can you train a chinchilla to use a litter tray

Can You Train a Chinchilla to Use a Litter Box?

Chinchillas are generally clean pets, but they still need to go to the toilet. Their wee, especially, can get everywhere and is the biggest obstacle to keeping a chinchilla’s cage clean. If you could toilet train your chinchilla it would make life a lot easier!

New owner, don't know where to start? Or do you need a handy chinchilla reference guide? Check out our Chinchilla Care 101 eBook, or get what you need from our online store!

Chinchillas are generally clean pets, but they still need to go to the toilet. Their wee, especially, can get everywhere and is the biggest obstacle to keeping a chinchilla’s cage clean. If you could toilet train your chinchilla it would make life a lot easier!

Can you toilet train a chinchilla? You can, although they may occasionally forget to use the litter box. Chinchillas naturally pick a corner of the cage to urinate in. Place a specially-made tray or glass Pyrex dish in that corner and line it with fleece or KD pine. Place soiled bedding in the tray during toilet training so your chinchilla knows what it’s for.

Most chinchillas take to toilet training immediately, but in some cases, there are tricks you’ll have to use to get it to do what you want. So, if you’d like to know how to train a chinchilla to use a litter box (and much more), read our guide below…

Can Chinchillas Use a Litter Box?

Chinchilla Tail

Chinchillas can be partially trained to use a litter box, although they aren’t as good at doing so as other pets are. Owners will put a small tray in the corner of their chinchilla’s cage, and their pet will use it as intended.

It could take a few days or a week for your pet to get the hint. But many chinchillas instantly understand what the tray is for, and will use it.

Where Do Chinchillas Go to the Bathroom?

Do chinchillas pee everywhere? Yes and no—pet chinchillas will typically pick somewhere to urinate, and stick to it. Sometimes chinchillas spray or pick somewhere different for a change, but most of the time, they’ll pick the same place. You can take advantage of that by putting extra bedding there.

But one thing you can’t do is get a chinchilla to poop in one specific place. That’s because chinchillas will poop wherever they go, no matter what they’re doing.

Believe it or not, but something so simple as this is an evolutionary adaptation. Chinchillas can’t get wet, so if they get urine in their fur, it can be bad for them. So, all chinchillas have to pick carefully where they wee. But chinchilla feces is dry, which means it doesn’t cause the same problem. This means that chinchillas have to wee in one place, but can poop anywhere.

This will normally be a corner of the cage, typically one of the back corners. They do this because if they were to wee in the central area of the cage, it’s more likely that they would step in it and get it in their fur. The back corners are further away from potential ‘threats’, which is why they’re picked.

Some chinchillas will urinate in different places, though. Some will pick:

  • Platforms
  • Out the sides of the cage
  • In the center of the cage
  • At other chinchillas or at you (spraying)

It’s behavior like this that makes litter training appealing to chinchilla owners.

Do They Make Litter Trays for Chinchillas?

There is such a thing as a litter tray for chinchillas—there are some for any animal that lives in a cage. These are similar to those used by other animals, except they are usually triangular so they can fit in the corner. Most are made of plastic by companies that don’t truly understand chinchilla ownership (as chinchilla cages should never have plastic in them). But some are metal, and these are suitable for our pets.

These trays typically have a pan that’s covered with a wire mesh. The wire mesh is there so that the chinchilla doesn’t accidentally step in or sit in its urine. These are useful at first, because the chinchilla may not understand that it’s urine is still there (as it wouldn’t normally be in the wild). But over time, your pet will get used to its tray, and you can remove this if it’s a problem.

What’s the Best Chinchilla Litter?

The first thing you need to know is that regular cat litter isn’t a good choice. Chinchillas will gnaw and nibble on everything in their cages, and will chew clean litter. It’s unclear whether this kind of clay will cause impaction (constipation) when ingested, so another choice may be better. Paper certainly can cause impaction, which means that shredded paper or newspaper isn’t an option either.

You could use fleece. Cut out a small square or triangle and line the bottom of the litter tray with it. Kiln dried pine is another option. You’ll need to change the lining frequently whatever you use. You can do this when you spot clean the chinchilla cage each day.

How to Litter Train a Chinchilla

Litter training isn’t about forcing your pet to do something. So, if you hypothetically picked up your chinchilla and held it over the litter tray for it to go to the toilet, it wouldn’t. Instead, you have to work with your chinchilla so that what it wants to do is (coincidentally!) what you want it to do.

Ideally, you should start training your chinchilla when it’s young. The younger it is, the more likely that the behavior will stick, as this is when it learns  behaviors from its parents. But if your chin is a rescue, or you’re coming late to the idea of litter training, give it a go anyway and see what happens.

