General Chinchilla Information:
1. They need to chew continuously because their teeth grow for their whole lives. Always provide your chinchillas with things to chew on. If its gets maloccluded its teeth can literally grow up into its skull and it can die.
One easy way to give them things to chew on is to identify the trees nearby you, and to pick up fallen branches.
Here is a list of safe tree species: Apple, arbutus, ash, aspen, bamboo, blackberry, blackcurrant, cholla, cottonwood, crabapple, dogwood, elm, grapevine, hawthorn, hazelnut, kiwi, magnolia, manzanita, mulberry, pear, pecan, pine (but only kiln-dried white pine, it’s available at hardware stores), poplar, quince, rose hip, sycamore, willow (but not white willow).
I also buy them unscented pumice stones in bulk online, and they like those. If the pumice is too wide, they might not be able to wrap their mouth around it. You know it's a good shape pumice stone when they've literally shredded it into pieces within a week.
Keep them chewing. If the chinchilla hasn't destroyed it within a week, it's not chewing on it enough and you should give it something else to chew on. For example, every one to two weeks you can give them a fresh cardboard box with a hole cut in the side as their house. They like cardboard boxes much better than the plastic igloos sold at pet stores, which they can't chew on. More interaction (destruction) with the things around them means more enrichment and a happier chinchilla.
Here is a video of Fifel chewing on a varnish-free wicker basket from the Dollar store. Varnished wicker will kill them, so be careful and avoid chemical treated woods. But this varnish-free one was good, and at $1 was a nice low cost thing for Fifel to play with (destroy) for a few days.
2. They can only eat hay and pelletized hay. Raisins, nuts, vegetables, excessively feeding all of these things will cause your chinchilla to die around 7 years old instead of its max lifespan of 15 - 20 years. These animals do not each much fat or sugar in the wild.
3. Do not chase your chinchilla. Let it come to you. Use bait. A fresh piece of hay, a crunchy rice puff, etc. If you chase them they will grow to hate you. If you bait them they will grow to love you.
These are my three cardinal rules to owning a chinchilla. 1. Keep them chewing. 2. Feed them fibrous hay based foods. 3. Bait them, don't chase them.
Also, chinchillas can die if the temperature gets above 80 F. They like it cold and dry. Hot and wet will kill them (never put neosporin on them or they'll chew it and their flesh off). And give them dust baths (dust is another good thing to use as bait).
The main component of a chinchilla's diet should be a plain pellet. Avoid mixes with dried fruit or nut treats. Avoid soybean oil, palm oil, and other fats.
Good ingredients: dehydrated alfalfa meal, wheat middlings, soybean meal, feeding oatmeal, ground soybean hulls, ground oats, wheat germ. These are good, fibrous foods for your chinchilla.
Bad ingredients: dried beet pulp, cane molasses, soybean oil. These are sugars and fats that the chinchilla wouldn't encounter in its diet in the wild. Too much will shorten its lifespan.
Chinchillas enjoy loose and cubed hay, too. I recommend keeping water, pellets, fresh hay, and something new for the chinchilla to destroy with its teeth in the cage at all times.
Suggested chinchilla treats:
Whenever you approach your chinchilla's cage and open the door, you should have a treat in your hand. Let the chinchilla come to you and nibble the treat. Hold the treat firmly so the chinchilla doesn't snatch it free and run off, and gently pet the chinchilla with your free hand.
Here are some things you can hold to get your chinchilla to come near so you can pet it.
1. Quaker rice cakes.
2. Cheerios or the store brand of 'cheerios'.
The above two treats are much cheaper than the puffed rice sticks that pet stores sell under the name 'Rice Pops', but the chinchillas do seem to like the sweetened rice pops more. (Of course they like them more; they're half sugar). 'Rice Pops' look like this:
You can start with Rice Pops. They're easy to hold on to and the chinchilla will love them. In the long term, Rice Pops $5 a pack and frankly not good for the chinchilla (half sugar!), so after about 6 months when you've got the chinchilla tamed a bit and expecting food to come with your hand, I suggest switching to the Quaker rice cakes. Just make sure to have food in your hand every time you reach towards the chinchilla, and eventually it'll realize to come towards your hand and it won't matter if it's a rice pop or a low sugar healthy rice cake that you're holding.
