Types of Chinchilla Cages
(above) Chinchilla pair breeding cage with center pass through
Chinchilla specific cages can be built multiple ways, depending on the creativity of the owner and the situation in which the chinchillas are being kept. The most common types of chinchilla cages are hobbyist chinchilla cages, breeding & holding chinchilla cages, colony chinchilla cages, and commercial chinchilla cages. They all have different uses.
Hobbyist Chinchilla Cages
There is almost no limit to the types and sizes of cages a hobbyist owner can make use of, as long as the cages have basic safety parameters. A hobbyist owner can buy a manufactured or custom cage, or make his or her own cage. The minimum amount of space for keeping a single pet chinchilla should be roughly 24”x2”x2,” but preferably larger. These cages can be made with a frame, or they can be self-supporting. If no kits (babies) will be in the cage, 1” x 1” cage wire is sufficient. It there is any chance of kits being kept in the cage, ½” x 1” wire should be used. 1”x1” wire is nicer for visibility, and has a lower risk or entanglement. Another cage wire option, although more expensive, is 14 gauge 3"x1/2" aviary wire. 12 gauge and 14 gauge are strong enough for many self-supporting (no frame) cage designs. Wood frames are not advisable because they cannot be sterilized in the case of sickness or an outbreak of fungus, and it is difficult to remove the scent from the wood when adding new occupants to a cage. Litter pans for the bottom of the cages can be inside (slide in) or outside (drop-in) pans. Slide in pans can be used open (no wire above it) with untreated white pine shaving, or corn-cob pellets. Slide in pans can also be used with a wire bottom cage, in which case the owner can use any safe absorbent material in the bottom of the pan. The pan for a drop in cage is slightly larger than the horizontal dimensions of the cage itself, and the cage will have no bottom. When it is time to clean the cage, the entire cage is lifted off the pan. When designing a hobbyist cage, it is important to make sure someone can easily access the chinchilla on any level of the cage, and that the doors are large enough to get an exercise wheel into the cage. Exercise wheels one of the most important factors for a chinchilla’s mental and physical health. They help prevent the chinchilla from getting bored, from getting obese, and they help maintain cardiovascular health. It is also important to make sure that with a tall or multi-level cage, that inner floors and shelves are arranged so that if a chinchilla falls, it does not fall too far.
Breeding & Holding Chinchilla Cages
Breeding cages can be made in a wide variety of ways. They can be made for pair breeding, or for colony breeding. Pair breeding has the most advantages. A closely bonded pair can remain together for a lifetime, and they tend to be highly productive. A pair that gets along well requires, by far, the least amount of maintenance for the caretakers. There tends to be a lower incidence of kit mortality with pairs. Male chinchillas who are good father are indispensable. The will help protect the kits, and keep them from getting chilled immediately after the kits are being born, and good males continue the care for the kits until they are weaned. Additionally, the males provide much needed rest for the mother. Having a male in the cage allows the mother to get away from the kits and rest. Having enough rest, in turn, helps with milk production and with general body condition of the mother. Pairs should also have access to exercise wheels ( being in good shape helps prevent endocrine problems and obesity related reproductive problems ). However, exercise wheels should be removed immediately before kits are born. Both the parents and kits can have exercise wheels again after the kits are weaned.
Holding cages can be similar to breeding cages. They are used for young and maturing chinchillas. These are the cages chinchillas are kept in until they are sold or put into breeding upon maturity. Young chinchillas can be weaned and put into holding cages in pairs, to lessen the stress of weaning. Litter-mate males are more likely to get along than two unrelated juvenile males. The herd manager must make this judgment call, based on observation and experience. Males can often stay together until, roughly, three months of age, and females until 6 months of age. Male/female pairs can also stay together until about three months of age. The herd manager should watch carefully for fighting, and separate any juveniles who are not getting along. Some same-sex pairs can remain together longer, but the older they are, the higher the odds of fighting. Holding cages should have sufficient room for two chinchillas, a duster, a hiding box, a hay rack, and an exercise wheel. The cage wire only needs to be 1” x 1” for holding cages. By the time chinchillas are weaning age, they no longer need to be in ½” x 1” wire.
Colony Chinchilla Cages
Colony cages should only be used by more experienced breeders and herd managers, with the capacity to monitor the colony constantly. There are two types of colony caging: the type in which females litter in the colony, and the type in which females do not litter in the colony.
The first type carries a much higher risk of injury and death over time. In some cases it works well, with some mothers even helping raise another mother’s kits. Other times, it ends in sudden and unexpected disaster. For this reason, colonies must be monitored very frequently. Some breeders feel these colonies are a great idea until the unexpected happens. Sometimes a female litters, and is afraid to leave her kits unattended in order to go out to eat or drink. This can be a reasonable fear, because other pregnant females with high levels of pregnancy hormones may want to steal her kits. In this scenario, the female that has recently littered finally gets to the point of starvation, and makes the decision to kill her cage mates in order to protect her kits, and so that she can safely eat and drink. In other instances, one female may litter, and then another female decides to take the kits at any cost. This can results in grave injury to the females or the kits, or a fight to the death. Sometimes these scenarios arise unexpectedly, even between females that have a history of getting along well. Open colonies or ‘trios’ are often not the best option.
