Ideally, a pet chinchilla’s cage must have containers for food and water and have sufficient hiding spots and shavings. In addition to that, it should also include an exercise wheel and some chew toys. Most pet chinchillas can achieve their exercise during their time outside the cage, but an exercise wheel would still be preferred to keep it entertained.
Once installed, an exercise wheel might not be immediately used by the chinchilla. Don’t worry or have regrets; it’s natural for animals to take a while to get used to something new, especially within its comfort zone. Some chinchillas will adapt to such changes much faster than others but don’t expect a new pet chinchilla to get acclimated right away. Over time, and once you have tamed your pet, the wheel will be used and be frequented for entertainment and exercising. If this idea interests you, below are some of the steps you might want to check on before purchasing or making any wheel for the cage.
Also, if your pet Chinchilla is already old and this is the first time that you will introduce it to an exercise wheel, then chances are it will adapt more slowly to this new change. Older Chinchillas find it much more difficult to adapt to various changes and will equally find it hard to get used to it. Sometimes, it can take a couple of weeks or even months before they get used to their new exercise wheel but that’s certainly fine.
Having a wheel in your pet’s cage can also help keep them healthy. Running on the wheels can definitely be a good form of exercise. Make sure though that the surface of the exercise wheel is solid.
Before getting a wheel for the cage, one should measure the door and floor area to make sure it will fit. Some cages have removable tops while others only accommodate a small opening, ideal to fit food and water trays into. You must be able to determine how you will put the wheel inside the cage without disturbing, startling your pet or risking an escape.
Fitting the wheel into the cage is just the beginning; you will also need to make sure that it is safe enough for your chinchilla to use. Chinchillas love the wheel, and they tend to run really fast on it, as most pet rodents do. Therefore, the surface should be solid. A narrower platform could cause the chinchilla to stumble, obtain toe or leg injuries. Chinchillas are delicate animals and are prone to fractures.
A 15-inch wheel is the most ideal to get for pet chinchillas because it is spacious enough to avoid causing spine damage. Also, don’t use wheels with spokes, the chinchilla can chew it off or get injured by it. I used and recommended both the Exotic Nutrition 15″ Chin-Sprint and the 15″ Chin Spin Chinchilla Wheel. These are the only two wheels I can recommend!
Although at first, it may seem cruel to you, the chins actually love their wheels and spend hours playing on it. Refrain from buying a cheap wheel at the pet store. These are DANGEROUS! First, they are not big enough to allow for proper stretching of the chinny’s back while running. Second, little feet can and often do get caught between the wire rungs of the wheel, or in between the support structures and the wheel itself. This will not only cause your chin a great deal of pain but you a large sum of money for vet fees. In most cases, the foot will have been injured so badly that amputation is necessary.
There are a couple of the most expensive “exercise” aids available to pet-owners these include giant-sized “exercise balls” and the (rarely available) chinchilla wheel.
In my opinion, exercise balls are wholly unsuitable for chinchillas. Chinchillas enjoy exploring their environment and not getting stuffed into a plastic bubble. Also, the rolling momentum of the ball makes it very hard for the chinchilla to stop in them, and they can quickly become over-heated and exhausted. This often results in chinchillas having fits. I, therefore, cannot recommend them.
Chinchilla wheels, on the other hand, are usually loved by chinchillas, once they have got the hang of them. They are getting much easier to get hold of in the US. Extra-large wheels, manufactured for rats are not suitable.
Chinchilla wheels need to be at least 15″ in diameter, have fully enclosed bearings, and be of solid construction (not runged) to protect tails and toes from getting trapped.
Chinchillas have teeth that grow continuously and need to be worn down which is why a chew toy is important. Chew toys prevent the excessive growth and keep chinchillas’ teeth healthy; otherwise, the growing teeth will keep the chinchilla from eating properly. In choosing or improvising a chew toy, don’t use anything made of plastic. Chinchillas can easily chew bits of it off and ingest the pieces and harm them. The same is advised when getting an exercise wheel.
There are plenty of toys available on the pet-market that is suitable for chinchillas. Most wooden items manufactured for pets make great “chews.” Chubes are excellent (vegetable cardboard tunnels), lava bites (made from pumice), the list is endless.
Avoid anything made from plastic or rubber, as if ingested by the chinchilla, could cause an intestinal blockage.
Various kinds of wood twigs and branches make excellent chew-sticks or “climbing-frames,” and the bark can be eaten to provide a treat that is excellent for dental health (as they require much chewing and may help to wear the teeth).
All wood should be sourced from an area that has not been sprayed with chemicals, and the wood should be scrubbed clean and ideally “seasoned” for a couple of weeks too.
Apple-tree twigs and branches come top of the list, and most chinchillas adore eating the bark. Eating, cooking and crab apple trees are all suitable, so are pear trees.
Medlar trees and any other fruit tree are great too – as long as the fruit does NOT contain stones. Hazel and willow are ok – but are not as favored.
Some people also give their chinchillas the tough; woody rose “prunings” (minus the thorns) and dry, seasoned, open pinecones. I have not tried them with my chinchillas – so cannot comment on their suitability from personal experience (yet). I have tried Hawthorn though – and the chins love it and sill strip and eat the bark. It is also safe to give them a few leaves too but introduce these slowly to avoid stomach upsets.
Give the chinchilla one or two of the above items at a time but don’t overdo them or they will lose their novelty for the animals. And please don’t over-clutter their cages, so the poor chinchillas cannot move for toys!
Chinchillas really do appreciate extra exercise away from their cages. Many breeders are unable to do this; simply because with such large amounts of stock, they would not have enough hours in the day or enough pairs of eyes to supervise them sufficiently. However, the average chinchilla owner with just a couple of chinchillas should be able to make time for them to have a daily run.
Chinchillas will happily take as much exercise as you can allow them, from 15 minutes to a couple of hours a day.
The most important thing to remember when allowing chinchillas out of their cages is that they MUST be supervised at ALL TIMES. Otherwise they can get themselves into trouble in the blink of an eye!
It is best to slowly increase their exercise time, especially if the chinchilla is not accustomed to being away from its cage. Ideally, the cage should be positioned so that the chinchilla can return to it for food, water, and security whenever it wishes. If this is not possible, then a ramp can assist. Start by allowing the chinchilla about ten minutes of exercise at a time – gradually increasing the time as the chinchilla becomes more accustomed to the exercise (and fitter!).
Chinchillas do not know when to stop and can sometimes exhaust themselves, to ensure that they return to their cages within a sensible time period.
Give the chinchilla a small treat when play-time has finished, and give the chinchilla a sandbath after exercise too. These will encourage the chinchilla to return to its cage more willingly or, better still, voluntarily. Try not to chase the chinchilla around when trying to return it to the cage as this will only make the chinchilla resent being caught and handled.
Obviously, due to a chinchillas susceptibility to the heat, it is recommended to only allow a chinchilla limited exercise on a hot day, confined only to the cooler evening hours.