You can’t let your chinchilla roam free around your house. You need to chin-proof your room first. But what does that mean, and how do you do it?
How do you chinchilla-proof a room? You have to block off entrances and exits, and the gaps underneath furniture. Tidy away any wires, or ideally, pick a room that doesn’t have any wires in it. Supervise your chinchilla at all times. The bathroom is the easiest room to chin-proof, and to clean if your chin goes to the toilet on the floor. We don’t recommend trying to chin-proof your living room as it’s probably too large and too dangerous for your pet.
The guide below first looks at whether it’s safe to let a chinchilla out of its cage at all, before giving simple steps to chin-proof a room. We’ll also give specific tips on chin-proofing your bathroom and bedroom, before taking a quick look at whether it’s safe for chinchillas to live a fully free-roaming lifestyle.
Can You Let a Chinchilla Out of Its Cage?
Chinchillas aren’t fully domesticated animals. They have only been consistently kept and tamed by people for a hundred years now. That means your chinchilla still likes exploring and living in large spaces. As such, yes, you can let your chinchilla out of its cage. Almost all owners do the same.
That being said, you can’t let your chinchilla out without preparing your room first. While chinchillas don’t like being permanently kept in cages, they aren’t used to being inside houses either; so, your pet could easily get into trouble and/or hurt itself just by wandering around your room.
How to Chinchilla-Proof a House
The process of making a room safe for a chinchilla to run around in is known as chinchilla proofing, or chin-proofing for short. It involves several steps, each of which combats one of the dangers of letting your chinchilla run free.
Step 1: Pick a Suitable Room
How hard the chinchilla-proofing process will be depends largely on which room you pick. Some rooms are much harder, if not impossible, to make suitable while others are easy.
The best room for your chinchilla to roam around in is the bathroom. Here’s why:
- Bathrooms don’t typically have carpet. Chinchillas chew on carpet, which gets stuck in their guts and causes stasis. They will also, at some point, need to go to the toilet. Solid floor is better for you and your pet.
- Bathrooms are small. The smaller the room, the fewer hiding spaces there will be, and the quicker you can make it suitable.
- Bathrooms don’t typically have easy entrances and exits your chinchilla can escape through.
And as a note, don’t try and chinchilla-proof your whole house. There are simply too many things to think about if you do: entrances and exits, wires you’ll have to tidy away, things you shouldn’t let your chinchilla chew, and so on. There are so many stories of owners who didn’t realize they were putting their pet in danger, whether because the chin wanted to jump into the toilet (a surprisingly common problem), or because there were gaps into the crawl space that the owner wasn’t aware of.
Step 2: Set Up The Play Area
You can’t let your chinchilla loose without preparing the room it’ll be in first. The rest of this guide will focus on how to do just that.
You need to make a limited space that your chinchilla will be safe in. By far the easiest way to do this is to purchase and use a chinchilla playpen. These are like the kind you get for other pets, or for kids, to play in. They are basically long and tall fences that you can place anywhere you want. While chinchillas can escape from play pens if they really want to, they’re better to have than not have. They stop your chinchilla escaping into other rooms, chewing on wires and baseboards, and generally making themselves a nuisance… But they aren’t fool proof, and chinchillas can sometimes jump out of them, get under them, or get through the bars.
If you don’t have a play pen and can’t afford one—they can be quite expensive—you do have alternatives. Cardboard panels are a cheap alternative that aren’t as secure, but at least block off gaps, baseboard and exits.
Step 3: Tidy Away Wires
With your play pen set up, you should think about making the room around it safe, too. At some point, your chinchilla will escape from its pen; chinchillas are wily and can jump surprisingly high. That’s why the rest of the room has to be made safe, too.
The first problem you should address is that chinchillas love to nibble on wires and cables. All rodents either live in burrows, or are the ancestors of rodents that did. Chinchillas spend most of their lives underground, and while they aren’t as good at burrowing as other rodents, they still need to keep their burrows clean and tidy. Whether because the chinchilla is making a new burrow, or because roots have made their way into an existing one, chins frequently have to gnaw through roots to keep their burrows livable. And on top of that, wild chins eat plant roots anyway.
As such, when your chinchilla sees a cable, it thinks Aha! A plant root! and it will waste no time in trying to gnaw through it. Not only is this very dangerous for your pet, a frayed wire could burn your house down, so tidying away any wires in your chinchilla-proof room is an indisputable necessity.
