Chinchilla 101: How to Care for Your New Pet Chinchilla

There's nothing better than welcoming home a new pet, especially when that pet is an adorable little chinchilla. These loving, intelligent animals make terrific companions when presented with a healthy environment and the proper care, so we're here to make sure you've got all the knowledge you need before adding a new furry friend to the family.  

chinchillas being held

1. Ease into Things: Your Chinchilla's First Days at Home

It takes time for chinchillas to adjust to change, and there's no bigger transition than joining a new family and moving into unfamiliar territory. Because chinchillas are relatively reserved and skittish by nature, it will take time before your pet warms up to you. The best way to bond with a chinchilla and earn their trust is to respect their boundaries and be gentle in your interactions, especially early on. The first few days home, your chinchilla will likely feel nervous and a little disoriented, so let them adjust to all the new smells, sights, and sounds without adding extra stress. For the first 48 hours after placing your chinchilla in their enclosure, hold off on trying to touch them, only reaching your hand inside to replenish food and water. 

Though chinchillas can undoubtedly grow to enjoy hanging out with humans, it can take a lot to get there. In fact, many chinchillas rarely appreciate being held and prefer to show affection in non-physical ways. Also, depending on where and when you adopted your pet, you may be the first person they've truly interacted with, so practice patience and understanding and be mindful of any stress signals in your chinchilla's body language. 

It's also essential that you never leave your pet alone with children or in the presence of other household animals unsupervised. Chinchillas require safe, relaxed conditions and should only be cared for by people who recognize and respect their limits. As long as you avoid putting your chinchilla in uncomfortable situations, they will learn to trust you, and you'll be on your way to building a close, long-lasting friendship. 

chinchilla next to cage

2. Create a Safe & Healthy Home for Your Chinchilla 

Chinchillas are active animals native to mountainous regions, which means the bigger their enclosure is, the better. Confining a chinchilla to a cramped cage can negatively impact their mental well-being and physical health, so taking their living quarters seriously is crucial. Chinchillas require a wealth of space to climb and explore, and because they spend so much time inside their cages, there should be enough room to house an array of platforms, ramps, hideouts, and more to keep them busy while you're away. Your pet's enclosure should be no less than 3' x 2' x 2', but because these animals love to run and jump around (some can jump as high as six feet in the air!), a cage of greater size is preferable.  

Chinchillas naturally live in herds, which means you may want to consider adopting more than one at a time. Though not required, a cagemate will ensure that your pet will never get too bored or lonely. If you opt for more than one chinchilla, be sure to increase the size of your pets' enclosure accordingly. 

You also need to consider the cage's material, location, and potential safety hazards. To ensure your pet stays out of harm's way, purchase a metal wire cage with a solid plastic bottom. Wire allows for excellent airflow and cannot be easily chewed through like wood. Just be sure you don't use galvanized wire, as zinc can be toxic to your pet if ingested. Additionally, the bars should be close enough together that your little friend cannot sneak out. Don't be fooled by your chinchilla's copious amounts of fur — if their head can fit through the bars, the rest of their body can too. To cozy up their home, lay down safe, non-toxic bedding or line the bottom of the cage with fleece. If you choose to use bedding, kiln-dried pine, aspen shavings, and paper bedding are most suitable. Avoid potentially harmful products like cedar, mixed wood shavings, and anything scented. 

Once you've set up a satisfactory enclosure, place it in a quiet area of your home where your pet won't be disturbed during the day. The space should be kept dry and be far from any drafts or direct sunlight since chinchillas are sensitive to humidity and cannot tolerate temperatures outside 50-80 degrees Fahrenheit. 

Tip: To manage excess moisture in the room, you can place a dehumidifier near your pet's cage. 

Now that you've settled on an enclosure and its location, you can fill it with all your chinchilla's daily essentials.

