Frequently Asked Questions
We tend to get a lot of the same questions about owning chinchillas over and over again. Unfortunately there's a lot of misinformation on the internet, and even vets and pet shops sometimes know very little about what it actually takes to own a happy, healthy chinchilla. Here's a quick guide to get you started. Be sure to explore our archived post updates too, since we usually go more in-depth about specific issues there.
For a quick, printable guide to Whimsy's Top Ten No-Nos of Chinchilla Ownership, click here.
Q: What kind of food do you recommend for chinchillas?
A: Chinchillas require a very bland, high fiber, low protein diet with NO added sugars or fats. The absolute most important food in a chinchilla's diet is hay. A variety of hays and grasses are essential for proper digestion and tooth wearing.
A high-quality pelleted food from a pet store serves as a back up staple. Just be sure NOT to feed your chinnies any food with treats in it-- plain pellets is ideal and discourages the chins from digging through the healthy parts to get to the "candy". Oxbow is one typical pet store brand we favor. We feed our chins a mixture of Purina show pellets and a special extruded pellet by Blue Seal.
Remember: chinchillas are not rabbits. Feeding them lush, fresh veggies and fruits causes gas built up, which can lead to bloat. Bloat is deadly. The gas build up can literally cause the intestines and stomach to explode.
Q: How much food should I give my chinchilla each day?
A: Chinchillas should be provided an unlimited amount of high-quality food. This applies to pellets, and most especially to hay. Unlike many dogs, chinchillas know when to stop. A chunky chin is desirable, but it's almost impossible to find an "overweight" chinchilla. The only edibles that should be limited are high calorie or highly processed treats.
Q: What are safe treats to give?
A: We like to give our chinnies treats that resemble what they would find in their natural environment which is; high fiber, low protein, no sugar and no fat. Pumice stones, select wood sticks, seagrass knots, a rare goji berry, dried herbs and certain flowers or plain (NO sugar) Cheerios are great. We strongly discourage processed pet store sugary treats (yogurt drops, etc.) and raisins and other dried fruits.
Q: What kind of cage is best for an active chinchilla or two?
A: The bigger the better! Chinchillas are high energy animals, so they need lots of room to jump around and play. 2'x2'x2' is the minimum square footage we recommend for a single pet chin. Bar spacing should not be larger than 1 inch (chinchillas can squeeze through amazingly small spaces). Chins also prefer height to width. Our absolute favorite is the Ferret Nation brand cage by Midwest. The bars are strong and the entire front opens upwith the extra large doors. Plus, you can add on levels. The Critter Nation brand cage by Midwest is similar, but we don't recommend it. The bars are spaced more closely, but the manufacturer has sacrificed bar strength in the process. These bars break easily under the strain of a proper wheel and ledges.
Q: What kind of cage accessories are acceptable?
A: Wire or plastic shelves are discouraged-- feet can get caught in wire, and plastic doesn't digest and can cause an impaction if chewed. We do sell hand-crafted wooden shelves and accessories through our Store. They are safe for chins to chew, and our specially designed backboard means you won't have to worry about little toes getting caught.
Q: What about an exercise wheel?
A: Exercise wheels are great for the high-energy critters. We encourage chin owners to look into the Chin Spin, Flying Saucer or ChinWorld (Leo Braun style) exercise wheel. Pet stores do not sell exercise wheels that are of adequate construction or size for adult chins.
Q: What cage bedding is good to use?
A: We recommend kiln dried pine shavings. It's all natural, safe for chins to nibble on, smells great, and also works well as mulch for the garden when the chinnies are done with it. ;) For those allergic to pine or just hate having to clean it up, fleece cage liners are another safe alternative to lose bedding. Although fleece liners or an overly soft environment can make a chinchilla prone to bumblefoot.
Chinchillas should NEVER have cedar bedding, though. The oils in cedar wood are highly toxic to chins, and will kill them.
Q: How should I clean the cage?
A: Cage cleaning should be done a minimum of every week. If your cage has our scatterguards, the easiest way to clean out the cage is to use a shop vac to suck out the old bedding. There is no need to remove the guards. Wipe down every flat surface with a 50/50 vinegar and water solution (or pet store cage cleaner). The minimal dampness will not harm your chin. The militant demand that you should never get your chin wet only applies to water baths, not to the occasional damp shelves or cage floor. You can powder your shelves with bath dust of you are overly concerned. Very stained ledges may need to be removed and sanded to keep them fresh. Refill the cage with a thick layer of clean bedding. We use about 4" of kiln dried pine. This helps absorb more urine and acts as a safety cushion in case your chin falls from an upper shelf.
Q: Does my chin need a heat lamp in the winter?
A: Are you kidding? No!
Habits & Behavior
Q: Why does my chinchilla sleep all day?
A: Chinchillas are crepuscular animals. This means that they are most active during dawn and dusk, and tend to sleep the rest of the time. Noon is the chinnie equivalent to midnight. :)
Q: OMG! Help! My chinchilla looks dead!