There are a few ways to do this. You can run wires high up the wall rather than along the ground to make them impossible for your pet to access. Or, you could run them through strong wire tidies (although your chin would eventually chew through these, too). The safest thing to do is to completely remove anything with a cable from the room. If you pick a room like the bathroom, it shouldn’t have too many wires in it anyway. This will save you lots of time.
While wires are the biggest threat to your pet’s health, there are other things you have to tidy away too. These include:
- Any clutter. The more clutter, the more things your pet can hide under, or pee on. Tidy your room in a general sense first.
- Anything made of plastic. Chins like gnawing on things to keep their teeth trimmed. If they gnaw on the wrong things, they can damage their teeth, and anything they ingest by accident gets stuck in their stomach. Plastic does just that.
- Anything made of cotton. Cotton, similarly, gets stuck in your pet’s gut if chewed.
Think generally: if you don’t want your chinchilla to pee on it or nibble on it, tidy it away.
Step 4: Block Off Entrances and Exits
You absolutely have to make sure that your chinchilla can’t escape. You have to be aware of every entrance and exit in the room and block it off entirely.
So, keep all windows and doors to the room shut at all times while your chinchilla is loose. You shouldn’t leave your chinchilla unsupervised while it’s outside its cage, so there should be no reason for you to open the door to get in or out at any point. If you don’t live alone, another issue you have to be aware of is that people might open the door to the room not knowing your chinchilla is loose. All it takes is a second and your chinchilla could be free to run around the house as it pleases, getting into all sorts of trouble. As such, if possible, lock the door while your chinchilla is outside its cage.
Step 5: Block Off Gaps Under Furniture
What may be less obvious are gaps leading behind cupboards and into crawl spaces. If your chinchilla gets into one of these gaps, it can be a nightmare to lure it back out again. All cupboard doors should be shut, and any gaps under furniture—even those of just one or two inches—should be closed off too.
That might be easier said than done. Your chinchilla can easily get past paper or card, for example; and anything that doesn’t cover the whole of the gap can easily be gotten around. So if you have large furniture like a couch or a wardrobe that has a gap underneath, your only option, really, is to move the thing into another room! That’s why picking a bathroom, or another room with little furniture or clutter, is by far the best option.
A play pen goes a long way to making this less of a problem. But if your chin leaps from its pen, as it eventually will, you want the room to be a safe one where it can’t hide under anything.
Step 6: Never Leave Your Pet Unsupervised
Last but not least, avoid leaving your pet on its own even for short periods of time.
One reason you need to supervise your chinchilla is that unless you make your own, it’s likely that your pet’s play pen won’t be tall enough to contain it. Some have bars that chinchillas can squeeze through—they aren’t as big as they look, because their fur makes them puffy—and most aren’t tall enough to stop a chinchilla jumping over them. Chins can jump up to five or six feet in the air if they really want to.
All of these steps are intended to make your room as safe as possible, but you shouldn’t think they give you a guarantee that your pet will be safe. If your pet ever gets out of its pen, you want to be on hand to put it back in. You don’t need to chase it around the room and make it panic—just gently get it to come to you, as it likely eventually will. Your supervision is what makes it safe to let your chinchilla out of its cage.
Can You Get Chinchilla Chew Deterrent?
Owners of other pets use chew spray, or chew deterrent, to get their pets to stop gnawing on things. When your pet is outside its cage, it will chew on anything and anything that’s in its path, including:
- Exposed wires
- The wall
- The baseboard
…And anything else it can get its teeth around. Unfortunately, sprays don’t seem to work with chinchillas. Owners report that they’ve tried things like bitter apple spray, lime spray, and commercial sprays to no effect. The problem is that it’s in a chinchilla’s nature to chew. Other animals chew because they get bored or in a playful mood. Chinchillas chew because they have to: if they don’t, their teeth will grow overlong.
For a rodent like a chinchilla, chewing is a biological evolutionary imperative. So what will likely happen is that your chinchilla will chew the things it was going to chew anyway, but not enjoy it, or worse still might get sick.
