Chinchilla Care Guide
Chinchilla Care Tips: Everything You Need To Know About Your Pet Chinchilla
When well-cared for, your pet chinchilla can live up to 20+ years, but the average lifespan in captivity is 10 years.
The Natural History of Chinchillas
Chinchillas are hystricomorph rodents, which originated in the barren areas, desert-like of the Andes Mountains in Peru, Bolivia, Chile and Argentina. They lived there at elevation ranges from sea level to 16,000ft. These regions are arid with limited vegetation. Chinchillas are nocturnal and in the wild they live in large rock formations and rock caves. These sheltered locations offer them warmth during the day and cold nights for sleeping.
Common Breeds of Chinchillas
There were three “species” of chinchillas: Chinchilla langiera, Chinchilla brevicaudata, and Chinchilla costina. The captive populations that we see as pets are believed to be a cross-breeding of the langeria and brevicaudata.
How to Care for Your Pet Chinchilla
Chinchillas need a cage that will provide them with space to run, climb and jump. The minimum size for one chinchilla should be 24-36”x 18-24” x 24” (WxDxH). Ideally, chinchilla cages should have at least two levels or stories. Chinchillas love to have room to play and explore, so no cage is too big. Most cages are made of wire mesh with a wire floor (1 x 1 inch and 1x 2-inch mesh grids are appropriate for non-breeding chinchillas. For breeding chinchillas .75 x .75 inch or .75 x 1-inch mesh is appropriate so the babies (kits) cannot get out). To make cage cleaning much easier, look for a cage with a metal collection pan that can be pulled out.
Because chinchillas are used to dark places and caves, you should create a small wood hut or other hiding places within the metal cage. Your chinchilla can drink water from a heavy ceramic or stainless-steel bowl. Be sure to clean the bowl daily with soap and water.
Should I Give My Chinchilla a Wheel?
The vets at Long Island Bird & Exotics do not recommend using wheels, as we see many chinchillas who become injured while using their wheels. If you do purchase a wheel, make sure to purchase one made specifically for chinchillas. They need a minimum diameter of 15-18 inches and a solid floor. The wheel can be placed in the cage. Please make sure that the wheel does not take up more than 1/5-1/4 of the interior cage space.
How to Give Your Chinchilla a Dust Bath
All chinchillas require dust baths at least 2-3 times a week. Dust can be purchased at most pet stores. Make sure the dust is fine and not granular. Put the dust in a dust house (available at most pet stores) and place it in the chinchilla’s cage for 15-20 minutes each time. They will roll around and bath themselves. Make sure to dump the dust and replace it with fresh dust for the next bath because chinchillas will defecate in their dust baths.
Providing the Right Climate for Your Chinchilla
Chinchillas have thick. fur coats (80-100 hairs per follicle) and therefore, hot temperatures can cause heat stroke and death. If you live in areas where it gets hot or humid in the summer, make sure the room in which the chinchilla lives does not get above 80° F including humidity. Your chinchilla will be happiest when the temperature is between 55 and 72 F with less than 40% humidity.
Chinchilla Diet & Nutrition
What Do Chinchillas Eat?
Chinchillas eat pellets, which you should feed them daily in a ceramic or stainless steel heavy bowl. We find Oxbow Chinchilla Cuisine and Mazuri Chinchilla pellets to be the best for chinchillas. Be sure to wash your chinchilla’s food bowl daily with soap and water.
Chinchillas should always have hay available. We recommend a high-quality hay such as Oxbow hay. If you use Timothy hay, it should be green in color. Timothy hay that is brown or yellow is old and should not be used.
NOTE: Do not feed your pet chinchilla alfalfa, as it is too high in protein for chinchillas and can cause diarrhea.
Chinchillas also enjoy fresh vegetables. Offer your chinchilla fresh vegetables 3-5 times a week. We suggest providing your chinchilla with the vegetables from our healthy shopping guide to vary what you offer and use the vegetables in moderation. If at anytime your chinchilla develops soft stools, reduce the amount and type of vegetables you offer and see if the stools return to normal 24-48 hours. If they do not contact your veterinarian immediately.
