This guide is to help our potential clients in finding the basic supplies necessary for what we consider to be a quality home. (NOTE: Carriers added to.)
Cages: Chinchillas need a large, plastic free cage approximately 2’x 2’x 3' to 4’ high. While there are many people with single chins in smaller cages, we want bigger for those adopted from us. These cages will be their home for many years. (All the prices given below were current as of summer 2010 but are subject to change.)
Most cages at pet stores are generally too much money for too little cage. Popular alternatives are available.
Quality Cage's Mansion (below) is a top of the line cage. We recommend the 2 door version that starts at around $200 (without stand). Stands of different heights are available ($55 for the 10"). There is an optional 1/2" wire bottom or drop-in grid for the pull-out tray. Other good items from QC are the 15" Chinspin, bottle brush, carriers and small collapsible travel cage (see below), 8oz Lixit water bottles and Blue Cloud dust.
NOTE: The bottom wire must be changed (at an extra charge) to 1/2 x 1/2 wire or there is a risk of broken legs. It is easy to retrofit existing cages as the new wire will slide over the 1". The plastic door guards need to be replaced with the available option of metal guards. Guards are not needed around the top. I also like 2 big doors. Ez latches are another worthwhile option. We use 1 latch per door but if you have an escape artist, get two per door. You can also specify right or left opening doors at no extra charge. The QC Mansion is only a few dollars more than the QC Townhouse and has the potential to be the best cage available. We have three Mansions with 2 big doors, 1/2" bottom wire, 10" roller stands, metal door guards and EZ latches.
QC Mansion and stand
The Ferret Nation 182 (below) is a popular cage and comes with a built-in roller stand for about $200-225. These are often available from chain pet stores who will match prices with internet offers. NOTE, April 2010: Prices seem to be in the $225 range now, including shipping. Check with Ferret.com for current prices. Shipping can be very expensive so look for deals. The original plastic pans need to be replaced with pan(s) made by Bass ($70 delivered, often damaged) as well as adding wood shelves and a variety of ledges. Your basic cage will be an empty shell that can be 1 or 2 cages. We have six of these.
Note: if you want to use the shelves that come with the cage, disgard the plastic inserts, cut two pieces of 1x10", lay these on the shelf from front to back and secure them to the cage's back and side bars using screws and fender washers. Outside shelves will need to be notched at the corners so as to fit flush to the bars. Corners are seldom square and bar spacing varies. Gaps can be dangerous to your chin's feet. The inside shelf should be secured in place with 3/4" screws and 3/16" fender washers from the bottom to keep the two boards flat and flush.
An advantage of the FN cages is that you can start with a FN 181 for about $150. This is the bottom cage, roller stand and storage shelf. You can add a second unit (FN183) for about $100 and even a third. See more at Midwest. For assembly tips see this video.
Critter Nation cages are similar to Ferret Nation cages. The bar spacing is 1/2" instead of 1" and the bars run horizontal. While often found for a slightly lesser cost, the newer CN cages are noticeably less robust and are not recommended.
NOTE: The 142 and the 182 are NOT compatible.
FN 142/182 as a single cage FN 142/182 divided into two cages Martin PDF 450
The Marin's Chinchilla Townhouse (PDF-450) (top right, 36" x 30" x 60") and the Martin's Chinchilla Highrise FC-430HR (30" x 18" x 48") are great cages. These need to be ordered without the wire interior in order to get the optional large doors big enough to install a chinspin and to make cleaning easier. A pull-out tray under 1/2" wire is another desirable option as are legs and castors.
Cages can be made if you are a bit handy and have some basic tools. Even hardware cloth over a pine frame can be suitable if carefully done. Many materials can be found at www.klubertanz.com. Contact us for more information.
Other pet store's cages can be made suitable by joining 2 of the same model or other modifications to make them plastic-free and large enough. Plastic shelves must be removed. Wire shelves can be covered or replaced with wood and/or tile. Ramps should be removed and too large spacing corrected with more shelves or ledges. We will be happy to advise you as to the potential suitability of any cage. For ideas, see our photo album 'Reworked Pet Store Cages'.
The easiest to find wood to use for shelves is #2 shelving board- white pine. It is called common board at Home Depot and white board or pine board at Lowes. The sizes I found useful are the 1x8, 1x10 and 1x12 in 6 foot or 8 foot lengths. Lowes and Home Depot can cut these for you if you are sure of the lengths needed. Mount the shelves with 1-1/4" #8 lathe screws and 3/16 x 1 1/4 fender washers. Boxes of 100 can be found at Home Depot for less than $20 for both. This is much less money and work than is needed for hanger bolts and wing nuts. It's a good idea to sand the shelves to close the grain and minimize adsorption. Shelves can be routered and have molding attached for looks and to limit the mess around a cage.
