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Chinchillas are exotic pets with specific needs. You can’t keep one in an empty cage; there are things that all chinchillas need, and without them, they can become ill or severely stressed and unhappy.

What should be in a chinchilla cage? Your chinchilla needs a water bottle, a hay rack, a separate food bowl, a hide, chew toys, platforms and substrate. Without each of these things, its quality of life will be significantly worsened. While inessential, your chinchilla can benefit from a hammock, pillow, decorations and exercise saucer.

You will need to periodically replace these things when your chinchilla chews them, and you will have to clean them occasionally too. To learn why this is all so important, read our guide below…


What Should Be In a Chinchilla Cage?

Your chinchilla’s cage is large, but you will need to fill it with lots of things. Some of these things are strictly necessary, like your pet’s water bottle; others are vital only for your pet’s well-being, like a means of exercise. Here’s a table detailing everything your chinchilla needs and how important each thing is:

Thing

Description

Importance out of 10

Water bottle

A bottle like those given to other caged pets.

10/10

Hay rack

A feeder which holds your chinchilla’s hay and stops it getting dirty.

9/10

Separate food bowl

A small bowl that holds fresh food.

7/10

Chew toys

Toys made of bamboo, wood or grape vine that stop your pet’s teeth getting too long.

10/10

Shelter (chinchilla hide)

A place where your chinchilla can hide, where it can’t see or hear anything that stresses it out.

8/10

Small pillow

Something for your chinchilla to sit on or up against.

5/10

Exercise saucer

Like an exercise wheel, but made specifically for chinchillas.

8/10

Decorations

Things that make your pet’s cage look more like a chinchilla’s natural habitat.

6/10

Hammocks Fabric strung between the walls or platforms of the cage that the chinchilla can safely sleep in. 6/10
Platforms Levels the chinchilla can jump to and from. Essential as chinchillas love to jump. 10/10
Substrate Lines the bottom of the cage to a) keep your pet comfortable, and b) prevent feces/urine pooling and building up. 10/10

It’s not advised to save money by neglecting to buy certain things from this list. If you cannot afford each of these things, plus the cost of your chinchilla’s food and associated costs, it’s instead advised not to get one and to get a cheaper pet instead.

Also, chinchillas can live for between 20 and 30 years as pets. This is far longer than other pet species of a similar size. You must therefore be prepared to pay for your pet’s food, vet care and so on for a long period of time.

1) Water Bottle

Your chinchilla needs a water bottle to drink from. These look like the ones for other pets, only bigger.

You cannot give a chinchilla water bowl because it must not get its fur wet. A bottle allows it to drink when it needs to, without the possibility of getting damp. Glass is a better choice than plastic, as chinchillas can’t chew it.

The bottle is tied to the outside of the cage to further prevent this issue. The spout sticks through the bars of the wire cage so that the chinchilla can drink from it. Tying it outside also prevents accidents, e.g. the chinchilla knocking into it or the bottle falling on your pet.

2) Hay Rack (Chinchilla Feeder)

hay rack
The hay sits inside the metal grating.

Your chinchilla will also need something to hold its hay (primary food source). If it doesn’t have a hay rack, the hay will spread around the cage and get dirty.

There are many kinds of hay rack available. Some attach to the side of the cage, while others are more like bowls. Bowls are not ideal because they encourage digging and food wastage, and being on the floor of the cage, are likely to be urinated on.

You can make your own hay holders from cloth and clip them to the sides of your pet’s cage.

3) Separate Food Bowl

80-90% of your chinchilla’s diet should be hay, while the remainder comprises fresh produce. This may seem like a large proportion of nutrient-sparse food, and you might want to give your pet more variety; but that’s not necessary.

Even so, you need somewhere to put the remaining fresh food. A small food bowl attached to the side of your pet’s wire cage is suitable for this. It should be elevated so that it cannot be urinated in, either by accident or on purpose.

It is possible for your pet to live without an extra food bowl. You could put your chinchilla’s fresh food on the floor of the cage. But because they’re so cheap, there is no reason not to get one.

4) Chew Toys

apple wood sticks
Apple wood sticks.

Your pet cannot live without chew toys. For other pets, chew toys are fun but unnecessary; but for chinchillas, they are necessary for health.

All rodents, chinchillas included, have special front teeth. These front teeth continually grow longer and longer. These teeth are very important for grinding food, burrowing (in other species) and self-defense. So, if one ever breaks, the rodent can grow another in its place and survive.

The problem is that if these teeth grow too long, they cause health problems. They can damage the gums or the roof of the mouth, causing stress, infection, difficulty eating, and even death. To stop their teeth getting too long, chinchillas grind them down on things like wood.

This means you have to provide your chinchilla with something to gnaw on. Wood is a good choice, and wooden chewing sticks can be obtained from any pet store. An even better, but more expensive, alternative is dried grape vine.

You will need to continually provide new things to chew, as chinchillas go through chew toys quickly.

5) Shelter (Chinchilla Hide)

Your chinchilla will occasionally need to hide, either from loud noises, bright lights, unknown pets/people or many other reasons. To do so, it needs a ‘hide’.