What Treats Can I Give My Pet Chinchilla?
Treats can be offered to your chinchilla in moderation. Chinchillas have a sweet tooth so make sure to use these as treats no more than 1 or 2 times a week. Too many sweets can lead to obesity, dental problems, and/or diarrhea in your pet chinchilla. If this occurs, reduce the amount of treats you give your pet. This is extremely important, as dental problems and diarrhea in a chinchilla can become serious health problems and can cause death.
Chinchilla Behavior and More Chinchilla Care Tips
Is My Chinchilla Acting Strange?
Some chinchilla behaviors can seem rather strange. For example, you may see your chinchilla eat its own poop. This is a normal, healthy behavior that provides your pet with essential vitamins and nutrients. Also, chinchillas can release tufts of hair as a defense mechanism. If this happens, don’t worry! It will grow back. As creatures of habit, chinchillas need to be introduced to changes slowly in regards to feedings and routines.
Chinchilla Toys: What Do Chinchillas Like to Play With?
Your pet chinchilla needs toys for gnawing on and for personal enrichment. Chinchillas have continuously growing teeth and must chew to file their teeth or they will develop dental problems. Therefore, bird toys such as Manzanita wood or vines make good toys. Try to avoid pumice squares—chin chew blox—sold for chinchillas because they often file the teeth too much.
How Do Chinchillas Exercise?
Chinchillas love to come out of their cages and run around. This can be done in a supervised fashion in a cordoned off area. Chinchillas love to chew anything so watch out for wires, outlets and baseboards which can get chewed up quickly and can be dangerous for your pet. Make sure to cover up or block access to any outlets or electrical cords. The safest place to let your pet chinchilla play is on tiled, linoleum or wood floors without wires and outlets. Plus, these surfaces make for an easy clean-up.
What Medical Care Does My Pet Chinchilla Need?
Recommended Check-ups for a Chinchilla
When you first buy a new chinchilla, we recommend having a specialized vet see your new pet. It is also a good idea to have your chinchilla checked by your chinchilla vet on a yearly basis for a physical exam (including a fecal and blood work) to insure a long and healthy life.
Common Chinchilla Health Concerns
Chinchillas are very prone to developing dental disease which is often difficult to diagnose at home until it has become severe. Therefore, preventative medicine (yearly health checks) will increase the chance of diagnosing it early when it can be treated and/or managed.
How to Tell When Your Chinchilla Is Sick?
The following is a list of signs or symptoms which might indicate that your chinchilla is sick. If you observe these in your chinchilla, we recommend scheduling an appointment with a chinchilla vet nearby.
Loose, soft or lack of stool
Small, dry or infrequent stools
Blood in the urine
Overgrown front teeth
Hunching in a corner or lack of activity (lethargy)
Sneezing or trouble breathing
Observed difficulty chewing
Bald patches in the fur
Sores on the feet
Abnormal eating or drinking
The following is a list of chinchilla emergencies. If you witness these, seek medical care right away.
Lack of an appetite: Keep an eye on your chinchilla’s eating habits. If you notice that he or she hasn’t eaten within a 12 hour period, get her to a veterinarian immediately. They may be suffering from gastrointestinal stasis (GI stasis) or bloat, both of which can be fatal if not treated quickly.
Less poops and urine production than normal. Both can be a sign of stasis or bloat or something entirely different. Fewer poops and urine production than normal, as well as diarrhea, warrant a trip to the vet.
Suffering from an injury. If your chin has a wound, what appears to be a broken bone, or any kind of injury, consult with the vet as soon as possible.
Breathing through her mouth/struggling to breathe
Suffering from an intestinal prolapse
Even if you aren’t sure if you’ve got an emergency on your hands, your safest bet is to contact your veterinarian for direction. At Long Island Bird & Exotics, we are on-call 24/hours a day. Contact us about your chinchilla emergencies if you live in the NY area!