As chinchillas are exotic pets, you may think they’re expensive to keep. But they’re only small rodents, so how true can that be?
How much does a chinchilla cost to keep? Chinchilla food and care is cheap, but vet bills can be expensive. The average cost is $200 per year, or roughly $15-20 per month. The cost of buying one for the first time is $500 to $700, and more if the chinchilla is of high quality stock. Chinchillas eat hay and cheap snacks which can both be bought in bulk. Cage and cage accessories can be expensive, though, especially as chinchillas gnaw on them.
The costs of chinchillas compare favorably to those of other pets. The guide below breaks down the intial and monthly costs of chinchillas, so you’ll know exactly what to expect if you buy one for the first time!
Are Chinchillas Expensive to Keep?
The cost of chinchilla and supplies for a chinchilla are, overall, cheap. On the one hand, they’re exotic, and exotic pets have specific needs. What can make chinchillas expensive is 1) their vet bills are higher than those for other animals, and 2) they live for a long time. So, even the cheap costs of bathing dust (for example) add up over time.
But fortunately, this is made up for in certain ways. Chinchilla food costs for a chinchilla are extremely low as all their diet should almost solely be hay. This means that chinchillas are far cheaper than certain other pets. Bathing dust is similarly cheap, as is bedding.
The guide below explores every single cost of owning a chinchilla, from the cost of the animal itself to its initial cage setup, and then ongoing costs like food and vet bills. At the end is a detailed breakdown of how much chinchillas cost to keep compared to other pets.
How Much Does a Chinchilla Cost to Buy?
The initial cost of a chinchilla isn’t unusual for a pet. Chinchillas are, strictly speaking, exotic pets. Exotic pets tend to be more expensive. But because chinchillas have been domesticated for a long time, the cost of buying one is only between $150 and $350. The cost may be more or less depending on:
- Where you live, and how common chinchillas are there
- Whether you buy your chinchilla from a pet shop (cheaper) or a breeder (more expensive)
- How many pet shops or breeders you have to choose from
- The quality of the chinchilla
You should consider rescuing a chinchilla from a shelter. If you do, you won’t have to pay. The downsides are that the chinchilla might have behavioral problems resulting from previous neglect.
Another point in favor of chinchillas is that they don’t need shots. The price of many pets is higher than you think, because in addition to paying a huge lump sum for a pedigree animal, you’re legally required to take it to the vet and get it vaccinated and checked up. You don’t need to do this with chinchillas as there aren’t any conditions they can catch that they can be vaccinated against, e.g. rabies.
How Much Does a Chinchilla Cage Cost?
Before you buy a chinchilla, you ought to buy everything you need for it. The main expense is its cage. Chinchillas need larger cages than other small furry animals, because they need vertical jumping space. Chinchillas are rock-hopping animals in the wild and can only thrive if they have platforms to jump to and from. In addition to a big, tall cage you’ll need:
- Platforms, ladders and ramps. Variable: $5 to $20. These let the chinchilla access the full height of the cage.
- A large glass water bottle. $10. Plastic won’t do as the chinchilla will chew through it.
- A hay rack. $10. This should be made of wood, and tied to the side of the cage where it can’t get dirty or ruined.
- A small food bowl. $10. This is for any snacks you give your chinchilla, like rosehips.
- A hide. $10-15. Wild chinchillas hide in rock crevices and burrows. Pet chinchillas need somewhere to hide too. These often look like tiny huts/houses.
- A wooden cage-bottom and fleece on top. This is to stop your pet hurting its feet on the wire mesh of the floor. The fleece lines the floor for comfort and hygiene (as it can be changed out).
- A specialist chinchilla running wheel. Chinchillas need wooden or metal running wheels larger than your average pet store fare.
- Optional: a hammock. Chinchillas enjoy sleeping in hammocks. Is something so cute really optional? You decide.
A standard starter cage on its own will cost between $150 and $300. You do have the option of buying a cage from a second hand site like Gumtree, although you’ll have fewer options to choose from, and will have to clean the cage before it’s used. Typically, the more you spend, the more robust the cage will be and the longer it will last.
