Chinchillas: Housing

By Gregory Rich, DVM; Laurie Hess, DVM; Rick Axelson, DVM

What type of cage does my pet chinchilla require?

The cage should allow the chinchilla to move around a lot, as they are very active, agile, and acrobatic animals. Multilevel cages, similar to those designed for ferrets, work well, as long as there are no areas where a chinchilla could get its limbs or feet caught. The enclosure should be a minimum of 4' x 4' x 3' for a single chinchilla. Like other rodents, chinchillas love to chew, and therefore wire-mesh cages are preferred to wooden cages. DO NOT use galvanized wire, as it contains zinc, which can be toxic if ingested. To decrease the likelihood of foot trauma (which can cause a condition called pododermatitis or 'sore hocks'), many veterinarians recommend covering at least a part of a wire cage floor with Plexiglass, non-treated wood, or other easily-cleaned solid flooring. Solid flooring will take some of the pressure (from the wire cage bottom) off of the chinchilla’s toes and feet. Try to let your pet out of the cage with supervision as often as possible. Keep the cage in a quiet area to minimize exposure to sudden movements and noise.

NOTE: A chinchilla-specific exercise wheel is essential for exercise and preventing boredom. Wheels should have solid flooring and should be 15” in diameter.

What temperature should my chinchilla be housed at?

Chinchillas are very susceptible to heat stroke; optimal environmental temperature is 55º – 68ºF (10º – 20ºC) and definitely below 80ºF (27ºC). It is recommended to keep humidity levels below 40 – 50%.

My pet seems lonely. Can I house more than one chinchilla in each cage?

Most owners house one or two pets in a cage; often the two pets are mates. While chinchillas are social pets that usually get along with others, injury and death can occur from fighting, so be sure to monitor any chinchillas exposed to each other for the first time. Consider a gradual introduction at first, perhaps in adjacent cages for several days to weeks.

"If you plan to house chinchillas together, it is generally best to obtain them together as youngsters."

Care should be taken when introducing a new pet chinchilla into your resident chinchilla's cage. Supervise all new introductions. If you plan to house chinchillas together, it is generally best to obtain them together as youngsters, when they are more trainable and adaptable.

What can I place in my chinchilla's cage?

Pet-safe wood blocks or non-toxic commercially available branches, such as apple wood sticks, that are pet safe can be placed in the cage to allow the chinchilla to chew and to help keep its continuously growing teeth worn down. A wooden or cardboard box can be offered for the pet to sleep in, hide in, and play on.

What is dust bathing?

Chinchillas have a unique grooming habit. They require a dust bath for normal grooming. Dust baths help keep down the oil in their coats and help keep them clean. A dust box for bathing should be at least 6" x 6" x 9" and have 1” – 2” of dust in the bottom.

"Chinchillas require a dust bath for normal grooming."

Dust baths should be provided for 10 - 15 minutes daily and removed after use. The 'dust' should be purchased commercially at either at a local pet store or online. Since the dust can become soiled with urine and feces, you should change the dust every week for hygienic reasons.

What about toys?

You can provide your chinchilla with pet-safe wooden chew toys. The smallest piece of the toy should be too big to be swallowed by the chinchilla. Chinchillas are shy and love to hide. Providing them with 4" - 5" diameter PVC tubing or similar sized cardboard tubing will give your pet hours of entertaining exploration.

Does my pet chinchilla need bedding material in his cage?

Soft, commercially available paper-based bedding or fleece liners are proper bedding materials for chinchillas, as they are gentle on the soles of their feet and absorb moisture from droppings. This bedding should be spot-cleaned daily and completely replaced weekly. Cage lining material can be placed beneath the wire-mesh bottom of the cage. Newspaper is inexpensive and works well as a cage lining material underneath the wire or mesh grate. Do not use cedar or pine shavings in the cage, because they may be a source of irritation to the respiratory tract. Wood shavings can also obstruct the chinchilla’s gastrointestinal tract if they ingest it.

Is there anything else I need to know?

Cages should be emptied and cleaned at least weekly with soap and water (rinse well to ensure no soap residue is left). Food bowls and water bottles should be cleaned daily with soap and water. Toys also should be cleaned regularly to ensure that they are free of food debris and droppings. Yearly veterinary health examinations are recommended for all chinchillas.

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