bedding

Chinchillas and Cleaning

An often overlooked part of chinchilla ownership is the cleaning. Let’s face it: it’s not the cutest thing to talk about, but it’s an absolutely crucial part of caring for your chinchilla and maintaining their continued well-being. Everyone’s cleaning schedule varies depending on their own routines and lifestyle, but I want to share my daily cleaning routine with you. This is also a great post to help new or potential owners understand chinchilla basics a little better in order to best plan for chinchilla ownership.

Koko smiling joy joyous

It’s important to touch on why cleaning is important. It may seem self-explanatory, and it is, but it’s always good to revisit the “why”s of it all. Not only is good hygiene attributed to a higher quality of life, but cleanliness can often prevent illness and infection, leading to better health and perhaps even a longer lifespan for your chinchilla.

To start, I have tried different cleaning routines and techniques, depending on the cage structures and how busy my life gets. Luckily, I work remotely and am able to spend a great deal of time around my chins, which has allowed me to streamline the techniques I use to care for them. Once your chinchilla routines have been developed and well-practiced, you can be confident of your ability to do your job as a chin-parent regardless of the type of day you have. Not everything will work right away, and sometimes you’ll need to step back and reevaluate your ratio of energy input to cleanliness output, but that’s all part of being a parent and doing the work it takes to make your life easier, minimizing effort and maximizing reward.

Muff sleepy ish

My chinchillas are the sleepiest from 11 AM to 3 PM, making that window of time the best for cleaning. My first step is to assess the damage and complain with a seasoned acceptance of reality. I’ll remove all loose chew toys and cuddle buddies to make sure they are safe from the cleaning process. Then, I’ll use my paws to gather and discard all loose hay that has fallen on their cage floor, as pieces of hay aren’t part of my vacuum hose’s vocabulary. The last in-cage step is to vacuum out all poop to the skeptical pirate eye of a half-sleeping chinchilla. I use a bagless upright vacuum with a stretchable hose, although shop vacs work just as well. I advise against handheld vacs, as I’ve yet to find one able to adequately accomplish even one session of light cage cleaning. Finally, I’ll sweep up the floor around the cage, collecting fallen poop and hay. This also a great time to replace litter box bedding or refresh hay and pellet supplies. For all four cages, this process takes roughly 45-60 minutes a day. While it seems like a lengthy process, it’s much more preferable to me than allowing a larger mess to accumulate, both due to my unwillingness of having to tackle a larger mess and because I truly believe this daily cleaning routine is a chore of parental responsibility that I owe to my chins (although I do dream of them one day being able to clean their own spaces. And talk to me. And fully comprehend a chin-mama’s struggle).

Mitty Dirty Messy Cage

Before Cleaning: The Daily Mess

Mitty Clean Cage

After Cleaning: The Restoration

If I’m not able to make this time bracket, I’ll schedule in cleaning at a time that’s more convenient for that day. I have a smaller cage space with a running wheel that the chins use for exercise sessions, time outs, or these types of cleaning sessions. It’s a brief 10-15 minutes in which they can enjoy (or abhor) the smells of the other chins that have occupied the cage before them, burrow under an excess of bedding, or go for a jog. I also keep a water bottle and bowl of pellets adhered to the cage, just in case someone wants a quick bite or sip.

Ladies running wheel cage

On a weekly or bi-weekly timeline (depending on which chins are litter trained), I’ll wash out their fleece liners with hot water and vinegar. I hand wash and air dry, as I don’t have my own laundry unit (this is New York City, after all) and I’d rather be hands-on with the chinchilla maintenance process. During this time, I also clean the steel pan foundation of each cage with a water, vinegar, and lemon mixture (50% water, 40% vinegar, and a splash of lemon). Lemon and citrus on their own are harmful to chinchillas, but the acidity in lemon juice can be great for getting out the grime – it’s necessary to thoroughly rinse and dry all items that use this mixture, rendering the mixture chinchilla-safe. It’s important to maintain all cage items, including fleece, pans, platforms, ledges, and accessories – it’s the surest way to get the most value out of your cage investments!

ladies cage

It’s my theory that the time spent with my chinchillas is never enough, and that bonding practices are forever tasks and never a lost energy. As a chin-parent, your work is never done! Don’t get overwhelmed or discouraged; this is all part of the beautiful journey of chin ownership. Cleaning is a really amazing time to check your bond with your chinchillas, building trust and allowing your chins to familiarize with your presence. This ritual can also be critical to build a baseline level of interaction; over time, you’ll become familiarized with daily behaviors and potential aberrations that require further observation or attention. Eventually, you’ll even bring comfort to them with your shared routine. You’d think that a screeching vacuum and clanking human would illicit a greater reaction than a slight eye peep, but all my chinchillas are so comfortable with our daily routine that they are happy to slumber luxuriously on despite their maid’s – err, I mean mom’s struggle. 🙂

