Because chinchillas are exotics, there are lots of ways they can surprise us. This includes random things we learn aren’t safe for their cages. But surely corks would be fine?
Is cork safe for chinchillas? It comes from oak, and oak is not safe for chinchillas. Its texture also means it would cause impaction, which is where the chinchilla can’t poop (gastrointestinal stasis). Cork therefore isn’t suitable as a flooring, or as part of any cage accessory. Stick to safe-list woods instead.
The guide below is a short one that examines how and why cork isn’t suitable: how it’s poisonous to chinchillas, how it can cause gastrointestinal stasis, and what to use instead.
Is Cork Safe for Chinchillas?
This is a question you don’t see so often, but it does come up occasionally. There are lots of materials that aren’t safe for chinchillas like plastic, which get gnawed and cause compaction. But because cork is natural, that may not seem like a problem.
Cork comes from the cork oak. Oak is a kind of wood you shouldn’t have in a chinchilla cage. Apparently, oaks contain high levels of tannins. Tannins have a poisonous effect on the intestinal tract and kidney. First, the animal will stop eating. It will then become depressed and lethargic, and will stop going to the toilet (pooping, specifically). This isn’t common knowledge, but it affects cattle, sheep, goats and horses that eat acorns in the spring every year.
It’s not clear whether cork would have the same poisonous effect, because it’s a completely different kind of oak. But it’s better to be safe than sorry, so you should stick to known safe materials. There are other issues, besides, that you should be aware of.
1. Chinchillas Chewing Cork: Problem?
As a chinchilla owner, you’ll know that anything that goes in your pet’s cage will get chewed. Chinchillas need to gnaw on things to keep their teeth trimmed, so any toy or cage accessory will quickly get damaged. That’s why plastic exercise wheels and platforms are bad.
Cork wouldn’t hurt a chinchilla’s teeth. Rather, the problem is that chinchillas ingest some of what they gnaw by accident. In addition to the oak/poison issue above, cork expands and can’t be broken down in the gut, so it could cause gastrointestinal stasis (constipation). This means that cork could potentially have a ‘double-whammy’ effect on your chinchilla’s gut.
Another problem is the source of the cork. Let’s say you give your chinchilla a wine bottle cork to play with. Well, is it safe for your pet to ingest some of the wine that’s absorbed into it? Probably. But does that mean other, non-wine-soaked toys are a better choice? Definitely. Store-bought corks would avoid this issue at least.
2. Cork as Cage Flooring for Chinchillas
Cork is a relatively soft material, which has led to some people asking whether it would work as the floor of a cage. It wouldn’t hurt a chinchilla’s feet, that’s for sure.
But the same issue applies here. Your chinchilla would immediately start gnawing on its wood floor. And because cork can absorb fluids, it would be a nightmare to keep clean if your chinchilla isn’t toilet trained. So both for safety and convenience, you should pick something else.
3. Cork Hide for Chinchillas
Manufacturers make cork hides for other animals that live in cages. These are exactly what they sound like: the same as wooden hides, but made from cork instead. Again, your chinchilla would start gnawing on it and run into all the problems above. Even if a product is marketed for small animals, that doesn’t mean it’s safe.
There’s not much to know other than that. It’s better to steer clear of cork in any shape or form, so any other cork cage accessories are ‘forbidden’ too.
There are plenty of safe wood options out there that are proven to be suitable. Kiln dried pine is one. While pine is normally poisonous to chinchillas, this particular drying process gets rid of the poisonous sap inside, making it safe. It’s used for bedding, flooring and cage accessories. Choose this instead, and if not, always check whether a particular wood is safe before putting it in your chinchilla’s cage.