How to Chinchilla-Proof a Bathroom
We recommend chinchilla-proofing your bathroom over any other room in the house. That’s because the bathroom is small, has few entrances and exits, and the door typically has a lock. But if you do pick the bathroom, there are extra things you have to do. These don’t require much effort, but they are need-to-know.
Always keep the toilet lid down. Chinchillas love to jump from one surface to another. It’s what they do in the wild, as they live in rocky, craggy mountains areas. From your chinchilla’s perspective, the toilet has a flat surface it can stand on; it doesn’t know that if the toilet seat is up, there’s actually a big pool of water it’ll fall in. This has happened to so many owners that it’s a well-known problem.
Make sure the rest of the bathroom is dry. You don’t want the sink to be soaking wet, or the inside of the bathtub. Contrary to what some people say, if a chin gets wet, it’s not a death sentence; but it’s still inconvenient for you to dry your pet.
How to Chinchilla-Proof a Bedroom
A bedroom is a little more difficult than a bathroom to chin-proof. That’s because there are more cables, more furniture, and more windows and doors—much more for you to be aware of.
To fully ensure that your room is safe for a chinchilla, get down on your hands and knees. That might sound silly, but you’d be surprised what you pick up on when you get down to your chinchilla’s level. This will help you check for gaps underneath furniture, spot things your chinchilla might want to chew on, and identify ways out of the room you might not have noticed.
Then, all you have to do is follow the steps above, and you should be fine.
How to Chinchilla-Proof a Living Room
We would recommend against letting your chinchilla loose around the living room. There are just too many places for it to hide, doors for it to run through, cables and other things that could hurt it. You want to keep the room shut off while your chin is outside its cage, and if you live with other people, that would be highly inconvenient for them. The front room is closer to the front door, too, so it would be easier for your chinchilla to escape.
Plus, if your chinchilla is going to poop and pee somewhere when it’s not in its cage (and it will!) then it’s best for that to be in a room like a bedroom or a bathroom, rather than the living room.
We also don’t recommend chinchilla proofing your garage or kitchen. The
Can Chinchillas Free Roam?
Free roaming is the idea of letting your chinchilla move freely around your house as it likes. We don’t recommend this as we don’t believe it’s a safe way to raise your pet.
You can definitely make your house safer for your chinchilla. By following the steps above of blocking off entrances and exits and tidying away wires, you make it much less likely that your chinchilla will get hurt. But there’s no way to completely mitigate every risk. What about if:
- You come home from work and you don’t know where your chinchilla is?
- You come home from work and your chinchilla darts through the open door before you can shut it?
- You have other pets, and one of them attacks your chinchilla?
- Your chinchilla gets into the crawl space or underneath some furniture and won’t come out?
You can’t get rid of these risks. And beyond that, even when you’re just spending time with your pet, you could accidentally sit or stand on it. Chinchillas love getting into and under crevices—it’s part of their evolutionary history—so what if yours sits behind a pillow or a cushion, and you lean or even sit on it? Chins are delicate at the best of times, and your body weight would significantly hurt, perhaps kill, your pet.
It’s for these reasons that we only recommend chin-proofing a room for play time, not for free roaming.
Alternative Ways to Exercise a Chinchilla
You might live in a house or apartment where chinchilla proofing is next to impossible. If you live with lots of other people, for example, it might be highly inconvenient for you to seal off a whole room for an hour while your chinchilla plays. Or, you might simply feel unsafe letting your pet out of its cage.
If that’s the case, there are ways you can exercise your chinchilla without letting it out of its cage.
- Buy a chinchilla-safe exercise wheel. Chins enjoy running on wheels and on special saucers which were invented just for chins. They are most active at night.
- Buy an enclosed run rather than an open play pen. Some play pens have a top and bottom as well as sides. These are like big cages. One of these would be safe.
- Provide your pet with new toys. Regularly rotating which toys your chinchilla has available makes it happier.
Two things not to do are take your chinchilla outside and/or put it in an exercise ball. Chins shouldn’t go outside because the heat of the sun, or the dampness of the rain, can make them sick. Exercise balls are unsuitable for any rodent (which is why experienced owners call them death balls).
While we don’t recommend keeping a chinchilla in the same cage for its whole life, it is possible. Many breeders keep their animals in cages for their entire lives. This isn’t best for the chinchilla’s well-being, though, and the fun of having a chinchilla is spending time with it.
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