Chinchilla care sheet: the essentials

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CHINCHILLA CARE SHEET: THE ESSENTIALS
Hyperlinked references located on: http://www.chincare.com/HealthLifestyle/HealthLifestyle.htm#essentials


Vet care
It is absolutely necessary that a chinparent researches in advance and keeps on hand the information (name, location, office hours, after-hours emergency facility, etc.) for a nearby exotics specialist veterinarian. Chinchillas don't require check-ups (or vaccinations) after their initial vet examination (when they're brought home for the first time), but we strongly advise getting a yearly head x-ray because that is the only way to confirm and address malocclusion at the earliest stage. In the event that there are adverse changes in the chinchilla's health maintenance indicators, the expert care of an exotics specialist vet is required; this underscores the importance of keeping an emergency fund in preparation for such a situation.
The following must be available at all times, do not ration, these will not be over-consumed:
Fresh pellets made specifically for chins, see specifications and pellet brand analysis on Nutrition.
Distilled or filtered water, see article for details about parasites and other water contamination.
A variety of fresh hays to encourage consumption and to keep continuously growing molars ground down.

A variety of safe, effective chew toys of varying hardness, to encourage gnawing interest and to keep continuously growing incisors trimmed.

An indoors, temperature-controlled environment that does not exceed 70 degrees Fahrenheit!
The temperature in a chin's environment should never exceed 70°F, at 80°F they're facing brain damage, heatstroke and death. We concur with New Hope Animal Hospital: "Ideal conditions are 60°F to 70°F with a humidity level of 40% to 60%." (
ref- New Hope Animal Hospital) See Heat and Humidity Can Be Life-Threatening for details about preventative measures, keeping cool and emergency procedures.
An environment that is safe, moderately active and allows for sufficient daytime rest.

Many items marketed "for" chinchillas are in fact harmful, even lethal: wheels with spokes, plastic cage parts or accessories and cedar bedding to name a few, see Safety Index. Chinchillas need a moderately active environment, one that provides enough exercise, activity and interaction to prevent boredom (a variety of chew toys, a cage wheel and TV during waking hours provides environmental stimulation) but not so much as to overwhelm them with environmental stress factors. Chinchillas are chiefly nocturnal but can be crepuscular, i.e., active at twilight in morning and evening. Sufficient daytime rest includes having a hideaway (tube, hammock, house- no plastic- and one hideaway for each cohabitating chin can help prevent cagemate conflicts) in their cage as well as a cage location that is relatively quiet and secure (away from prying pets, excessive household traffic) so as to be conducive to daytime sleeping.

Regular out-of-cage exercise and bonding time, an exercise wheel for inside the cage is also strongly recommended. See Exercise for details about out-of-cage exercise, how to prevent accidents and chin-proofing, and which wheels are safe to use. Read Chuffy's story, exercise directly impacts chinchilla health and longevity, it's also the best time to bond with your chinchilla.
Fresh chinchilla dustbath offered in an appropriate container. See Grooming for details about types of dust, appropriate containers, combs and frequency of bathing.




Cage Accessories should never be made of plastic or other hazardous material. Chins need at least these two accessories for their cage:

1) A hideaway to relax and sleep in such as:
Wooden house, for example: Chin Hut, XL Woodland Get-A-Ways, Link N Lodge, Large Tropical Hide Outs
Ceramic container or metal tube (pointy edges sanded down)
Cloth hideaway, for example: The Day Bed, hammock, Cuddl-E-Cup with strap removed, Comf-E-Cube. Chins do appreciate the soothing comfort of cloth (photo), but it should have no strings, fringe or loose weave to avoid problems associated with accidental ingestion.

2) Something to relieve the constant pressure of standing on wire mesh, such as a mat made of natural material like seagrass or maize (mats are great in hideaways that have no floor), a large wooden shelf or perches, or a pillowcase folded in half and placed under their hut.

See Supplier's search for more purchasing options. There should be a hideaway for each cohabitating chin because sometimes even bonded pairs need their own space. Read about the importance of cage accessories in Preventing Group Conflicts.

Housing big enough to accomodate running and playing, the larger the cage, the better, in height as well as width!

Does a cage HAVE to be large? YES!! You can tell the difference between a prison cell and a home, and so can your chin! Failure to provide a large cage can result in health and behavioral problems, the small battery cages used on fur farms are no measure of what a pet chinchilla cage should be.

See Martin's Highrise at 30"x 18"x 48", THAT is a cage large enough to suit one, at most two chinchillas. Quality Cage Company's Chinchilla Mansion at 30"x 24"x 48" will comfortably accomodate two chins and Martin's Townhouse at 36"x 30"x 60" can house up to four. Never overcrowd a cage, that can cause fighting as well as serious health and behavioral problems. It is generally inadviseable to keep more than four chinchillas in one cage.

