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Chinchillas and Babysitters

As a chinchilla owner, sometimes the world beckons you away from the life of a stay-at-home chin-slave guardian. When the sweet oceanside breeze or faded sirens of some delightful foreign city tug at your heartstrings, you begin to remember what life was like before owning a chinchilla.

mitty love pillow chinchilla

All the feeding, cleaning, dusting, weighing, and constant bonding efforts can get overwhelming at times – not to mention the cage building, cage purchasing, DIY cage accents and hanging toys, cookie making, perpetual safeguarding against plastic, hefty air conditioning/dehumidifier bills, and constant provision of chin-safe chews, occasional chin-proofed playtimes, and continual supply of soft entertainment. And if you think that’s a handful, it’s just the start! For very loving chin-owners, chinchilla ownership is a way of life and chinchilla care and parenthood is just as much a part of your daily routine as work, friends, or school! They’re family! Honestly, caring for a chinchilla properly is time, energy, and money-consuming, but that smug smile on their fat, furry faces is worth every ounce of trouble! For new or potential owners, just go ahead and skip to our post all about chinchilla care basics to gather a light gist of what your fluffy workflow will be like.

Ko Tutu

So, back to that wanderlust dreamscape: island sunrise, countryside mountaintop, or city retreat. Maybe you’re thinking of leaving for a weekend, or flying off for a few weeks – after all, you’re a hardworking chin-parent, you deserve it! What’s the best course of action when you can’t take your babies with you? Let’s chat about chin-sitters! Inevitably, at some point in your chin’s very long and happy life with you, you will likely have to leave your beloveds in the care of a third party. This post is all about how to select and direct the perfect chinchilla sitter, and make sure your fluffs are well-cared for in your bittersweet absence.

lulu chinchilla hat

Step 1: Find your potential sitter. I’m lucky: I have an incredible family that lives close and are well-versed with my chinchilla obsession – they’ve endured endless lectures from me on chinchilla health and safety. Ideally, a family member or very close friend would be the best choice – someone who lives nearby, so you always have a reachable emergency contact. It’s best to find a sitter well in advance, as it’s all about availability and suitability.

Koko and Ellen

Step 2: Provide all necessary information to your sitter. I make a very thorough document touching on all major points, as well as directing them to this blog to find additional information. Of course, they can contact me at anytime through any social media platform, phone, or email in order to obtain additional information. Adding in the number of your exotic vet is always a great move, too. I always try to drive home the idea that this incredibly important document will be their chinchilla bible for the duration of their stay. Instructions should typically be much more conservative than the way you care for your chins, taking into account the differentiation in familiarity and knowledge of your particular chinnies.

Chin Care

Step 3: Test your potential sitter. After allowing sitters to review information, I’ll invite them over each day for several days in order to test their ability to handle, feed, dust, and care for the chins. I typically skip imposing the daily weighing routine while I’m away, as it is more involved than the other care elements and requires a deeper understanding of each chinchilla in order to successfully weigh them. I’ll always ask a few questions as I watch them work, including a few “what if” situations for good measure.

I was asked recently about why my playtime rules are so conservative. To elaborate, I’m all about playing it safe with my babies – especially given new circumstances, people, or events. Too many things can go wrong if your sitter isn’t completely trained for playtime, so I err on the side of caution. Every chinchilla is unique, and some are crazier than others (cough, Muff!); each new variable equates to a slew of new, potentially harmful results. Playtime is, in general, optional based on the opinion of each chinchilla owner. Additionally, playtime is not crucial in any means to a chin’s general health, so skipping a few sessions couldn’t possibly hurt them. On the other hand, overheating, fur slip, stress, or injury could. The most nightmarish situation I could think up would be a chinchilla injury occurring while I’m not home with no concrete proof of how, why, or when. I’d personally wait until I was home to conduct any playtimes, but everyone is different! Who knows, you could know a true chinchilla guru – but that would still be a risk you’d have to be willing to take as a responsible pet owner.

Muff Windowsill

Step 4: Buy a webcam! This is a great piece of technology that every chinchilla owner should buy, as it captures what your chin-sitter may neglect. I position the cam between the cages and angle the cages so I can see everything: water bottles, hay feeders, pellet bowls, and so on. Additionally, I’ll always position my thermometer close enough to the webcam in order to monitor their environment from afar. I have a webcam that’s easy to check via phone and even allows me to coo or sing to them from another zip code!

