By Marty Hull
I have a question about my two new, young chinchillas. I got them about three days ago from a breeder. They are 7 months old and surprisingly social. They hop right onto me if I open their cage door. They seem to be starting to respond to my voice, they look up and start watching as soon as I begin talking to them. The problem is that I can’t seem to find a nesting box for them. I have done lots of research about chinchilla-safe wood, and when I look at pet stores the staff is never able to tell me what kind of wood is used in the nesting boxes they sell. I find this ridiculous, because small animals find some woods very toxic. What can I do about giving them a little hidey-hole? I know it’s really important to provide to keep them less stressed, but I really worry about putting dangerous materials in their cage. What should I do?
Houses are an important accessory for chinchillas. They serve as a “safe” place for the chinchilla, a perch to view the world and a platform on which to play. The best types of woods to use for hideaway houses are white pine, Douglas fir or spruce. Do not use redwood, cedar, plywood, melamine or particle board as these materials can be toxic to chinchillas.
Large glass jars or ceramic pots are sometimes used as houses, but a lack of air circulation can be a problem. Chinchillas can track urine into the glass or ceramic house; the urine will evaporate and saturate the air in the jar and then will be breathed in by the chinchilla. This can cause irritation or infection in the lungs.
Metal nesting boxes are also available. They have a front opening and are closed on all sides.
It is important to clean all chinchilla houses regularly, because urine on the feet often tracks in and out.
Chinchillas have continually growing teeth. In addition to their normal feed, they need nonfood items to chew on to wear down their teeth as they grow. A chinchilla can safely chew on fir, pine or spruce. Chinchillas chew at different rates. We have had some chinchillas chomp through a house in a few weeks and other chinchillas have had the same house for many years. Chewing can expose nails or staples used in the house construction, so be sure to remove any staples or nails that become exposed. Replace the house if chewing makes it unsafe or unstable.
House configuration: While it may seem more ‘cozy’ if the house has just one entry, that configuration may make the chinchilla feel trapped and less likely to use the house. It is preferable if the house has a couple entries/exits or is open-ended similar to a tunnel. If the chinchilla can enter and exit freely, he or she is more likely to feel comfortable in the house and will not try to “escape” when the owner reaches in to feed or scratch the chinchilla.
Pre-made houses are available online or at many pet stores with small animal products. Most will state the type of construction materials. If the construction materials are not stated, then buy elsewhere.