Chinchilla Fast Facts
The domestic chinchilla is descended from chinchillas native to the Andes mountain range in South America. The chinchilla is a crepuscular rodent, meaning it is most active at dawn and dusk, and has continuously growing teeth that require a ready material for chewing to keep in check.
The wild chinchilla is usually some variant of grey in color. However, selective breeding in captivity has produced a wide range of possible colors and fur types in our domestic chinchillas. With proper care and good genetics, chinchillas can live between 10-20 years.
Below are some guidelines for basic chinchilla care.
Feeding: Chinchillas should always have access to fresh water, unlimited food, and hay. Food should consist of a commercial pellet diet without added “extras” such as seeds and nuts. Water should be given in a glass bottle and changed routinely. Hay can be given in loose or cubed form and is essential for keeping chinchilla teeth ground down to a healthy level. Treats, if given, should be fed infrequently and consist only of plain Cheerios, shredded wheat, old-fashioned rolled oats, or rose hips. Fresh fruits and vegetables can be deadly and should never be given.
Housing: Chinchilla cages come in many shapes and sizes. Our best recommendation is to buy the cage that best suits your space and lifestyle. We find the the Midwest Critter Nation or Ferret Nation-style cages are the most common and popular; for our own pet animals, we utilize Martin’s Cages-style. Regardless of which cage you decide on,
Remove (or cover with fleece) any plastic in the cage;
Ensure there are at least a couple of levels for your chinchilla to jump to. Ramps are not necessary unless the chinchilla is somehow handicapped;
If you have a tall cage (such as a double Critter or Ferret Nation), ensure there is at least one hammock placed in the middle of the cage to catch a chinchilla if they happen to fall;
Use only pine/aspen shavings or fleece. Cedar is toxic, and paper-based bedding such as CareFresh can expand in the stomach and cause impaction.
Temperature: Air conditioning is a non-negotiable part of owning a chinchilla. Because these rodents come from an arid desert climate high in the mountains they do best in a cool, dry environment. We recommend owners keep their chins in a space between 60-70 degrees Fahrenheit that is free of drafts and has low humidity.
Bathing: Chinchillas bathe in a crushed stone mixture. This dust bath penetrates deep into their extremely dense fur and helps keep their coat soft and well maintained. Offer your chinchilla a bath one to three times per week (fewer in winter when the air is dry, more in the summer when humidity levels increase) in a glass or metal container that they cannot chew on. Do not leave the bath in their cage for longer than 15 minutes at a time to avoid urine contamination, and do not over-dust, which can cause dry skin.
Playtime: Some owners enjoy giving their chinchillas out-of-cage playtime in a secure room. While we do not recommend playtime for chinchillas, if you are inclined to do so, remove any items a chinchilla may injure itself on or chew and remember to keep the area cool. Limit playtime to one half hour per day, maximum, and remember that animals younger than six months of age should never receive playtime.
Links for further reading:
Mutation Chinchilla Breeders Association
Empress Chinchilla Breeders Cooperative