Fifi Super Cute

Step 5: Check in with your sitter every day. Text, call, or email! A short catch-up on your chin’s day is always in order. Of course, you can also inquire about how your sitter is doing! 😛

Step 6: Pay your sitter (with friendship, or money). Payment for quality service is always a gesture of goodwill. 🙂 Unless we’re talking family – in that case, put it on the communal tab.

muff light chinchilla cutie

Step 7: Keep in contact and repeat as needed! As the sourcing part of this process can be quite intense, it’s best to maintain great relations with your chin-sitter and keep in touch, as you never know when your travel bug will catch up with you again.

lulu chinchilla city

There you have it; the 7 steps to take when selecting and utilizing a chinchilla babysitter. Of course, use your sitters as sparingly as possible: chin-sitting is time and energy consuming, and only you know your chins best! 🙂 As with all exotic pets with specific needs, chinchillas require very willing and knowledgeable sitters, but most pet lovers can be trained with adequate time and accurate information over time. Happy travels, chin-lovers – and make sure your lovely fluffs are safe at home for when you return!

LY Chinchillas Treat Donation

Buy delicious hay-based treats or apple sticks for the entire LY Chinchillas family!

$5.00

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Chinchilla Essentials for Warm Months!

On the other side of winter, at last! The flowers are bursting into full bloom, the wind spins with a warmer embrace, and the sun basks our relieved faces. Yes, this is the start of the warmer season: spring, into summer, and eventually, autumn. This time of year spurs great activity, fun times, and for chinchilla owners, the annual realization that your electricity bill is about to jump! Yes, air conditioning is the only way to ensure your chinchillas will be enjoying a safe and healthy environment, and it’s a cost that simply cannot be discounted.

Muff Windowsill

Excerpt from Chinchilla Basics 101: “Temperature: chinchillas can overheat at temperatures over 75°F, as they do not have sweat glands. Chinchillas have 50-100 hairs per follicle, as compared to a human’s 1 to 1 ratio. They are built for high altitude, cold environments with very low humidity. Owners are responsible for recreating that environment – it’s suggested to keep your chin’s living space between 60 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit (still comfortable for owners, safe for chinchillas). Red ears are a sure sign of overheating: if your chinchilla is too hot, be sure to place him/her in a cool environment with a cool slab of granite and closely monitor his or her water and food consumption. Be sure to always have a 24-hour exotic vet’s contact information on hand, in case of emergency.

Mitty Slab Granite

For those living in a temperate environment, here are a few basic pointers that can help with your chinchilla care regime during spring, summer, and hot autumn months. For those living in warm environments year-round, these tips can serve to help you maintain your chinchilla’s health.

