Suitable Cages for Chinchillas
Chinchillas need plenty of room to leap around inside their cages. For this reason, you want to go with the largest cage you can afford to get. I personally recommend at least 24"x 24"x36" for a single chin, bigger for a pair. Vertical height is more important than width or length. For anyone searching out great deals on top quality cages, here are a few top picks for size and quality.
My personal favorite is the Midwest Ferret Nation cage system, available online from Ferret.com, and also can be purchased locally at your PetsMart. This cage measures a whopping 36"x25"x62" and features upper and lower double doors for easy cleaning! It does, however, come with plastic shelves and a shallow plastic litter pan at the bottom that both need to be replaced. If you are handy with wood, this is a fun cage to redo.
Shown here are three adapted FERRET NATION 182 cages, with home made wooden shelves. The custom metal litter pans were purchased from Bass Equipment. They can make any size you need for any cage. If you are in Canada Sunny Meadows Cages also makes custom pans.
If you are intimidated by making wood shelves yourself, the best option is a QUALITY CAGE Chinchilla Mansion (for 2 -3 chins) or at least the Chinchilla Condo (for 1 chin). They have a bit of an industrial look to them. The main benefit to buying from Quality Cage is that the cage is ready to go, with wooden shelves and a nice deep metal pan at the bottom. No alterations are necessary. Quality Cage is also the resource for the awesome Chin Spin wheel shown here.
Some of the aviaries designed for hook bills are suitable in size and can be easily adapted to suit the needs of a chinchilla. Check the eBay store: Everila for some nice medium sized aviaries. Beware of flight cages which are not suitably sturdy for housing a chinchilla.
The graphic to the left can help you determine which type of aviary to choose.
Be careful of larger parrot cages where the bar spacing can be too wide to contain a sneaky chinchilla. Bar spacing should be no more than 1" wide to safely contain adult chinchillas. (1/2" for kits younger than 6 months)
CAGES TO AVOID:
C&C cages, (also called Cubes & Coroplast, which are made from storage grids) should NEVER be used as a chinchilla cage. Although they are perfectly fine to use for rabbits, guinea pigs, and even hedgehogs, chinchillas are completely unsuited for this type of housing. The bar spacing is too wide; small chinchillas can get their entire head stuck between the square grid bars. . Because chinchillas literally bounce off the walls of their cages while leaping from one level to the next, broken legs can result from not having a solid enough surface to bounce off of. Also, most chin wheels are not adaptable to such large square bar spacing.
AQUARIUM TANKS should also NEVER be used for housing a chinchilla. Chins lack the ability to sweat, and need a good amount of airflow at all times. Air conditioning is REQUIRED for chinchillas - they need temperatures of 72 degrees or below.
The main problem with most chinchilla cages that you can commercially purchase is usually either that they come with PLASTIC shelves, which can be fatal if chewed, or WIRE shelves, which can cause foot sores or even broken legs if the holes are big enough.
Most new owners unknowingly purchase an unsafe, too small cage, simply because it says "Chinchilla Cage" on the box. If you have a cage filled with plastic or wire shelves, you can DIY your own shelves easily.
Home Depot and Lowes sell pre-cut shelves in kiln-dried pine or poplar, both of which are suitable woods. They will cut these shelves to any length you need, usually for about 25 cents per cut. All you need to do is attach some hanging hardware (hangar bolts with washers and wing nuts) to the ends and viola! If you want to get fancy, you can have some trim cut to fit around the edges of your shelves, and use Elmer's wood glue to permanently fix them together. These "edges" help to keep the poops inside your cage.
You can also purchase nice, custom sized wood shelves from any number of sources. Quality Cage sells replacement shelves for their cages, and you might get lucky enough to need the same dimensions. If not, you can have some made through Simply Chintastic or other similar online vendors. Check the LINKS page on this site for more options.
I can't stress enough that plastic shelves should be removed immediately, even if your chin shows no sign of chewing them at this point. Eventually they will figure out the shelves can be chewed, and it's so potentially fatal - why risk it?
If your cage doesn't allow for the removal of the shelves, you can always use cage mats to give the chins "resting" places for their feet. Grassy mats are available at most major pet retailers. (click HERE to view) They will reduce the strain on the chin's feet and make it less likely that your chin will injure itself on the wire. You can also use a piece of untreated pine, cut to size, and simply place it on top of the wire shelves.
Another option, and one I recommend for at least a portion of EVERY cage, is to put down some Chin Chillers. They are granite slabs designed to help your chin stay cool. They DO NOT replace air conditioning (which is mandatory for chin owners) but can help in the short term with power outages or heat waves. Plus, the chins just love them. You can find them at most pet stores and also online at Chewy.com . A cheaper option is to use granite, marble or ceramic tiles from a home improvement store. Granite stays cooler longer than any other surface.
If you are going to be building your own shelves, hutches, or even cages, there are a couple of helpful videos on tool and wood selection HERE. These videos are especially appropriate for novices just getting started with DIY.
The best bedding (litter) in my opinion is ASPEN, which you can find at any pet store or feed store. It's soft and absorbent. You can also use any brand of kiln-dried (high heat dried) Pine shavings, but it must say either kiln-dried or high heat dried on the package. The cheaper brands of pine bedding are NOT dried and have too much pine oil, which will cause respiratory issues for your animals.