SEE: Cage Cleaning, Vital Safety Issues
CAGE EXAMPLES: a fantastic setup, story of good cage/ bad cage and Homemade Cage Designs

Unlike some other caged pets, chinchillas use their cage walls for jumping on, springing off of and running against as they play. Most pet store cages do not feature safe mesh width, that is, a mesh size small enough to prevent foot and leg breaks. Cages with safe mesh width (1" x ½" -OR- ¾" x ¾" for the cage walls and ½" x ½" for floors, shelves and ramps) tend to be either homemade or ordered online. Ferret or rabbit cages are usually NOT suitable for chinchillas, due to overall size (too small) or mesh width (too large).



In our opinion the two best cage suppliers, which ship worldwide and have all-metal, galvanized and safe mesh width cages, are:
Martin's Cages: the Townhouse or Highrise sizes
Quality Cage Company: the Mansion or Townhome sizes, just be sure to get the 1" x ½" mesh on the sides when ordering, for safety reasons, not just for containing kits.

Cages can be tall, height isn't a problem since in the wild they traverse the Andes mountains by jumping between rocks over rough terrain (chins are rock hoppers in the wild!), however, it IS important to space shelves and perches (no plastic!) so that they can land or catch their balance before taking off again. Females that are near their birthing date or are nursing must be housed in a single level cage to prevent climbing, curious kits from experiencing accidents.


Ramps may or may not be adviseable depending on the cage size, layout, health, handicap and age/ eyesight of the chin. In a large cage where shelves and perches are placed in a way that facilitates navigation, then ramps would indeed just take up space and get in the way, even more so with a smaller cage. However, when a chin has poor health, is lame or handicapped, or is older and has diminished eyesight, then ramps provide a necessary navigational advantage.



As mentioned previously, chinchillas need an INDOORS, temperature-controlled environment, and thus the chin's cage must be located indoors. Place the cage in a location where the household noise and traffic is minimal and other pets won't pry while the chin is trying to sleep during the day. There should be plenty of ventilation and air circulation but not drafts such as would occur near an outside door. It should go without saying that an aquarium-type housing arrangement is totally unacceptable, the glass dangerously amplifies heat while denying sufficient air circulation.

Positioning the cage securely on a sturdy table, stand or something that can raise it to the height of approximately your eye level is a very good idea, because as small animals of prey, the advantage of height makes chinchillas feel empowered, safe, and on a more equal and amicable standing with their chinparent.


The cage must NOT be located where the chin is constantly exposed to direct sunlight. From the Heat and Humidity Can Be Life-Threatening section: "Sunlight itself is definitely not bad for chins, in fact, they're known to sun themselves on rocks in the wild. HOWEVER, in the wild they can get up and walk away when direct sunlight increases heat intensity beyond their ability to cope, whereas in captivity they are not in control of where their cage or carrier is placed. So be advised, sunlight is actually GOOD for chins just as long as it is not direct sunlight that is ALSO capable of causing an increase in heat intensity."


Exposure to excessive household chaos, marauding pets, direct sunlight (as described above), insufficient air circulation and overcrowding, etc., MUST be avoided because these things can cause heatstroke, anti-social behavior, fungus, fur biting and other stress and disease-related problems.




How to House a Chinchilla e.How
Comparing wooden and wire cages Chinmaids Chinchilla Information Page




CAGE CLEANING

Your chinchilla's cage must be cleaned when you first get it, before it's put to use, see Safe vs. Toxic Metals. After that, it should be cleaned a minimum of once weekly. Chinchillas in good health have odorless fecal droppings and urine, but the urine will gather odor if the cage is not cleaned regularly.



Baby Cornstarch Powder or Arm & Hammer Baking Soda (no Baby Powder, nothing containing talc!) can be sprinkled in pee corners to keep things fresh provided that the chin doesn't take an interest in eating the baking soda (tastes of salt, try cornstarch powder instead) or sticking his face into the pee corners continually, which could result in fungus.

Cages with solid flooring, where the chin is in regular contact with his bedding, will need that bedding kept fresh and the flooring kept continually clean and disinfected. Cages with a pull-out litter pan that keeps the chin above his litter and mess but that necessitate a wire mesh flooring may be objectionable to some people who prefer all solid flooring, but in any case flooring has no bearing on the prevention of callouses or Bumblefoot. Wire flooring makes it especially important that shelves, mats, etc. are provided for relief from the pressure of standing on wire mesh, see Cage Accessories.