A: Your chin may be sleeping in a funny position. As long as they are still breathing, they're just fine. ;) Some chins even sleep with their eyes open! *shudder*
Q: Do chinchillas bite?
A: Anything with teeth can bite. Chinchillas typically aren't aggressive biters, but like toddlers, will explore everything with their mouth. A chinchilla will give an inquisitive nibble on anything new or anything that comes near their face. For this reason, the pet stores are right about one thing: DON'T STICK YOUR FINGERS IN THE CAGE! Chinchillas are not dogs or cats where you would greet them with an outstretched hand. If you offer your hand, they will most likely nibble to see if you are edible. Do not encourage this habit.
Q: Do chinchillas make any sounds? What do they mean?
A: Chinchillas are typically quiet animals, but can make noises to express their feelings. A quiet calling sound (boop boop boop) is just that-- calling to other chins. Spitting or cacking is a sign of irritation. A wheezing cry (called "barking") means there is something in the chin's environment that he/she doesn't like. A mama chin will make a noise that sounds very much like a guinea pig when calling to her babies.
Q: My two boys are humping each other. Are they gay?
A: No. This is called dominance mounting-- it helps to establish their pecking order. FYI, girls do it too.
Q: Um... did my chinchilla just squirt pee at me?!
A: Most likely. Girls do that, and some boys try to. Urine spraying is a natural defense mechanism used to ward off a perceived attacker. Some girls are more reactive in this behavior than others, and some never spray at all. They're similar to a skunk in this behavior, though chinnies spray from the front, not the back. Chinchillas have much better aim. ;)
Q: Do chinchillas need shots?
A: No, chinchillas do not require shots or regular worming.
Q: Should I take my chinchilla to the vet for a wellness check?
A: Generally, chinchillas are healthy, but high-strung animals. We prefer to utilize professional intervention "as needed" only. For more information about when to take your chin to the vet, please see our Medical & Health section of this website.
"But the Pet Shop told me..."
Q: The pet stores sell giant exercise balls. Are these OK to use?
A: No. Chinchillas can easily overheat in an exercise ball. In fact, these "death balls" act like mini green houses where the temperature rises quickly, especially with the energy output of a moving and heavily coated animal. Death from heat stroke is one of the most common pet chinchilla related accidents. When chinchillas run around in these contraptions, they are in fact trying to get OUT.
Q: I want to take my chinchilla for a walk. Can I use one of those cute little pet harnesses for my chin?
A: No. We don't recommend walking harnesses, since chins have a very delicate rib structure. Harnesses can very easily brake the fragile ribs when a chin jumps away in one while restrained, not to mention the acrobatics it takes to put one on!
Q: Help! The pet store told me my two chins are the same gender, but I just found babies in the cage! What do I do?
A: First, separate the two adult chins immediately. Put the mama and her kits in a cage with small enough bar spacing (1/2" or smaller) so the babies can't get out. It's possible that the mama may already be pregnant again (breedback), as females go back into heat as soon as they give birth. Keep the parent chins separate.
Tips for the new chin owner
Q: How can I make friends with my new chinchilla?
A: Often when we adopt, the chins will choose the owner. Chinchillas will groom each other when they love one another. Scratching your chin around the ears and neck is the human equivalent to grooming. Our youngest Menagerie helper, Flowerbud, will snuggle a rowdy chinchilla under her shirt to calm them down and get them used to her scent.
Q: I can't catch the darned critter! Help!
A: Despite what you've probably heard in childhood, the tail hold is actually the safest and most secure way to keep an energetic chin still. Grasp the tail securely near the base, and scoop the critter up supporting his or her feet. (Imagine picking up a chin like a ring bearer in a wedding ceremony). Some chins don't like their tails to be messed with, and they may cry out, but this does not hurt them. Chinchillas' tails are very strong, and this way is much safer than grabbing the chin's fragile ribs.
Q: I just got a new chinchilla as a friend for my old chinchilla. How do I make them like each other?
A: Chinchillas are herd animals, and they usually prefer the company of other chins. Females typically get along well together, and males also do as long as there are no females or if they are especially beta. However, there is no guarantee that the old chin will accept the one you choose. This is why we recommend a soft introduction to check for potential compatibility first. Even still, be prepared to have two separate cages.
Q: My chinchilla poos a LOT. Is this normal?
A: Absolutely! Chinchillas are little poop machines. Just make sure they aren't squishy or abnormally small. This could be a sign of sickness.
Q: I think I'm allergic to my chinchilla. What can I do?
A: Typically, when people are allergic to chinchillas, it's not the chinnie itself. Bathing dust and particles from the bedding are the usual culprits as are allergens from hay and other food stuffs. We have a special dust formula available in the Store that is not as irritating as "normal" chin dust. You can also try replacing your chin's current bedding with a less dusty substitute, such as fleece liners.