Chinchillas are very cute furballs that can make awesome pets. They are rodents that come in different colors such as white, mosaic, tan, grey, and black. The average chinchilla lives for 10 to 15 years. In some cases, they can even become 20 years old. Chinchillas are native to the dry mountain regions of Chile, Peru, Argentina, and Bolivia, and were originally bred for their fur. Nowadays they have become popular pets in many households.
As a whole, taking care of a chinchilla can be a little challenging. Chinchillas need a very spacious cage with plenty of things to explore, various levels to jump and climb onto, water to drink, hay to eat, regular dust baths, and an overall stimulating environment to keep them entertained.
In this article, you will find all the information you need to take care of your pet chinchilla and give your pet the best life possible. You will find everything you need to know about drinking, feeding, social interactions, housing, regular chores, and many more facts that will help you make the best out of your experience for both you and your pet.
How to Look After Chinchillas
With its’ dense fur, huge, hairless ears, large head, and short body, the chinchilla has a unique appearance. They make great pets when properly cared for. Chinchillas can be either short- or long-tailed. Both species can be kept as pets.
Chinchillas are also affectionately referred to as “chins” by chinchilla-lovers.
In the wild, chinchillas are nocturnal creatures, but as pets, they commonly adapt to a more diurnal lifestyle.
As a whole, the daily duties of chinchilla owners include feeding, providing them with fresh water, offering them dust baths, and spending time with them. The chinchillas’ cage should be cleaned on a weekly basis.
In the following, you will find information on how to care for a pet chinchilla.
The daily chores include feeding, providing your pets with fresh water, and offering them a nice sand bath.
Your chinchilla loves hay
A pet chinchilla should have access to high-quality hay at all times. Hay has low levels of fat and protein and no matter how much they eat, they cannot overeat it. The best option for the regular supply is Timothy hay.
Alfalfa hay can be fed in small quantities, as it is very high in protein. It is great for young chinchillas that still grow, but adults will gain too much weight if they are offered a lot of Alfalfa hay.
Orchard hay is another option. It is rich in fiber, protein, and fat. This hay falls under the category of grass and is similar to Timothy hay. You can mix orchard hay with Timothy hay every now and then to keep your chinchilla entertained. If your chinchilla has sensitivities to Timothy, Orchard hay can be used as a substitute for the daily supply of hay.
Common prairie grass is also an option, as well as bluegrasses, and alpine grasses.
Normal hay for the daily supply should have around 14% to 16% protein. Chewing hay is good for chinchillas because it helps them to keep their teeth to a normal length and prevents dental issues.
Chinchillas should also be fed with pellets
In addition to the hay, you should offer your chinchilla about two tablespoons of pellets daily. You should only use pellets that are particularly made for chinchillas. Those are just plain and simple and help to add some more protein to their diet. The exact amount of daily pellets can be based on the chinchillas’ weight.
Mixed packages may contain well-balanced nutritions, but chinchillas tend to pick out their favorite pieces (usually the ones with high fat) and leave the rest until you refill the pellets. This will lead to an unbalanced diet. Therefore the plain pellets are the right choice for your chinchilla.
In order to keep your chinchilla healthy, you should clean the water bottle every day to prevent bacteria growth in the straw.
Depending on where you live, the tap water might contain some chemicals that are not healthy for your chinchilla. The best option is bottled tap water.
Chinchillas have extremely dense fur. It is the densest fur that exists on animals and it is important to keep the chinchillas warm in the dry and cold mountain regions where they originally came from. This fur cannot get wet, because due to its density it cannot dry on its own and the chinchilla will quickly get cold.
Chinchillas clean themselves in volcanic sand. You should provide a sand bath for 5 to 15 minutes every day. Most pet stores sell sand explicitly for chinchillas.
Your chinchillas will likely urinate in the sand during the bath. You can sieve the sand and reuse it for the next bath. After a few uses, the sand should be replaced.
To make the weekly cleaning session less time-consuming, you should clean parts of the cage every few days. Wipe dirty spaces as you see them, and clean the edge of the food dish if your chinchilla likes to sit on it while eating.
Things are easier if your chinchilla is litter trained. You should clean your pet’s litter box at least every second day and remove all of the urine or dropping and refill it with fresh litter. Scrubbing the litter box can be done every week.
If your chinchilla is not potty trained, you might want to change the bedding more often to avoid any bacteria growth.
The cage should be cleaned thoroughly on a weekly basis. Replace the bedding, wipe the toys and the floor, and make sure that all droppings are removed. You should also clean the metal bars and replace the towels or fleece if you use any in your cage.
If you are using wooden shelves, you can wipe or sand them to get them clean for your pets.
If you are using a litter box, you should scrub it at least once a week.
Chinchillas are rather hygienic animals and will appreciate your effort.
What Do Chinchillas Need?
Chinchillas are very active and energetic pets that chew everything, especially things that are made of wood or plastic. Things you don’t want your chinchillas to chew on should not be in the enclosure. There are also many types of wood that are toxic for chinchillas, so make sure that you only use wood in the enclosure that is safe for the chinchilla such as aspen or pine.
