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Chinchillas aren’t difficult to care for. But like any other kind of pet, you’ll need to buy certain things in advance before you get one. If you don’t, it’ll be a mad scramble to get what you need!
That’s what this post is for. If you hypothetically got everything in the list below, you will have every essential that your chinchilla needs to survive, plus a few things to make it happy. Everything in the list below was chosen because it has great reviews and is tried and tested by real chinchilla owners and experts like us.
Let’s start by listing everything you’ll need; then we’ll look at each item in depth.
Your chinchilla needs a cage to live in. Chins obviously don’t have cages in the wild, so can survive without them. But there are a few problems with letting your chinchilla live free around your home:
- Chinchillas love small enclosed spaces. Your chin would try hiding under furniture, in cupboards and in crawl spaces.
- Chinchillas are delicate. You could seriously injure your pet by sitting on it or standing on it.
- Your chinchilla will try to escape, and will almost certainly succeed at some point! Escaped chinchillas are hard to find.
At the same time, you can’t get your chinchilla a normal hamster or guinea pig cage. For starters, chinchillas are bigger than your average rodent pet. But on top of that, chins love to jump because of the part of the world they come from. They come from the mountainous Andes, where they hop from one rock to another to get around. Your chin therefore likes being able to hop upwards from one platform to another. So not only does your chin’s cage need to be wider and deeper than a normal rodent cage, it needs to be much taller too.
MidWest cages are easily the most common used by chinchilla owners. Their two most popular products are the Ferret Nation and Critter Nation cages. They’re broadly similar choices. If you need a slightly smaller cage, try the Prevue cage instead.
Most chinchilla cages come with platforms pre-installed, but some don’t. If yours doesn’t, you should install some.
The point of platforms is that they allow your chinchilla room to jump upwards and downwards in its cage. Chins come from the Andes, a mountain range in South America. They therefore do a lot of hopping in the wild from one rock to another. Generally speaking, the more similar your chinchilla’s life to that of its wild cousins, the better; so platforms are good.
Platforms like the Alfie Pet Charon range come with small metal attachments that fit to the bars of your pet’s cage. They’re very easy to install. If your pet’s cage has plastic platforms, you should consider removing them and replacing them with wooden ones like the Rounder range or those linked above, as chins have a bad habit of chewing on plastic and getting sick.
Your chinchilla needs a water bottle like any other rodent pet would; it needs water to survive. Chinchillas admittedly don’t need much, because again, they come from the Andes. It’s dry there and they get most of their water from their food rather than drinking water. But your chin’s dry diet of hay won’t give it enough.
Your chin also needs a water bottle as opposed to a water bowl. A water bowl would be made dirty by loose strips of hay, pee and poop.
There are a couple things to look out for when it comes to buying a water bottle. One is that it doesn’t leak. It’s best for your chinchilla’s health that it doesn’t get wet. But it’s also important that your anti-leak bottle doesn’t actually give out no water at all, which can happen. It’s therefore a wise move to buy one cheap, normal water bottle and one good one like the Lixit Chew-Proof Glass Bottle just in case one of them doesn’t work. Keep an eye on them to make sure at least one of them works properly.
A hay rack (like the Trixie Hay Rack) is exactly what it sounds like. It attaches to the side of the cage, and you put all of your chinchilla’s hay inside. This keeps your pet’s cage mostly tidy (although chins have a bad habit of taking hay, nibbling at it, and throwing the rest away).
It beats putting the hay loose in a corner, or putting it in a bowl, at least. Leaving it loose would get the hay dirty and the cage messy, while food bowls can be dangerous if they’re just light enough to lift or move but heavy enough to hurt your chinchilla. There are lots of different kinds of hay rack available, but many of them are plastic, which makes them unsuitable; this one is made of metal wire.
Chinchilla Hay (Timothy Hay)
Chinchillas need food to live! They should be fed unlimited amounts of hay. Timothy hay is a good choice because it contains almost everything that chinchillas need to thrive. While we may need varied diets to live healthily, chinchillas don’t, and a diet almost entirely consisting of hay is fine.
Some people feed their chinchillas fruits and vegetables, but this isn’t best practise. That’s because fruits and vegetables contain a) too much water, and b) too many easily-digested sugars. These can give your pet diarrhea. It’s best for your chinchilla to stick to hay, hay pellets and the occasional suitable snack instead.
There are many hay brands available. The most common are Oxbow and Kaytee, but there are lots of smaller brands available too. Your chinchilla may like one better than the other, so you may need to experiment and give it several different types before it finds one it likes.
Chinchilla Hay Pellets
Hay pellets are made of compressed hay. Depending on the type you get, they may contain additives or may not. The point of pellets is to ensure that your chinchilla doesn’t run too low on certain minerals, which can happen if it eats one kind of loose hay its entire life. As such, owners recommend giving chinchillas two tablespoons of hay pellets per day alongside unlimited fresh hay.
Again, there are many brands available such as Oxbow. Most contain alfalfa, which is a higher-protein and higher-fat hay that contains more calcium than average.
Snacks aren’t strictly necessary for your chinchilla. However, there are good reasons to buy them.
One is that your chinchilla will enjoy them. While chinchillas can thrive on a non-varied diet, they do nevertheless enjoy trying new things. You can make your chinchilla happy by giving it the occasional treat. Another reason is that there are precious few suitable snacks, so while you may be tempted to give your chinchilla certain things you already have around the house—like fruits or vegetables—these won’t be good for it. It’s therefore best to have tried-and-tested suitable snacks ready if you need them. Suitable snacks include rosehips, camomile from EarthWise Aromatics and other flower petals.
