CHINCHILLA CARE GUIDELINES
Temperature - Chinchillas prefer temperatures below 70 degrees, and require air-conditioning in the summer. If they are kept in a room above 72-74 degrees, they can get heatstroke and die. Please keep your chinchilla away from the direct flow of the air conditioner and/or fans, and away from any drafts as this can cause an upper respiratory infection which can be deadly to chinchillas.
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 it, if ingested it can cause a bowel impaction/blockage which is life threatening. Never use cedar bedding or newspaper, as both let off toxic gasses which will eventually kill your chinchilla. Some chin owners prefer making fleece liners for their cages. Fleece is the only fabric safe to use with a chinchilla as it does not unravel.
Water Bottle - Chinchillas chew everything. That being said, some chinchillas are fine with plastic water bottles and never chew them (especially if they have a chew guard). If you have a plastic water bottle and your chinchilla chews through it, the next best thing is a glass water bottle.
Food Bowl - Again, chinchillas chew everything. Avoid plastic food bowls, as they will likely be chewed in no time. The best type of bowl for your chinchilla is a heavy ceramic bowl, one that cannot easily be knocked over or a mounted metal coop cup.
Cage– Pet chinchillas need room to run, hop, and jump; they are not meant to be kept in an aquarium as they can overheat very quickly. The general rule of thumb is 2-4 square feet of cage room per chinchilla. The best cages are wire cages with no plastic, or a wire cage with a plastic base that can be covered in anti-pill fleece. Regarding the size of the cage, height is better than width. Chinchillas like to hop and jump, and the higher the cage is, the more they are able to do that. It is not necessary to have a 5 foot tall chinchilla mansion. If you have/buy a cage with plastic shelves, I recommend that you take them out and replace them with wooden shelves. Petco/Petsmart sells small ones, and if you are good at woodworking, you can make larger ones yourself.
If you really plan on going all-out for your chinchilla, I suggest buying a cage from http://www.qualitycage.com. The cages for chinchillas are under the small-animal section of the site, and are a great value for the price. Ferret Nation cages also work great as long as the plastic shelves are replaced with wood or covered in fleece and the ramps are taken out – chins absolutely do not need ramps, they like to jump. You can easily find used Ferret Nation cages on Craigslist. To find examples of how many pet owners set up their Ferret Nations please see this website: http://www.chins-n-hedgies.com/forums/showthread.php?t=134 . A third option is to have someone make your cage. Obviously you are only limited by money and your imagination.
CANNOT be caged outdoors, see above for their specific temperature requirements, they are not like rabbits. Chinchillas should not be kept in direct
sunlight. Chinchillas are crepuscular creatures, and are most active during twilight hours (dawn and dusk). It is a misconception that they are nocturnal however they can be quite active at night when you are trying to sleep.
Hidey-House - Chinchillas, being prey animals, like to have something to hide in so they can
feel secure. It is important to have something that your chinchilla can hide under, so they do not get overly stressed. Please do not buy the plastic igloos that Petco/Petsmart sells,
chinchillas chew on these and they may die from ingesting the plastic. Rather, buy the wooden houses that these stores sell so that the chinchillas feel secure in their cages. Do not buy
the "Tiki huts" that pet stores sell - these
are too high in sugar content for chinchillas.
Pellets - We feed our chins Manna Pro Sho which I buy in 50 pound bags. It is commercially available at most Tractor Supply stores but is generally only sold in a 50 lb bag. You can purchase the pellets from me in smaller quantities; I sell it by the pound. Other good pellets for chinchillas are Mazuri, Tradition and Oxbow, although Tradition is harder to find in the Midwest. Mazuri is available at most pet stores and is a decent feed but it has been known to cause loose stool in some chinchillas. The right pellet will keep your chinchilla healthy for years to come. Please do not feed your chinchilla any of the Kaytee-brand food (the type sold at Petco/Petsmart). This is basically "chinchilla junk food" and will shorten the life of your chinchilla (this food can also cause diabetes and stasis/bloat), it is basically the equivalent of raising your child on nothing but candy. Pellets should be free-fed; that is, you should not restrict the amount your chinchilla eats. Put in more food than they will eat so that they can choose how much they want to eat.
I strongly suggest buying a high quality chinchilla pellet for your chinchilla to
you ever decide to switch brands of chinchilla food for any chinchilla you have, this must be done slowly. Switching brands should be done over a time span of four weeks, because of how delicate a chinchilla's digestive system is. The first week, your chinchilla should receive a combination of 25% new food and 75% old food. The second week, this should be moved to 50% new food and 50% old food. On the third week, you would want to give your chinchilla 75% new food and 25% old food. The fourth week you would give your chinchilla just the new food. Most chinchilla’s progress fine along this schedule, but if at any point you notice soft droppings, back up a step and progress more slowly. Also, this switching brands only applies to pellets, not to hay. If you would like to give different hay (in addition to Western Timothy), this can be given as much as you want (exceptfor alfalfa) - there is no switch-over period for hay.
