Getting Started: Gathering Supplies
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 too.)
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 are approximate. Please visit the vendor’s website for current prices).
Most cages at pet stores are generally too much money for too little cage. Popular alternatives are available
Quality Cage's Mansion (below)
This 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 pullout tray. Other good items from QC are the 15” Chinspin, bottlebrush, 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 use1latch 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.
.Quality Cage (QC) Mansion
The Ferret Nation 182 (below)
This 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. 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 metal pan(s) made by Bass ($70 delivered, often damaged) as well as adding wood shelves and a variety of wood ledges. Your basic cage will be an empty shell that can be1 or 2 cages.
Note: if you want to use the shelves that come with the cage, discard 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 can vary. 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 link.
Critter Nation (CN) 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.
Ferret Nation FN 142/182 as a single cage
Ferret Nation FN 142/182 divided into two cages
Martin PDF 450
Martin's Chinchilla Townhouse (PDF-450) (top right, 36" x 30" x 60") and 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 pullout tray under 1/2" wire is another desirable option as are legs and castors.
Among other acceptable cages that will need to have their interiors replaced or modified are:
Marshall Folding Ferret Nation; Marshall Estate; the SuperPet Multi-floor Ferret Home costs about $100 and can be made into a decent cage by replacing the interior, costing about $30, not counting an exercise wheel.
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 Facebook 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 Lowe's. The sizes I found useful are the 1x8, 1x10 and 1x12 in 6 foot or 8 foot lengths. Lowe's 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.
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:
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 wash then re-use, liners made of anti-pill fleece. Anti-pill 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 anti-pill fleece at Jo-Ann's at half off the regular price. Shop-vacs make cleanup easier.
A wire travel carrier will also be needed to bring your chin home and to the vet. (Please note the QC carriers have been discontinued)
Bass has recently developed a nice carrier to our specifications as an evacuation carrier. If you have only one chin, the second side can be used for storage. Bass also makes an all wire single carrier. 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.
Evacuation double 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.
An exercise wheel, chinspin, will fit in many of their travel cages.
In my opinion, there is only one good choice, the 15 inch Quality Cage Chinspin.
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.
Chinspin 15" Quality Cage
Water Bottles- Glass only
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 Petsmart bird sections, ordered from Quality Cage, or our WebShop. 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 bottlebrush for the bottle and also one for the spout. The 2-in-one Lixit bottlebrush 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.
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 Feed Store.
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.
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.
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 Pellet 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.
ONE chin eats 2-3 tbsp. per day (the recommended amount) and 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. One is included with 3 pound jars of Blue Cloud.
Nothing except air is more important than hay for chins.
The hay you will be using the most of is Western Timothy grass hay and Orchard grass hay.
We feed about 80% Timothy with a small amount of Orchard grass added to the daily handful(s).
Unlimited amounts of clean hay should always be available 24/7.
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.
All Hays are available thru our WebShop.
One chin will go through a 40 oz bag of western Timothy and a 15 oz bag of Orchard Grass per month.
You can expect to have a lot of wastage in their Hay feeding and at the bottom of the hay bag.
Hay is cheap. Chins will not eat every scrap of hay so replenish and freshen their supply regularly (twice a day)
Buying Oxbow Western Timothy in 9 lb. boxes is more economical.
Never run out of hay. It is essential to their good health and survival.
If feeding Oxbow alfalfa based pellets, there is no need to give an adult chinchilla additional alfalfa (although it usually isn't harmful) as hay unless your chinchilla is less than a year old, pregnant or nursing or when recommended for a medical condition.
4” unglazed terra cotta orchid pot is a great holder. Other holder options include a wide variety of wooden hay bins made and available in our WebShop. I make mine (below) from 1/4 x 4 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 since chins may chew and swallow hard plastic pieces.
Chinchillas bathe in lava dust, never water.
Your chin needs regular dust baths, from every other day to twice a week, depending on the humidity.
After use, remove the bath container and freshen the dust and use a small strainer to remove the fecal pellets (poo).
Anywhere from a half inch to a couple inches of dust in the bottom of the bathhouse 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 (poo) out of the dust.
The 2 top dusts are Blue Cloud and Blue Sparkle.
Blue Sparkle can be ordered in our WebShop or can be bought by the pound from several places.
Another good dust available in many feed stores is LM Farms dust (fuller’s earth). Kay Tee dust is not very good and any scented dust may be harmful.
Many stores sell plastic barn shaped Dust Bath Houses. These work good. There are many other options: large cookie jars, goldfish bowl, empty rectangular plastic chain can, galvanized drain pan, and we have a nice Dust Bath House available to be customized in our WebShop.
Keeping Cool: Chill Houses, Chill Pads, Chill Tunnels
Chinchilla need to stay chilly-cool.
There were ceramic bathhouses shaped like chins 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 left).
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 marble or granite chill pads and several chill tunnels of various sizes in our WebShop.
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. We have several shapes and sizes of wood hidey Houses in our WebShop.
All of the wood houses seen below are available in this website WebShop-CageStuff and Supplies.
NOTE: We can no longer approve any wood houses sold in pet stores due to metal fasteners (nails, staples, clips) that can harm a chin's teeth. If you have this kind of house, keep watch for nail heads, etc., being exposed. If you see metal, please discard the house to protect your chin's teeth
There are many supplements offered by various suppliers.
We supplement calcium and vitamin C on a daily basis in the form of a whole dried Rose Hip per day.
We have dried Rose Hips (whole or seedless) for sale in the WebShop.
Avoid treats with sugar or fats: avoid 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 grains may inhibit the adsorption of calcium.
We now only recommend whole hulled oats (racehorse feed) and safe wood chew sticks (apple, pear, pecan) as treats.
Apple sticks are usually available, dependent on our supplier, in the WebShop.
Treats should be limited to just one per day.
Hammocks made from anti-pill fleece (available in the WebShop) are soft and a safer cloth than those found in pet stores.
Many chins like to nap in their anti-pill fleece hammock or tunnel.
Safe Chew Toys
Toy making supplies: (below) 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; toys on a chain. Ready-made are available in WebShop
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, wood blocks and toys in their cage to gnaw on.
It is suggested that toys be swapped out on a regular basis to prevent your chin from getting bored.
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 raffia. DIY parts and ready-made available in WebShop
PlayTime Wood Toys
There is a wide variety of wood toys, habitats, PlayLands, climb adventures, tunnels, etc. for chinchillas available in the WebShop and at numerous Chinny supply stores online.
A popular cardboard climbing toy for playtime is made by theCottontail Cottage. Cardboard tubes are NOT suitable for consumption in any except very small amounts. 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.
Catch Tube: If your chin is reluctant to return to their cage after fenced play area time, or accidentally gets out of their fenced play area, a catch tube could be helpful. 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.
Chinchilla Essential Supplies 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” flowerpot or similar. Avoid plastic or wire racks
___ Oxbow Essentials Chinchilla Food 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
PDF file Chinchilla Essential Supplies Checklist for download/print