Anti-Pill Fleece for Chinchilla Cages
Your chinchilla needs bedding for its cage. Your first instinct may be to use hay, but while chinchillas live in burrows in the wild, they don’t actually burrow; they use the old abandoned burrows of other animals, and these burrows aren’t made of hay/grasses anyway. Rather, your chinchilla would eat the bedding hay, and that wouldn’t be good for it as it would be covered in pee and poop. The same applies to paper bedding. That’s why almost all owners use anti-pill fleece as bedding instead: it’s soft, isn’t easily chewed, and is reusable.
Bedding is essential for your chinchilla because it can hurt its feet standing on solid wood or wire cage floors. This is the root cause of a horrible condition called bumblefoot which can irreparably damage your chinchilla’s feet and even kill it.
Be sure to buy anti-pill fleece like this example from Newcastle Fabrics. Anti-pill fleece doesn’t develop tiny bobbles that can be pulled away from the material (like you get with clothes). This stops your chinchilla nibbling on it.
A hide is a small enclosed area that your chinchilla can retreat to when it needs time alone—like a tiny hut or a house. If you’ve ever kept a small pet before, then you likely bought it a hide for it to hide in. Chinchillas need the same.
Again, you should avoid buying anything made of plastic for your chinchilla’s cage. Plastic hides and other cage furniture are unfortunately common. This example from Kaytee is made of wood, which is safe for your chinchilla to chew. You will have to buy a new one eventually, but that’s the cost of keeping a chinchilla!
Chinchillas don’t bathe like we do. Their fur is so thick that if they bathe in water, it takes them an age to get dry. As such, they bathe in dust instead: their Andean habitat has lots of volcanic dust for them to roll around in.
It is possible to buy this kind of dust—it’s called Blue Cloud. Chemically and functionally it’s the same thing as the volcanic dust you find in the Andes. Many brands sell it, like Kaytee.
The problem is that inhaling this dust may be bad for your health. As such, if you plan on using it, you should take precautions not to breathe it in, for example by wearing a mask and keeping the windows open. Alternatively, consider using a different medium like Bob’s Red Mill corn starch or Reptisand; these aren’t as effective, but are safe for use.
Chinchilla Dust Bath
A dust bath is where you put your chinchilla’s dust for it to roll around in. The point is that it keeps the dust in one place so that it doesn’t mess up your room. This is a big problem: regular chinchilla dust billows up into clouds and will settle everywhere unless it’s contained.
If you want to save on costs, you can use something like a mixing bowl and put it in your bathtub. The dust will billow up, but it will work well enough. But you can get ones that are specially designed for chinchillas like this Lixit brand one, featuring a little roof that stops the dust getting everywhere.
Chew Toys for Chinchillas
Chinchillas are rodents, and all rodents have special teeth that grow continually. While they’re made of the same things that our teeth are made of, they grow all the time—slowly—like our fingernails. As such, in the same way we have to file or trim our fingernails, chinchillas have to keep their teeth short or else they grow too long. They do this by chewing on things.
If you don’t provide your chinchilla anything to chew on, its instincts will tell it to chew whatever it can, such as its cage bars. This will make its teeth crooked and stop it from eating properly. You therefore have to give it chew toys such as these William Craft apple wood sticks. These are cheap and you should always have some to hand.
Travel Carrier/Travel Cage
Chinchillas need to go to the vet occasionally just like other pets. If you don’t have a travel carrier, it will be much harder to get them there.
If you already have one that you purchased for another pet, then that will work for your chinchilla too (so long as you cover the floor with a comfortable fleece and provide a hide for the chin to hide in). If you haven’t, then a normal pet carrier like this one from MidWest will be sufficient.
Thermometer and Hygrometer
These last few items aren’t strictly necssary. But they can make your life a lot easier if you have them.
A hygrometer measures humidity in the same way that a thermometer measures temperature. It’s important to get both the temperature and humidity levels right in your chinchilla’s cage.
The reason for this is that chinchillas come from a part of the world with a very specific climate. The Andes are cool but very dry, and you need to provide the same kind of environment for your chinchilla at home. Chinchillas can overheat very easily because of their thick fur. One option is the ThermoPro thermometer/hygrometer combo and place it near your chin’s cage to make sure it enjoys suitable conditions. For more information on the correct temperature and humidity, check our guides on the subject.
Cooling Slab (Chin-Chiller)
Another temperature-related item is the cooling slab. This helps your chinchilla stay cool in the summer. You leave it in the freezer overnight, which leaves it freezing cold; you then wrap it in fleece or similar material and leave it in your chinchilla’s enclosure for it to sit on.
This is the best way to cool down a chinchilla, although it’s not the only way. Allowing air flow (if the outside is cooler than the inside) can help too, and it’s possible to use other frozen things similarly wrapped up in material for your chinchilla to sit on. You may even already have ice packs that can be used in the same way. But if you don’t, the Chinchilla Chiller from Kaytee works very well.
Exercise Wheels for Chinchillas
Chinchillas need exercise like any other pet, for both their mental and physical health. One way of providing this is by letting your chinchilla out of its cage occasionally, which is fine, so long as you’ve prepared your room to do so. You could alternatively get your chinchilla an exercise wheel.
If you already have a wheel that you bought for a previous pet like a hamster or guinea pig, don’t give it to your chinchilla. These wheels are almost always too small, are often made of plastic, and have gaps in the surface of the wheel that your chinchilla can trap its feet in. You need a wheel that is specially made for chinchillas like the Chin Spin. There are cheaper alternatives available like the Exotic Nutrition treadmill wheel, but only buy ones that are specially made for chinchillas and approved by owners.
A hammock isn’t at all necessary for your chinchilla’s enclosure, but it is a nice addition. It’s exactly what it sounds like: a fabric sling you attach to the sides of your chinchilla’s cage that it can sit and relax in. You can make one of your own or buy a pre-made one like the Homeya small animal hammock.