If cleaning the cage at home, say, in your home's bathroom shower stall or in your backyard, be sure to disinfect it first by scrubbing the cage vigorously with a brush soaked in a pet-safe cleaner, then hose it off thoroughly with hot water from your shower attachment or garden hose. We used to take our cages to the self-serve car wash, just be sure that if you choose to lather and scrub your cage there that it gets rinsed VERY thoroughly afterward. A cage must be dried completely before returning the chin to it, otherwise a damp corner can host mold, i.e., fungus.




CAGE SAFETY ISSUES

We advise covering cages with a sheet (as described on Routines) for the following reasons:

The sheet will help contain mess and dust, and it makes a barrier between cages to prevent knowledge of (and contact with) the opposite sex or other chinchillas right next door. This is a PROXIMITY and SIGHT (not scent) issue; seeing other chins across the room or more than a few feet away is normally not a problem, but seeing them camped right next door often is and this can result in territorial anxiety (and excessively marking territory with urine), persistent or aggressive dominance mounting that can lead to cagemate conflicts, or anti-social (biting, urine-spraying) behavior that some chins may direct at their chinparent to convey their extreme stress and agitation.

Perhaps most importantly, covering the cage provides some privacy and seclusion which reassures the chin (especially high-strung chins) that the area within their domain is protected and secure; this is essential for daytime sleeping. Throughout our years of rescue work we've taken in chins that were high-strung, severely stressed and fur bitten that made rapid improvement due in large part to simply having their cage covered. When a small animal of prey feels trapped, overly-exposed and vulnerable, it can be a stress factor.



Safe mesh width is 1" x ½" -OR- ¾" x ¾" for the cage walls and ½" x ½" for floors, shelves and ramps. Anything smaller than that is fine, but anything exceeding that size is extremely hazardous!!

Chinchillas aren't like some other pets, they don't just sit placidly in their cage, they like to run along and bounce off the cage walls and if the mesh width is too large, it can easily snap their thin, fragile leg or foot bones when they go right through it. Read the housing article for cage recommendations.


Accidents caused by unsafe mesh width are not uncommon and the consequences are severe and costly to both chin and chinparent, typically resulting in amputation or death from stress-related shock if the problem goes undiscovered and the chin is left dangling by the trapped limb for hours. Safe mesh width isn't just important to those who breed and don't want babies escaping from the cage, EVERY chin needs this specific mesh size, or smaller, FOR SAFETY REASONS! Unsafe mesh width is the main reason that most ferret and rabbit cages are unsuitable for chins.

We have noted that chins who have always been kept in a cage with unsafe mesh width may be less inclined to run along or bounce off the cage walls, perhaps because they've assessed the danger in doing so from the outset, but this is no guarantee that they never will. And chinchillas that are accustomed to safe mesh width (and how it accomodates running and bouncing off the cage walls) are more likely to experience an accident if they are moved to a cage with UNsafe mesh width due to the likelihood that they'll resume their former activity. In any event, UNSAFE MESH WIDTH IS *ALWAYS* AN ACCIDENT WAITING TO HAPPEN!

"Tibial Fractures: Transverse or spiral traumatic fractures of the tibia are commonly seen when chinchillas accidentally catch their legs on wire caging." (ref- merckvetmanual.com)




From Chinchilla Chat Line's article on Caging: "As founder/director of the Chinchilla Chat Line I receive many telephone calls every year. Amongst these calls are numerous enquiries from distressed owners who have found their favourite pet hanging upside down by its rear leg. Caught in a mesh wire cage and unable to dislodge its limb, in some cases the animal has struggled furiously to no avail and resolve the situation by biting off the trapped leg. This is rare, however, and broken legs are treated by veterinary practitioners giving owners three possible options of setting, amputation or euthanasia. Setting can take up to ten weeks in treatment and costs in the region of £250. Amputation is a cheaper treatment but impairs the animals' quality of life (a chinchilla's 'power-house' is their rear legs and tail base, which makes them such athletes, especially in jumping)."


HOMEMADE CAGE DESIGNS (scroll to view, remember that chewing hazards include plastic)
Allison's Chinchillas/ BELCHIN/ Bettina's Fluffy Chins/ Chinchilla Chat Line/ Chinchilla Cymru/ Chinchilla Hideaway/
Chinchilla-Lexicon/ Chinchilla Life/ ChinOlympus/ Collings' Cage/ Critternation.com/ DMAL Chins/
Draconis Rats and Chinchillas/ Ebony Dragon Chinchillas/ Ed's Chinnie Haven/ Em's Chin Cage/ Goof's/
Hapagirl.com/ Lisa's Chinchillas/ Mayfair Chinchillas/ My Chinchillas/ Nick & Julie's Chinchillas/

Northeast Scotland Chinchillas/ Our Chinchillas/ Pets.com.sg/ PicxieChins/ Renee Harris: Chin Cages/
Ron's Chinchilla Cage Page/ Spoiled Chins/ Sunrise Chinchillas/ The Chinchillaburg/



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