Chinchilla Caging: What Pet Owners Need to Know

Chinchillas are relatively large and active pets, which require a suitably large cage for exercise. In addition, they are well-known for their ability to gnaw through most materials, meaning that their cage must be sturdy. In short, chinchillas as pets require specialist caging; there are very few existing cages for other pets which can be successfully repurposed.

What Are Chinchilla Cages Made From?

Chinchillas can rapidly gnaw through wood of any kind. They’re almost as quick to work their way through plastic, which can make them ill if swallowed. This really only leaves metal as a suitable choice.

However just because chinchilla cages are typically made of metal, don’t go thinking of bird cages. Chinchillas are surprisingly athletic animals, and will climb, jump and bounce around their cages at night with surprising elegance. For this reason, chinchilla cages tend not to use bars – like budgie cages – but instead a “mesh” of wires travelling in both directions.

The holes between the criss-crossing bars are important; too large and your chinchilla might manage to slip out. And an escaped chinchilla can do some serious damage in a very short space of time, nibbling furniture, electrical cables and even walls.

For adults, the gap between bars should be no less than one inch; and even less if you’re keeping youngsters.

How Big Should a Chinchilla Cage Be?

Chinchillas kept in small cages are prone to a variety of unfortunate habits. The boredom they feel from being enclosed can make for a sick chinchilla, or one that exhibits self-destructive behaviour, such as constant pacing, or self-grooming until their fur falls out.

For a chinchilla to remain happy and healthy in captivity it must have a suitable amount of space to explore. Exact dimensions vary by the authority provided. Some examples of suitable sizes provided by respected authorities online include:

  • 6 cubic feet of space per chinchilla.
  • 2 feet in each direction per chinchilla.
  • A floor space of 1 metre by 1.5 metres, with a suitable height.

As with all caged pets, the more space you can provide them, the better. While some chinchillas may tame down with time, and so can be let out of their cage to explore, it is always kindest to provide as much space as possible. We would suggest a cage providing at least a metre in each direction, which should be kitted out with a range of shelves to clamber over.

Should Chinchilla Cages Be Tall or Wide?

Historically, chinchilla cages have always been taller than they are wide. The theory here is that in the wild chinchillas will bound happily across rocky outcrops. Furthermore, when given a cage of suitable height, chinchillas will almost always choose to snooze higher up in the cage, rather than down the bottom.

Increasingly, however, experts are recommending longer cages, which make it easier for your pet to bound around in a horizontal manner.

Let’s just say that the jury is still out on this one. The key, really, is providing a suitable internal area, with numerous shelves and hammocks to climb on and explore.

Wire-Bottom Cages

In the past, many pet shop workers and chinchilla owners alike recommended chinchilla cages with wire-mesh bottoms. The theory of such cages was that faeces and dropped food would be able to fall through the mesh, thus keeping the chinchilla’s coat in top condition.

Increasingly, however, pet owners have moved away from such cages. While it is true that a cage with a solid bottom may result in some mess on your chinchillas fur, it is now believed that expecting a chinchilla to sit for long periods of time on a mesh floor may be uncomfortable. Worse, there have been cases of chinchillas injuring themselves during their evening exercise, as feet have got caught in the little holes between the mesh.

These days, therefore, most experts recommend that you use a cage with a solid bottom (cleaning it regularly to keep it spotless) and that any ramps or shelves themselves should also be solid to avoid the risk of injury.

Chinchilla Cage Décor

Of course, no chinchilla cage would be complete without suitable décor. While chinchillas bounce and jump well, they are far less likely to climb the bars of their cage than a rat, for example. If you are providing a large space for your chinchilla to live in, it therefore makes sense to help them get the most out of it.

A range of tubes, tunnels, platforms and swings may be purchased, made specially for chinchillas. As a reminder, it is best to avoid plastic equipment, as this can lead to gut impaction if gnawed and swallowed.

Instead, focus on décor which is made from metal, fabric or wood, though appreciate that anything non-metallic will only have a finite lifespan in their cage!

Speaking of wood, like so many other small furry pets, the teeth of chinchillas grow continually throughout their lifetimes. If dental problems are to be avoided then it is critical that your chinchilla has things to chew. Examples can include wooden gnaws, cuttlefish bones and tough pumice chews which affix to the side of the cage.

Alongside the chews and platforms, it is kind to provide one or more nest boxes for your chinchilla. As nocturnal animals they like nothing more than to hide away during the day, dozing happily until sunset. A good idea is to remove the floor of the nestbox, so that it rests on the wood flakes used to cover the floor area.

The reason is simple; it means that your chinchilla will not risk sitting in its own urine, if it happens to visit the toilet while in bed.

Chinchillas are master escape artists and have some very specialist requirements when it comes to their housing. This article discusses chinchillas cages in depth, and looks at what you should look for when getting your first pet chinchilla.