a 50 pound bag for $45. Please check with us to see which of these two your chinchilla is currently eating. Feel free to contact us if you would like to buy some; you are welcome to buy supplies from us at any time.
Pellets – Mazuri and Tradition are two of the most commonly used chinchilla foods in the industry. Other quality brands include Oxbow Chinchilla, in the bag with the red stripe, and Science Selective Chinchilla – both can be found at many pet stores. These foods will keep your chinchilla healthy for years to come. Stay away from the Kaytee-brand food, or any of the pelleted feeds with snacks / goodies mixed in. These are basically “chinchilla junk food” and will shorten the life of your chinchilla, due to the sugar content in many of the “added extras.” If you plan to continue using Mazuri or Tradition, you may want to consider purchasing food from us, it will save you money versus the pet store costs for food. Most pet store foods are about 3 pounds for $12, versus 3 pound here would be either $3.75 or $3.00, depending on what you are feeding. Pellets should be free-fed; that is, you should not restrict the amount your chinchilla eats. Put in more food than your chinchilla will eat so that the chinchilla can choose how much they want to eat. Chinchillas will not overeat.
Hay – Hay is an important part of a chinchilla’s diet. While chinchillas can survive on pellets alone, hay provides an additional source of fiber. The brand of hay is not overly important – hay is hay – though we prefer Oxbow’s Western Timothy Hay. Hay should also be moderately free-fed, as chinchillas will pick and eat the stalks they like the best. Chinchillas do not need a “fresh” handful of hay daily, but rather, be sure there is some hay in the cage at least every other day. Various other hays that can be given to your chinchilla include the following: oat hay, brome hay, botanical hay, orchard grass, meadow hay, and alfalfa hay. If you are interested in feeding mixed grass hay, we sell the hay that we feed our herd ($1.00/lb). It is grown locally, and is a mix of timothy hay and orchard grass.
Water – The water in your chinchilla’s cage should be fresh and should be changed often to prevent bacteria build-up. The water bottle should be scrubbed clean at least once a week.
Treats – Chinchillas under 6 months of age cannot have any treats. Stay away from buying treats at the pet store, as even the ones marketed for chinchillas are not actually safe for them. The only thing we advise that people buy at the pet store are pellets (safe brands like Oxbow, Mazuri, and Science Selective) and chew toys / chew sticks. In addition, please DO NOT give your chinchilla fruits and vegetables – neither fresh nor dried -- these are very high in natural sugars and can cause diabetes and premature death.
You may have read somewhere that chinchillas like raisins. This isn’t wrong… it’s simply like saying that kids like fast food. They do – and it will shorten their lifespan. Raisins have a ton of natural sugar, that’s why they can be gooey and squishy. We never give raisins to our chinchillas. Chinchillas fed raisins can develop liver problems, kidney problems, and/or diabetes, due to the natural sugars which build up in their body and damage their internal organs. Over time, this will be fatal, and chinchillas fed sugary snacks like raisins routinely tend to live to only 5-7 years of age (instead of the 15-20 that we’d like to see them live to).
Our treat of preference is cheerios, which can be given a few times a day. These must be plain cheerios in the yellow box -- no yogurt cheerios, flavored cheerios, honey nut cheerios, or anything like that. Other healthy treats (after the age of 6 months) include rosehips, dried rosebuds, rolled oats (not the quick-cook kind, look for “old fashioned oats”), oat tops (also known as oat groats), plain shredded wheat (the cereal), apple/wood sticks, hibiscus petals, calendula petals, jasmine flowers, globe flowers, a variety of other dried flowers / herbs, or hanging chew toys. Several of these can be found at your local grocery store. We sell a variety of hanging chew toys, goodie bags, and dried flowers / herbs.
Dust Baths – Your chinchilla needs weekly dust baths. Just like human hair that hasn’t been washed, chinchilla fur that hasn’t been dusted will get matted and greasy. Dust baths are typically given twice a week, though dust baths can be given more often if it is especially humid. Please do not over-dust your chinchilla, as too much dust can dry out your chinchilla’s skin. We sell chinchilla dust – specifically Blue Sparkle – at $1.25/lb. Chinchilla dust is also sold at pet stores, typically in a 2-3 pound container for around $10. Please do not buy chinchilla bath sand – this is considerably coarser than bath dust, and is too coarse for your chinchilla’s fur.
Chinchillas should never be bathed in water. Because chinchillas have such dense fur, getting a chinchilla wet will trap the water close to the chinchilla’s skin and can lead to fungus growth if the chinchilla is not dried properly.
Chewing – Did I mention that chinchillas chew everything? If a chinchilla is given the run of the house, the chinchilla will find and chew electrical cords. They can get electrocuted and die from this. Because of their curiosity and desire to chew everything, chinchillas should only be let out for “playtime” while they are being thoroughly supervised. Chinchillas can jump about 5 feet from a standstill, so supervision is key as they can disappear in a matter of seconds.
