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How to Take Care of a Chinchilla? Guide for Beginner

How to Take Care of a Chinchilla
So, you've decided a chinchilla is for you. Let's go over the things you'll need to ensure your chinchilla has a safe and happy home

Checklist Before Taking Your Chinchilla

1. Veterinarian. 

First and foremost, have you found a chinchilla knowledgeable vet in your area? Chinchillas are still considered exotic and very few vets deal with them. You will want to make sure your vet A) Knows what a chinchilla is and B) Sees them regularly. Don't just ask whom ever answers the phone, go in and speak to the vet themselves. There's nothing like having an emergency only to find out your vet really does not know what to do!

2. A "Chinchilla safe" Cage:

This is where your chinchilla will spend most of its life. You want to make sure this is a safe environment with plenty of stimulation. Chinchillas are active jumpers and need a good-sized cage. Taller is better than wider. Be sure the design of the cage is so that if the chinchilla is on the top shelf, it can not fall straight to the bottom. 

The shelves should be offset or have a floor divider in the center of the cage. For a single chinchilla, you will need a cage approx 24x24x24. That size will most often also be suitable for 2, though remember the bigger the better! My trio of boys is in a 24x24x36. Wire spacing should be 1"x1" to 1"x3". Any larger and the chinchilla could get stuck. 

chinchilla as a pet
If you are getting a kit you will not want anything larger than 1"X1", the optimal being 1" x ½". Cages should be made of a chew-proof material. Metal wire cages or melamine are the most popular choices. Wire cages are readily available in a wide variety of styles and sizes. Be sure the pan is metal, not plastic. Plastic is toxic to chinchillas and can also cause intestinal blockages. 

While some people are successful with them and claim their 'chins don't chew plastic', I personally think the risk is not worth it. Melamine cages are ones that are usually constructed by the owner. There are a wide variety of designs out there, just do a search. Remember, if you are looking online or in a pet store, just because it says 'for chinchillas' doesn't mean it's actually suitable!

3. Cage accessories. 

So you have the shell. Now you need the items inside. Remember, stay away from plastic! Chinchilla safe materials are wood, metal, and glass. Some people also use clay items. While there is minimal chewing danger, my concern lies in that clay is absorbent and would soak up the urine. So I choose not to use it. Again, that's a personal decision.

  • First, let's consider the water bottle. A bottle is preferable to a dish as the chinchilla's fur should not get wet and there is the minimal danger with a bottle. Look for a glass bottle. I personally use the Lixit brand. I prefer the larger size as it has a rubber stopper insert that is not reachable to be chewed. The smaller size has a plastic top that can be reached and chewed by the chinchilla.

  • You will also need a feed dish. There are several types to choose from. I use a metal dish that bolts to the frame of the cage. The dish is easily removed from the ring holder for washing.

    You can also use a heavy ceramic bowl or a hopper-style feeder. The danger of the hopper is that smaller chins can climb up and get stuck in the shoot. Also, if you have a chinchilla that likes to pee or poop in the dish, you will ruin a lot of food quickly.

  • Next, consider your dust bathing container and dust. Chinchillas do not bath with water, they bath in special volcanic dust that cleans their fur of accumulated oils. Most people prefer a covered container to help keep the dust confined to an area. I use flat-sided glass fish bowls. They are cheap, easy to clean, and chew-proof.
  • Chew toys are a very important part of the chinchilla cage. They provide entertainment, stress relief, and most importantly wear down those ever-growing teeth! Most bird-safe toys are chin safe as well. Be sure to look for ones on chains. Avoid ones with plastic parts or string/cotton rope. Sisal is a debated material in the chin world.

    It is a natural fiber that is not toxic. The concern lies in that there is the possibility of blockages. Some argue that the sisal will be broken down into too small of a piece to cause problems (much like the hay), others say it would not be and will block the intestine. I myself have chosen not to use it, as it's again, not worth the risk.

  • Houses, hammocks, and more! Your chinchilla will need a place of refuge, somewhere to retire during the day. There are tones of options out there, and really it falls to your personal taste. For houses look for sturdy construction with good thick walls.

    A lot of the houses in pet stores are made of thin pine and your chin will make short work of it! If you are not adverse to ordering online there are many designs that are made with good ½" thick pine. You can also easily make the houses yourself. Just be sure the pine is kiln dried as fresh pine contains oils/fragrances that can be toxic to chinchillas.