The best use of colonies is perhaps the second type – in which the females do not litter in the colony. These colonies are best employed for non-producing females, and the colonies can be quite large. In order to create this type of colony, the breeder can section off a large area. Once the breeder identifies the females that will go into the colony, a male with a proven breeding record and the right temperament should be selected. At a given time, the breeder should put all of the females and the male into the colony at one time. Additional animals should not be added later. No animals that are already housed together, or that are familiar with each other, should be introduced into the colony at the time the colony is established. Social and territorial bonding is established quickly, and disrupting this establishment usually does not work. Colonies work especially well when a breeder has several good tempered females who have either never littered, or have stopped littering. Often the exposure to a colony environment stimulates them to start littering (again). The colony chinchillas should have multiple sources of feed, hay, water, dust, and multiple places to hide. They should also have exercise wheels. Exercise wheels not only provide a new distraction to discourage fighting, but they help with stress relief and with improving mental and physical condition. One reason females become infertile is due to obesity, inactivity, fatty liver disease, and endocrine problems. These females need to loose weight and gain condition. Colony females should be monitored regularly for pregnancy. Once pregnancy is confirmed, the female should be removed from the colony and put into an individual cage through littering. Pregnant females should not remain in the colony.
Commercial Chinchilla Cages
Commercial chinchilla cages are generally used by pelt producers and high-production chinchilla farms. They typically employ a breeding run configuration, where a breeding run goes through or adjacent to multiple breeding cages for females, with a jump hole in each of the female’s cages. One female is put into each breeding cage, and the male is free to go from cage the cage. One male generally has access to 4-8 females. A metal collar is put around the neck of each female so that she cannot jump into the run. Commercial chinchilla cages can have wire bottoms or solid bottoms with shavings. The downsides of commercial cages are that they are generally very small, the animals are more tightly packed with less ventilation, the collars can injure the females, there is no room for exercise wheels, and the females are more prone to vices, lack of condition, and infertility. Additionally, females housed in runs do not have the benefit of a dedicated male to help raise the kits and alleviate stress on the mother. Genetic diversity is also reduced due to a limited number of males siring kits. Last, males in breeding-runs can spread sexually-transmitted or general pathogens from one female to another. The upsides of breeding runs are that a high quality male can be used for multiple females, fewer males have to be cared for, the cost of producing kits and the cost of labor may be cheaper, and many chinchillas can be housed in a small space.
General Cage Information
In weighing the use of a wire bottom cage versus a solid bottom cage, wire bottom cages are less labor-intensive to clean, but kits being born on them have a higher risk of getting chilled before they dry off. Wire bottom cages can be uncomfortable for the chinchillas, and can damage their feet over time. Chinchillas housed on wire bottoms should have a piece of pine to sit on or a pine shelf, and a dust box so that the chinchilla can get off the wire at will. Only untreated white pine shavings should be used for solid-bottom cages. Cedar, redwood, or hardwood shavings should never be used in chinchilla cages. The oils and tannins in cedars and hardwoods are toxic to chinchillas. Corn cob bedding is safe for use in solid bottom cages, and it highly absorbent, making it a good choice for cages inside homes. Some breeders put corn cob bedding in the corners of the cages, and pine shavings in the middle.
For hobbyists looking for interesting cage options that look good inside a home, one option is to find a used but high quality aviary, or build one yourself. The best aviary cages tend to be custom-made with high quality materials. They are quite expensive new, but a used aviary cage can be sterilized and re-purposed for chinchillas. If wood shelves are added to a cage, they should be made of untreated pine only. ½” x ½” wire can also be used for shelving. The long edge of the wire can be bent/rolled under for structural support.
Hiding boxes can also be made of wood, but they should also be made from untreated pine. The bottom of the box can be left open and sit directly on shavings bottom. For a wire bottom cage, the bottom of the box can be made of a separate piece of wood that fits inside the box bottom, but is unattached so that it can be changed when it gets dirty. Boxes should have at least two exit holes, so that one chinchilla cannot corner another in the box. One exit hole should be in the top of the box, so that the box cannot trap heat. Hiding boxes can be mounted to the side of the cage, but the placement of shelves, boxes, etc… will be different for cages that will have kits in them and cages with only adults.
Plywood should not be used for chinchilla cage construction. The adhesive glues can be toxic to the animals. The permanent parts of the cage should be made of metal or wire that can be cleaned or sterilized. The interchangeable parts of the cage can be made from untreated pine.
Chinchillas like shelves in their cages, and tend to spend much of their time at the highest spot possible. Terrace the shelving so that babies and careless youngsters don't have far to fall. It is not advisable to make shelves out of wire larger than ½” by ½”, because there have been countless incidents of chinchillas getting broken legs, or hanging from them. Very young kits can even get a leg through ½ by ½ wire on occasion, usually as they are balancing on the edge - ready to jump off.
Chinchillas are especially frightened by movement above their heads, because a common natural enemy is the bird of prey. Chinchillas are more comfortable with sometime solid above them which prevents shadows from constantly passing overhead as people move around. Chinchillas are also sensitive to infrasound.
Keep chinchilla cages out of direct sunlight, out of heavy drafts, and in a quiet cool spot. Chinchillas are primarily nocturnal, being most active at dawn and dusk. They need to be kept quiet during the day, but be aware that they can keep humans up at night. Chinchillas should be kept away from dogs and other animals, especially loud animals, birds, and carnivores. Chinchillas should also be kept away from areas with high humidity.
Above all chinchillas must in an environment no warmer than 74 Fahrenheit or 23 Celsius at any time.
Never house a chinchilla in an aquarium or any cage with glass or plexi-glass siding. These types of cages trap heat and humidity, and do not allow for the kind of ventilation needed by chinchillas.
The exercise wheel is probably the chinchilla's favorite cage feature. A 14" or bigger wheel made for chinchillas is a favorite for chinchillas. The 12" size is acceptable. Make sure to leave at least 3" clearance on all sides of the wheel. Take the wheel out of the cage from the time a mother litters until the kits are weaned. The wheel should have a solid running surface.
Chinchillas reflect the conditions of their environment. The overall success of maintaining a healthy and productive chinchilla herd depends strongly on how dedicated the breeder or manager is to providing a good environment for their animals.