|Basic Care & Needs|
There are several aspects which you need to take into consideration when getting a Chinchilla. Their basic requirements are relatively easy to maintain, but there are several things that you can do to enhance their quality of life. A good cage, accessories and toys are fundamental to ensuring both your Chinchilla's safety and happiness. Chinchillas also require quite a bit of time in regards to handling and playtime. Make sure you consider all of these aspects before buying a Chinchilla.
HOUSING: CAGES & ACCESSORIES
Chinchillas prefer to be housed in a cooler area of the home. They can become very unhappy and unwell if the temperature were to get above 70F, and have been known to die from heat stroke. It is also important to keep them in an area where they will not be exposed to too much noise and activity during the day.
Your Chinchilla will spend the majority of his time in his cage, so make sure that it is both interesting and safe. Suitable cages can be bought from your lacal pet shop or from a specialist supplier. The best type of cage has a pull out tray for droppings, and well placed wooden shelves (preferably made from untreated pine). If you get a cage with mesh shelves, I would recommend replacing them with wooden ones, so your Chinchilla has some relief for his padded feet. They should not have lots of plastic - coated bars or trays - as your Chinchilla will chew this and could become very ill. I also prefer long, wide cages as opposed to tall cages. Your Chin prefers an area in which he can jump around, and a fall of more than 15 inches can do him a lot of harm. If you do have a tall cage, ensure that the shelves are positioned to minimise the risk of injury. If you are considering breeding, then I would recommend that you do not get a tall cage. Kits can be very active, and are good climbers, but a big fall could easily kill them! The minimum cage size for 2 Chinchillas is appoximately 3' long x 2' high x 1 1/2' deep. If you have the space, however, make the cage as large as you like. The size of the mesh is also important: you should have 1/2" square for the floor, and 3/4" square for the sides - injuries can easily occur with anything larger than this.
Every cage should have a sleeping/ nest box, or an area where your Chin can retreat to. I like to put mine at the base of the cage. This way, when litters arrive, the kits do not have to stuggle to get back to mom. All of my Chinchillas have a nest box and cardboard tubes attached to the side of the cage. They tend to kip in the tubes, but sleep in their box for the majority of the day. You could even use a small cardboard box, but do ensure you have an endless supply, as lots of Chins are in the demolition business! Do make sure that whatever you use is safe for you Chinchilla - no selotape, staples or visible nails!
All Chinchillas need to have a daily sand bath to ensure their fur remains clean and in good condition. This must be in a specialist Chinchilla dust/ sand. An ideal containe rwould be made of metal, and needs to be large enough for them to roll properly in the sand. Mine all have their bath during playtime, but you can put it in the cage if that suits you better. Do not leave it in for more than a couple of hours though, as over-bathing can cause skin problems.
FOOD & TREATS
A Chinchilla's staple diet can be sustained very easily. The best food in my opinion is a simple Chinchilla pellet. They require approximately 60g a day (some will eat more, others less, dependant on size). I use heavy rabbit dishes, but always put them somewhere where they cannot fall and harm your Chinchilla. Another option is a stainless steel bowl attached to the side of the cage. They also require fresh hay daily; meadow hay or timothy hay are the best - do not use bedding hay. Grass or alfalfa are another option instead of hay. Mine all have hay balls in their cages, which serve as agood container and a toy! (I would advise that you remove the chain, and clip the hay ball directly above a shelf - I recently heard about a Chinchilla dying when its head got stuck in a suspended hay ball). Hay racks are also very good, as are coconut shells (with a hole in one end). You shoul not really put the hay loose in the cage, as it can become easily soiled. Fresh water should also be available at all times.
All teats must be given in moderation - no more than 2 a day. You can buy specialist Chinchilla treats; such as Chinchilla Crackers or Vitakraft Nibble Rings. Other good treats are small pieces of apple, grapes, raisins, or the occassional peanut or sunflower seed. Once a week, I give mine a Chinchilla Charcoal Biscuit, which are good for their digestion.
A mineral block or cuttlefish are a "must-have" addition to you Chinchilla's cage: both as a nutritional supplement, and to help maintain his teeth. They are rich in calcium which is very important to your Chinchillas health. During pregnancy and lactation, your Chinchilla may require additional nutritional supplements. I use a solution which is added to the water to ensure that my females remain healthy.
There are so many things that you can buy for your Chinchilla, that I could not possibly mention them all. Try not to clutter the cage with too many toys - Chinchillas like space to jump around in, as well as having things to ineract with. Wheels are quite controversial, as Chinchillas can easily get caught or damage their back's whilst running around. The "flying saucer wheel" is safe, but quite costly. Chinchillas love to chew, and there are several types of wood that are safe for them: apple, pear, hazlenut, willow and pine (if clean of phenol oils). Your Chinchilla will loving chewing, stripping bark and jumping accross branches that you put into his cage. You must never give a Chinchilla wood from a fruit tree which contains a stone, or fresh pine. Various other items can be attached in your Chinchilla's cage: tubes, log rolls, cholla, coconut shells and hanging wooden toys. There are lots of parrot toys which are suitable for Chins. Log rolls can provide hours of entertainment, and are also good to chew! Willow products - such as rings and balls - are good to sling around and chew up! Do remember that they can destroy things very quickly, with little regard of how much you paid for it. Some of the best accessories can be made by yourself, and a cardboard box with holes cut into it can provide hours of entertainment!
Always make sure that any wooden toys are made from suitable woods for Chinchillas, and be vigilant about any small metal pieces on toys.
Whenever you get a new Chinchilla, allow him a few days to settle in. Chinchillas from good breeders have normally been well handled, but do allow him time to get used to you and your routine. Treats are a good way to start getting him to approach you. Put your hand inside the cage, and speak gently to him, whilst offering a treat. Once he is comfortable with you, he will most likely climb onto you hand and wait for attention. Whenever you hold your Chinchilla, ensure that he is firmly supported and feels secure - they can wriggle a lot and will often try to jump out of your arms - Chinchillas are not really "cuddling animals"!
Your Chinchilla really needs to come out any play - mine all come out every day, even if its only for 10-15 minutes. Please make sure that you play area is secure - they can run very fast, and will chew through cables in seconds. My Chinchillas have a variety of things to interact with during their playtime: their sand bath, log rolls, cardboard tubes and avariety of home-made cardboard items to run throgh and destroy! Playtime is as much fun for me as it is for them - you never quite know what they are going to do next! Not all Chinchillas are willing to be caught when playtime is over - do not chase them round a room as they will become anxious and less-inclined to be your friend! Try to train them to go into a cat basket or something similar to ease the stress of being caught.
Be patient: it can take some time to win round your new Chin, but you will eventually build a special, trusting relationship.