This is by no means an all inclusive guide to owning a chinchilla. There is a lot to know about these creatures. This is only meant to give a small idea of their specific needs. If you are looking to own a chinchilla, please visit the various links I have provided to gain a better idea if a chin is right for you.
On the market, there are many different types of chinchilla food available. However, much of what is found in pet stores is not normally nutritionally acceptable. Good feed that are available are: Mazuri (sometimes found at pet stores), Tradition, Oxbow, and Kline. Many of these feeds can be found at feed stores or bought online for very reasonable prices compared to those found in petstores.
Avoid using Charlie Chinchilla, Sunseed, and other Kaytee products. Many of these feeds have treats in them that are un-nutritional and can also cause health problems. Food should be available at all times and should be replenished regularily.
Hay is also an important part of the chinchilla’s diet. Under normal circumstances, Timothy hay should be used. On some occasions, Alfalfa can be offered, but too much Alfalfa results in too much calcium. Hay is important in providing necessary fiber for their digestive tracts, and also helps wear down their teeth.
Water is also very important. Water should be provided in a bottle, and not in a dish. I use glass waterbottles sometimes found in petstores, but also readily available online. Glass prevents the chinchilla from chewing through the bottle. It is important to not use tap water for your chins. Tap water contains giardia which can cause severe health problems in small animals. So, I use either a Pur water filter that states that it removes giardia, or else boil your water to kill the giardia.
It is important to provide your chinchilla with the biggest housing possible. Chinchillas love to run around and jump from ledge to ledge, so a large house allows this. Do not use any cages with plastic in them, for if your chin were to ingest the plastic, this could cause impaction, and if not caught early, could lead to death. Acceptable wood for ledges and building is untreated kiln-dried pine. You can easily make your own or buy them pre-made. Chinchillas do not need ramps in their cages. They are accomplished jumpers so do not need their ledges connected. Also, if your cage has a wire bottom, make sure the spaces in between the wire are small enough so that their little feet can’t get caught. Generally ½” x ½” is acceptable.
Many chinchilla owners give their chinchillas playtime. It is important to let them play in a “chin-proofed” room. I use my bathroom. Make sure you block off all small holes that they can get into. Supervise them at all times! Also, those large plastic balls that are manufactured for hamsters and rats should not be used for chinchillas. Chinchillas can easily overheat in these and die! Also, they will be hopping in their own feces since they constantly defecate. These balls also do not allow the chinchilla to run normally. They restrict their movement and can be uncomfortable.
Air conditioning is a must for chinchillas. In nature, they are found in the dry cool areas of the Andes Mts. So they need dry cool temperatures. Anything about 75-80 degrees can get uncomfortable and can lead to heat stroke. Therefore, it is important to keep your chin cool and out of the sun.
Your chinchilla will need constant things to chew on. Their teeth constantly grow, so they need something to chew on constantly. Chew toys can be bought in stores, or online. Also, some wood from your yard can be used provided it has not been treated and is prepared correctly. There are websites available that state which woods are safe and how to prepare the wood. A favorite for my chins is applewood and cottonwood.
It is important to dust your chinchilla. In summer when it is humid, I dust 3 times a week. In winter when it is drier, I dust 2 times a week. Dusting too often can dry out their skin. Recommended types of dust are Blue Cloud or Blue Sparkle. The dust bought in petstores does not do a good job getting rid of the grease. Show chins use Blue Cloud, and it is what I use for my chins. It is a great value and works the best to remove the grease.
Chinchillas do have some health issues that might be run into. Some common health issues are: Malocclusion, Diarrhea, Heat Stroke, and in some cases Ring Worm. Malocclusion can be genetic and this is why buying from a repetuble breeder is important. They breed Malocclusion out of their chins and so you have less of a chance when buying from them. Diarrhea can be caused by many things; Giardia, stress, too many treats and fat, among other things. Heat Stroke is caused when the chinchilla overheats. This can result in permanent brain damage or death. This is why air conditioning is important. Ring Worm can be contracted from other animals and can pass on to the owner. This is only a small list of some common illnesses, but there are many more that can be run into.