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Find information on animal health topics, written for the veterinary professional.

* This is the Veterinary Version. *

Providing a Home for a Chinchilla

By Katherine E. Quesenberry, DVM, MPH, DABVP (Avian) ; Kenneth R. Boschert, DVM, DACLAM, Associate Director, Division of Comparative Medicine, Washington University

Many health problems of chinchillas can be avoided by providing a proper and consistent diet, appropriate housing, a clean source of water, nonabrasive bedding material, and frequent disinfection and sanitation of the cage and water bottle with soap and water.

Housing

Because chinchillas tend to be more active than some rodents, large, multi-level cages with ramps, perches, and platforms are recommended. Avoid plastic-coated wire. If wire mesh is used, the grid on the sides of the cage should be no wider than 1 by 2 inches (25 by 50 millimeters). The openings on the bottom of cages with a wire bottom should be no wider than ½ by ½ inches (15 by 15 millimeters). Wire-bottomed cages allow droppings to go through to the tray below. However, a solid area made from wood or hard plastic should be provided to allow a rest from standing on the wire. Without such relief, chinchillas can develop sore feet and a condition known as bumblefoot.

Safe and Unsafe Wooden Items*

Safe

Unsafe

Apple

Cedar

Ash

Cherry

Birch

Citrus wood (orange, lemon, grapefruit)

Elm

Fresh pine

Hazelnut

Oleander

Manzanite

Plum

Maple

Redwood

Pear

Pine (without phenol oils)

*Never use a wooden item that has been treated with chemicals or sprayed with pesticides, as these may be toxic to your chinchilla.

An appropriate bedding material, such as kiln-dried pine or recycled paper bedding, allows a place into which the chinchilla can snuggle. Chinchillas also seem to prefer having a place to hide within their cage. This can be accommodated with materials such as small sections of PVC piping, which has the additional advantage of being easy to clean (just place in the dishwasher). Any wooden items used as part of the cage, as bedding materials, or as toys should be safe and nontoxic see Table: Safe and Unsafe Wooden Items*.

Dust Baths

A regular dust bath helps keep the chinchilla’s fur clean and groomed.

Commercial dust baths, or mixtures of silver sand and Fuller’s earth (9:1), 2 to 4 inches deep, should be offered to chinchillas daily for about 10 minutes. This satisfies the chinchilla’s desire to keep itself clean and groomed and is necessary to maintain the animal’s healthy skin and fur. Such mixtures should not remain in the cage for long periods of time because they will become soiled with chinchilla droppings and food debris.

Diet

In the wild, chinchillas eat a diet of high-fiber plants. Commercial pelleted diets formulated for chinchillas (available at most pet stores) provide adequate nutrition alone, but should be supplemented with high-quality hay to provide needed roughage in the diet. Hay should be stored in a well-ventilated, dry area and fed fresh daily. Chinchillas enjoy treats such as fresh or dried fruits (apples, grapes, or raisins), unsalted sunflower seeds, and dry oatmeal; however, treats should be very limited to encourage your chinchillas to eat a complete diet of pellets. Hay and fruit not eaten within a day should be removed to avoid the growth of mold. If a proper diet is provided, there is usually no need for any nutritional supplements to be given.

Chinchillas’ digestive systems are very sensitive. New ingredients in the diet should be introduced slowly to help prevent intestinal disorders. Gradually increase the amount of new food mixed in with the existing food over several weeks so your chinchilla has time to adjust to the new food. Chinchilla droppings are typically dry, and eating their own droppings is normal.

Fresh water should be available at all times. Providing water in a water bottle instead of a bowl decreases the chances of contamination. Watering systems should be washed thoroughly at least every other day to prevent contamination by opportunistic bacteria that can cause illness or death.

Exercise

Routine exercise is necessary for the health of your chinchilla. A roomy cage with toys is important. A 15-inch wheel provides running exercise, and chew toys and wooden parrot toys offer distractions to keep chinchillas from becoming bored. A 4-inch T- or Y-shaped PVC pipe gives your chinchilla a place to hide. Allowing chinchillas out of their cages for greater exercise and freedom of movement is acceptable; however, it is recommended that they be put in a “chinchilla-proof” room, wire pen, or plastic ball made for chinchillas. Otherwise, they require close supervision to prevent them from chewing furniture, electrical wires, walls, or other items.

Temperament

Chinchillas are easy-mannered and curious. If handled regularly when they are young, chinchillas can become quite tame and bond with their owners. Unless stressed, they rarely bite. Because chinchillas are nocturnal, they will sleep most of the day and be very active and playful in the evenings and at night. They should be kept in a fairly quiet area during the day.

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* This is the Veterinary Version. *