A few items to include as you stock your chinchilla's cage are:  

  • A water bottle 
  • Food dish 
  • Chew sticks  
  • Toys 
  • Chew-proof nesting box or hideout 
  • Large exercise wheel with solid surface 
  • And piles of fresh Timothy hay 

two chinchillas

3. Hygiene & Health Go Hand-In-Hand  

Chinchillas are naturally pretty clean, so maintaining proper hygiene for your pet should be easy, especially if you stick to a regular grooming regimen. Unlike many pets, chinchillas are relatively odor-free. If you do notice a smell, it either means you aren't cleaning your chinchilla's cage nearly enough or that your pet may be ill and should see a vet. 

Because chinchillas have incredibly thick fur, they should never have a traditional bath using water. The hair's density makes it nearly impossible to dry out after getting wet, potentially causing mold to grow, skin irritation, and other dangerous consequences. Instead, chinchillas should take dust baths to remove excess oil and dirt from their fur. Chinchilla bath dust is available at most pet stores and consists of a fine mix of volcanic ash or activated clay. About every two to three days, place a metal container or a store-bought dust bath inside your pet's cage and fill it with roughly 2 inches of dust. Be sure not to leave the container inside your chinchilla's cage for too long, however, since bathing too frequently can dry out their coat. 

Keeping a clean enclosure is a huge part of maintaining your pet's hygiene and health. If your chinchilla's cage has soiled bedding and droppings all over the place, it doesn't matter how often your pet bathes. We suggest scooping soiled bedding once a day and refreshing the supply entirely about once a week. If you use a fleece liner, wash it at least once a week, if not more, and pick up droppings once a day. You should also deep clean your chinchilla's cage with hot water about once a week to ensure your pet's home remains sanitary. 

Note: Chinchillas are not always eager to potty train, but every chinchilla is different, so we suggest picking up a litter box and giving it a shot! 

 two chinchillas snuggling

4. Fuel Your Pet with the Right Foods 

A chinchilla's diet should be kept simple. Because these animals are herbivores with sensitive tummies, a few high-quality ingredients are all your pet needs to thrive. A wholesome chinchilla diet consists of high-fiber, low-fat foods like Timothy hay and chinchilla pellets. Feeding your pet an imbalanced diet can cause severe digestive and overall health problems, so provide your pet only the best. Andy's products deliver all-natural & organic hay made from the finest forage possible, making it an excellent option for nourishing your little companion. A constant supply of Timothy hay also aids in maintaining good oral health, so be sure to have a fresh supply on hand at all times.  

When it comes to treats, keep them to a minimum as chinchillas tend to have a sweet tooth and will overindulge in foods that are not good for them if unmonitored. When you choose to give your pet a sweet treat, raisins, dandelion leaves, hibiscus, carrots, apple, oats, and rose petals are all sufficient choices. However, it's best to feed these snacks only in tiny servings no more than once or twice a week. 

Be very careful not to overfeed your new pet. Overfeeding can provoke serious issues such as bloat and diarrhea, which can cause health issues for your new pet. When feeding pellets, choose one created for chinchillas and follow the portion instructions. 

If you feed high-quality foods, your pet will likely obtain all its vital nutrients through its diet. However, salt blocks and Vitamin C supplements can supply vitamins and minerals that your pet may be lacking. If you're unsure whether your pet's needs are satisfied, consult a vet and seek a professional opinion. 

Your chinchilla should have constant access to fresh, clean water. Unlike many other animals, chinchillas are very sensitive and cannot handle water containing bacteria or chemicals that may exist in tap water. If possible, use filtered water and place it in a water bottle, making sure to replenish often and replace it daily.   

Tip: Clean your pet’s water bottle thoroughly with hot water each day to avoid mold and algae growth. 

While chinchillas certainly require a high level of care, the result of a well-loved and cared-for pet is worth the effort. Chinchillas are exceptional animals with unique personalities and a lot of love to spare, so as long as you pay mind to their mental and physical needs, they'll be by your side for years to come.  

Through Andy’s social media, Molly brings her heart for high-quality hay and an authentic passion to create a real community that celebrates everyday people and their pets.