Small animals need bedding, but not every bedding choice is a good one. Some can harm your chinchilla’s health. So which are suitable, and which aren’t?
Do chinchillas need bedding in their cages? They do, as it stops pee from accumulating, stops your chinchilla’s feet from getting hurt, and prevents smell from building up. You can’t use paper bedding as your chinchilla would eat it, and it would cause an impaction (blockage) in its gut. Both hay and paper bedding also hold onto heat, which is bad as chinchillas overheat easily. Plus chinchillas don’t need to burrow or use the bedding as a blanket, which means that neither make good bedding options for chinchillas. Instead, the ideal bedding is wood covered in fleece, or alternatively, a thin layer of kiln-dried pine.
The guide below first explores why chinchillas need bedding, and what makes hay and shredded paper beddings so unsuitable. We’ll then look at the best bedding for chinchillas—fleece—and other potential chinchilla bedding materials you can choose from.
Do Chinchillas Need Bedding? (Yes & No)
Chinchillas need bedding of some kind or another. It serves several key purposes:
- It stops pee from pooling up. Bedding is typically absorbent material that soaks up pee and poop (although since a chinchilla’s poop is hard, that’s less relevant here). This stops your pet getting its fur wet and the cage looking dirty.
- It stops your chinchilla’s feet from getting hurt. Chinchillas get a condition called ‘bumblefoot‘ if they have to stand on solid surfaces for too long. Soft bedding stops that from happening.
- It prevents smell from building up. Because pee and poop get absorbed by bedding, it’s less smelly. That’s because it’s not open to the air, and because it partially prevents bacteria from reaching it.
If you don’t give your chinchilla any bedding, these issues will rear their heads sooner rather than later. Bumblefoot is especially serious: the combination of solid wire flooring with pools of pee is devastating. Your chinchilla’s feet will crack open, become infected and red, and swell far larger than normal. This is difficult to treat and is both immensely painful and deadly if left untreated. But it can be entirely avoided with appropriate bedding.
Do Chinchillas Like Blankets or Nests?
While it’s important to recognize why chinchillas do need bedding, it’s equally important to recognize the reasons why they don’t. These are common misconceptions that new owners make.
Other small animals need help staying warm. They might live in inhospitable environments, and need to make nests both for themselves and their young. So, when kept in a cage, it’s of benefit to them for you to line the cage with something they can make a nest from.
That’s not something you need to do for a chinchilla, as chinchillas don’t make nests or blankets from their bedding. They don’t need to, and the reason why is that they have no trouble keeping warm due to their thick fur. To add an extra layer, a nest made of hay or other material, would if anything make your chinchilla overheat.
Do Chinchillas Like to Burrow?
Another reason small animals need bedding is because they like to burrow. In the wild, they would dig in the earth to make a tiny home: somewhere they can stay safe and warm, out of the elements and away from predators.
Chinchillas don’t dig their own burrows. They use rock crevices and burrows that other animals have made. You can tell because they have small, delicate hands that look quite a lot like our own which are completely unsuitable for digging and scooping. They still have a need for a safe place to hide, though, which is why owners provide their chinchillas with small huts known as ‘hides’ instead.
So, given that chinchillas definitely do need bedding, albeit not for the reasons you might imagine, what type of bedding can chinchillas have? Can you use hay for chinchilla bedding, or straw? And what about Carefresh bedding, which is even marketed towards chinchillas?
Can You Use Hay Bedding for Chinchillas?
Your first instinct is probably to give your chinchilla hay for bedding. After all, that’s what most people give their small pets (and to farm animals, even). It provides a soft surface to sit on, enough texture and strength to form tunnels for burrowing, and has a smell that some people like. But none of these things make it suitable for a chinchilla’s cage.
Why Is My Chinchilla Eating Its Bedding? Do Chinchillas EAT Hay?
If you were to line your chinchilla’s cage with hay, it wouldn’t make a nest from it. It wouldn’t burrow under it. It wouldn’t use the hay as a blanket. What it would do is eat it.
Imagine, just for a moment, that you are a pet—the pet of somebody, or something, that doesn’t understand what people want or need. Let’s say that your new owner dumps a few batches of spaghetti into your cage (cooked, of course). Would you sleep under it like a blanket? Or dig into it to make yourself a little nest? Of course you wouldn’t! If anything, you’d eat it.
That example is a little silly, but it’s effectively what’s going through your chinchilla’s mind. Chinchilla hay bedding isn’t an option because hay is food, not a bedding material. And since the hay lining the bottom of your chinchilla’s cage is covered in pee and poop, it’s definitely not a healthy food choice!
Can You Use Paper Bedding for Chinchillas?
The most common bedding for small animals after straw is paper bedding. There are lots of kinds of paper bedding: you can either buy it premade from a store, or make it yourself from newspaper, shredded paper or toilet paper. While each of these is a cost effective and suitable kind of bedding for other small animals, can chinchillas have paper bedding?
Why Can’t Chinchillas Have Paper Bedding? (Carefresh Bedding)
Chinchillas can’t have paper bedding because they eat that, too. Hay bedding is bad for chinchillas because you don’t want your pet to eat hay that it’s gone to the toilet in. But paper bedding is far, far worse for your pet than that.
The problem is that paper is perfect for clogging up your chinchilla’s digestive system. When your chinchilla eats any kind of paper bedding, it forms a wet but solid mass in its stomach. As it travels along the digestive system into the gut, it can form a complete blockage and cause a condition known as ‘stasis’, which is where the chinchilla stops eating or drinking altogether. This is, of course, fatal if untreated (and can kill even if you do get your pet veterinary care).
There are other problems with paper bedding besides that. One is that they produce lots of dust, especially if you make them yourself. You can buy dust-free paper bedding, but if you were planning on making your own, this is a problem you can’t avoid. The next problem, admittedly not as important as the other two, is that you can’t reuse paper bedding while you can reuse other bedding types. So even if paper bedding is cheaper to buy initially, it does represent larger ongoing costs.
What Type of Bedding CAN Chinchillas Have?
So, as we pointed out above, chinchillas do need bedding of some kind, even if paper and hay are unsuitable. If your chinchilla has to stand on the solid wire floor of its cage all day, it will develop bumblefoot, a condition where the soles of its feet crack open and turn into a painful, ulcerated, dirty mess. So if hay and paper aren’t suitable, what is?
Wooden Cage Floor & Fleece Combo
Almost every single chinchilla owner uses a combination of solid wood and fleece to line the bottom of their chinchillas’ cages. They take a regular piece of wood (it doesn’t matter how thick) and wrap fleece all the way around it. They then pop this on the floor of their pets’ cages—and that’s it.
This serves two purposes. The purpose of the wood is to provide a flat surface for the fleece to lie on. While hard surfaces can still cause bumblefoot, the irregular-but-hard wire bars of the bottom of the cage are worse than wood. Having a wooden surface stops them poking through the soft fleece. The fleece, of course, is there to add softness and absorbency.
This setup has many advantages over hay and paper. It lies flat, so it won’t hold onto heat like a blanket of hay or paper. It’s reusable, as you can swap out the bedding for a fresh fleece each time and launder the dirty one. Like all bedding, you have to change it from time to time. You can’t leave the fleece indefinitely because it gets soggy and dirty. Most find that changing it every other day stops it from getting too stinky.
If you are going to buy fleece, buy the best kind of chinchilla bedding fleece, which is anti-pill. This means that the fabric doesn’t form tiny pills, i.e. little bits of fabric that pull away from the main body. Your chinchilla can and will eat small bits of fabric and they will get stuck in its gut.
Advantages of Using Fleece
What makes this system work is that it’s tailored to a chinchilla’s needs. Chins need be kept cool, ideally below 70 degrees Fahrenheit/21 degrees Centigrade at all times. They come from a very cold part of the world: they live on the sides of the Andes Mountains, where on top of being freezing cold in winter, it’s very dry. Their coats keep them warm.
This is a big problem if you keep chinchillas in captivity. That’s because it probably gets far warmer than that several times a year, particularly in spring and summer. When it does, you need to keep your pet cool or it will get ‘heat stress’ and could pass away. Having thick bedding piled high would make this problem much, much worse as it would hold onto heat.
A wooden floor with fleece wrapped around it doesn’t do that. It doesn’t cool your pet down, of course, but it doesn’t hold onto heat either. It’s neutral, so it lets you control the temperature of the cage in other ways: keeping it out of direct sunlight, in a cool room, and/or with air conditioning.
But the point of lining your pet’s cage with bedding isn’t just to give it nesting material, it’s also to absorb pee and poop. But while this is absolutely necessary for other pets like mice or guinea pigs, it’s not so for chinchillas. That’s because chins are surprisingly hygienic.
Chinchillas have very, very dry poop. It’s so dry that it forms tiny pellets that produce hardly any odor, and are dry to the touch. This is an adaptation that chinchillas developed because they live somewhere dry, so they conserve as much water as they can. It’s also a function of the fact that they digest their food twice to absorb as much nutritional value from it as possible.
They have also, in a sense, learned to litter train themselves. Both wild and pet chinchillas pick a particular corner to pee in (or at least, most of them do) and then only do their business there. This stops the whole floor of the burrow/cage from getting wet and dirty, which in turn, stops their fur from getting damp too. This means that pee isn’t as much of an issue in a chinchilla cage as it is in the cages of other rodents. You can even put down a litter tray and your chin might use it!
Kiln Dried Pine Bedding
You could also line the bottom of your chinchilla’s cage with kiln dried pine shavings. These are small, soft shavings of wood that work like other kinds of bedding. They’re absorbent, soft and safe to chew on.
You can’t use regular pine in a chinchilla’s cage. The difference with kiln dried pine is that it has been dried out in an oven (i.e. a kiln). This achieves several things. What most people need it to do is remove the moisture from the wood, although that’s not why it’s useful here. Rather, the pine you put in your chinchilla’s cage has to be kiln dried because it gets rid of the sap in the wood. It’s this sap that would be bad for your chinchilla to ingest.
If you do use kiln dried pine, don’t pile it up in thick layers. A quarter of an inch is enough. Again, your chinchilla doesn’t need to burrow into it or make a blanket out of it; the only use for it here is to absorb pee and stop the cage from smelling. Each night, spot clean the cage by removing any soiled bedding and replacing it with fresh. The only problem with kiln dried pine as opposed to fleece is the question of how to keep chinchilla bedding in-cage, as your chin will play around in it, kick it around, and some will probably escape the confines of its cage. There’s little you can do about that.
Whatever you line your chinchilla’s cage with, if you do one thing, that should be it: regular spot cleaning to stop the bedding from getting too dirty. Keeping your chinchilla’s cage clean is far more important than choosing between kiln dried pine and fleece.