Chinchillas need chew toys to grind down their teeth. If their teeth are not ground down, they may grow too long and the chinchilla can suffer from malocclusion. Malocclusion is usually fatal because it is often noticed when the condition is very advanced. Malocclusion it is caused when a chinchilla’s back teeth grow too long and grow upwards into the chinchilla’s brain. Because of this, it is an absolute necessity that chinchillas have chew toys in their cage. Wooden shelves help provide something to chew, but do not take the place of hanging chew toys.
While this seems to be a little known fact, chinchillas have back teeth, which are their molars (see picture below). Both a chinchilla’s front and bath teeth grow constantly. Chewing on wooden toys and shelves is what helps wear down the front teeth. Eating hay and chewing on toys helps wear down the back molars.
Exercise – Chinchillas, being the hyper animals that they are, require exercise. A good place for a chinchilla to get some exercise is to give them playtime in a closed bathroom or another small room where you can easily catch your chinchilla. Keep in mind that the chinchilla should be supervised during the entire playtime. When letting a chinchilla play in a bathroom, please be sure to put the toilet seat down, as getting chinchillas wet can cause potential health problems (if they were to jump in the toilet). Further, a chinchilla could easily drown in an open toilet.
One way to help keep your chinchilla entertained and exercised is to purchase a wheel for your chinchilla to run on. Please note: the wheels found at pet stores, regardless of the type, are too small for your chinchilla. The largest wheel that pet stores carry is a 12” wheel – chinchillas need at least a 14” wheel so that they do not have to bend their spine while running on it. Running on a too-small wheel could cause a permanent curvature in your chinchilla’s spine. The wheels that we use and recommend are the 15” Chin Spins, which can be found on Quality Cage’s website - http://qualitycage.com/index.php?main_page=product_info&products_id=1802. An alternative wheel is the 14” Silver Surfer - http://www.chinchillas.com/estore/SearchResult.aspx?CategoryID=63. Finally, there is the Flying Saucer - http://qualitycage.com/index.php?main_page=product_info&products_id=1803. Please note that while most chinchillas can figure out how to run on Chin Spins and Silver Surfers, not every chinchilla will be able to master running on a flying saucer.
Please do not buy the clear plastic balls that the pet stores sell for your chinchilla to run around in. Chinchillas can overheat and die in these balls in a very short period of time. Also, even the biggest ball is too small for a chinchilla and can cause a permanent curvature in their spine.
Activity – Despite commonly held belief, chinchillas are not nocturnal. They are actually considered to be crepuscular animals – this means that they are most active around dawn and dusk. They typically sleep through part of the day and are most active in the evening hours. That said, chinchillas can adjust to a different schedule, especially if they are kept in a busy part of the house. Even though they are active mostly at dawn and dusk, you can expect to see them active at a variety of times, including in the middle of the night.
Chinchillas are generally healthy animals, but they can get sick. Signs of illness include diarrhea, soft stools, constipation, seizures, weakness, lethargy or inactivity, trouble breathing, wheezing, loss of appetite or weight, a change in eating habits, a change in personality, drooling, pawing at the mouth, watery eyes/runny nose, or tilting the head to one side constantly. Please take your chinchilla to an exotics vet if any of these symptoms persist for more than a week. Do not try to treat your chinchilla yourself.
Chinchillas should have yellow-orange teeth. If your chinchilla is young, it may not yet have this tooth coloration yet, but an adult chinchilla (over 8 months) should have this coloration. If the teeth are white or a very light yellow and the chinchilla is over 8 months old, the chinchilla is lacking in calcium. A flavored Tums or part of a cuttlebone (in the birds section of the pet store) should remedy this problem. If this does not resolve the problem, this could be a sign that the chinchilla is not absorbing calcium from their food. This would warrant a trip to the vet.
Here is the contact information for some vets in the area:
Southlake Animal Hospital
3570 E Lincoln Hwy US 30
Merrillville, IN 46410
Ness Exotic Wellness Center
1007 Maple Avenue
Lisle, IL 60532
The only thing which I will ever suggest trying to treat yourself, before taking your chinchilla to the vet, is soft poos. If your chinchilla has outright diarrhea, please take it to a vet. The moment you notice soft poos, give your chinchilla some shredded wheat (the plain ones, as opposed to the frosted ones). You can also give your chinchilla burnt toast (burnt so that it is black). If you have access to activated charcoal (found at health food stores), this can take the place of the burnt toast. If, after a day or two, the chinchilla still has soft poos, try taking out the chinchilla’s pellets entirely and just feed the chinchilla hay. This will not hurt the chinchilla in the long run. If your chinchilla still has soft poos after a few hay-only days, please take the chinchilla to an exotics vet.
Taming & Handling Your Chinchilla
While chinchillas are domesticated, keep in mind that ultimately, chinchillas are prey animals. Your new chinchilla may be nervous, jumpy, and possibly even terrified of you. Most chins calm down with age, and typically mellow somewhat around 2 years of age. Also, once your chinchilla gets used to you, they will usually calm down. However, chinchillas are generally hyper, energetic animals.
Chinchillas should be handled gently, as their bodies and bones are fragile. Their ribs are the equivalent of toothpicks and can break easily. Young children should generally not handle them, as they may hold them too tightly.