Note: a better but more expensive wood is poplar. It is harder and doesn't splinter as easily when chewed. It is about twice as expensive as pine but not prohibitive.
Poplar shelves with guards. (Thanks Zach)
Small ledges, corner shelves, etc., can be made for much less than the cost of pet store products. Install them about 10" or less apart and have twice as much room to come down as there is to jump up. Having two separate routes to the top of the cage from the bottom is a good idea as is limiting any potential fall greater than 2 feet by installing a shelf or hammock in the space. Pictured above (starting top right) leaping ledge, 2 grapevine ledges from a pet store bird section and a ledge made from an end piece of a shelving board.
Note: if your cage has a plastic pan as a bottom, it can be protected from chewing by adding wood guards attached to the wire with 3/4 screws and fender washers, covering the top of the pan. Guards can be as wide as necessary:
Bedding: If pine bedding gets wet (urine) it releases potentially dangerous compounds- even kiln dried. Aspen is better and safe. Carefresh and the like can be dangerous if ingested and is very expensive. We use, and re-use, liners made of anti-pil fleece. Anti-pil fleece is safe cloth to use because it will not unravel into dangerous threads if chewed. Many people use pretty colors. We use white so we can see blood or discharges, urinary output, etc. Cut liners about 2" wider than the cage pan and launder in any Oxyclean or free and clear product. We have found Green and Fireside (brands) fleece on sale at Hancock's and at Jo-Ann's at half off the regular price.
Shop-vacs make clean-up easier.
A wire travel carrier will also be needed to bring your chin home and to the vet. Quality cage designed the CNC-1610 to our specifications as an evacuation carrier. If you have only one chin, the second side can be used for storage. Quality Cage also makes the CC-8, an all wire single carrier for about $30 delivered. We usually have a new one for sale. Avoid crates that have rivets, etc., sticking up on the inside or anything else that could harm a chin in an accident.
CNC-1610 Evacuation Carrier CC-8 single carrier
Cloth carriers are not suitable.
A small collapsible cage of some kind for use as a temporary home if you are forced to travel is also a good idea. Several are available from Quality Cage: (L to R): travel/maternity cage; travel cage with added hammock; travel cage collapsed. A chinspin will fit in many of their travel cages.
Exercise Wheel- in my opinion, there is only one good choice, the 15 inch Quality Cage Chin Spin, @ $83 delivered. It will last for years, has a wide, solid running surface and a sufficiently large diameter so that it prevents a chinchilla from having to arch it's back in a concave manner. We require this wheel for all adoptions and keep one new in the box for clients who don't want to wait to have one delivered from Quality Cage. Another type of exercise equipment is the Flying Saucer. Some chins will use these, others won't. This is something you may wish to consider later. All our chins can and do use wheels. We do not recommend the use of large plastic balls for chins to run around the house in.
Water bottles should be mounted vertically, not slanted, with the spout's tip at about shoulder height. Too high can result in water in the lungs. Twisting their head almost upside down while drinking is normal. While there are several glass bottles available, we use Lixit exclusively, the 8 oz Lixit glass bottle for 1 chin, the 16 oz for two or more. These can be found in PetsMarts’ bird sections or ordered from us or Quality Cage. It may have a small plastic animal (turtle) in it which should be removed. Make sure the mounting spring is included. Get a spare bottle, too. You will need a bottle brush for the bottle and also one for the spout. The 2-in-one Lixit bottle brush can be ordered from Quality Cage. Identical brushes with a different brand label are to be found at Petsmart. If your cage has horizontal bars or too large spacing, a bottle holder can be useful. Bottles can be cleaned in the dishwasher.
Note: Super Pet also makes a glass bottle. Many people are using these without problems but I find it impossible to clean the spout. The small bottle has a larger diameter spout than the small Lixit bottle. This is a consideration for some chins. These are available at Double M.
Lixit Bottles Superpet
Bottle Brushes Bottle Holder
Tap water, spring water, and most other filtered bottled waters are not good enough for chins. Buy water filtered by reverse osmosis (R/O) in gallon jugs or use a faucet water filter. The PUR 3 filter attaches to your tap and works well. It will remove most harmful contaminants, including giardia (a common parasite) except for chlorine and fluoride. While the PUR 3 is good enough, we use a second filter - a Brita pitcher - to reduce the amount of chlorine. NEW: The Brita Faucet Filtration systems Model FF-100 and OPFF-100 remove microbiological cryptosporidium and giardia as well as many contaminants. These systems are also acceptable sources of water.
