Top Tips – Caring for Chinchillas
Chinchillas are South American rodents with wonderfully soft coats and large eyes. They are incredibly cute and so are proving to be popular pets. But these animals have relatively complex needs which must be met if they are to be happy living in your home.
Chinchillas are highly active animals and so require a large environment in which to live and need interesting areas to explore. You must provide a spacious cage and access to an exercise area which is both mentally and physically stimulating. You should select the largest cage that you are able to accommodate. It must be highly robust and feature wooden shelves at various different levels. These should be carefully arranged so that there are no uninterrupted drops greater than 60cm in case of falls.
It is crucial to provide an exercise area but this does not have to be available to the chinchillas at all times. It is best if this area is connected to the cage so that the chinchillas can come and go as they please from the security of their home. The exercise area could be in the form of a playpen but this will require a roof to prevent the animals from escaping. The best option is to reserve an entire room for your pets but this must be chinchilla proofed.
Chinchillas are prolific chewers and could damage their teeth on many household items. Not to mention the havoc that they could wreak on your possessions. It is best to cover skirting boards and the lower portion of your walls. You should remove any electrical wires and cables or cover them with tubing. The floor should also be covered as the chinchillas won’t be fussy about where they urinate. Remove all items which you do not want to be chewed or which represent a threat to your pets.
The exercise area should feature a variety of distractions so that the animals can express their natural behaviours including chewing to keep their teeth down, hiding and jumping. Boxes, tunnels and tubes are all great inclusions. These items should be swapped or moved around regularly to keep the chinchillas interested in their environment.
Chinchillas are a prey species in the wild and so need somewhere to retreat to and hide when they feel threatened. Nesting boxes are the perfect solution and you should include one for each animal so that they can hide from each other when they feel the need.
Bedding should feature at the bottom of the cage to absorb waste material. The nesting boxes must have nesting materials for the chinchillas to rest on. Wood shavings, newspaper, shredded paper or recycled wood or cardboard litters are all suitable for bedding materials. Hay or soft, shredded paper bedding are ideal nesting materials.
You should remove droppings from the cage daily together with any damp bedding material. Clean the entire cage weekly and replace the bedding and nesting material. Your cleaning routine may stress the animals as they use scent to familiarise themselves with their environment. It helps if you use odourless cleaning products and retain some of the old bedding which you can replace in the cage together with the new material. Chinchillas are most active at night and so cleaning is best done in the evening in order to avoid disturbing their sleep.
The Home Environment
Cats and dogs must be kept away from chinchillas as they will stress the animals. In the wild the chinchilla’s principle predator is the owl and so they will feel threatened by any movements above them. The cage should therefore be raised off of the floor and there should be no ceiling fans in the room. The cage must not be positioned in close proximity to household appliances which are noisy as this will also stress the chinchillas.
The temperature in the chinchillas’ room is best kept between 16 and 25°C and the area around the cage must be free from draughts.
Chinchillas require a diet high in plant fibre and need access to hay at all times. The hay should be supplemented by 30g of pellets per animal per day and the occasional treat of leafy greens and dried herbs. In the wild, these animals spend much of their time foraging for food and so it is good to scatter the pellets around the cage and to hide pellets and some hay in boxes and tubes.
Chinchillas must dustbathe regularly to keep their fur clean. Make sure that your pet has access to a dust bath every day but their time with it should be limited to prevent eye irritation. You can purchase specialist bathing sand for the bath.
Chinchillas are social animals that live in large groups in the wild so providing appropriate company is important for their wellbeing. The animals can be kept in same sex pairs or groups, or a castrated male is fine with one or more females. Chinchillas kept together should be from the same litter or must be introduced to each other at an early age. Otherwise they could exhibit aggressive behaviour.
Should You Keep Chinchillas?
These animals can be costly to look after and are a long term commitment as they live for up to 20 years. They can be destructive creatures and they are messy. They need exercise and so you must have sufficient room to be able to provide them with the space to roam. They tend not to enjoy being handled and are mostly nocturnal and so are not great pets for children. But they are gorgeous and incredibly fascinating and so keeping chinchillas can be a highly rewarding experience.