I have decided to write this guide after seeing too many products advertised for chinchillas on Ebay that are wholly unsuitable. As well as running a pet supply business we also keep chinchillas. Hopefully the advice here will be useful if you are about to buy some of these furries!
CHOOSING A CHINCHILLA CAGE
First off, rodents all have different needs. Please, please spend as much as you can afford on your chinchillas cage. They are intelligent, very active animals and need space to run about in. Look for the following features in any cage you buy: -
36" wide by 18" deep by 36" tall is the minimum cage size for 2 chinchillas. The larger the cage the better, but remember that taller cages must have seperate levels so an over eager chinchilla cannot fall long distances.
Do not buy any cage which has plastic parts in. Chinchillas will chew anything, and will poison themselves chewing plastic!! The ideal chinchilla cage is made out of galvanised wire mesh with pine shelving. There is debate about the ideal floor - in my opinion wire mesh is preferable with a litter tray underneath. Some people claim this leads to a condition called 'bumblefoot' due to the mesh causing pressure points on the chin's feet. Chinchillas aren't stupid though - they will stick to wooden ledges were possible. If your chinchillas use the ceral boxes you give them to play with as mats on the wire mesh floor, consider replacing the mesh with wooden slats - cheap and easy to do.
Wooden cage bottoms can become easily contaminated with urine though - if you have these in your cage ensure they are cleaned with a suitable disinfectant at least weekly.
On the subject of wood, certain woods are poisonous to chinchillas. Ensure shelves are made from pine, maple, ash or other unscented, untreated softwoods.
LOOKING AFTER YOUR CHINCHILLAS
Chinchillas can live for up to 20 years. They may eventually trust you enough to let you pick them up, but they will never enjoy the experience. As such, they are not suitable pets for young children.
They clean themselves in a bath of fine sand, usually purchased from a local pet shop. Water on a chinchilla's coat will not dry (due to their thick fur) and may lead to fungal infection.
Unless you have a huge cage (48" high or bigger), please run your chinchillas outside of the cage for up to an hour a day. They will usually make it clear when they are tired by going back to their cage. Do make sure the room is chinchilla proof - as I've said before, they will chew anything. Electrical cables seem to be a favourite snack for these sometimes suicidal rodents.
WHERE SHOULD I BUY A CHINCHILLA?
The options here are A - Pet Store, B - Local Breeder. In general, pet store staff are not trained to look after chinchillas. Pet stores are renowned for taking on any chinchillas from breeders. Therefor, I would always recommend option B. That said, you must find a good local breeder - one that gives the baby chinchillas nice cages. There are breeders ou there who farm chinchillas and other rodents like caged cattle - please avoid these!
If after all this you still want to buy some chinchillas, try to buy them in twos. Ideally the chins should know each other already, otherwise you will need to introduce them to each other slowly.
There are many good resources on the internet - all agree that keeping chinchillas can be a fantastic experience. I'm always happy to answer any questions people have about keeping these lovely pets.
Finally, if you found this guide in any way useful, please vote for it. This will encourage us to write further guides!