Chinchillas need several things in their enclosure to have a fulfilled life. Here are the things you need for your pet chinchilla:
- Big cage with metal wires and several levels
- Food bowl for pellets
- Glass water bottle
- Places to hide in
- Chew toys
- Transportation box
What Kind of Cage do Chinchillas Need?
This is the kind of cage you should be looking for:
- Chew-proof metal wires
- Big, multilevel enclosure
- No glass cage
- No toxic materials
Chinchillas are known for chewing everything. A plastic cage won’t last long as chinchillas are rodents that will easily chew through plastic.
An enclosure will metal wires is more durable and a good long-term investment for your pets. Make sure that the wires are chew-proof and that it is not possible to entrap the limbs between the wires.
The floor should not have metal wires as they can hurt the chinchilla’s feet. If the floor is plastic, you should cover them with something soft such as fleece or some bedding.
A good enclosure should be large enough to provide spaces for eating, resting, exercising, and playing. Several levels are preferred.
The “Chinchilla-cages” in pet stores are often too small. For the enclosure, it is safe to say “the bigger the better”.
How big should a chinchilla cage be?
The bigger the better. The bars have to be narrow enough so that the chinchillas cannot squeeze through. Especially baby chinchillas can be very talented when it comes to squeezing through cage bars.
Chinchillas love to jump and climb. A high enclosure with several levels is recommended.
What Do Chinchillas Need in Their Cage?
There are several things that a chinchilla necessarily needs and many optional things that might be great for your pet, but it is not obligatory for chinchilla owners. Here is a list of things that you will definitively need for your pet:
- Glass water bottle
- Food dish
- Chew toys
- Toys to play with
- Things to climb on
In addition to these objects, there are some optional things that you can also offer your pet chinchilla. Some will like or even need it, while others won’t. Just try out what’s best for your fluffy pet:
- Marble plate
- Several extra levels
- Fleece or towel
Necessary Items for a Chinchilla
Glass water bottle
Chinchillas need a glass water bottle that hangs on the outside of the cage with the straw facing into the cage. A plastic bottle will be chewed on and a water dish is not an option because chinchillas might run through and get their fur wet. And wet fur comes with a high risk for chinchillas because they cannot dry their dense fur without help and easily get cold and sick.
Chinchillas love their hay. In the wild chinchillas eat lots of grass and hay, and there are several options for hay that are good for chinchillas such as Timothy hay. Make sure that you acquire high quality hay with around 14% to 16% protein. Alternatives to Timothy hay are Alfalfa, Alpine grass, Orchard Grass, Bluegrasses, and common prairie grass.
Chinchillas should have access to hay at all times. They cannot overeat on hay, so don’t worry about feeding too much hay.
The food dish is necessary for the additional pellets that you feed your chinchilla. It has to be heavy enough or somehow clipped to the cage because chinchillas tend to sit on the edge or the bowl while nibbling on the pellets. It should not flip over when the chinchilla gets ready for its’ meal.
The teeth of a chinchilla continue to grow throughout their lives. This is why chinchillas need to chew on wood or similar materials to keep their teeth at a healthy length. You can acquire special chinchilla chew toys at the pet store that can be made for materials such as pumice stone, cuttlebone, or any hard wooden objects.
Chinchillas love their chew toys, but they will also chew on everything else that is in the cage such as houses, platforms, or other toys.
The bedding should be about 1 to 2 inches high on the floor of the habitat. There are various bedding options you can choose from such as high-quality paper bedding, crumbled paper bedding, or wood shavings. Choose a product that is absorbent and does not cause any digestive issues if your chinchilla chooses to eat it.
A good product is paper-based bedding from Carefresh. It is not only super absorbent but also pretty cheap and the chinchillas tend to not eat it.
Wood shavings do work, but they are not as absorbent as paper bedding and you have to make sure that the wood is safe for the chinchillas. Aspen shavings are ok as they are safe, cozy, and rather absorbant.
Don’t use any kind of bedding that clumps or expands when it gets wet or products that are made for cats. Chinchillas tend to eat stuff that is in the enclosure and if bedding expands in the stomach or clumps together, they will suffer from major health issues.
The bedding is not only there for sleeping, but also for playing, hiding stuff, foraging for food, and is often also used as toiled. It is very important to get good quality bedding for your lovely chins.
Things to play with
Chinchillas love to be entertained. They are very curious and energetic and need things to play with.
Avoid anything with artificial glues, dyes, plastic, or icky stuff. They chew on basically everything they find so don’t give them stuff that you don’t want to be chewed on.
Easy and cheap toy options are cardboard boxes and tubes. You can hide hay or other toys inside. Change the toys on a regular basis to keep your pets entertained.
Chinchillas like to hide and need various hiding places in their enclosure to feel safe. You can go for houses for chinchillas that are made of hay and are eatable or boxes made of untreated pine wood.
Do not use cheap wooden houses from pet stores because they are often made of cheap plywood that can splinter when chewed on.
You can also go for cardboard boxes, but those will be destroyed quickly.
