The first consideration is that they are very noisy at night and a cage in your bedroom will not stay there for long except if you work night shift. We have a granny flat which we converted for our animals. All our chinchillas are housed in wire cages with a metal frame. We use 13mm x 25mm welded mesh wire with a 1.2mm diameter and put untreated pine boards in the bottom to prevent their feet from getting stuck. We leave a quarter of the bottom mesh uncovered on one side of the cage as they will always pick one of these corners to urinate. A finer mesh can also be used as a bottom which makes the pine board unnecessary. Under each cage we put a galvinised metal plate that can be removed for cleaning.
There are rabbit cages and parrot cages for sale at pet shops that will also work. The golden rule is that the gaps between the wires should be small enough to prevent babies from getting through and their feet must not be able to get stuck in the bottom. It must also be roomy enough for them to get enough exercise. These cages are normally very expensive so we prefer to build our own. This way we can also build it to be totally suitable for the chinchillas.
Chinchillas also need a nest box to hide in and to give birth in. When we have one male and one female in a cage we use a wooden nest box built for cockatiels and when it is a male with two females we use an Indian Ringneck box. Because the boxes are made of wood they will nibble on it and eventually destroy it but this is the safer option. Always ensure that the boxes are made of untreated pine.
More on wood. Chinchilla’s teeth never stops growing so they need something to constantly nibble on. With this in mind we put pine shelves in the cages for them to jump around on and to nibble on. When there is not enough shelve left we just replace it. Always make sure that the pine is untreated. Wood like splitpoles are treated with pesticides or tar and will kill your chinchilla. Other wood that can be used is apple, pear and sekelbos. Sekelbos is also used for birds and can be purchased at most pet shops. We buy bags of sekelbos firewood and make structures like ladders with this. There are long lists of poisonous wood but luckily these are not commonly found in South Africa. If you stick to pine you are always safe. Never use pressed wood or superwood because the glue used for binding it is poisonous. The wood must also be totally dried out. This makes pine bought at a timber shop ideal.
For bedding in the nest box we use hay. Eragrostis or Teff( used for birdsnests) is good, Lucerne is too rough. Any dry, clean hay bought at a pet shop will do. Wood shavings is not suitable bedding but can be used in a pan under the cage to catch urine and droppings.
Remember that chinchillas are like small children, they will look for accidents to happen. You can let your chinchilla out of its cage for exercise but make sure it is safe. They will nibble on everything. The cage must not be close to anything that can harm them, especially electric wires. If you like your furniture, don’t let your chinchilla run around unattended.
The best toy for a chinchilla is something it can safely destroy, like a wooden chewing block. We have exercise wheels in our cages but they can not be bought locally. We make them ourselves from round enamel wash basins with a diameter of 34cm. It works like a sideways hamster wheel.
Chinchillas must be kept indoors. They can withstand colder weather than South Africa can offer (even Sutherland) but they mustn’t get wet. Cold wet weather will guarantee a sick chinchilla and pneumonia is a big killer in these conditions. What they can’t stand is too much heat. Temperatures above 25 ̊C becomes dangerous to them and they can get heatstroke.
Two chinchillas of the same sex can be housed together without a problem. It is, however, advisable to introduce them to each other when they are still young, preferably younger than 6 months. If you want to keep only one, we would suggest that you buy a young male. They are not as restless as females and are also less expensive. Just remember that chinchillas are very sociable and if you have only one it will need a lot of attention.