Another tip: Dust is $1 a pound on chinchillas.com instead of the standard $3 a pound at your local pet store. Here is a hyperlink:
You'll use a lot of dust. It's a great way to get the chinchilla to voluntarily go back in its cage. Teach the chinchilla that when you set the little dust house down, if it hops in, there will be dust in there. Then put a hand over the entrance to the dust bath, transfer it inside the cage, and voila! No chasing, and it's back in its cage. Similarly, you can hold a rice pop at the cage entrance and teach the chinchilla that if it hops back in it will get two good bites of the rice pop before you close the cage door. Train the chinchilla to go back in its cage. Don't chase it.
Here is a video on how to clicker train
The easiest cage to clean is one where no level other than the bottom one accumulates urine and poo.
Here is an example of an inexpensive cage for $110 delivered to your door on ebay:
They have it for sale with the wires painted white or black. Either makes a great external frame for a cage. You can use fleece, kiln dried pine, or mesh to add levels. Make sure at no point can a chinchilla slip and plummet the entire height of the cage. They can die that way :(
You can buy wire mesh from your local hardware store and make new stories for your chinchillas. I recommend a mesh small enough so their feet can't get stuck in it. One quarter inch and one half inch mesh both work. There are pros and cons to both. One quarter inch mesh is small enough so even baby chinchilla feet can't get stuck in it. But it traps poo, which makes it time consuming to clean. I advise against using quarter inch mesh. One half inch mesh is what I use because it's safe for most horizontal ledges. I did have two situations where when a not fully grown chinchilla jumped and pressed its foot against the diagonal ledge, its foot got stuck. That was really horrifying, but since switching to horizontal ledges has not been a problem. The major pro to half inch mesh is that the poo falls through, so all the poop will collect at the bottom of the cage and be very easy to clean with a pull out tray. The best cage is an easily cleaned cage, and one where the chinchillas don't have to sit in their own waste.
How to Introduce a New Chinchilla:
Chinchillas do not necessarily automatically like one other. They're territorial. If you stick a new chinchilla suddenly in an existing chinchilla's cage, its response will be to say 'get out'. When the new chinchilla fails to do that, they can fight. Introducing chinchillas to one another takes time, and you need to do it in such a way that they can smell but not bite one another.
Here is an example:
Chinchillas need to play. This can mean letting it explore a safe area with no wires (many people use their bathroom or chinchilla-proof the room its cage is in), giving it a wheel or running saucer, giving it new and interesting things to destroy with its teeth, and giving it dust. Chinchillas also like to dig, which is not something many people know. But they do. If you give them a bucket with pure clay kitty litter (no fragrances or clumping chemicals added), they'll dig in it.
Breeding advice for other breeders:
A lot of people say they 'want a baby' so that they can 'train it to love them'. These are two of the most common and least favorite phrases to hear from buyers. But honestly, a baby wild animal's initial personality is entirely out of your hands. You can love it and treat it with kindness but, like the Belyaev fox aggression breeding experiments proved, undomesticated animals are simply born with a determination not to like humans. It happens inequally across a nonselected species. Some little brains make 'fight or flight' chemicals when they see humans. Certain babies are born shy and fearful and more scared than other babies, and sometimes that's just the baby people get stuck with. Nobody mistreated the little creature, it's simply not a domesticated animal. Belyaev's fox experiments showed that unless a breeder does something like for example breed only the top 5% nicest babies (before environmental conditioning), they're not improving the inherited personalities of their animals by simply selecting for other traits, and tameness of babies is widely and unevenly distributed. But the result of Belyaev's experiments show that if you do selectively breed for tameness, you can domesticate a species quite rapidly.
Screen your baby chinchillas when they're young before ever handling them, to rule out environmental taming. Keep the top 5% nicest babies as later breeders, regardless of their fur quality. Don't breed the lowest 5% meanest chinchillas, regardless of their fur quality. In this way the chinchilla species can be rapidly domesticated.
How does one screen babies for tameness? Belyaev originally ranked animals by walking towards them in their run and noting the distance he could approach them before they would flee. He would write that number down, repeat the test multiple times, and then let only the top 5% of males that he could walk the closest to breed. Here is how the foxes changed:
After one or two generations of breeding only the top 5% tamest males, his animals would all let him walk all the way to them so he came up with new kit classifications: