Rope is a common kind of chew toy for pets. People put it in chinchilla cages all the time. But is it safe? Can chinchillas eat rope or gnaw on it safely?
Is rope safe for a chinchilla cage? Soft ropes made of cotton or polyester are unsuitable. They can be easily broken down, and their indigestible fibers will clog up your chinchilla’s gut and cause stasis. Harder ropes like sisal rope or seagrass rope are better, but may still have the same effect. We recommend other toys and materials instead.
This applies to any kind of rope, whether it’s used to make rope chinchilla toys or to hang something up in the cage. Our guide below details each of the different kinds of rope, plus what makes them so unsuitable.
Is Rope Safe for Chins?
Rope isn’t immediately dangerous to a chinchilla. By that, we mean that they aren’t allergic to it: they won’t keel over dead as soon as look at it. For that reason it’s used to tie things together and hang things from the sides or tops of chinchilla cages.
But because chinchillas are gnawers they can quickly make their way through most ropes. And as you likely know, when a chinchilla gnaws something, it can accidentally ingest some of it. Rope isn’t safe for a chinchilla to ingest, which means it’s not suitable for a chinchilla cage.
You particularly shouldn’t use any rope that has soft fibers. That means any kind of cotton rope or polyester rope is unsuitable. This rules out most ropes.
Why Is Rope Unsuitable for Chinchillas?
The reason why soft ropes made of cotton or polyester are unsuitable is that they’re made of lighter, looser fibers than old-fashioned rope. That means that when your chinchilla chews on them, the fibers will easily come free.
For you, that’s a problem because you’ll have to replace your chinchilla’s toys frequently. That’ll cost you money.
But more importantly, it’s a problem for your chinchilla. Chinchillas gnaw on things because their teeth continually grow, and they need to keep them trimmed down. They prefer gnawing on things like wood, but will chew on anything that’s within range. When they chew, they accidentally swallow some of whatever they’re chewing, even if it’s not suitable for them.
When a chinchilla eats something that it can’t digest, this causes an issue called ‘impaction’. This is where the indigestible material gathers in your chinchilla’s gut to form a solid mass that can’t be passed. This will eventually stop your chinchilla going to the toilet, and even eating. Eventually a chinchilla with this condition (stasis) will pass away.
Suitable vs. Unsuitable Rope for Chinchillas
There are lots of different kinds of rope. They can be made from suitable or unsuitable materials. The rope may also be treated in some way that makes it more (or less) suitable for a chinchilla’s cage. The section below explores these differences.
Is Regular Rope Safe for Chinchillas?
Cotton rope is easily the most common in use today. It’s used in lots of applications related to animals because it’s soft and easy to bend. It’s also used in all sorts of crafty, DIY settings; plus it’s cheap. You might therefore think it’s perfect for chinchillas. But it’s not.
Whereas cotton rope’s softness makes it desirable elsewhere, here, it means it’s completely unsuitable. A chinchilla could chew through a rope like this in a matter of seconds.
Cotton of any kind isn’t digestible. Stomach acid won’t break it down, and the bacteria of the gut can’t break it apart. It won’t dissolve no matter how long it’s left in water/fluid. And because it also can’t be moved along the gut easily, it gets stuck in your chinchilla’s belly. You therefore shouldn’t use it for anything in a chinchilla cage, with no exceptions.
Is Polyester Rope Safe for Chinchillas?
Polyester is a synthetic material made from a kind of plastic. It’s derived from coal, air, water and petroleum. It was first developed in the 20th century, and makes an excellent cheap and versatile material for making clothes. The most common variety is PET (polyethylene terephthalate) which is also used to make bottles.
However, because it’s made from a kind of plastic, polyester is unsuitable for a chinchilla’s cage. Your chinchilla can easily gnaw through it and accidentally eat it. Again, plastic isn’t digestible and causes the same issues as cotton.
Is Hemp Rope Safe for Chinchillas?
Hemp is a versatile material that can be turned into paper, fabric, board, and rope among other things. While it’s had a bad rap in the past, it has recently become more popular as people realize how many uses it has. It’s a tougher, coarser rope than cotton.
Despite being stronger, though, it’s very fibrous. If you’ve ever held a basic kind of hemp rope, you’ll know that it has tiny fibers coming off it even when it isn’t damaged or chewed. That’s bad, because these fibers can come loose.
On the plus side, hemp is a digestible material. As hemp rope has been processed, it’s less digestible than raw hemp. But it can still be digested given enough time, so it’s less of a problem. Even so, it’s best not to let your chinchilla gnaw on any.
Is Sisal Rope Safe for Chins?
Sisal rope is a kind of rope made from natural fibers. It comes from a kind of agave plant that’s native to southern Mexico, but which has since been naturalized in many other countries.
The fibers you can get from processed sisal plants is stiffer than that you get from other sources (e.g. cotton). Because of this fact, sisal rope isn’t as easily chewed through as other kinds of rope. This makes it much safer for use in a chinchilla cage.
Many owners use it for a variety of applications, including:
- Tying toys to the top or sides of a cage
- Tying together large bundles of hay
- In the construction of things like DIY hides and hammocks
Despite being safer, we still don’t recommend using it for reasons we’ll detail below.
Is Seagrass Rope Safe for Chinchillas?
Seagrasses are a kind of flowering plant found on the sea floor. There are lots of different kinds, but they broadly look like regular grass, only underwater. These kinds of grasses can be dried and turned into twine among other things. Seagrass rope is like sisal rope: much tougher than cotton.
Again, seagrass is a digestible material, but seagrass rope has been processed to make it tough. It’s therefore not as digestible as natural seagrass.
Treated vs. Untreated Rope for Chinchillas
Rope can fall in one of two categories: treated and untreated. Treated ropes are coated in chemicals to give them some desirable quality or other, such as being waterproof or being stronger. This applies to all kinds of rope, including more suitable ones like sisal.
It’s essential that if you do put rope in your chinchilla’s cage, you don’t use a treated rope. Chinchillas will gnaw and chew on anything you give them whether it’s suitable or not. If they ingest glue, they can pass away.
Another way in which a rope might be treated is that it has glued ends. The glue holds the fibers in place to stop them unravelling. This is good, because the rope is more difficult to break apart. But it’s also terrible, because you should never put any kind of glue in a chinchilla’s cage. The same applies if the rope has plastic caps at the end.
Where you get the rope from will also make a difference. The kind of rope you can buy in hardware stores will likely be coated in something. So, only buy rope if it’s advertised as a pet product.
Dyed vs. Non Dyed Rope for Chinchillas
Another problem is if the rope has been dyed. Some are dyed to give them a more natural color; others are dyed to give them a funky color like yellow or bright green. Others have patterns.
You shouldn’t give your chinchilla any rope that’s been dyed, whether it’s a more suitable kind like sisal or not. Chinchillas shouldn’t ingest any kind of ink or dye.
Should You Put Rope in a Chinchilla Cage?
There are conflicting stories on whether sisal rope is safer than regular rope for chinchillas. The vast majority of owners say they’ve used it for years without a problem. Others say that they’ve heard stories that it causes impaction.
It stands to reason, though, that hard ropes would have the same effect as softer ropes. It would just take longer for them to break apart and be accidentally eaten. We therefore don’t recommend using rope in a chinchilla cage, even though many owners don’t think it’s a major problem.
Part of the reason we’re comfortable saying this even though so few, or perhaps no owners at all, have ever had a problem with sisal rope is that there are so many suitable toys to use as alternatives. Apple wood sticks are one that’s exceedingly common. There isn’t any reason to use potentially-dangerous rope instead of products that are proven to be perfectly safe.