cage

Chin-to-Chin Relationships

Chins are adorable, there’s no way around it. Who doesn’t love chubby chinchillas all cuddled up in a cuddle circle? But what do you do if there’s trouble in chinchilla paradise? What happens when chinchillas start fighting, barking, yelling, or attacking one another? There are a few different types of situations and ways to handle them that encourage safety and promote a peaceful living situation.

Fifi Snuggles

To preface, I’ll offer some fundamental advice for current and future chinchilla owners: please do not purchase a chinchilla in the hopes that he or she will cuddle with you – 90% of the time, this won’t happen. Chinchillas are a ton of work and have quite a few requirements for a healthy, happy life. Placing your hopes and dreams for who your chinchilla will ‘become’ or goals for how he or she will behave in relation to your expectations won’t work out well for either party. Secondly, please do not purchase an additional chinchilla for an existing chinchilla in the singular hope that your current chinchilla will have a new best friend – it’s a 50% chance that they will have to live separately, oftentimes for their entire lives – that means double the cages, double the play times, double the bonding efforts. Building up an idea in your head that your chinchilla needs a friend is potentially selfish and untrue – oftentimes, it results in disappointment. If you would like another chinchilla, you should make that decision for yourself as a capable and loving owner that is ready to take on an additional responsibility, recognizing the risks of potential disharmony in your existing chin-family.

Muff Buggy Cute

So far in my experience, I have had two major chinchilla-to-chinchilla relationship problems arise. First, the slow, eventual, and final separation of my two male chinchillas, Mitty and Muff. Second, a recent scare between my mosaic sisters, Lulu and Fifi. Sweetheart Koko, as you may have guessed, has never needed a soul to make her happy self any happier, so she has always been on her own in that way.

Koko Cuddly

When I first welcomed Mitty and Muff to my home, Muff roughly 6 months after Mitty, they were pretty great friends. They were around the same age and still quite young, under a year old. They shared a double-level cage and had a grand time, swapping stories about their kit days and demolishing shredded wheaties as a team. Their breakup was gradual, building up over time and finally resulting in permanent separation. It began with a few barks every few days, perhaps a scurry in the cages. There was no lost fur, no broken skin, no weight loss, no physical injuries, and both kids were still consuming and behaving quite normally aside from the one-offs. This continued for two months. In the third month, the frequency of their one-offs became less like aberrations in behavior and more like a consistent flow of small arguments. We even separated the cages with a partition, but Muff would burrow and dig and squeeze his way through the 1″ gap just to cuddle with Mitty. It was a back and forth of likes and dislikes, of cuddling and arguing, of love and hate.

Muff Crown

One day, Muff was squealing at the top of his lungs and going full Batman towards Mitty, chasing him around the cage. I decided, that was it. The next day, they each got their own cages and have been separated ever since. It was clear that the escalation was not going to lead anywhere but to a potentially violent place. An affirmation came a few months later, after they had settled in to their new living situations and made peace with their solitude. I was tidying up Muff’s cage while he was still in it and Mitty had a brief playtime. While Mitty was standing outside Muff’s cage, Muff went crazy trying to attack him – although he would not have been able to reach his nemesis, I put my hand up to block him from the wire mesh and he chomped down on my finger as if he was trying to tear it apart. Luckily, although the bite was deep, I was fine and so were they. I don’t blame myself for that situation, but I am thankful that it occurred. Muff is an extremely gentle chin, as is Mitty. I was able to learn that their problem was not inherent in their personalities, but rather brought out by one another. From that point on, they have had 100% security from one other and have never been able to make future contact – and they’ve been very thankful for it. They have grown into fine young men and flourish as their best selves without the conflict of an opposing personality.

Mitty Cookie Adore

Lulu and Fifi, on the other hand, are sisters. They cuddle and groom and play all the time. They’ve been great for years, but more recently, they had been having their share of problems, kacking and chasing one another around their shared cage. Before anything serious happened – that is to say, before any rough-housing or physical fighting – I took Fifi out, as it appeared she was the aggressor in most of their arguments. I placed her in a temporary cage and set it by the foot of their shared cage. I gave them a two day time out from one another, but they were always able to talk through the cage bars and sleep next to each other. They were given some time together every day to groom and say hello; it was evident that they missed each other greatly (surprisingly, Fifi more-so than Lulu). The time apart was healing for them, and since Fifi returned to their space, it’s been smooth sailing. As an owner, I’m always mindful that the bond between all of us needs to be built back up before returning to a comfortable place of trust and a solid sense of safety. It’s important to note that blood relationships are not immune to chaos or disorder, and require TLC from all parties to keep the good vibes going. The good thing about these girls (and luckily, how it played out with the boys) is that they will display their feelings vocally and behaviorally prior to lashing out physically.