  • Air Conditioner: The most basic of all the warmer weather needs for your chinchilla: the air conditioner! Yes, the costly coolness machine. I’ve encountered far too many chinchilla owners on social media that are simply unaware of how imperative this element is. No, fans will not work: moving warm air around will  not decrease the air temperature. Fans only work on animals that can sweat, slicking away sweat from skin – chinchillas do not have sweat glands, and will experience absolutely no benefit from a fan’s moving air. If you are still living with your parents, it’s necessary that you communicate how dangerous it is to neglect this element of a chinchilla’s care, and offer your handy dandy chore services to make up for their A/C costs. If you are unable to give your chinchillas one of their most fundamental needs, then perhaps it is time to reevaluate your chinchilla’s living situation.
  • Keep Your Chinchillas Away from Direct Sunlight: Chinchillas should not be exposed to direct sunlight without supervision, and should not experience direct sunlight for an extended period of time (I will allow my chinchillas to be photographed by the window for no more than 5-10 minutes on a partly cloudy day). Chins are prone to overheating, and a sunny day could lead to deadly consequences. It’s best to keep your chinchilla in a cool area with air conditioning, ventilation, and low humidity.
  • Thermometer: A must for all chin owners! This is a simple and inexpensive tool that can help alert you of rising temperatures. Sure, 75°F may feel perfect for us humans, but it’s important to try to keep your chinchilla’s living space as cool and dry as possible. One eye on the thermometer for several months will give you a great sense of what the temperature is in your chin’s room, and prompt you to make any needed adjustments as quickly as possible.
  • Blackout Curtains: These types of curtains are great! In the winter, they keep heat in – but in the summer, the keep heat out. Of course, blackout curtains alone will not be enough for your chinchilla. This type of curtain will serve to help keep your energy costs down, acting in a synergistic way with your existing air conditioning unit.
  • Dehumidifier: If you’re living in an area with chronic humidity, a dehumidifier goes hand-in-hand with a great air conditioner. Removing the humidity from the air will make your chinchilla’s living situation much more safe. Heat and humidity work together in a negative way, compounding both elements into an extremely uncomfortable situation. Heat alone can be harmful and humidity alone can be harmful, but heat and humidity together can create an unbearable situation for your chinchilla.
  • Cool Stone Slabs: Granite or marble cooling slabs direct from the fridge serve to chill out your chinchilla briefly. These will only be effective at lower temps, and only for a certain amount of time. Chins will transfer their heat into the slabs, and render them ineffective after the heat transfer has evened out. At higher temperatures, these slabs won’t stay cool for long, and the environment will serve to bring an equilibrium to the cool tiles.
  • Ice Pack with Fleece Cover: In a more dire heat situation, an ice pack (or several pieces of ice in a plastic bag) with a secure fleece cover will provide a longer lasting coolness to your chinchilla without the fear of them biting into the plastic. This cooling method will only last as long as the ice does, and buy some time for owners to be able to bring the overall temperature down by the time the ice melts.
  • Maintain a Dusting Routine: Dusting has many long-term benefits for chinchillas: by dusting to achieve clean fur, they also stay dry and prevent a buildup of dirt and grime that could serve to aid in overheating. Dusting more frequently during summer months or months of higher humidity is a common practice and a simple way of doing a little bit every day to ensure your chin’s overall health and happiness.
  • Minimize Activity: Putting a hiatus on out-of-cage activity or removing your chin’s wheel will help prevent overheating. The hope is that your powerful, functioning air conditioner will allow them to continue their usual activities through the warmer months, but in situations of power outages or extenuating circumstances, this is a helpful step to keeping your chins safe.
  • Air Conditioner: Twice on the list, because air conditioning is the point of this post. You gotta keep your chinchillas cool, and the bottom line is: A/C. All the tips between Air Conditioner and Air Conditioner on this list are only little helpful pointers that will help aid the effectiveness of your A/C or provide a respite for your chinchilla while you’re fixing your broken air conditioner or out purchasing a new one. 🙂 Happy Air Conditioning, chinchilla lovers!

Angry Fifi

LY Chinchillas Treat Donation

Buy delicious hay-based treats or apple sticks for the entire LY Chinchillas family!

$5.00

Chinchilla Basics 101

After spending a decent amount of time on social media posting about my fur-babies and receiving feedback, I’ve come to realize that there are quite a few people out there with very basic questions about chinchillas. It seems I’ve skipped right over that in my blog and discussed more complex issues! In an effort to condense all beginner Q&A in one area, I’ve decided to do a very simple blog post with a lot of information this week: Chinchilla Basics 101.

Koko Window

What is a chinchilla? A chinchilla is super soft crepuscular rodent, native to South America’s Andes. Simply because these animals have a rodentia classification, they are no ordinary rodent: they are extremely clean, beautiful animals with a great depth of emotive and intellectual capability. Their name means “little Chincha,” named after the indigenous Chincha people of the Andes. Crepuscular means that chinchillas are most active at dawn and dusk. It is a common misconception that chins are nocturnal, as they are not. In the wild, they’ve been known to live at high altitudes in herds of up to over 100 chinchillas, but as a pet, can be very picky about which chinchilla(s) he or she wants to live with. Chinchillas have poor eyesight but a strong sense of smell, hearing, and through their whiskers, touch. Through their whiskers, they can sense pressure changes and vibrations. They also have excellent memories and are incredibly fast, agile, and can be very high jumpers. Chinchillas are very intelligent and have specific personalities and preferences, which means it can take quite a while to bond and get to truly know your chinchilla. How long can a chinchilla live? Chinchillas can live upwards of 20 years with strong genetics and a healthy diet, although the average is 12-15 years. Chins are no short-term commitment, meaning that a lot of consideration must be made prior to buying your first chinchilla. Your heart may start in the right place, but due to your wallet, growing family, or lost interest, you may put a sweet chinchilla out of a good home, causing this intelligent and emotional animal to become neglected and end up in the hands of someone who doesn’t care to research a chinchilla’s needs as well as another first-time owner. In such a case, you are encouraged to reach out to a chinchilla rescue and research the best options for your pet.

