Hopefully, this article will impart some helpful hints, from chinchilla-proofing your home to preventing vices associated with boredom, such as fur-chewing.
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, so 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.
Chinchilla-Proofing Your Home
If you are allowing a chinchilla the freedom of a room or two, then you will have to take measures to ensure that the chinchilla will not harm itself or your possessions.
Wall & Painted Surfaces
Skirting boards and other painted or non-painted wooden furnishings around the house can be sprayed with a “stop-chew” spray manufactured especially for pets. This is not 100% effective with chinchillas though. However, care must be taken to ensure that a chinchilla does not chew painted surfaces where the paint may contain lead (such as in older houses) – as this will result in lead poisoning. Always keep your chinchilla away from the lead-based paint.
. Electric cables can be protected and covered with a rubber “cable-tidy,” a length of garden hose that has been slit open and popped over any cabling will work in the same manner, or simply cables can be unplugged and put out of reach.
Plants should be removed from the room. There are a lot of plants that are poisonous to pets including chinchillas.
Windows & Doors
Windows and doors should be shut firmly – and family members informed that the chinchillas are out for their daily run.
Toilet lids should be closed (many a chinchilla has drowned in toilets, sadly).
Watch Your Step
Watch where you walk too, chinchillas move fast and can get under your feet, but it is unlikely they would survive getting heavily stepped on, as they are fragile little things.
Any other pets that may interfere with the chinchillas should be excluded from the same room while the chinchillas are free (although, chinchillas usually seem unafraid of dogs and cats).
Any tiny aperture (believe me, chinchillas can fit through the tiniest gap) should be blocked up to prevent the chinchilla squeezing through or behind objects such as fire-places or bookshelves.
Above all, never leave them unsupervised.
A daily sandbath, although performing a necessary fur-cleaning service, also helps with the general well-being of chinchillas.
They are very clean animals and dislike getting soiled in any way. If they are deprived of a sandbath for any length of time, they can get quite depressed and uncomfortable.
20 minutes a day is usually adequate for a chinchilla’s health and well being. Too little sandbaths will result in dirty fur and an unhappy chinchilla, and too many may dry the chinchilla’s skin out (especially those chinchillas kept indoors that may also feel the drying effects of central heating as well).
Use ONLY volcanic pumice or sepiolite (both available in pet-shops) and not silver/play or builders sand.
The sand can be sieved regularly to remove any debris, droppings or wet areas and can be replaced completely every now and then.
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!
Hay fed ad-lib can prevent boredom, as the chinchilla can munch on it as and when it wishes. Hay (as mentioned in a previous article) also provides the main source of fiber in a chinchilla’s diet too, which is good for digestion and tooth wear.
Wheels vs. Balls
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 UK & US. Extra-large wheels, manufactured for rats are not suitable.
Chinchilla wheels need to be at least 14″ in diameter, have fully enclosed bearings, and be of solid construction (not runged) to protect tails and toes from getting trapped. The “Exotic Nutrition 15″ Chin-Sprint” and the “Chin Spin Chinchilla Wheel” (both manufactured specifically for chinchillas) can currently only be imported from the USA and Europe.
If you can get hold of a wheel they are well worth the effort – my chins have two superb 15” wheels, one of each of the above!
Chinchillas do enjoy company, but there are a few considerations to bear in mind when purchasing a pair of chinchillas or buying a companion for an existing pet.
Firstly, chinchillas are territorial and require an introduction period before being accepted into the same cage together. This time period can vary according to the temperament and age of the chinchillas and whether or not it is a same-sex pair or an opposite-sex pair that you are trying to introduce.
If you wish to keep an opposite-sex pair together, then you will have to bear in mind that they WILL breed, so you will need to be prepared for this eventuality. Extra cages will need to be purchased to wean any offspring, and the original pair will also need to be separated from time to time to avoid over-breeding the female, which can be detrimental to her health. Castration of the male is a feasible option, to prevent unwanted litters, but ensure that the vet has performed the operation before, and do some research on the subject first (I will endeavor to write an article covering this, in the near future, for Fur & Feather).
Young females are the usually the easiest same-sex pair to get together, but there are exceptions to every rule.
If you prefer to keep a single chinchilla, then you will need to bear in mind that YOU will become it’s bonded “cage-mate,” and will, therefore, need to ensure that you spend as much time as possible interacting with it.