Food bowl: small ceramic bowls work well. If they are too big, chins will sit on them or in them. A 3” bowl 1 ½” deep works fine.
There are two readily available top foods: Oxbow Chinchilla Deluxe and Mazuri. All our chins are fed Oxbow Chinchilla Deluxe pellets. Oxbow is a preferred provider to NOLA Chinchilla Rescue and their products are widely available.
1 chin eating 2-3 tbsp. per day (the recommended amount) will go through 5 lbs in about 2 months, more or less. Don’t run out. Check the expiration date. The 5, 10 and 25 lb bags are good for 2 years. A small scoop makes measuring easier. This one (below) came with a package of houseplant fertilizer. One is included with 3 pound jars of Blue Cloud.
The hay you will be using the most of is Western Timothy grass hay and Orchard Grass hay. We feed about 80% timmy with a small amount of orchard grass added to the daily handful(s). Nothing except air is more important than hay for chins. Unlimited amounts of clean hay should always be available. Other grass hays are good for adding variety: orchard grass and botanical hay are two. All are available from Oxbow. If you need to order hay, the best bet is KMS Hayloft or Small Pet Select. Their hay is of the highest quality and freshness. Other fair to excellent brands of western timothy are Alfalfa King, American Pet Diner, Zupreme. I have found Kay Tee hay to be poor quality. One chin will go through a 40 oz bag of western Timothy and a 15 oz bag of Orchard Grass per month. You will have a lot of wastage in the feeding and at the bottom of the bag. Hay is cheap. Buying Oxbow Western Timothy in 9 lb boxes is more economical.
Never run out of hay. It is essential to the their good health and survival.
If feeding Oxbow or Mazuri alfalfa based pellets, there is no need to give additional alfalfa (although it usually isn't harmful) unless your chinchilla is less than a year old, pregnant or nursing or when recommended for a medical condition.
Hay holder: 4” unglazed terra cotta orchid pot. Otherwise a wide variety of wooden hay bins can be ordered online. I make mine (below, right) from 1/4x4 poplar. It takes about 28" to make one. Stay away from wire hay bins and balls. Legs or necks can get caught in them and broken. Plastic bins are not safe to use either.
Chinchillas bathe in dust, not water. Your chin needs regular dust baths, from every other day to twice a week, depending on the humidity. After use, remove the bath. Anywhere from a half inch to a couple inches of dust in the bottom of the bath house will be fine. We start each month with a 12 oz glass full of new dust in a house. A lot gets thrown out of the house during use and partial refilling is usually necessary. Our average use is 1 pound per chin per month. Dust can be reused many times - until it no longer “dusts up”. Figure on a complete replacement of dust at least once a month. Between refills, use a small strainer to sift the fecal pellets (poos) out of the dust.
The 2 top dusts are Blue Cloud and Blue Sparkle. Both need to be ordered and can be bought by the pound from several places. 50# bags are available from Chinworld @ $85 including shipping. Chinworld is a preferred provider to NOLA Chin Rescue. Another good dust available in many feed stores is LM Farms dust (fuller’s earth). Kay Tee dust isn’t very good and the scented dust may be harmful. NOTE: Blue Cloud is also available from the very reputable Ryerson Ranch for a good bit cheaper if you are in the East or Midwest. NEW! Blue Cloud is now available in 3 lb jars from Lixit. QC and Petsmart have it.
Many stores sell plastic barn shaped dust houses. These work good. There are many other options: cookie jars, goldfish bowls, empty rectangular plastic chain cans, galvanized drain pans, etc.
There are ceramic bath houses shaped like chins that come in various pastel colors. These are not really suitable for dust baths. However, almost all our chins fall in love with them and use them as an extra hidey house. They are very cool inside. NO LONGER AVAILABLE. We make a chill house (below right).
Tiles and chill pads help your chin stay cool. Below is a pet store bought chinchiller pad, on the right, a tile from Lowe's for half the price. Thicker pieces keep cool longer. We also sell chill pads and chill tunnels in our store.
Chance is sleeping on a donated piece of 3cm marble.
Your chin will also need a wooden hidey house. Houses can also be easily made from a 1 x 8 pine or poplar board. Use wood glue, not screws or nails. Houses that mount under a shelf are popular with our chins, too.