    There are also several hammocks and sleeping pockets available on the market today. These are trail and error products. Some chins will love them, some chins will eat them and others will simply ignore them. Be sure to only buy fleece, as there are no strings for the chin to ingest and choke on or block with.

    Again look for chains or metal fasteners. Be sure the chains are very short, however, as you do not want the chinchilla to trap their leg during entrance/exit. If the chin shows any interest in chewing the item, remove it.

  • Bedding. This is another personal preference area. However, there are certain things you should not use. Cedar is a NEVER NEVER NEVER item. While many pet stores sell it, it is not a safe product for any rodent, much less a chinchilla. The aromatic oils can cause sever respiratory and liver problems. This is the same for fresh pine.

    As long as the pine is KILN DRIED it is safe to use. If the bag does not say kiln-dried, don't buy it. Another popular alternative is Aspen (which is what I use). It is a little pricier, however, it does not contain the harmful oils associated with pine so it is a much safer choice, in my opinion.

  • Exercise wheel. This is not a necessity, but many chinchillas so enjoy them. Make sure the wheel is large enough (at least 15") and is a solid base, with no crossbars. The flying saucer wheel and the Leo Braun wheel are very popular for chinchillas.
For more great info on these areas, visit: Here

4. Feeding

chinchilla as a pet pros and cons

Things to remember when feeding, What you feed your chinchilla can mean the difference between a happy healthy chinchilla or a sick and ailing chinchilla.
  • Pellets are one of the two main parts of the chinchilla diet. Finding a good quality diet can be challenging as most commercial brands are very poor quality. The brands to look for are Mazuri, Kline, Tradition, American Pet Dinner, Oxbow, Unifeed and if you are in my area Reidstra. In my opinion, brands to AVOID are Sunseed, L&M;, Kaytee, & Charlie Chinchilla.
  • Hay is a vital part of the chinchilla diet. This should be available to the chinchilla 24/7. Put in small handfuls once or twice a day. If you put in a large amount you will find they tend to run over it, throw it around and end up being very wasteful.

    There are two main types that are fed, Timothy and Alfalfa. Most pellets are Alfalfa based, so it is best to go with the Timothy hay. Alfalfa is higher in protein so you don't want to go overboard with it. If you do chose to feed it loose, it would be best to still mix in some Timothy at a higher ratio. See here for more info.

  • Supplements. Chinchillas don't really need any supplementing if they are on a good quality diet. That said, they can be useful for putting weigh on a small chin, a pregnant or nursing mom or for general health. A lot of herbal supplements are designed to help with de-toxifying, digestion, and help strengthen the heart. Be sure to know what's in them before you feed them and make sure you don't over do it!
  • Treats are something we like to give the chinchillas, but they don't need. There are very few things out there that are really beneficial to a chinchilla. Most of them are purely junk. If you really want to treat your chinchilla an oat or rose hip once in a while will not cause harm. Using the supplement as a treat also works well too.

5. Temperature

Chinchillas are temperature sensitive and need a controlled environment. The room will need an air conditioner to keep them cool. The optimal temperature for chinchillas is 65-70oF. Above 80oF or below 50oF can be fatal.

6. Grooming

Grooming is essential to a healthy chinchilla. A requirement for any healthy chinchilla is a dust bath. The dust removes the excess oils and other dirt particles from the chinchilla's fur. You will find the more you handle the chinchilla, the more frequently you will need to dust them (as the oils from your hands will transfer onto them). Also, should the area be more humid you will need to dust more often. On average you should dust about 3 times a week. 

Never use water on your chinchilla. A chinchillas fur is incredibly dense, if water gets onto the fur it is incredibly difficult to make sure it has dried all the way to the skin. Leaving dampness on a chinchilla will lead to fungus and possibly other problems. The choice of dust is up to you. Make sure it is for chinchillas. The more popular products out there are Blue Cloud, Blue Sparkle, and Fullers Earth. Any of them work well; everyone has their preference. 

I prefer the fullers earth myself. You can also acquire grooming combs for your chinchilla. However, I highly recommend that you have someone show you how to use these before attempting to use them yourself (your breeder can do this). Chinchilla grooming is done in a different fashion than your cat or dog. The combs also are composed of sharp needles, so you don't want to do it incorrectly. 

Combing, while not a necessity, helps with the overall coat appearance and removes a lot more of the dead undercoat than dusting alone. A #3 or 4 comb would suffice for the standard pet owner. The finer combs are only really necessary for grooming before a show.

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