Chinchillas tend to move around in the cage at a high speed so you should make sure that they cannot take things down, especially when they are on higher levels. Secure houses and heavier toys and make sure that they can’t fall down.
Things to climb on
Chinchillas love to climb. You can use wooden shelves that are properly secured, as well as hammocks, ladders, or other toys that dangle from the top of the cage.
Optional items for a chinchilla cage
Chinchillas love to exercise and if you want to, you can offer your pets a chinchilla wheel. Keep in mind that chinchillas are rather big rodents compared to mice, hamsters, or rats, and need a bigger wheel. You cannot use a hamster wheel for chinchillas as they will hurt their feet and back.
The inside of the wheel has to be solid so that the toes and legs cannot get entrapped in the wheel.
A marble plate can be placed in a chinchillas enclosure to offer your fluffy friend a place to lay down and cool itself down if it feels too hot.
Something soft to step on
Most chinchillas enjoy a soft floor to rest their feet. You can put folded towels or fleece on the shelves. Make sure that everything is safely secured and your chinchilla won’t slip if it jumps on the shelves.
Several extra levels
A multilevel enclosure is preferred and you can add more shelves as extra levels to give your chinchilla even more places to jump on and play. If you use wooden shelves, make sure to only use wood that is safe for your chinchilla.
Hay rack, cubes, and houses
A hay rack is not essential but comes in handy as chinchillas tend to scatter their hay around everywhere while eating. They might slip on the hay when too much of it is scattered on the floor. Hay cubes are another way to offer your chinchilla hay without making a huge mess.
Hay houses are also a good option but most of them have metal wires in them that hold the houses together and the metal can cause injuries when the chinchillas have eaten all the hay and only the wires are left. Just make sure to remove the houses before all the metal is out.
How do Chinchillas Clean Themselves?
A Chinchillas fur is one of the densest animal furs that exists on this planet. This is why they cannot have a normal water bath. They are not able to dry on their own and will get hypothermic and might even die.
As a whole, in order to clean themselves in the wild chinchillas roll themselves in volcanic ash and dust to clean their fur from any dirt or oil.
a dust bath should be taken at least once a week, but it is better than almost every day. They love their dust baths and will happily roll in the sand. Many chinchilla owners don’t have the sand bath inside of the enclosure because constantly exposing a chinchilla to bathing dust can lead to dryness and eye irritation.
Most pet stores have specific chinchilla sand. The dust bath should be big enough so that the chinchilla can roll around in it. The bath should be at least 2 inches deep and the chinchilla should be allowed to dust bath 5-15min every day or every other day.
Do Chinchillas Need to be Kept in Groups?
Chinchillas are social animals. In the wild, they live in colonies of several individuals.
As a whole, chinchillas can be kept alone, in pairs, or in bigger groups. Even though it is possible to keep a single chinchilla, it is recommended to keep chinchillas in groups of at least two individuals.
Chinchillas get bored quickly and a friend to play with helps a lot to keep entertained. A single chinchilla can be kept on its’ own, but the pet owner has to make sure that the chinchilla has enough to play with, and spends a lot of time with the pet. A lonely and bored chinchilla can easily get sick or show unusual behavior that can lead to injuries.
Where Can I Get a Chinchilla?
Chinchillas can be acquired at the local pet store, at a local breeder’s place, in a rescue center, or you can get a chinchilla from a private person who cannot take care of the pet anymore.
The best and safest option to get a healthy and happy chinchilla is a respected, local breeder with a good reputation. If you prefer a pet store or have no other option, make sure that the animals are kept in good condition. They should have clean cages and enough spaces to hide if they don’t want to be displayed.
You should not buy a chinchilla online, because, obviously, shipping rodents in the mail comes with serious health risks.
Is a Chinchilla a Good Pet for Beginners?
Chinchillas can make the cutest and loveliest pets, but it is important to know that there are easier pets to start with, such as mice, hamsters, or rats.
As a whole, a chinchilla can be a good pet for beginners. They are intermediate and difficult to keep and they are rather shy animals that need a lot of time and patience to get used to humans. Chinchillas also need a lot of space and can live for up to 20 years.
Chinchillas are mostly active at dawn, dusk, and during the night. They can get used to living a more diurnal life, but they will still spend most of the day sleeping.
A chinchilla owner has to be aware of the fact that chinchillas are very shy animals. Unlike other pets, it will take more time to socialize them properly, and especially children might get impatient. If chinchillas are not socialized, they will stay shy.
It is also important to know that chinchillas usually live for 10 to 15 years, and some even up to 20 years. If you are planning to go abroad, study somewhere, or change your life in a way that does not involve a pet within the next 15 years, you should think twice about getting a chinchilla.
These cute fluffy rodents also need a lot of space in their enclosure because they are rather active animals. You need to have enough space for a big enclosure and also be willing to spend some money on chinchilla equipment, food, and medical bills for your pet.
Lisa is one of the two founders of Animal-Knowledge. She has been very interested in animals and insects from a very young age and has owned different kinds of pets such as snails, ants, fish, turtles, mice, rats, hamsters, rabbits, a dog, … you get the idea 🙂