Set up a home sweet home for your chinchillas
What do you need to create the perfect home for your chins? A spacious chinchilla cage that features lots of climbing and jumping opportunities, tasty chinchilla food and things to gnaw on, a chinchilla dust bath and some cosy nest boxes – check out what else is on your small pets’ wish list...
Chinchillas might by super cute small balls of fluff, but, when they’re not snoozing in a hairy huddle, they’re naturally very active and need plenty of space to explore, run and jump around in accommodation that’s placed in a suitable setting.
Chinchillas are crepuscular – which means they’re active at dawn and dusk and will prefer to be located in a calm, quiet part of your home. Noises and vibrations from TVs and music systems can make these small pets stressed. They also don’t like drafts or too much heat – so don’t place their enclosure next to a window or a radiator.
Chinchillas have very thick coats and can quickly overheat. Temperatures over 30°C can be deadly. Pet rehoming charity Wood Green advises: “Chinchillas can be very sensitive to the wrong environment, so choose their location carefully. Ideally, the room temperature should be around 10-15°C. They will not tolerate high temperatures as this leads to large amounts of moulting, lack of interest in food and lethargy.”
DID YOU KNOW?
Chinchillas originate from the rocky slopes of the Andes Mountains of South America and are perfectly adapted for life at high altitude. Their dense fur (each hair follicle has 60 to 90 individual hairs – compared to a human’s, which typically has one hair per follicle) efficiently protects them from the cold and their hairless, fleshy footpads helps them grip rocky surfaces.
A room of their own
Veterinary charity PDSA advises: “We recommend giving your chinchillas a large indoor enclosure or, if possible, giving them their own room in your house. It’s also good to give them a safe and secure exercise area outside of their enclosure. This will provide them the space they need to exercise, explore and act naturally. Cages often aren’t big enough for chinchillas to live in happily, so we wouldn’t recommend them as the right home for your pet. If you have to keep your chinchillas in a cage, It should be at least 2 metres high, 2 metres wide, and 1 metre deep. It should give your chinchillas enough space that they can get away from each other if they want to. The cage should give them plenty of room to run around. If this isn’t possible, they’ll need a safe exercise area outside of the cage for them to use every day.”
A safe haven for champion chewers
Chinchillas love to chew things so their home should be indestructibly chin-proof. A wire enclosure is durable and easy to clean but will need a solid floor with soft bedding on it. Chins can develop ‘pododermatitis’ – a condition that causes swollen feet and sores on the bottom of their paws – if they spend too much time standing on bare wire. Line to floor with dust-free wood pulp or shredded paper bedding (dusty bedding can cause eye and lung problems). Another option is meadow hay, which is not only soft, but good to munch on too. Sprinkle a few Chinchilla Nuggets and some Mountain Meadow Herbs in it so your pets can enjoy some foraging fun.
DID YOU KNOW?
Chinchillas feed in the early morning and late evening and eat by sitting on their haunches, holding the food in their forepaws. They have very sensitive digestive systems and, in the wild, eat grasses, leaves, twigs, bark, roots, stems and seeds.
A great space to explore and jump around
You’ll need to make their home interesting and exciting because chins love to explore and, if they don’t have enough to do, they’re likely to get bored, which is no good for their health and wellbeing.
Two of a chinchilla’s favourite things to do are chewing and jumping, so it’s important that their accommodation is furnished with plenty of engaging opportunities, such as:
- Twigs and stumps or apple, pear or willow tree branches to chew on and wear down their continuously growing teeth. Gnaw Sticks will also be a popular snack.
- Wooden platforms – chinchillas love to show off their jumping skills, hopping from level to level. These are great for breaking up the space and preventing falls from a height. Place a variety at different levels so that if your chins accidentally fall off a platform, they won’t drop more than 60cm.
- Chins degus love shredding stuff, so paper bags, toilet or kitchen rolls stuffed with hay will go down a treat. Also stock up on Coconut Leaf Twists and Banana Leaf Balls wrapped in seagrass string.
- Boxes, tunnels and tubes to play in. These will also give your chinchillas a safe place to hide – ensure there are no sharp edges to avoid injuries.
- A large exercise wheel with a good solid base (not one with rungs) can help your energetic chins get extra exercise.
- A dust bath – Ideally, allow your chinchillas access to a wide and shallow ceramic or metal container filled with special chinchilla dust several times a week to keep their fur and skin healthy. Place the tray in their cage for 24 hours at a time – don’t leave it in all the time as they may start using it as a toilet!
- Safe chew toys can help stop your chinchilla from getting bored. Have a selection of these and swap them around regularly to keep life exciting.
Be aware that there are a number of toys that should be avoided. Wood Green advises: “Ladders are not safe for chinchillas as they can cause leg injuries. As chinchillas are very fast and reactive, they can damage their legs or become caught on hanging items such as parrot or rodent ropes and swings. Soft plastic toys will be destroyed very quickly and may become dangerous. Avoid any toys that the chinchillas may trap their legs in while jumping about.”
DID YOU KNOW?
Chinchillas are highly social and, in the wild, live in colonies of more than 100 individuals. They communicate with each other through a variety of soft, high-pitched grunting noises, chirps, squeals and barks, which is why it is essential that pet chinchillas have another chinchilla to chatter to. Littermates will live happily together but if they are not the same sex make sure the male is neutered to prevent them breeding.
A selection of snug sleeping spots
Your chinchillas may choose to sleep on a platform or inside a hanging hammock or nesting box. To make it comfortable for them, line with soft, good quality hay. In the wild, chinchillas are hunted by other animals, so even as pets, they like to have a range of hiding places so they feel safe and secure. PDSA recommends: “Each of your chinchillas should have one of their own but it’s good to also give them a large nest box where they can curl up and hide together if they want to. We also recommend giving them a spare nest box so they have plenty of choice. Nest boxes should be quiet and secluded and around 25cm x 25cm x 25cm, lined with shredded paper or soft hay.”
Keeping your chins’ home spick and span
Good housekeeping is essential to ensure everything is safe and hygienic for your small pets. Use this opportunity to add a few new toys, such as a new apple branch or box for your chinchillas to explore. Here are PDSA’s top tips for keeping your chinchillas’ home clean and tidy:
- It’s best to clean them out during the evening when they’re naturally active, rather than waking them up in the morning.
- Chinchillas like being surrounded by their own smells so cleaning their enclosure can be quite stressful for them. To help your chinchillas feel at home after you clean them out, use an unscented pet-safe cleaner and keep back a handful of bedding that’s been used but is still clean. It’ll give your chinchillas a nice, familiar smell to come home to.
- Daily: Remove any bedding that is wet and dirty. Clear out any uneaten fresh food. Clean the food and water containers before refilling them.
- Weekly: Remove any dirty bedding, change the bedding on or below the enclosure floor and dust levels and platforms.
- Monthly: Strip the enclosure out completely. Scrub it thoroughly inside and out with a scent-free, pet-safe cleaner. Only let you chinchillas back in when their home is completely dry.
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CHINCHILLA FOOD THAT FITS THE BILL Chinchilla treats can be handy to encourage your pets to take food from your hand. But what food can chinchillas eat? And what else can you do to keep things fun and interesting for them?
HOW ARE YOUR CHINCHILLAS DOING TODAY? Unlike dogs, cats, rabbits and ferrets, chinchillas don’t require a yearly vaccination. This means that many are never taken to the vets for check-ups. That’s why it’s really important to give your chins a weekly health check yourself.
Sources: pdsa.org.uk, woodgreen.org.uk, rspca.org.uk, bluecross.org.uk