Hay - Chinchillas do not and cannot survive on pellets alone. They need hay to keep their teeth and digestive systems healthy, and hay should make up at least half of a chinchilla's diet. I recommend getting Oxbow's Western Timothy Hay. If this brand of hay is not available to you, use Kaytee's Timothy Hay (sold at Petco and Petsmart). Both brands of hay are comparable in quality, but the Oxbow hay has more nutrients for your chinchilla. Hay should also be free-fed, as chinchillas will pick and eat the stalks they like the best, unfortunately there is a lot of waste with hay. Alfalfa hay may be given to your chinchilla as an occasional treat, but do not give this hay consistently, as its protein levels are too high for a chinchilla's digestive system. I offer alfalfa in cube form.
When it comes to hay, variety benefits your chinchilla. Different hays are chewed differently, so the more different hays your chinchilla has, the less likely they are to have teeth problems related to diet. Various other hays that can be given to your chinchilla include: oat hay, brome hay, botanical hay, orchard grass, and meadow hay. I give my chinchilla’s organic timothy hay from Kleenmama’s Hayloft and pressed alfalfa hay cubes. You can buy these items from me in smaller amounts.
Water – All water offered to your chinchilla should be filtered. Their systems are very sensitive to the microorganisms found in tap water and tap water should never be given to a chinchilla. The water in your chinchilla's cage should be fresh and should be changed daily to prevent bacteria build-up. The water bottle should be scrubbed clean at least once a week.
Treats– The -first thing to note: chinchillas under 6 months of age should not have any sort of treats. Many people want to buy their chinchilla every treat and chew toy available at the pet store. Word to the wise: only buy chew toys. NO treats. The treats that pet stores sell (even the ones marketed for chinchillas) are generally not very good for chinchillas. Do not give your chinchilla fruits and veggies--these are very high in sugar and can also cause diabetes. You might have read somewhere that chinchillas like raisins. They DO, but if they have more than one every 2 weeks or so, they can develop liver problems, kidney problems, or diabetes, which can lead to their death. They can also develop a condition called stasis which can be acute and life threatening. My treats of preference are cheerios, half of a small bite size shredded wheat or a pinch of whole oats (not the quick cooked kind), which can be given a few times a week. The cheerios given to the chinchilla must be plain cheerios, no flavors or nuts added, the same for the shredded wheat. Other healthy treats (after the age of 6 months) include rosehips, prepared apple twigs, or hanging chew toys. These supplies, and much more, can be bought from various vendors on this website: http://www.chins-n-hedgies.com/forums/. This forum is an excellent resource for information and advice as well; many of the vendors on this website are experienced chinchilla owners and sell time tested chinchilla safe items.
Dust Baths - Your chinchilla needs weekly/bi-weekly dust baths. If chinchillas do not get dust baths, their fur gets matted and greasy (just like human hair that has not been washed). Your chinchilla should get dust baths at least twice a week (but not every day, or their skin will dry out). Chinchilla dust is sold at Petco and Petsmart. However, the dust sold at pet stores is low-quality dust and is expensive -- the container sold at pet stores is about 2.5 pounds for around $10. I use a very high quality dust called Blue Cloud and it is available for purchase through me by the pound. Do not buy chinchilla bath sand - this is not the right kind of dust for their 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. This is why chinchillas should only have dust baths.
Chewing- Chinchillas chew everything. If they are let run around the house, chinchillas will 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 to "play" while they are being thoroughly supervised and are in a chin safe area. Also, chinchillas can jump about 5 feet into the air, so they can get into places you might not think. Many people use a playpen for playtime. 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 into the chinchilla's eye sockets and even the brain. Because of this, chinchillas need chew toys for their cage. Cchinchillas have more than just front teeth. They also have back teeth, or molars. Not only do the front teeth grow, but the back molars grow as well. Eating hay is what wears 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 let the chinchilla out in a closed bathroom or other small room with a door. I suggest covering the baseboards and lower walls with cardboard to discourage chewing of the baseboards. Keep in mind though, that the chinchilla should be supervised the whole time it is getting its exercise. Also, if letting a chinchilla hop around in a bathroom, be sure to put the toilet seat down, as getting chinchillas wet can cause them health problems (if they were to jump in the toilet). A chinchilla could easily drown in an open toilet, so please remember to keep that toilet seat down. As an alternative to exercise outside of the cage, some people buy wheels for their chinchillas to run on. The wheels found at Petco/Petsmart are not good; these are plastic and will be chewed/destroyed in no time. They are too small and can cause damage to the chinchilla’s spine. The wheel that I recommend for chinchillas is the 15" Chin Spin which can be found at http://www.qualitycage.com. It is not cheap in price but nor is it cheap in quality so in the long run it is well worth the cost. This wheel attaches directly to the chinchilla's cage. Another word about exercise: do not buy the clear plastic balls that Petco/Petsmart sells for your chinchilla to run around in. Chinchillas can overheat and die in those balls in a very short period of time. Also, even the biggest ball is too small for a chinchilla, and can cause a bend in their spine. In a short time, you will find that the chin is running in its own urine and feces so a bad buy all around. The Chin Spin wheel is much more practical and does not hurt the chinchilla in any way.
