Chinchillas make great pets. Just stroking them is a pleasure. Their fur is the softest in the world — thirty times softer than human hair. Many chinchillas are gregarious and enjoy interacting with people, although there is a wide range of sociability. Each chinchilla has its own personality!
You need a few items and some basic knowledge to keep your chinchilla safe and healthy.
- CAGE Your chinchilla's cage should at the very least be 24 inches long, 24 inches wide, and 18 inches high. A larger cage is great if you have the space. Chinchillas are active creatures and will enjoy running around the walls. A small carrying cage for trips is useful too. The cage should be made of galvanized wire mesh with a metal tray floor. Wooden and plastic cages can be dangerous! Chinchillas chew, and they can die from ingesting plastic bits or treated wood.
- CAGE PLACEMENT Chinchillas cannot sweat, so their cages must be kept in cool areas. The room temperature should never be more than 80 ° Fahrenheit, and the air should circulate freely. Overheating can be fatal. If your chinchilla is lethargic and the veins in his ears are prominent, move him to a cooler area immediately! A small fan will also help bring your chinchilla's temperature down to a safe range. Chinchilla fur, like goose down or the undercoat of some dogs, retains heat by trapping warm air close to the skin. That's why fur coats and down-filled comforters are warmer than others. The breeze from the fan ruffles the chinchilla's coat and pulls the hot air away from its body, which has a cooling effect.
Chinchillas are easily startled by sudden movements and loud noises. They are usually happiest when the cage is placed against a wall or even in a corner.
- FOOD DISH AND WATER BOTTLES Some cages come with food dishes and water bottles provided. A chinchilla's food dish does not have to be large, but it should be of an unchewable material (no plastic!). It should either be clipped to the side of the cage or be too heavy for your chinchilla to move it or tip it over. Water bottles should be clipped to the outside of the cage. There should be a metal guard between the cage and the bottle, so that the chinchilla can't chew it. Make sure the tip is clean and change the water daily.
- CHEWING TOYS Chinchillas need to chew! Their teeth never stop growing, so they have to be worn down by chewing. A block of untreated pine wood about eight inches long is the best chewing toys. Grapevine, willow, mulberry, pear, and cottonwood are also safe. Blocks of pumice stone are also good chewing toys. Never give a chinchilla a toy that has been painted, stained, or chemically treated in any way. Red cedar and citrus woods have a resin that is toxic to chinchillas.
- DUST BATH Wild chinchillas roll in the dust to clean themselves, and providing a dust bath is the best way to groom a pet chinchilla. Use a shallow metal bin filled with an inch of sepiolita sand. Leave the dust bath in the cage for fifteen or twenty minutes, and the chinchilla will roll around and clean himself. Chinchillas should bathe two or three times a week. Don't try to give a chinchilla a water bath. Their fur is extremely thick and does not dry easily, making them vulnerable to skin fungi. Chinchilla fur is so dense that fleas and other skin parasites can't live on one. They grow fifty or more hairs from each hair follicle (humans grow on hair per follicle), averaging more than 20,000 hairs per square centimeter.
- BEDDING A few sheets of newspaper on the bottom of the cage is sufficient and is easy to replace every day. If you choose to use soft bedding, kiln-dried pine shavings are acceptable. Red cedar bedding contains phenols, which are toxic to chinchillas, so it should never be used. Bedding should be changed at least once per week.
- FOOD A chinchilla's digestive system is delicate, so it's best to stick with one brand of pelleted feed specially formulated for them. Rabbit pellets are not an adequate substitute. Chinchillas also need hay on a daily basis. It should be free of dust and smell sweet. Feed a timothy pay if the pellets are alfalfa-based or an alfalfa hay if the pellets are timothy-based. Infrequent treats are fine — never more than once a day or in large amounts. Chinchillas enjoy a raisin or a Cheerio.
- EXERCISE A chinchilla will make a racetrack of the sides of his cage. A couple of wooden shelves or perches will give him the chance to jump from one to the other. Most exercise wheels are unsafe for chinchillas. Remember that chinchillas are nocturnal animals. They'll do most of their running at night.