Muff Cuddle Buddy

Are chinchillas considered exotic pets? Chinchillas are critically endangered animals, having been hunted to near-extinction for the profit-hungry fur industry – 90% killed off in the wild in the span of a mere 15 years. They are indeed exotic (although not in terms of import/export in the United States) – there has yet to be extensive scientific research on their species, in terms of intellectual, emotional, or physical capabilities, outside of some agricultural uses. Most of what chinchilla owners know beyond the very basics is based largely on first-hand experience, opinion, or what we have gathered about chinchillas prior to hunting them out of the wild. Since chins have been domesticated, bred in captivity, and raised as pets, chinchilla breeding has become an art of sorts – with very beautiful colors (i.e. Blue Diamond) and variations (i.e. Royal Persian Angora and Locken), in extremely exclusive markets (i.e. select markets have refused to sell to others, keeping the costs of certain variations of chinchillas in the high thousands). Aside from color mutations and breeding variations, chinchillas are all-around very special animals, with special needs. A few of these needs are:

  • Temperature: chinchillas can overheat at temperatures over 75°F, as they do not have sweat glands. Chinchillas have 50-100 hairs per follicle, as compared to a human’s 1 to 1 ratio. They are built for high altitude, cold environments with very low humidity. Owners are responsible for recreating that environment – it’s suggested to keep your chin’s living space between 60 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit (still comfortable for owners, safe for chinchillas). Red ears are a sure sign of overheating: if your chinchilla is too hot, be sure to place him/her in a cool environment with a cool slab of granite and closely monitor his or her water and food consumption. Be sure to always have a 24-hour exotic vet’s contact information on hand, in case of emergency.
  • Diet: Chinchillas should be free-fed, and they have very specific diets (and very sensitive little tummies!). While they can over-indulge on any plethora of treats, they cannot overeat on their diet basics: high quality chinchilla pellets and fresh Timothy hay. Read up on my version of a safe chinchilla diet here.
  • Teeth: Dental care for chinchillas is critical for a healthy lifestyle. Chin teeth are constantly growing, and need to be filed down with wood chews to stay healthy. There are quite a few dental problems that can occur, rising either genetically or through poor care. It’s imperative to have a plethora of safe woods and chews readily available for your chinchilla and check for any changes in consumption or behavior, as changes could be a sign of dental problems.
  • Health: Chinchillas require careful monitoring, as they do not show illness or pain very visibly. They are unable to communicate in the way a dog or cat could whine, as some chins are not very vocal. It’s necessary for owners to constantly monitor food and water consumption, as well as ‘output’.
  • Cage: Ideally, chinchillas need spacious, non-plastic, multilevel cages with safe wood platforms and other elements to encourage chewing and prevent boredom. Additionally, wire bottomed cages can create a condition known as ulcerative pododermatitis, or “bumblefoot”, which is a bacterial infection that occurs from calloused feet. It’s important that if you have a wire cage, offer many areas where the wire is covered with fleece or replaced with hard flooring. Read up on how to build your own custom chinchilla cage here.
  • Exercise: Chinchillas need a good amount of safe room for exercise and stretching their furry legs! Everything in your chin’s exercise space must be chinchilla-proofed – tight spaces must be closed off, sharp objects put away, wires and molding hidden behind blankets or cardboard. It’s necessary for owners to be present and active watchers during playtime, in case something goes awry. Chinchillas are like babies – they truly need constant supervision. Read up on tips for chinchilla playtime here.
  • Cleaning: Well, chinchillas are high maintenance. You’ll find yourself vacuuming, dusting, sweeping, filling food bowls, hay racks, and water bottles, sneezing up dust and hay particles left and right. It’s no glamorous job, but owners have to do it daily. I would say that upwards of 33.33% of my relationship with my chinchillas is active cleaning or feeding duty.

Mitty Cage

Are chinchillas easy to care for? No. Do not be fooled by pet stores or oblivious owners. If you are a caring owner, chinchillas are not easy pets. Be prepared to spend at least an hour a day with these guys, especially if you want to bond with them. My family has often told me my energy and time dedicated to my 5 chinchillas is very similar to owning a mid-sized dog (albeit a dog that can live up to 20 years), and I wouldn’t disagree. It requires just as much time, money, energy, and emotion to adequately provide what I consider to be a happy life for these guys. Does it get easier? Yes. With time, routine, and a little bit of help from your loved ones, caring for your chinchillas is like riding a bike – still takes energy, but you get stronger with experience.

