Chinchillas are avid chewers who enjoy putting anything and everything in their mouths. Just like Golden Retriever and Labrador puppies this makes them highly susceptible to many different toxicities. When providing bedding for a cage, care should be taken in deciding which materials to use. Products that clump or expand should never be used in a chinchilla habitat as gastrointestinal obstruction, or blockage, is likely to occur if ingested. Obstruction is life threatening and generally requires surgery to remedy.
Shavings from aromatic wood should be avoided. They may smell and look good to you, but they are much too potent for a chinchilla. The fragrances from pine, eucalyptus, cedar, or sandalwood can stress a chinchilla’s respiratory tract and ingestion can cause liver or kidney disease. Chinchillas are generally odorless. Odors should not be an issue if the cage is kept very clean and their dust replaced when feces contaminate it.
Corncob bedding is not a good choice for a chinchilla habitat. It is not only uncomfortable to walk or sleep on but pieces and parts can become lodged in a chinchilla’s genital area resulting in considerable irritation and pain. As with other products ingestion can cause a gastrointestinal obstruction. Woods with resinous or sap properties can cause gastrointestinal distress and obstruction if the gummy material is ingested. In addition, the resin or sap can stick to the fur coat or skin. Maple, fir, and birch are a few examples of resinous woods to bypass. Cocoa bean mulch should never be used as bedding as it can result in toxicity consistent with chocolate poisoning. If ingested, central nervous system stimulation could occur, resulting in a rapid increase in heart rate, seizures, and death. The concentration of theobromine, the toxic component of chocolate, can vary greatly between each lot of cocoa bean mulch so be sure to avoid it altogether. Finally, keep in mind that certain types of wood are simply toxic by ingestion. Oleander, hemlock, china berry, and black walnut, among others, can cause rapid death. These should be avoided at all cost.
Always purchase supplies from a reputable dealer and be certain to evaluate their safety before exposing a pet to any new material. A little research can go a long way towards keeping your pets healthy and alive. Low cost is of little benefit if the results are an expensive hospital stay or worse.