Muff Skeptical Pirate

LY Chinchillas Treat Donation

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How To: Build Pine Litter Boxes

Litter training a chinchilla is possible, but success depends on your chinchilla’s personality. A chin that likes order in their home will typically be well-receptive to training, whereas the more throw-caution-to-the-wind personalities might not take to litter boxes quite as well. Still, there are a few tips that may help the success of training – the most important of which is the litter box, repetition, and consistency. Of course, the training we’re talking about is for #1 only! 😉

Boxes

So, while I’m in the process of changing cages (yes, it’s happening and no, I’m not entirely sure how I feel about it yet), I decided to re-imagine my litter boxes. In my custom cages, I had pseudo litter boxes, sectioning off a corner of each cage with pine frames and filling it with chinchilla-safe bedding. My favorite bedding is Eco-Bedding: a safe, recycled bedding that resembles crinkled recycled paper (or, actually, that’s exactly what it is). The chins have been using it for so long that they no longer have any impulse to snack on their bedding. Anyway, I’d decided a while back to construct pine litter boxes in place of the faux box structure, and this is what I came up with!

Litter Box

Step 1: Tools!

  • Kiln-dried pine. For each box, I used 2 pieces at 6.5″ x  .75″ x 1.5″ and 2 pieces at 8″ x  .75″ x 1.5″ – however, any lengths that will form your desired shape (triangle, square, rectangle, etc) will work. Try to make sure the surface area is high in relation to the height, so that it would be very difficult for your chin to flip the box over. Use a jigsaw to cut the wood to your desired lengths.
  • Drill & Screws
  • Cardboard & Box Cutter
  • Staple Gun & Hammer
  • Eye Hooks / Alternative: Machine Screw, Wing Nut, and Washer

Tools Box

Step 2: Construct!

With a drill, screw your pine pieces together to create your desired shape. It’s best to use a countersink method, which better hides the screws in the wood. After creating your shape, outline the box’s perimeter against a piece of cardboard and use a box cutter to cut the shape out. Use the staple gun to adhere the cardboard to the bottom of your box, using as few staples as possible to achieve a secure bottom. I use one staple in each corner and then hammer them in to make sure they are secure and impossible to remove without a screwdriver and some leverage. Finally, I use a drill to make a small hole on the side(s) of the box and insert the eye hook(s), which keeps the litter box secure to the cage corner. I use potential plurals, because cages can be different and may need more than one hook to stay in place. I have found that one hook works fine in my cages, because the bars are 1″ and the hook width-wise is 1.25″, meaning the hook would have to be turned vertically in order to be removed from the cage. However, an alternative is using a wing nut, washer, and machine screw – a common technique for removable shelving and other chin items.

Hooks

Step 3: Set Up!

The best way to introduce a litter box is to secure it to a corner of your cage, filling the box halfway with clean bedding and topping it off with soiled bedding. Since chinchillas have excellent sense of smell and smell is tied heavily to memory, the scent of their soiled bedding will encourage them to return to the same place to urinate. Of course, some chins will dig all the bedding out and trample all over it – the best way to move forward is simply to place the bedding back and continue to encourage the use of the box. It may take a few weeks, and it’s possible that it simply may not work for your chins, but the only way to know for sure is to keep going and display consistency as an owner. The cardboard will have to be changed out every 1-2 weeks, but it serves as an absorptive layer that retains scent and reinforces the training – and also tracks progress. Of course, you could use wood as a bottom, but all organic materials will also require changing out over time. To start off and build a new habit, the cardboard is a great and inexpensive way to encourage repeat behavior. A side note: please watch for cardboard ingestion. At the dimensions and with the installation of my litter box, it’s not possible for my chins to flip the box in order to reach the cardboard, but depending on your shape and method of adherence to your cage, cardboard ingestion could be dangerous and lead to blockage.

Koko Cutie

Step 4: Monitor!

Accidents will happen, that’s expected. When they occur, be sure to clean up the area well enough to remove as much of the scent as possible. Keeping all soiled bedding in the litter box will be the key to eventual success! Of course, there is no one solution for individual chins, but this method has worked for most of my chinchillas, and is continuing to show signs of potential success in the stubborn ones (cough Fifi and Muff). 🙂

Fifi Smiles

Have a great week, all! I’ll be writing about my transition into Ferret Nation cages as soon as I’m able to formulate a solid opinion on the change. 🙂 Cheers!

April 2015 Update: I have switched the cardboard bottoms out with kiln-dried pine! Over time, it became clear to see that the maintenance of cardboard was too frequent to be efficient. Pine will have to be switched out every several months, as opposed to every week with the cardboard bottoms. 🙂

LY Chinchillas Treat Donation

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

$5.00