Pet Chinchilla Guide: What To Know

Written by AZ Animals Staff
Published: April 3, 2022
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Before Buying A Chinchilla

Before buying a chinchilla, it is important to realize that these animals are not the pet for everyone. In addition to an initial cost of several hundred dollars, chinchillas require a fair amount of care and handling, a special diet, a lot of habitat space, and they can be carriers of bacteria and diseases to which the elderly, the very young, and those who are immuno-suppressed should not be exposed. It is often recommended that chinchillas be kept in pairs, so that will double the care costs.

Chinchillas jump and climb for exercise, so the more space a pet owner can provide for them, the better. The minimum recommended size for a chinchilla cage or habitat is two feet long by two feet wide and at least three feet high, but four by four by four is preferred, so a lot of space is required to house a chinchilla. Therefore cages factor heavily into the initial cost. Their bedding and cage will require daily spot cleaning and weekly thorough cleaning. The animals themselves enjoy cuddling, but need to be handled gently, as their ribs are very delicate and break easily. They will also need dust baths and gently brushing every few days, as well as chew toys to maintain their tooth length.

RELATED: Do Chinchillas Make Good Pets?

How Much Does Chinchilla Cost (To Buy and Own)

Purchasing a chinchilla and all the items it needs to thrive is not an inexpensive investment, though it varies depending on several factors. The minimum cost for a chinchilla and full setup would be around $300 if you bought one from a pet store or an existing owner, but it is more likely to be closer to $1000, if you were to buy a chinchilla from a breeder and want to get the best cage and supplies.

The animal itself can cost anywhere between $50 to $500 depending on the color and where you buy it. The cage will be no less than $150 and probably closer to $300 for a really good one. You may find much cheaper cages in the results if you search for “chinchilla cage” but these $40-50 cages are not an adequate size for a healthy chinchilla. The cost for accessories—for feeding, hygiene, exercise and enrichment—will be another $100-200.

Once the initial cost is spent, chinchillas cost about $600 per year, unless they experience medical problems. Their food is about $300 a year and it will probably cost another $300 minimum for a yearly check-up at the veterinarian since they are exotic pets. If they should have any health issues, that price will quickly rise into the thousands. A well-cared-for chinchilla can live for up to 10 years in captivity, so the cost over the lifetime of an animal without health problems would be a minimum of $6,500, including the initial costs.

New Owner Shopping List: What To Buy

The list of items a Chinchilla needs in order to live in your home is extensive. In addition to a cage, the animal will need items for feeding, sleeping, health, hygiene and play. Chinchillas are jumpers, so they need a lot of space, but since they will be restricted in a cage most of the time, they also need other activities in order to get the right amount of exercise. Much like other rodents, they need a soft substrate to walk on that is easily spot cleaned when they take care of their bathroom needs.

  • Habitat or cage – They need a tall wire cage with a solid base and different levels for jumping and climbing, no less than two feet wide and three feet tall.
  • Bedding or substrate – Chinchillas need bedding made of shredded or crumpled paper.
  • Hiding Boxes – Chinchillas like to hide in order to feel safe.
  • Dust bath – Once a week or so, the Chinchilla will need to bathe in a dust bath.
  • Hay feeder – The majority of their diet is hay, so they need a constant supply.
  • Food bowl – To make feeding simpler, providing a separate food bowl for their vegetables and treats will help a lot and keep the cage cleaner.
  • Water bottle – Chinchillas need access to fresh water, which is most easily done with a hanging water bottle that attaches to the cage.
  • Bed or hammock – They need a soft spot to sleep, often one that is elevated.
  • Nesting box – If they don’t want to sleep in their bed, or even if they do, they will enjoy making a nest to burrow into occasionally.
  • Food – Chinchillas need hay and some vegetables for a healthy diet.
  • Treats – As long as it doesn’t make up more than 10 percent of their diet, Chinchillas can have a few treats every day.
  • Ladders, ramps and ledges – If they are not included with the cage, these will need to be purchased separately so that your Chinchilla can get adequate exercise.

Ongoing Needs: What You Need to Care For Your Chinchilla

Once the chinchilla is home with you, there are still a few more things you need in order to provide proper care for your new pet. Chinchillas have a few hygiene needs that must be met to keep them in good health, as well as wellness checks, play and exercise, and food and treats.

  • Brush – Chinchillas have thick fur that needs regular brushing to keep out dirt and paper particles.
  • Dust for the dust bath – The dust for their bath will need to be replaced on a regular basis.
  • Chew toys – If chinchillas don’t regularly grind down their teeth on wooden blocks, the teeth can grow too long and cause health concerns.
  • Carrier – When you are performing the weekly cage cleaning and when your chinchilla goes to the vet, you will need to keep it safely out of the way and a way to transport it safely.
  • Exercise wheel or similar – A solid wheel for running helps them get the exercise they need, especially in smaller enclosures.
  • Cleaning supplies – A chinchilla’s cage needs to be spot cleaned daily, but once a week, it will need a thorough cleaning with either cage-specific cleaning solution or diluted bleach.
  • Food – Chinchillas need hay, some vegetables, and some occasional treats for a healthy diet.
  • Veterinary Check-ups – Your pet will need at least a yearly visit to make sure there are no health issues.

Exercise and Ongoing Care

Chinchillas are very active animals when they are awake. They are jumpers and climbers, but they also like to hide and bathe and run. All of these things require some special items and considerations when they are kept as pets.