Girls Together

It’s important to keep in mind that these examples of broken bonds and healing bonds are my stories, based solely on the disposition and personalities of my chinchillas. I have heard several horror stories from fellow chinchilla owners of pure physical violence emerging with minimal warning signs, leading to devastating injuries for their weaker chinchillas. The best advice I can give is to take great care to properly introduce chinchillas over a period of many weeks prior to allowing them to live together, monitoring their behavior constantly, and remove any aggressive chinchilla into a separate cage immediately upon any suspicion of anger or danger (weighing your chinchillas can be a good way to catch a bully by determining who is able to consume more and overall weight trends). Removing a bonded pair from one another for any reason will require the proper re-introductions to prevent conflict, and of course, there is no guarantee of rebuilding bonds.

Mitt Fat Upwards

Play it safe at all times and prepare for permanent separation, with extra cages, water bottles, and supplies. Keep a bottle of Blu-Kote for potential scratches or shallow bites. Always have the numbers of a trusted exotic vet and emergency vet on hand for potential emergencies. Remember, when it comes to your chin-kids, it’s better safe than sorry! You may have to mourn the loss of a bond, but it’s important to give each animal their full right to live a long, happy, and healthy life. You’re much better off enjoying their company one-on-one than having to deal with a crippling injury, or worse. In fact, you may get to know them better than you ever could have if they were still bonded. 🙂

Koko Dusty

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How To: Chinchilla Dust Baths

This week’s post goes back to basics, but dust baths are a fundamental and important grooming topic to touch upon. There are always a plethora of questions that curious animal lovers or new chinchilla owners ask (you can find a complete one-stop post about Chinchilla Basics 101 here), and one of the major grooming questions always pertains to dusting! Not only is it necessary, it’s vicious, voracious, messy, wild, and scurrying adorable!

Dust

What is a Dust Bath? A dust bath is a cleaning technique used by chinchillas (and other select avian and mammalian species). This type of waterless bathing utilizes dust or fine sand.

Why Do Chinchillas Need to Dust? Since chinchillas have incredibly dense fur and originate from a cool, dry climate in the South American Andes, their fur is not meant to be immersed in water. Water is considered harmful and any immersion could cause fur loss, stress, fungal infections, and lead to overheating. Dusting is important for chinchillas to stay clean, remove any impurities from their fur, and prevent matting. Dusting helps remove unnecessary oils and dirt, and also serves as a form of temperature regulation, meaning it assists in keeping your chin cool and dry by preventing a buildup of heat-trapping irregularities (dirt, oil, heaviness, impurities).

V dusty muffy

How Often Should Chinchillas Dust? Dusting frequency varies on humidity, season, and some other factors. Typically, the range goes from 2 times a week to every single day. In areas that are humid and during warm seasons, the more frequent the dusting should be. As long as your chinchilla doesn’t have any dry skin problems, it’s safe to dust them daily. I dust my chins every day because 1. we live in an area of fluctuating humidity 2. they don’t have any dry skin issues and 3. they all love to dust. We’ve incorporated it into our daily weighing routine.

 

How Long Should Chinchillas Dust For? 5-10 minutes is a great amount of time. In my experience, they won’t dust all at once; oftentimes they’ll dust, prance around, shake it off, dust and repeat. Makes for quite a lovely mess!

What Type of Dust Should I Use? I recommend Blue Cloud Dust, which is a very fine natural powder mined from the Blue Cloud Mine in Southern California. The dust has a very high standard of quality, shakes out of chinchilla fur, and also carries a natural, clean scent. This dust can be found in bulk online through various chinchilla vendors or in smaller quantities at commercial pet stores.

Lulu Turnt

How Much Dust Per Session? I use 1-2 cups of dust and refill as needed.

Where Should I Dust My Chinchilla? I suggest a confined area that would be easy to clean and has ventilation. In my experience, bathtubs and bathrooms work great and have minimal clean-up time. It’s important to note that dust goes flying, gets everywhere, and it will be a struggle to maintain a dust-free environment, so keeping the dust bath far from electronics would be beneficial.

Lu Dusty Contrast

What Type of Dust Bath Container is Best? Of course, glass, ceramic, or metal is great – the most important factor being that the container won’t fall over under the weight of massive chinchilla rolls. Personally, since I’m constantly monitoring them during their dust sessions and do not keep a dust house in their cages, I use an open plastic bin that measures 16″ x 12″ x 7″ and for the most part, I leave the top off or partially covered to minimize dust-plosions. I’d suggest staying away from plastics in general, unless you are present and watchful in monitoring to prevent potential chewing. There are also a plethora of other choices, both for outside and inside of the cage usage – some chin owner favorites include bread pans, smaller cages, and large bowls with sturdy bottoms.

MuffDusty

Can I Reuse Dust? For the most part, yes. As long as the quality of the dust is the same, it’s safe to continue using and simply adding in some new dust each session. When chinchillas leave behind some poop, it’s easy to use a scooper or strainer to remove them from the dust. Sometimes, chins will urinate in the dust after they’re done to mark their territory. In those cases, I recommend spot-cleaning to remove the affected dust, pouring out the clean dust, and cleaning out the container before using again (it may be easier to just toss it all out, clean the container, and add new dust). Also, it’s time to change the dust if you notice dust particles clumping together due to retaining moisture over time. My mosaic girls will also leave behind loose strands of their constantly shedding fur, so if I begin to see those, I’ll change out the dust.