1) Check Where Your Chinchilla Goes to the Toilet

Begin by watching your pet for a while. It won’t take long before it has to go to the toilet. Your chinchilla will already have picked somewhere that it enjoys weeing, be that a particular corner of the cage, on a platform, or out the side of the cage.

If your chinchilla has picked a corner, this whole process will be much easier. Your chinchilla has now, in a sense, litter trained itself; all you need to do is put the litter tray there and get your pet used to it.

If your chinchilla’s behavior is more unruly, and it goes to the toilet wherever it likes, you’ll have a little more work to do. You may have to settle for partial litter training if this is the case. But it’s worth perservering and seeing how much you can train your chinchilla anyway!

2) Place the Tray in the Corner

Some chinchillas take to the idea of a tray instantly. As such, it’s worth trying with the pan straight away. Place it in the corner your chinchilla already uses to go to the toilet, and see if it works.

The tray should be lined with something to soak up the urine. This stops your chinchilla from accidentally getting wet when it uses the pan, and makes cleaning easier. You can use fleece or KD (kiln-dried) pine to line it. As stated above, avoid papers or store-bought litters as your chinchilla may chew them and develop constipation.

Attach the tray to the side of the cage. Some trays come with a way to attach them, e.g. nuts and bolts. Others don’t, and you’ll have to use something of your own like a bulldog clip. This will stop your chinchilla from moving the tray around and potentially getting wet.

3) Take Soiled Bedding & Place It in the Tray

If your chinchilla doesn’t understand what the tray is for, you can show it—not by using it yourself, but by putting some soiled bedding in there. Chinchillas have sensitive noses and can smell where they or another chinchilla has gone to the toilet. By putting the soiled bedding in there, you’re telling the chinchilla what it’s for.

Again, observe your pet for a while. If your chinchilla is a toilet training natural, then this should be enough to give it the hint. But yours may have deeper-seated problems with stress or developmental issues, in which case it may not.

If this doesn’t work, there’s not much else you can do. We recommend continuing to try for a week or two to see if your chinchilla takes to it, as some chinchillas—to be frank—are dumber than others.

You could also consider using an under-the-cage tray to catch whatever mess your chinchilla makes.

How Often Should You Change a Chinchilla’s Litter Box?

As you would for other pets, so too should you change a chinchilla’s litter box regularly. This stops accidents like spillages, and stops the tray from smelling. Most owners change the litter tray every day, and replace the lining with fresh.

When changing the litter box, you can put the lining in the bin if it’s disposable. If you don’t use lining, you can pour the urine down the drain or toilet. You can take the opportunity to quickly scrub the pan with hot water and soap, which will stop bacterial buildup and smell. If the urine cakes on or leaves a stain, soak it in vinegar and leave it overnight.

Types of Chinchilla Litter Box

A pyrex dish.
A Pyrex dish. Image courtesy of شہاب, shared under (CC BY-SA 4.0)

There are three main types of litter box. The first is the triangular kind that fits in the corner of the cage. This is the kind described above. The second is a pan, which looks like a regular litter tray. This sits in the cage, but it’s not triangular.

The third is a pan that goes underneath the cage. It slides into position and catches your chinchilla’s wee and poop through the mesh wire of the floor. This is a common setup for different kinds of farmed animals, as it allows for easy collection and cleaning. It also means that there’s no chance for the wee to get in your chinchilla’s fur.

The pan inside the cage is the best solution, as it’s not good to keep your chinchilla on a wire floor. This is what most owners go for.

Can You Make a DIY Chinchilla Litter Box?

You can make your own litter boxes, and this is what experienced owners have done for a long time. Products for chinchillas are far harder to come by than those for other pets, and those you do find may be unsuitable. Most products on Amazon and eBay aren’t fit for chinchillas because they’re made of plastic, for example.

Some owners used baking pans, either glass or metal. These can be lined with litter as a regular tray would be. Ceramic dishes also work well for this. So long as the makeshift tray isn’t made of something chinchillas can gnaw and get sick from, it’s worth a try.

Make sure you pick a heavy pan. Otherwise, the chinchillas will try to pick the pan up and will spill the contents. Most owners use big 8x8x8 Pyrex glass baking dishes, which are plenty heavy. Another benefit of these is that they’re dishwasher safe, which means less work for you.

If none of the above works, then your chinchilla is one of the few which can’t be house trained. Instead of giving it a litter box, rely on fresh bedding and frequent spot cleaning instead. This will stop your chinchilla’s cage smelling, even if it makes a mess!

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New owner, don't know where to start? Or do you need a handy chinchilla reference guide? Check out our Chinchilla Care 101 eBook, or get what you need from our online store!