Chinchilla Basic Care

Chinchillas

  • Chinchillas need a dust bath for 10 – 15 minutes several times a week under direct supervision.
  • Chinchillas do not tolerate heat or humidity well and should be kept below a temperature of 80F.
  • Chinchillas may live 10 – 20 years.

Housing

Chinchillas may be quite social and the majority enjoy a companion.  However, many issues may arise when pairing up chinchillas and it can be quite trying to introduce them to each other.  Many times the aggression issues are due to the cage being too small, not enough hiding spots in the cage, or size differences between the chinchillas.  Many chinchillas will not accept strangers into their own cage so the introductions often go better in a neutral cage (i.e., a cage neither has lived in before OR their own cages that have been thoroughly cleaned and rearranged with some new furniture added).  When an introduction is successful, chinchillas will live happily with each other and develop a strong bond.  However, some chinchillas are best housed individually as they consistently pick fights with cagemate after cagemate.  In these cases, the female chinchilla generally is the dominant sex.  Unless you are intending to breed chinchillas, it is best to go with same sex pairs or to spay or neuter the opposite sex pairs.  (There are already many chinchillas in rescues so please think about this before embarking on a breeding project!)

Their cage should be at least 3 x 2 x 2 feet and constructed from wood and mesh wire.  Many chinchilla owners keep their chinchillas on wire mesh flooring (1/2" x 1/2" mesh).  Occasionally, we see chinchillas with torn toenails, broken toes, and foot sores associated with this flooring.  For those chinchillas, we recommend a cage with a solid floor.  A solid floor poses problems too as the urine and feces have to be removed daily to avoid developing pododermatitis.  The cage should provide different climbing areas and also a sleeping box in an upper corner for privacy.

Substrate

Many chinchilla owners use wood shavings such as aspen or pine.  Another bedding often used is made from recycled paper (e.g., Carefresh, Yesterday's News).  However, no substrate is a "perfect" substrate as there have been some respiratory issues associated with recycled paper bedding and gastrointestinal impactions associated with chinchillas consuming the wood shavings.  Cedar shavings should be avoided as there are issues associated with inhaling the aromatic oils.  The cage should be thoroughly cleaned at least once a week.

Diet

Timothy hay should always be available as is it high in fiber and good for their dental and intestinal health.   About 1 /8 cup of a high quality chinchilla pellet should also be offered daily (e.g., Oxbow Chinchilla Deluxe) to adults while growing chinchillas should always have some pellets available.  Treats are not necessary and may cause problems in some chinchillas.  For example, fruit may cause bloating and diarrhea due to its high sugar content.  If you want to give fruit, a 1 inch cube of a dried fruit or two 1 inch cubes of fresh fruit is the most you should offer in a day.  DO NOT GIVE AGAIN IF YOU SEE A PROBLEM EVEN ONCE! Alfalfa hay may be given as a treat along with shredded wheat or small amounts of fresh dark green leafy vegetables (no more than 1 tablespoon).  Treats need to be given in moderation and should not surpass more than 5% of their regular diet.

Chinchillas should always have fresh water available in a sipper bottle and this should be cleaned daily in warm soapy water and rinsed several times before being refilled.  At least once a week the bottle and sipper tube should be disinfected with a solution of household chlorine bleach, one tablespoon to one quart of water, and rinsed thoroughly before being refilled.

Handling Tips

Chinchillas need to feel safe when they are handled and therefore you should always use two hands when picking your chinchilla up.  Use one hand under the abdomen to support the body and the other hand around the base of the tail.  Children should not be allowed to handle these pets without strict supervision due to their delicate fur and skin.  Rough handling may cause fur to come out in large chunks and cause bruising of the skin. 

Common Health Problems

  • Heat Stroke:  Chinchillas may become overheated very easily and need to be kept in a well ventilated cage.  Ideally, their surrounding temperature between 50 – 74°F.  Most do well at temperatures as high as 80°F.  Basically, if the room is a comfortable temperature for you and you are not sweating or feeling warm even with mild exercise, your house temperature is probably appropriate for a chinchilla.  Symptoms of heat stroke include lethargy, panting and bright red mucous membranes.  If you see any of these signs have your chinchilla evaluated immediately.
  • Diarrhea:   The most common cause of diarrhea is poor diet and tooth problems, but chinchillas may also have intestinal infections.  If your chinchilla has diarrhea have it checked by a vet quickly as this may cause death if not corrected.
  • Dental Malocclusion:  Symptoms of this condition are drooling, a decrease in appetite, a decrease in size and amount of feces, or diarrhea.  Malocclusion means that the teeth are not aligned properly.  The teeth on top don’t properly line up with the teeth on the bottom.  These teeth may develop sharp points that injure the cheek and tongue and make it difficult to eat.  We file the teeth to their normal shape while your chinchilla is under general anesthesia.
  • Fur Ring:  This is a condition the affects male chinchillas and can be life threatening if not treated right away.  It is caused by a ring of shed fur that becomes stuck and constricts the penis.  Any male chinchilla that grooms this area regularly, strains to urinate, or only produces a very small amount of urine at a time should be check for a fur ring.
  • Respiratory infections:  Signs include sneezing, drainage from nose, lethargy and decrease in appetite.   This can become very dangerous for a little chinchilla so treatment should occur quickly.