Hobbyist Caging

There have been several caging methods for the chinchilla which have been proven safe and cost effective. Pairs and hobby chinchillas have done best in the following environment The absolute minimum amount of space per chinchilla pair should be 2'x2'x2,' but preferably 2'x2'x3.' 12 and 14 gauge 3"x1/2" aviary wire can be used to make self-supporting cages, and 1/2"x1/2" or 1/2"x1" wire can be used with a frame. Wood frames are not advisable because they cannot be sterilized in the case of sickness or an outbreak of fungus, and it is difficult to remove the scent from the wood when adding new occupants to a cage. Baby chinchillas can get out of any wire size larger than those listed above. If only adult chinchillas are going to be kept, 1"x1"wire is sufficient.

Wire bottom cages are not advisable for chinchillas because new born babies can get chilled on them and die before they are dried off, and also because they are uncomfortable for the animal. A solid bottom cage with untreated white pine shavings is the best flooring. Do Not use cedar or redwood shavings in chinchilla cages. One way to find inexpensive large versatile cages with 1/2" x 3" wire is to look for used aviaries, or build them yourself with an inexpensive pair of cage ring pliers. Shavings purchased from a (horse) feed store are considerably less expensive than shavings from pet stores. Remember to ask for untreated white pine shavings only! Cedar, Redwood, Eucalyptus, and some other hardwoods are highly toxic to chinchillas. Also make sure that if you use wood inside the cage for shelving or boxes that you use only untreated white pine. Do not use plywood as the adhesive glues can be toxic. If you make nest boxes, leave the bottom out so that the chinchilla is sitting on shavings, therefore, unable to urinate on the wood box bottom. Then, whenever the cage is cleaned, so is the nest box. Make sure the nest box is large enough so that if the mother litters inside of it, the babies are not smothered (12"x12"x9" minimum). They should also be heavy enough so that the mother or father cannot turn the box over onto the kits. There should be one hiding place per chinchilla so that each has a retreat from more aggressive cohabitants.

Chinchillas like shelves in their cages, and tend to spend most of their time at the highest spot possible. Terrace the shelving so that babies and careless youngsters don't have far to fall. It is not advisable to make shelves out of wire, because there have been countless incidents of chinchillas getting broken back legs from them. The chinchilla has a large back foot that easily slips down into the wire, and when the leg is then turned sideways, the foot is caught! Be sure that either the cage is up high, or there is a solid partition above the cage. Chinchillas are especially frightened by movement above their heads because their most common natural enemy is the bird of prey.

Keep the chinchilla cage out of direct sunlight, out of heavy drafts, and in a quiet cool spot. They are primarily nocturnal, being most active at dawn and dusk. They need to be kept quiet during the day, but be aware that they can keep you up at night, so bedrooms are not a good place to keep chinchillas. They should also be kept away from any area with a high humidity level and away from moisture.

Most importantly, keep chinchillas out of the heat and direct sunlight! Never house a chinchilla in an aquarium or any cage with glass or plexi-glass siding. Heat is the biggest killer of chinchillas. 80 degrees Fahrenheit is the absolute maximum temperature they can stand. Use a reliable thermometer to monitor the temperature. If they do survive a warmer temperature, they are a great risk of having suffered brain damage, or of having become sterile. On the other end of the scale, they should be kept above 40 degrees Fahrenheit. It is better if they are kept warmer than this. A little above 79 is far more dangerous than a little below 40, however. Babies should be kept above 65 degrees, and at 70-75 degrees from the time they are littered until they are dry.

The exercise wheel is probably the chinchilla's favorite cage feature. A 14" or bigger wheel made for chinchillas is suitable. The 12" size is common, but tends to be too small for many chinchillas. Make sure to leave at least 3" clearance on all sides of the wheel. Take the wheel out of the cage from the time a mother litters until the kits are weaned. Make sure if the wheel is made or wire, that it is ½" x ½" or smaller or you run into the same "caught foot problem" that occurs with wire shelving.


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