The hide is like a small hut. It needs a hole that the chinchilla can gain access through, like a door. It needs ‘walls’ to block out loud noises, and to make your pet feel safe.

You can buy hides which are stylized to varying degrees. Some look like tiny houses with lots of detail on them. Others are made to look like rocks. Which you choose depends on taste, as they all function the same.

5) Chinchilla Pillow

Your chinchilla may also benefit from a pillow or two in its cage. That’s because chinchillas are social animals, and part of being social is being physically close. Your chinchilla will get some comfort from sitting on or up against a pillow.

This applies whether your chinchilla has a cage-mate or not, but it is recommended if you must keep your chinchilla alone.

6) Exercise Saucer

Chinchillas can’t use exercise wheels like other rodents can. Almost all are too small. Besides that, the curve of the wheel is not good for your chinchilla’s back.

However, chinchillas still need to exercise like other pets do. As such, you have to get your pet something called an ‘exercise saucer’. This is like a flat disc that the chinchilla can run around on. It can reach full speed, which is vital for good exercise.

If you cannot find or afford one of these, other ways of exercising your pet exist:

  • Allow it outside of the cage more often
  • Construct a pen that your pet can run around in
  • Create a play-set that your chinchilla can jump around in, i.e. from one level to another

The more exercise and playtime your pet gets, the happier it will be.

7) Decorations

With only these few things in your pet’s cage, it would look bare. And while chinchillas are reasonably well-domesticated, they don’t like living in barren cages that look nothing like their natural environments. You could decorate your chinchilla’s cage with things like:

  • Wooden ramps and ladders to link up platforms
  • Plants suitable for chinchillas
  • Tunnels to run through

What these decorations are is up to you. But don’t pick anything plastic that your chinchilla could gnaw on and accidentally eat. So long as your chinchilla won’t get sick if it gnaws on it, or otherwise hurt themselves on it, it should be suitable. If you’re not sure whether it will be, consult a vet.

8) Chinchilla Hammock

A chinchilla hammock is exactly what it sounds like. It’s a small fabric hammock, often made of fleece. It can be hung near a platform, securely tied to the wire of the cage. The chinchilla can climb into it from the platform, rest in it, and leap down from it to the ground of the cage.

Because the hammock is made of fabric, it can be printed in various colors and patterns. You can therefore pick one to suit the style of your pet’s enclosure. You can buy them either from a pet store, or from various online stores.

These aren’t strictly necessary as your chinchilla should already have a hide. Wild chinchillas sleep in rock crevices or burrows as this is safer than sleeping in the open. So, your pet will be happy sleeping in its hide instead. But there’s no reason not to offer one, as they’re fun and offer an extra place to sleep.

9) Platforms

Platforms are wooden levels which attach to the side of the cage. The chinchilla can either jump up and down from them, or climb ladders/ramps to access them. Several are required to make the cage interesting for your pet.

Because chinchillas live in a rocky part of the world, they are used to and enjoy jumping from one level to another. You can spot this behavior whenever your chinchilla is happy: it will leap up and kick off a surface like a wall. Chinchillas can jump up to five feet in the air. You must allow your pet to express these natural behaviors by installing platforms in its cage.

Wooden platforms are ideal. That’s because chinchillas gnaw on anything and everything, even if you offer chew toys. You may have to replace them occasionally, but that’s better than using plastic platforms, which could hurt or even kill your pet if chewed (because of impaction).


Do Chinchillas Need Substrate?

‘Substrate’ is something that lines the bottom of a pet’s cage. Chinchillas are among the pets that need substrate. It’s necessary to:

  • Absorb feces and urine so that it doesn’t get in your pet’s fur. Urine can get into a chinchilla’s fur and cause smelly bacteria. It’s also important for your pet’s health that it doesn’t get its fur wet, with urine or otherwise.
  • Stop your chinchilla’s feet from poking through holes in the bottom of the cage (i.e. in a wire mesh cage).
  • Mimic the chinchilla’s natural environment, at least to an extent.

The more natural and comfortable your chinchilla’s cage is, the happier it will be. Placing substrate down is far better than having your chinchilla stand on the uncomfortable and cold bare floor of the cage.

What Substrate Should Chinchillas Have?

There are several kinds of substrate that you can provide for your chinchilla. Each has its own benefits. The three most common kinds are:

  1. Fleece liners. Fleece is a kind of cloth used for clothing. It’s reasonably soft and durable.
  2. Aspen. Aspen is a kind of wood made into chips for the pet trade.
  3. Kiln-dried pine. Pine is normally bad for chinchillas because it contains sticky sap. But if it’s kiln-dried, all the sap is taken out.

Fleece liners are a good choice because they can be reused again and again. While they are less natural, chinchillas don’t seem to mind too much provided that it’s clean and dry. To use a fleece liner, wrap something solid like wood in the fleece and place it on the floor of the cage. This provides a comfortable but solid floor over the wire mesh cage, and should stop waste seeping through.

You should not use towel as a substrate. You may think it’s similar enough to fleece that it’s fine. But towels are made from fabric that can unravel, while fleece isn’t. It’s possible for your chinchilla to gnaw at and play with any loose threads and ingest them. This can cause impaction (a blocked gut).


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The Big Chinchilla Quiz

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