If your chinchilla bites you, do not hit it – this will only make the chinchilla more afraid of you. If your chinchilla bites, do not put the chinchilla back in the cage. Rather, try to act as if nothing has happened. Chinchillas are intelligent, and if they get the idea that biting you will get you to put them down, they may always bite. If you act as if it does not bother you, they will stop biting, because they will realize the bite has no effect on you. Also, chinchillas may bite when you first get them, because you are unfamiliar to them. Chinchillas may also nibble, to check if you are edible. Typically, as they get used to you, and as they come to realize that you are not food, they will not bite and will not nibble as much, if at all.
If your chinchilla gets loose, try not to chase it. Doing so sets up a predator/prey situation, and chasing the chinchilla will only scare it more. Try setting your chinchilla’s dust bath on the ground and see if maybe they will come to it.
Regarding introductions, I suggest you take it slow with your chinchilla. Although your chinchilla was handled from the first day they came to the rescue or the day they were born, this still does not mean that they are going to be super-friendly or very easy to pick up. Remember, they are still prey animals. You may find yourself chasing your chinchilla around the cage to pick him/her up. The easy way to do introductions is this: for the first few days, put your hand in the cage with the chinchilla, and let the chinchilla smell you. If you put your hand palm up, eventually your chinchilla will put his paws on your hand or hop up on your hand. A few days/weeks of this and eventually you will be able to take your chinchilla out of his/her cage without chasing it. Basically, you want your chinchilla to get used to you. Talk to your chinchilla, let your chinchilla hear your voice. Move in baby steps if your chinchilla seems frightened. Eventually most chinchillas come around. I recommend interacting with your chinchilla every day, regardless of whether or not it will let you pick it up in this manner (you may be chasing your chinchilla around the cage for a while). If you start off on a good note, your chinchilla will be a joy to have for years of come. A little work now and you will have a great chinchilla for the next 15-20 years!
Chinchillas should be picked up by placing one hand under their midsection and another under their rump, and lifting them up. Some chinchillas may hop onto your hand and let themselves be carried around. Please note that while chinchillas can be picked up by the tail, you need to get a firm grip near the base of the tail. Grabbing elsewhere on the tail can damage/break the tail or damage nerves in the tail. Do not pick up your chinchilla by the ears. One last thing—you CANNOT scruff a chinchilla, the way you can a cat (the way people pick up the cats by the back of the neck).
If you decide to get a friend for your chinchilla, please get a same-sex friend. There are many chinchillas in rescues around the country already. NWIC is no exception – we generally get in around 40-50 rescue chinchillas every year, and routinely have to add people to a waiting list when our rescue cages are full. Males and females housed together will produce kits, and there is no need to add more chins to the rescues. It is not advised to breed chinchillas without extensive prior knowledge, as without the genetic history of the parents, you could greatly endanger the heath of the babies, as well as pass on deadly genetic conditions.
If you currently own a chinchilla and have adopted/purchased a chinchilla from us for a playmate, you have the choice of deciding whether or not you would like to quarantine your new chinchilla. Let me explain -- chinchillas have bacteria in their bodies which helps them stay healthy. Each environment has its own bacteria, so when a chinchilla moves to a new environment, they need time for their bacteria to “change over” to the new bacteria. Because of this, some people quarantine their chinchillas over a period of 30 days. If you plan to do a quarantine, your new chinchilla should be housed in a separate cage in a separate room away from your other chinchilla for 30 days. After 30 days, your new chinchilla can be introduced to your current chinchilla.
Please note that some chinchillas may never get along, so it is a good idea to try to introduce your chinchillas outside of their cages. Typically, joint playtimes are a good idea and will give you an idea of how the chinchillas will interact together. Cage swapping also helps chinchillas get used to each other. Once you are ready to put your chinchillas in the same cage, it is a good idea to move around your shelves and “redecorate” your cage, so that neither chinchilla will think of the cage as “their” territory. However, please be aware that some chinchillas will never get along, and chinchillas may badly or fatally injure another chinchilla that they do not get along with. If you need any help with introduction techniques or have any questions, feel free to contact us.
A note on chinchilla pellets - I strongly suggest continuing to feed your chinchilla a quality brand of chinchilla pellets. Some good ones include Mazuri Chin Chow, Tradition (Hubbard Life Chinchilla), Oxbow Chinchilla, and Nutrena Naturewise. If you adopted a chinchilla from here, your chinchilla is most likely either eating Mazuri or Tradition. If you decide to switch brands of chinchilla food, the switch must be done slowly. Switching brands should be done over a time span of four weeks, because a chinchilla’s digestive system is delicate. The first week, your chinchilla should receive a combination of 25% new food and 75% old food. The second week, this mix should be changed to 50% new food and 50% old food. On the third week, you will want to give your chinchilla 75% new food and 25% old food. The fourth week you will give your chinchilla just the new food. Most chinchillas progress fine along this schedule, but if at any point you notice soft poos, back up a step and progress more slowly.