Chinchillas have some very specific and unique requirements when it comes to housing and supplies.
The cage you choose for your chinchilla should be large. At least four feet tall, by three feet wide by two feet deep (48x36x24 inches). Bigger is definitely better. A cage this size usually costs anywhere from $250-$350, possibly more depending which cage company you prefer. Any plastic parts on the cage will need to be replaced, as chinchillas do and will chew them up. When selecting a cage, taller is better than wider. Chinchillas are native to the mountains of South America and need a lot of space to jump and get exercise. A wheel is not a substitute for proper cage space, but does make a good addition to keep your chinchilla from getting bored.
A water bottle is important. Make sure it doesn't leak. Chinchillas should never get wet. They have the densest fur of any (land) animal in the world, and it takes so long for them to dry that they actually risk catching a cold and dying if they get wet! Water should be available at all times, and should be provided fresh daily.
Chinchillas do require regular grooming, but theirs is an unusual requirement. Chinchillas never need a water bath and should never need to be brushed or clipped. They do require a dust bath to keep their fur clean and soft. Some chinchilla owners keep the dust bath in the cage available at all times, while other chinchilla owners insist it's better if they only have access to the dust bath for a few minutes every week. If your chinchilla starts to look greasy, it needs more time in the dust bath.
A bored chinchilla is a destructive chinchilla. Always have toys and chews available. Chinchillas, like other rodents, have teeth that continue to grow throughout their life. To avoid overgrown teeth (which can lead to an inability to eat and death by starvation), chews are necessary. There is always a large selection of chews available at PetNorth. Lava bites, wooden ledges, sponge chews, wooden bites and wooden hiding houses are among the most popular purchases by chinchilla owners.
Chinchilla Care Basics
Chinchilla diet is very important. Giving them a poor diet can make them sick and drastically decrease their life expectancy. Chinchillas have to have fresh hay every day to properly digest their pellet food. Alfalfa hay is appropriate for healthy, non-breeding chinchillas, but Timothy hay is recommended for breeding, pregnant, nursing, under-weight or sick chinchillas.
Chinchillas should not be bred unless you have done thorough research into the genetics you are working with. Certain colors produce a lethal gene (for example, breeding two black velvets has a 25% chance for a lethal gene). Also, some genetic lines have problems with malocclusion (a tooth problem that often kills chinchillas) and fur chewing.
Gestation for a chinchilla is 111 days on average; one of the longest gestation periods for a rodent. Babies need to stay with mom for at least eight weeks, though ten to twelve is better. Average litter size is 1-3 babies, but can be more.
Males and females should not be kept in the same cage unless the male is neutered or you intend on breeding them. Chinchillas do not have a heat cycle, but will come in to season when exposed to a male. A female chinchilla can get pregnant within a week of giving birth. Back to back pregnancies can take all of the nutrients out of a female, making her weak and more susceptible to illness, and possibly death.
Chinchillas can live happily in same-sex groups. In the wild they would live in huge herds with dozens, sometimes hundreds of animals in each group. Unfortunately, chinchillas are virtually extinct in the wild now. They are bred in captivity mainly for the fur trade, though a few lucky ones have made it into the pet trade.
The average lifespan for a well cared for chinchilla is 15-20 years. Many do not make it past 5 years old due to poor breeding and/or owners who don't provide them the care they need.
Chinchillas do not require regular veterinary care, but there are veterinarians who specialize in exotic pets and are there to help should your chinchilla have a health emergency.
If you should decide that a chinchilla is not the pet for you, never let them go in the wild. PetNorth sometimes takes in chinchillas that people no longer want. Another option is to contact your local animal shelter or rescue to see if they have space.