As previously discussed, their cage needs to have ledges and ladders for climbing and jumping. An exercise wheel—solid so their toes don’t get caught and injured—also helps them get the exercise they need. If possible, allowing them to walk around outside the cage is good, but since they can carry disease and bacteria, any surfaces with which they come into contact should be sanitized after they go back into their cage.

They need at least a yearly visit to the vet because their teeth need to be monitored for overgrowth and also to make sure they don’t have any of the handful of other common health issues a Chinchilla may experience, such as overheating, hair loss, eye injuries, diarrhea, weight loss, foot injuries, bladder stones and dehydration. Here is a handy article on everything you need to know about chinchilla teeth.

Feeding your Chinchilla

Besides hay and grass, chinchillas should get about 10 percent of their nutrition from pellets and vegetables. The pet store will carry chinchilla feed, but do not overfeed with them or with the vegetables. Hay should always make up the bulk of their daily food supply. Vegetables that chinchillas can eat include bell peppers, squash, and leafy greens, including carrot tops. The total amount would be about one or two tablespoons of pellets and vegetables per day.

Treats are not necessary, but they do provide a happier life for your pet, provided you keep them to a minimum, feeding them no more than 10 percent of their daily intake with treats. In addition to commercially available chinchilla treats, some good treats for your pet include a few oats, some unsweetened and unflavored dry shredded wheat cereal or Cheerios.

Here is a more in-depth guide to what chinchillas eat.

How Long Will Your Chinchilla Live

Assuming your pet is well looked after and does not sustain any injuries, a chinchilla can live for up to 10 years. Improper feeding and care, lack of cage cleaning and maintenance and inadequate dental hygiene can all reduce the life of your pet significantly. Something as simple as a cage that is too small or improperly ventilated can put your chinchilla at risk of premature death, so it is important to take good care of your pet and do everything you can to provide for its needs. Here is a great article on the chinchilla lifespan to offer more information.

Common Health Issues For Chinchilla

Chinchillas have a small handful of health concerns that an owner might come up against. Most are minor, but a couple can be fatal if not treated right away. Most of them can be avoided, but there will always be some risk associated with any pet. A few minor issues are mites, ringworm, diarrhea, and eye irritations. Consult your vet for treatment options in all cases.

Their biggest risk factor is heat stroke, and if they are showing signs, you should get them to the vet right away. Their fur is very thick and they do best in moderate temperatures, with easy access to water.

The second biggest concern for a chinchilla is maintaining its tooth length. Their teeth grow continuously, which is why chew blocks are so important. It is much better to buy them blocks rather than providing sticks from outside because sticks may have bacteria, fungus, parasites or pesticides on them.

Where to Buy Your Chinchilla

For most people, the best option will be to buy a chinchilla from a pet store. You can also see if there are local breeders in your area and buy there, but this won’t be a possibility for everyone. In most cases, you won’t need any special considerations, except for a carrier to bring them home. You should outfit the home with a cage and food and everything listed above before you bring home the pet. Make sure, as best you can, that you are purchasing a healthy animal before you make your purchase.

Some positive signs to look for, when trying to ascertain the health of the animal are animals that are alert, curious, active, clean and walking normally. Their fur should look healthy and shiny, with no patches and no dirt around their mouths or noses. If you notice lethargy, labored breathing, dull eyes, discharge around their faces or anything that suggests they are not healthy, do not purchase that animal or any animal in the same enclosure.

Special Considerations With Chinchilla

There are a few things to keep in mind when making purchases and setting up the habitat for your chinchilla. The first is that their bedding should be made of paper and not wood. The reason for this is that, if they ingest any, paper is digestible for them, while wood may cause intestinal blockages that can be extremely detrimental to their health and even fatal. Cedar shavings in particular should never be used because the oils can cause allergies, in addition to intestinal concerns.

The wires on the cage should not be more than one inch apart. When placing the habitat, make sure it is not under or over or near a heating and cooling vent. Chinchillas are very sensitive to temperature changes, and their fur makes them very sensitive to overheating in particular. A chinchilla can go into heat stroke and die if their temperature rises too much, so their environmental temperature must be very carefully regulated and they must have constant access to water.

They have fragile bones and need careful handling whenever they are being held, cuddled or carried. Their feet are prone to sores and infection, so they need a solid-based cage, with some soft bedding that must be kept clean to avoid bacterial infections.

About the Author

AZ Animals is a growing team of animals experts, researchers, farmers, conservationists, writers, editors, and -- of course -- pet owners who have come together to help you better understand the animal kingdom and how we interact.

Pet Chinchilla Guide: What To Know FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

How do I go about buying a Chinchilla?

Visit a local pet store or look for local breeders in your area, then check out the health of the animals there. Shop around, to make sure you are getting the healthiest animal(s).

What is a good price to buy a Chinchilla?

A Chinchilla’s cost will vary depending on its fur coloration, rarity, availability and whether it is male or female, in some cases. Usually, they will cost anywhere from $50 to $300, from a pet store or a breeder.

What is the safest way to buy a chinchilla?

If you are buying from a breeder, you need to make sure it is a reputable one. See if they will provide you with references. A pet store animal may be exposed to more illnesses, but they may also have guarantees if anything happens to your pet within a certain amount of time after your purchase. If that is your only available option, look at all the local stores, and look for the healthiest animals.

Is it OK to buy a 3-month-old Chinchilla?

It is acceptable to buy a chinchilla that is 3 months old, and in fact this is usually around the youngest age of chinchilla you can obtain.

Do chinchillas bite?

Yes, if they are not properly socialized or they feel threatened for some reason, they can and will bite and it will be painful and possibly require medical attention.

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