NOTE: We can no longer approve any pet store wood house due to metal fasteners that can harm a chin's teeth.(nails, clips). If you have this house, keep watch for nail heads, etc., being exposed. If you see metal, please discard the house to protect your chin's teeth
Various houses from our store
Your chin’s teeth grow all the time and he needs to chew. The kabob hangers are ok, but only provide wood toys on it- no mineral blocks, ice cream cone chews or any unsafe or unknown wood chews. Chincare.com has a list of safe woods. Note: this site is a great place to learn more. If you want to make your own toys, consider using poplar instead of pine.
Pumice stones and cholla logs are also good chews. The stones can be drilled for hanging on a kabob.
Supplements: There are many supplements offered by various suppliers. We supplement calcium and vitamin C on a daily basis in the form of a whole rose hip per day. We have these for sale for $10/lb.
Treats: Avoid treats with sugar or fats: raisins, nuts, fresh or dried fruits. Previously it was thought that unsweetened shredded wheat, cheerios and raw Quaker oats were safe treats however studies have shown that milled grins may inhibit the adsorption of calcium. We now only recommend whole oats (racehorse feed) and safe chew sticks (apple, pecan, etc) as treats. Treats should be limited to just a couple per day.
Apple twigs, rose hips, pumice stones and a kabob, displayed on a fleece hammock; Hammocks should be made from anti-pil fleece are safer than those found in pet stores.
Below: toy making supplies: pre-drilled wood blocks from Petco, small chain, book rings, shredders from the bird section, piece of cardboard tube, drilled pumice stone, bigger wood pieces; (rt) toys on a chain. We do not suggest making toys from pine as it is very soft and splinters easily. Poplar is a much better choice.
Our chins always have several pumice stones, blocks and toys to gnaw on. It is suggested that toys be swapped out on a regular basis to prevent your chin from getting bored. There are a multitude of chinnie supplies merchants.
Another fun toy is a small paper bag filled with several types of hay, a small chew stick and a pinch of an Oxbow treat, tied with rafia (below).
You will also need a scale to keep track of their weight. Salter (above) are some of the most popular. They should read +2 grams.
Chinchillas are very dependent on air conditioning (<75 F) and humidity control (< 50%). If you prefer not to keep your whole house in the 70 degree range for the chin’s health and comfort, consider installing a window a/c in the room they are kept in. Simple monitors (2 on left) can be found at discount stores. More accurate and elaborate can also be found.
There is a wide variety of toys, habitats, play lands, etc, for chinchillas. A popular one for playtime is the Cottontail Cottage.
Sections of large cardboard tubes left over from carpet and linoleum rolls (donated by Acadian Flooring) also provide a lot of fun for the chins. A catch tube can be made from a 24" piece of 4-5" tube, with a piece of screen held by a rubber band over one end. Just set this down and wait. Chins can't resist going in to explore. Cover the open end with your hand and take them back to their cage. Cardboard tubes are not suitable for consumption in any excepting very small amounts.
Televisions are also quite popular with chins. We leave one on at night to provide stimulation.
You will also need a good exotic veterinarian who is very familiar with chinchillas. These are far and few between. Luckily, our local vet are some of the best: Dr Rich and Dr Pence at the
Checklist for a well equipped chin home:
___ Cage (stand, shelves, ledges, pans, bedding or liners)
___ Wire carrier
___ Travel cage
___ Spray bottle for cleaning (50/50 water and vinegar)
___ Chinspin exercise wheel
___ Wooden hidey house
___ Ceramic hidey house
___ Dust bath
___ Dust (Blue Cloud, Blue Sparkle, LM Farms)
___ Water bottles – 2 x Lixit 8 oz for singles, 2 x 16 oz for multiple chins (1 spare)
___ Bottle brushes – 1 for the water bottle, 1 for inside the spout
___ Pur 3 water filter, Brita faucet filter or R/O water
___ Food bowl – small ceramic
___ Hay container – wood hay bin, 4” flower pot or similar. Avoid plastic or wire racks
___ Oxbow Chinchilla Deluxe 5 lbs = 2-3 months; have a spare bag as supplies are not always certain.
___ Oxbow western timothy hay – 40 oz bag lasts 1 chin 1 month. Never run out. Hay is good for 2 years if stored properly.
___ Orchard grass and other grass hays for variety
___ Scale for weighing in grams, + 2 grams (Salter)
___ Kabob hanging toy, throw and carry toys
___ Chew stuff – pumice stones, blue cloud rocks, cholla logs, etc
___ Treats – whole oats (Race horse feed), rose hips (also a supplement), various organic wood chews (apple, etc)
___ Chill pad or tile
___ Tubes, boxes, climbing toys, etc., for play time.
___ First aid kit: silver cream, gas drops, hydrogen peroxide, saline, gauze pads, etc.
___ Exotic veterinarian and emergency vet: names, phone # and addresses with map