Hay is the most important part of a chinchillas diet. Pellets should be alfalfa based and chinchillas should always have access to timothy hay. You can use other types of hay like orchard and meadow but timothy is excellent for working their teeth down.
Pellets should not have anything added to them. Just straight pellets that are of high quality. We use Oxbow chinchilla pellets for all the rescues. Mazuri and privately milled pellets are also good choices.
Some people in the USA use rabbit pellets but in Canada we don't have access to those pellets.
Stay away from any pellet that has veggies, raisins or lots of "treats". No matter what they say a vet recommended.
Treats should be limited and only consist of safe items. Chinchillas should not have any sugar and really, treats are more for us than them. A safe treat, given only once a day, consists of: a pinch of rosehips, a plain cheerio, a piece of shredded wheat, or a pinch of uncooked old fashioned oats.
If your chinchilla has any mushy poop or isn't pooping, stop all treats.
Chews are a very important for chinchillas for working their teeth. Wooden shelves are great for them to chew on but one thing chinchillas can't resist is apple wood. They love to chew the bark off. Just beware for naked twigs thrown out of the cage. They are like spears. Often we are asked how many twigs can you give, the answer is how ever many you can afford.
Safe toys for chewing can also be found on many online chin supply stores. Like Zoey and Lilo's Toybox
Water is of course essential for chinchillas but they have special requirements. All municipalities filter for giardia BUT the levels allowed are still too high for chinchillas. So you must either buy water or get a filter for your tap.
This will be the most expensive item you purchase for your chinchilla. It will be where he or she spends the most time. The first thing to look for when buying a cage is size. When it comes to chinchillas, bigger is better and by bigger we mean TALLER. One of the most popular cages for chinchillas is the Ferret Nation. The Ferret Nation has a lot of positives but even then there are many modifications you have to do to it.
Regardless of the cage you buy you want to remove all plastic shelving. A chinchilla will destroy plastic and it can cause health issues. You can replace the plastic with Kiln Dried Pine Ledges. These are very easy to make and there is a "How to Make thread" on www.owningchinchillas.webs.com You can make long shelves and shorter ledges. Chinchillas are made to hop and leap.
Remove all ladders/ramps. Chinchillas don't need them and in fact they can cause a broken leg which will require a costly amputation at the vet office. Just ensure you have lots of ledges for your chinchilla and they will be much happier and safer.
Hammocks are great to ensure that if your chin does have a fall, there is something to catch them. Currently hammocks in pet stores are not safe for chinchillas. The safest hammocks are made from fleece. These are easy to make or many people sell them online on chinchilla forums.
Metal Pans can be bought online to replace the plastic pans of the Ferret Nation or Critter Nation.
Raisins: Yes, I've heard that so and so gave their chin raisins all the time and it lived to be very old, 10 years! UMM. Chins should live to be 20 so giving it something that cuts its life in half is NOT safe. Raisins are WAY too high in sugar for chinchillas.
Snak Shaks: These are sold in pet stores and made out of a variety of unhealthy ingredients. Honey being one item. Chuck the snak shak, your chin will thank you!
Ramps: Yes, the chinchilla cage you bought came with ramps BUT chinchillas do not need ramps. They are built to hop and leap. Ledges are much better for them and ramps can cause serious injuries. Many chins (even one at the rescue) has broke their legs on a ramp and had to have an amputation surgery.
Plastic: Yes that same cage with the ramps had plastic shelves. Chins CHEW, and chew a lot. They will destroy plastic in their cage and even destroy some cages entirely and escape. Ditch the plastic and replace them with wooden shelves. Safer for your chin and nicer looking too.
Fruit and Veggies: "but my vet said it was okay". I hear this one a lot. Vets may say it's okay but it's common in the chinchilla community that we say it's not. Chins can't handle sugars and fruits and veggies have lots of sugars in them. Many vets don't have a lot of chin experience either.
Rolling Balls: these are also dubbed "DEATH BALLS" in the chinchilla community and that should tell you a lot just by the name. First a chinchilla does not walk, they hop, they leap, they JUMP HIGH and even run along walls. The rolling balls hinders their natural way of moving and can cause injury to their spine. Second, chinchillas POOP a lot. How would you like to be trapped in a big ball with your poop landing on you or even pee. NOT FUN. AND lastly, chinchillas shouldn't get hot and these balls have very small holds or slots. MANY chinchillas have overheated in these things and some even have died. SAY NO TO DEATH BALLS! Smash them up!
Bridges with GAPS: These bridges are usually made out of wood and look the same as a ramp except you hang them in your cage. HUGE safety issue. Chins hop and bounce and with a slip they can and have broken legs. Some owners have even found their chinchilla hanging upside down with a broken leg. Why risk thousands of dollars and your chins life? Burn the bridge OR ensure there are NO gaps. Chins don't need bridges though and prefer lots of ledges.