As for your chinchilla’s cage accessories, these come to a total cost of $100 or so. Again, the price is variable. You may already have some wood lying around from another project that you could use as platforms, for example, saving you money.
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Do Chinchillas Need Substrate?
Something else you can buy for a chinchilla is cage substrate. ‘Substrate’ is something that lines the bottom of a cage to keep it clean, also called bedding.
This is another way in which chinchillas are cheap. Chinchillas can have basic recycled paper fiber bedding. This is cheap and can be bought in bulk. Depending on how big the bulk bag is, you can spend between $5 and $10 per month on bedding.
It’s also possible to keep a chinchilla without substrate, although you’ll need a urine guard, as without one any waste will build up and make the cage smell. This costs more to buy at first, but will save you money in the long run if your chinchilla lives a long time. You could also choose to have both.
How Much Does Chinchilla Food Cost?
As they’re rodents, you might assume that chinchillas eat fresh vegetables and leaves. But that’s not true of these pets. Instead, chinchillas should be fed a diet of hay. Hay is dried grass.
There are lots of different kinds of hay you can buy for chinchillas. Some have higher fat or protein contents, while others taste sweeter. Some brands are of a better quality than others. But none of that is what matters here, as this guide is concerned only with price.
Hay is the cheapest pet food there is. It’s even cheaper if you buy in bulk. So, for example, it’s $5 for a 15oz bag and $30 for a 25lb box of timothy hay from Petsmart. This isn’t much different to the kind of price you’d get at other stores.
For reference, 10lbs of hay should last a chinchilla six months or so. There is no set amount of hay that your chinchilla will eat, so ‘your mileage may vary’. But whether yours eats slightly more or slightly less than this, a cheap box of hay will last your pet a very long time. Chinchillas also need pellets, which are made from hay too. The cost of a bag is about the same as a regular bag of hay.
Chinchillas don’t need to eat snacks. There are a few snacks that are suitable, like Cheerios, rosehips and herbs, but these are all cheap and shouldn’t cost you more than a few dollars a month. So, overall, your chinchilla’s food costs next to nothing.
Note: these prices were correct at the time of writing. We have not been paid for these links and do not receive commission for them.
How Much Does Chinchilla Dust Cost?
Another thing that chinchillas have an absolute need for is bathing dust. Chinchillas don’t bathe in water, but in dust, which cleans the oils from their fur. You must offer your chinchilla a dust bath twice a week, although some enjoy bathing more frequently.
The monthly cost of dust is, again, minimal. It won’t cost you more than $5 per month, or around $50-60 per year. If you buy in bulk, this will help you save over time.
You can also save further money by reusing the dust. Unless your chinchilla is particularly dirty, or has parasites in its fur, the dust will be clean enough to reuse. You only need change it if you notice it clumping up, which suggests it has gotten wet or oily. You should also replace it if it smells.
How Much Is the Cost of Chinchilla Vet?
If your chinchilla is sick, you take it to a vet, like you would any pet. This depends on what you need the vet for. Very few people get their chinchillas neutered, for example. That’s because a) people don’t house male and female chinchillas together without expecting babies, and b) the male chinchilla’s anatomy makes neutering an invasive process that can easily go wrong. So, you can write off initial vet costs, unlike with other pets.
The cost of a basic visit to the vet for a checkup ranges from $30 to $100. This depends on the individual prices of the vet you visit, who may charge more for checking exotic animals than other kinds of animals. Medicine, e.g. antibiotics for an eye infection, costs between $10 and $20.
The cost of surgery is expensive. Neutering, if you do choose this for your pet, can cost between $150 and $300. Pre-surgery X-rays can cost $100-$150.
If you pay for insurance, then it may pay the price of some or of all of these things. But this is something you need to determine with your individual service provider. Insurance for chinchillas can range from $10 to $20 a month, and levels of cover vary. It’s a good idea to have a rainy-day fund of $500 or so set aside in case your chinchilla needs expensive vet treatment whether or not you have insurance.
As for how much this all translates to in practise, that depends on how well you care for your pet: if it’s healthy, it won’t need veterinary assistance, and you can pay nothing for the year.
Note: you should only take your chinchilla to a vet who can demonstrate experience at least with exotics, if not chinchillas specifically. This may cost more, but some vets don’t know exactly what’s best for chinchillas as they have little experience with them.
Overall Cost when Buying a Chinchilla
Buying a chinchilla for the first time is the most expensive part. The rough cost of buying a new chinchilla is between $500 and $700, although you can make savings by buying a used cage or getting a chinchilla from a shelter.
If you plan on buying chinchillas to breed them, you’ll have to pay more. That’s because you need a special setup for breeding them, and because breeding-quality chinchillas cost more. You can expect to pay thousands of dollars, although prices are highly variable depending on where you live and who you buy from.
If a chinchilla would be your first pet, that may sound like a lot of money. But it’s not. Almost everyone had pets when they were growing up, but as a child, you’re sheltered from the true cost of things. Even the most common pets cost roughly this, or even much more.
Our advice is to figure out how much you can afford to spend before taking the plunge and getting a chinchilla. That’s because chinchillas quickly become stressed or depressed if they aren’t cared for correctly, and they suffer if they have to be rehomed soon after being bought.
How Much Do Chinchillas Cost Per Year?
This is the big question: how much does it cost to keep a chinchilla? Here’s a breakdown of all the needs above, added up into what they’re likely to cost you over the course of a year:
- Accessories and cage. $50 average for replacing things like food bowls and exercise wheels as they break.
- Bedding. $50 a year, could be less if you buy in bulk.
- Chinchilla food. $30-$50 per year, including hay and snacks.
- Bathing dust. $30-50 per year, less if you reuse the dust.
- Veterinary assistance. Variable: $0 to $1000, depending on how healthy your pet is and what insurance you have.
So, in a good year, you might expect to pay only $150-200 per year on a chinchilla. But in a bad year, vet’s bills could mean you pay $1000 or more in total care costs. Through proper care you can minimize that risk and spend many enjoyable years with your chinchilla, and for much less than you’d spend on other pets.
Are Chinchillas Cheaper than Other Pets?
Meeting a chinchilla’s food and care needs is far cheaper than for other common household pets. It may not be as cheap as other small rodents, but compared to regular family pets, a chinchilla is a bargain. The average yearly costs of the following pets make that clear:
- Chinchilla: $200 per year before vet’s bills
- Dog: $400 per year before vet’s bills
- Cat: $200-800 per year (depends on breed)
The only caveat is that chinchillas live a long time. So, the lifetime cost of owning a chinchilla may be higher than you expect.
How to Save Money Owning a Chinchilla
If that sounds like too much to you, there are ways to save money on chinchilla care. You shouldn’t cut out too many costs, as your pet will suffer for it. But you can make certain adjustments that will save you money.
- Reduce, reuse, recycle. If you can buy second hand, do, particularly on big purchases like cages. Or if you have a cage or accessories from another chinchilla you owned, reuse them.
- Buy in bulk. Big bulk bags of hay and bathing dust are much, much cheaper by weight than smaller bags. The bigger the bag, the bigger the saving. Compare prices by weight at your pet store or market rather than the sticker price.
- Have one chinchilla. You can keep chinchillas on their own if you provide them with lots of interaction. This almost halves your costs.
- Shop around for insurance. You can make big savings by switching provider.
- Provide lots of chew toys. Chew toys like apple wood sticks stop your chinchilla from gnawing its things, e.g. its running wheel and platforms. This keeps them in good condition for longer, so you won’t have to replace them as soon.
By far the best money-saving tip is to treat your pet well. Through proper care, you can prevent health conditions like malocclusion and eye infections. Through giving it suitable food, you make it healthier overall. This means you dramatically cut the cost of health visits, which are by far the biggest expense over a chinchilla’s lifetime.