CareFresh bedding is okay as long as your chin doesn't EAT it. Some chins will actually ingest the bedding, and since CareFresh is made to expand when wet, it can cause a fatal blockage in the intestinal tract. CareFresh is the most expensive bedding on the market, but not necessarily the best choice for safety.
NEVER use CEDAR bedding; it contains too many strong oils and will cause respiratory problems with any small animals, just like the undried pine shavings. Do not use newspaper for bedding; the chins will eat it and that is NOT good for them.
Pelleted bedding such as Yesterday's News, Kaytee Wood Pellets, or Equine Pine are suitable only for wire bottomed cages where the chin cannot actually get to the bedding.
A lot of people (myself included) have recently switched from using bedding to a more Eco -friendly choice: fleece liners. I sewed two layers of fleece together, using invisible stitching on the seams so that the chinchillas can't reach the thread. I made 3 sets of liners for each cage, and change them out every other day. Liners will need to be changed at least every 3rd day, and don't forget to wipe down the metal pans underneath with a chin-safe disinfectant for odor control. When washing the liners, wash them twice with a mild detergent and use an extra rinse cycle. Avoid fabric softeners which decrease the absorbancy of the fleece.
Whichever bedding you choose, be sure to change the entire litter area weekly and try to clean the "hot spots" daily. The cleaner your cage stays, the less your chances are for a URI, or upper respiratory infection.
Most commercially sold cleaners contain toxic ingredients that can harm or even kill your chinchilla. Never use cleaners like 409, Clorox, Fantastik, etc. as they leave a chemical residue behind. For the most part, savvy chin owners use a mix of 50% white vinegar and 50% water to clean and disinfect their cages.
I highly recommend having an exercise wheel to keep your chinchilla healthy and happy. A chinchilla needs a solid surface wheel that is going to be durable - they can hurt their feet or even break a leg on the wire wheels, and the plastic ones wear out in 3 months or less. Wheels with spokes should be avoided due to potential injuries. Also, any wheel should be 15” or more, so that the chinchilla is not forced to arch their backs too severely while running, which can also cause injuries.
There are basically three wheels that I can recommend for safety.
<-- My favorite wheel is the Chin Spin from Quality Cage, shown at left.
Most people who have these SWEAR by them. They are wonderfully made and whisper quiet. This wheel will last the lifetime of your pet!
The Flying Saucer is available HERE. It's a marvel of design, shaped like a tilted platter. It's supposed to be the best wheel for a chinchilla's back. However, some chins take a long time to get used to running on this odd wheel, and some never take to it at all. I have one of these also, but I can tell you that it takes longer for a chin to learn to use than a Chin Spin. It also takes up more room in the cage than a conventional wheel, because of the unique design. Buy the standard sized wheel (13 3/4") or the extra large wheel (15 3/4") for a chinchilla. The smaller wheel is really only suited for smaller rodents like degus or hedgehogs. The standard size also comes with two different mounting options depending on your type of cage. Choose carefully.
Lastly, I can recommend the Silver Surfer, which comes in silver, blue, pink or purple, depending on what's available when you purchase. These wheels are available from Chinchillas.com e-store and are the best value for your money. They are 14" in diameter and only 4" wide on the running surface, so I wouldn't recommend them for a large chin (over 750g). Of the three wheels featured here, the surfer is the lightest weight, easiest to install, and quietest overall.
To finish off your cage decor, you should also put a nice variety of toys and chews in it to keep the inquisitive mind of a chinchilla from boredom. Things like fleece hammocks, fleece tubes, hanging chew toys and chew sticks are a must. The more the better, or you're going to have a bored and restless pet on your hands.
It's a good idea to keep at least ONE smaller cage on hand, for each "set" of chins. If there is a fire, a cat carrier will do to get out of the house quickly. If your Air Conditioner dies, though, and you need to relocate for a few days, a small portable cage is ideal to have available. Also if a chin is sick or injured, you will need a smaller, safe cage, away from your other chins.
We live in the south, and have had to evacuate for A/C purposes AND for hurricanes. I purchased 4 COLLAPSIBLE cages from Quality Cage and I'm VERY pleased with them. All the sides and the roof are hooked together. They store flat in the bottom tray of the cage, and pop up easily. There are 3 hooks to keep everything in place. I can set them up in 30 seconds or less.
The website only features one size now, which is suitable for 1- 2 chins (short term). They fold flat down to about 3" tall, and I store them under the Ferret Nations to have them in an easy-to-grab location. I keep an extra set of hammocks hooked to the roof panel at all times, and I take their hutch, food & hay bowls from my large cages when I need to evacuate.
You should have a carrier on hand for every chinchilla you own. Even if your chins are bonded, when traveling they could become stressed. It is safer to transport them separately. Ryerson Chinchillas makes carriers with little compartments that will keep your chins safe for vet trips and other emergencies. You can purchase them with 2-10 compartments HERE.
I keep small fleece liners in my carriers as bedding, and usually put a handful of hay in with the chins to give them something to do during the drive.
Quality Cage also offers carriers if you prefer a different style, HERE.