Ellen and Koko

Why do chinchillas need dust baths? Because chinchillas have around 60 hairs per follicle, their fur is the densest in the world. Their fur is so dense that they cannot contract fleas, nor bathe in water to clean themselves. Their fur is not be able to dry naturally and could create deadly fungus or other skin conditions if not treated immediately (AKA carefully blow-dried on the coolest setting). In the wild, chins bathe in volcanic ash to ensure the richness and cleanliness of their dense coats, which helps to remove moisture and oil. In captivity, chins bathe in a very similar dust (created from ultra-fine aluminum silicate powder), often branded as Californian blue cloud dust. If your chinchilla has dry skin problems (this can occur in dryer times of the year), dust 2-3 times per week. If your chinchillas have no skin issues and love to dust, daily dusting is totally fine!

 

What items do I need/should I buy for my first chinchilla?

  • Cage: Try at all cost to avoid plastic, which most chins will chew up, and as mentioned before, cover wire bottoms. Cages should be multilevel, spacious, and if you have the time/energy, you should build your own! It’s suggested that chins should have a safe wooden house to hide away in while they become accustomed to their new environment.
  • Food: High quality pellets and a variety of hays (Timothy should always be available and the foundation for your chin’s hay diet). Read up on my version of a good diet here.
  • Wood and Chews: The more, the better! Woods and chews prevent boredom and encourage teeth filing. Read up on your safest options here.
  • Ceramic Bowls: One for hay and one for pellets! Ceramic tends to be most popular, but I also use some very thick bottom-heavy glass bowls – it’s important to ensure glass bowls don’t tip and aren’t movable. If you’re able to affix these to your shelves, that would be for the best. Chins love to tip bowls over. I would suggest a hay rack as well, but certain types are chin-dangerous in their structure, so I would avoid using a rack until you do a bit more research about what works with your particular cage and what will be safest for your setup.
  • Glass Water Bottle: Avoid plastic! Chins will chew right through them, leaving them without water and a big mess.
  • Dust: Blue cloud dust is widely available on the web, and can be bought in bulk quantities if needed. I start with 2-3 cups of dust in my container, reuse that quantity daily for all my chins, and add a half cup every week. It’s best to use a mostly closed container with an opening for fresh air. Remember to dust in a confined area because Dust. Gets. Everywhere. It’s important to note that not every chin needs to be dusted daily; mine do because they love to dust, have no dry skin issues, and we live in an area with moderate humidity.
  • Granite or Stone Slab: Chinchillas need to stay cool, as you now should know. A slab of granite or polished stone will do nicely for a nice relaxing place to sleep, although it is in no way a replacement for the proper environment and temperature!
  • Air Conditioning Unit and Thermometer: Yep, this is a step that’s critical for the warmer times of the year! Chinchillas don’t have sweat glands and are densely surrounded with fur, so they need to stay cool year-round at temperatures 75°F and below. Over-heating can be deadly, so don’t skimp on this one!
  • Food Scale: Most commonly, chins are weighed in grams. Due to genetics, diet, and other factors, full-grown chinchilla weights can vary dramatically, from 400 g to 1200 g+! Most chinchillas are considered full grown around 8-18 months, so they should be constantly growing until then. As aforementioned, since chinchillas aren’t very expressive, their weight is a great way to see how they’re doing, and to determine the possibility of illness or injury. Any sharp decreases in weight should warrant an exotic vet visit ASAP. I keep record of my chins’ weight daily, so I know that there can be quite a variance in their weights on any given day due to consumption level, time of day, and other factors. Weights can fluctuate up to 20 grams a day, but as long as overall trend is upwards or at least the same over a period of 2-3 months, I’m happy. Read about how to weigh your chinchilla here!

Start there, and learn as you go! Sure, as time goes on you’ll probably look into a wheel, hammock, cuddle buddy, and other fun accoutrements for your pet. But basics are basics, and that’s what this post is all about. I hope you find this helpful, and feel free to share with your friends and acquaintances – you know, the ones who ask, “What’s a chinchilla?” 🙂

LY Chinchillas Treat Donation

Buy delicious hay-based treats or apple sticks for the entire LY Chinchillas family!

$5.00