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 after the chin is 8 months old, the chinchilla is lacking in calcium. Part of a cuttlebone (found in the bird section of a pet store) will remedy this problem.
generally healthy animals, but they can get sick. Signs of illness
include diarrhea, soft stools, constipation (small hard compact droppings), 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 leaning the head to one side constantly. Please take your chinchilla to a qualified exotics vet if you notice any of these symptoms and they persist for more than a week. Do not try to treat your chinchilla yourself.
The only thing which I ever suggest trying to treat yourself (before going to an exotics vet) is soft droppings. If your chinchilla has outright diarrhea, then please take it to a vet, but soft droppings can be attempted to be treated at home. The moment you notice soft droppings, give your chinchilla some shredded wheat (not 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. Try sprinkling high count acidophilus on the pellets (or give Benebac). If, after a day or two, the chinchilla still has soft droppings, try taking out the chinchilla’s pellets entirely and just feed the chinchilla hay. This will not hurt the chinchilla in the long run, but if the chinchilla still has soft droppings after a few hay-only days, then please take the chinchilla to an exotics vet as stasis can develop quite quickly and lead to death.
Taming/Handling Your Chinchilla
One thing to keep
in mind when handling your chinchilla is that chinchillas are prey animals. Your new chinchilla may be nervous, jumpy, and possibly even terrified of
you. Most chins calm down with age (yes, there are terrible teenage years in a chinchilla; this is generally while the chinchilla is still a baby). Also, once your chinchilla gets used to you they will usually calm down. However, chinchillas are generally very hyper, energetic animals. Chinchillas can be trained to do a select few things, but for the most part, chinchillas cannot be litter box trained, except to urinate in a pan of shavings if using fleece liners. Some chinchillas can be trained to sit on your shoulder and most chinchillas will eventually learn their name and the name of their cagemate (if they are housed with another chinchilla).
be handled gently, as their bodies and bones are fragile. Their ribs are the equivalent of fragile toothpicks and can break pretty easily, they have a
floating ribcage. Young children should generally not handle them. 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 very smart, 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 doing it because they will realize it has no effect on you. Also, remember there is a difference between outright biting and “nibbling” which is a chinchilla’s way of grooming you. If you have more than one chin, you will see them nibble and groom each other - usually around the face. They may kack at each other during this activity but they enjoy it immensely.
If your chinchilla gets loose, try not to chase it. This sets up a predator/prey situation, and chasing the chinchilla will only scare it more. Try setting your chinchilla’s cage on the ground and see if maybe they will eventually come to it. Also, try putting a dust bath on the floor for them to hop into. An alternative is to get a towel and throw it over the chin at which point you can usually just scoop them up.
introductions, I suggest you take it slow with your chin. Although your chinchilla was handled from day one, this still does not mean that they are going to be
super-friendly or very easy to pick up for you as they are accustomed to us. You still might find yourself chasing your chin 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 chin out of his/her cage without chasing it. Basically, you want the chinchilla to get used to you. Talk to the chin, let the chin hear your voice. Move in baby steps if the 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 little 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 10-20 years! A good way to start is to sit close to the cage and read to your chinchilla every day.
Chinchillas should be picked up by placing one hand under their midsection and another under their rump while holding onto the base of their tail and lifting them up like this. Some chinchillas may hop onto your hand and let themselves be carried around like this also. Never pick up a chinchilla by the tail. Although some breeders do this, it is not recommended for someone who has not handled chinchillas for years, as it may damage/break the tail or damage nerves in the tail. Also, do not pick up your chinchilla by the ears. One last thing—I have been asked this repeatedly, so I feel the need to include it—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 in the future, you decide to get a friend for your chin, please get a same-sex friend. There are many chinchillas in rescues around the country, and males and females will produce kits, so we do not need to add more chins to the rescues. It is not advised to breed chins without extensive prior knowledge, as without the genetic history of the parents, you could greatly endanger the babies. If you ever decide to get a friend for your chin, I suggest doing an online search of chinchilla introduction techniques, or joining http://www.chins-n-hedgies.com, an online chinchilla forum where people can answer any questions you have. You can also contact me, and I will inform you of the best way to do it.
If you currently own a chinchilla and have bought a chinchilla from us for a playmate: you cannot put these two chinchillas together from the moment you bring your new chinchilla home (well, you can, but you endanger the health of both chinchillas by doing so). This is for a very simple reason: chinchillas have bacteria in their body which helps them stay healthy. Each environment has its own bacteria, so when a chinchilla is moved from one home to another, the bacteria is different in both homes. Because of this, the chinchilla must be given time for their bacteria to change over to the bacteria of the new home. This is the quarantine period, and takes one month, or 30 days. During this 30-day period, your new chinchilla must be housed in a separate cage in a completely separate room from your other chinchilla. After 30 days, your new chinchilla can be introduced to the current chinchilla you own, but please be aware that some chinchillas will never get along, or may get along great for a long period of time, only to decide that they hate each other for some unknown reason. This happens with humans as well but human can make the choice to walk away, two chinchillas caged together cannot and you may end up with fighting and need to separate them.
I hope I have answered any questions that may come up with your new pet but if not, please feel free to contact me with any questions/concerns.