Strainer

Chinchilla Dust Hacks! Does your chinchilla have a light-colored mutation or have urine stains on their furry behinds? You can add a tablespoon of corn starch to their dust bath to help lighten up those stains! Also, you can use a damp cloth or unscented baby wipe to clean stained areas, making sure that you are cleaning the surface areas only and monitoring them until their fur is fully dry.

Koko Turn

Can Chinchillas Take Water Baths? As long as your chinchilla is in good health, the answer is no: they shouldn’t. However, certain extenuating health issues may allow owners to bathe their chinchillas in water – please consult a trusted exotic vet and/or trusted chinchilla savants to determine that a water bath is necessary prior to making this decision. Please note that urine stains are no a reason to bathe your chin in water, as there are existing solutions that do not put your chin’s health in harm’s way unnecessarily.

How Should I Store Chinchilla Dust? You should store your dust in an airtight container and keep it in a cool, dry place to ensure maximal usability!

Cutie Mitty

Happy dusting! Stay tuned for more chinformative chinformation! 🙂

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Get To Know: Lulu

LULU [my graceful chubster] AKA Lululumon, FattyLoo, Lu, Fatty

Mosaic, Born 08/21/2013, approximately 800 grams

Lu Loaf

Role in Playtime Kingdom? Graceful little queen bee! Lulu prances around like a beautiful butterfly, making jumps gingerly and landing them with a cute twirl and smile. Such a debutant!

Favorite Hiding Place? Under the filing cabinet, just like Muff! But since it’s been long blocked off, little lady Lu enjoys spending time out in the open, roaming about like a curious princess.

Lulu Standing

Physical Capability? Oblivious grace! Lulu has the luck of a true happy-go-lucky darling. She’s also an occasional high jumper!

Vocal? Not really! Lulu is very quiet, like a fat stealth machine. She’ll only squeak on very rare occasions, like when her sis Fifi overdoes the midnight cage sprints.

Human Cuddle Status? Lu gets all her cuddles in with her sister, so she doesn’t need any human snuggles. Power to the semi-independent woman! She will accept light petting, but not a fan of scratches or massages.

 

 

Favorite Way to Be Picked Up? This lady is a queen, and expects full support from the torso, legs, and base of the tail. She will not lift a paw to help you in the process, although when she’s in the carriage, she’s a happy traveler.

Lulu Holding

Intelligence? Two words: Space. Case. Lulu is extra sweet and adorable, with her eyes a bit closer on her head than the other babies and her unique spots on her back, she’s a real catch! The boys love her, and so does everyone who meets her. But this little girl’s in her own universe! I don’t blame her at all; sometimes, ignorance is bliss. 🙂

 

Is She Compatible with Other Chinchillas? For the most part, yes! Lulu gets flirts left and right from both Muff and Mitty! They have the biggest crushes on her and offer her endless kisses and grooming sessions (supervised, of course). Fifi, her sister, loves to cuddle with her and spend quality cage time together. Her one nemesis, it seems, is young Koko Bear! She can’t stand the way Koko smells, and becomes quite aggressive when she comes into any contact with the new girl’s scent.

Lulu getting kisses

Ready for a Photo Shoot? Due to her ditz, Lu is perfect on set! It typically takes her a while to realize where she is, and if there’s a little treat in the picture, she won’t even care when she figures it out. I mean, she’s no docile Koko Bear, but she’s definitely second in line when it comes to being workable on set!

Lulu 1K

Love to Dust? Just like Muff, Lulu can’t get enough of the dusting -she’d live in dust if she could, I’m sure of it.

Three Words/Phrases to Sum Up Her Personality? Lost in Her Own World, Fluffball Full of Grace, Princess Status/Queen-in-Training

Next Week.. Lu’s sister, Fifi!

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Get To Know: Mufftoneous

MUFFTONEOUS [my giant goofball] AKA Muff, Muffton, Muffles, Sir Mufftoneous, Fatty

Black Velvet, Born 07/15/2013, approximately 750 grams

Muff Simba

Role in Playtime Kingdom? Full time jester, and part time squisher/carpet puller/hyper-speed zoomer! Muff is full of energy, energy, energy! He is a total sprinter – incredibly fast for short distances, then off to chill out in a tiny crevice somewhere with his watchful eyes peeking out like a paranoid owl. At times, he has been referred to as “overlord,” because sometimes, it really feels as if he’s the universal puppet master (Muff is so simple that he’s.. infinitely complex?).

Favorite Hiding Place? Under the filing cabinet, where he attacks the entrance at great speed! Don’t worry, it’s now been sectioned off, but it doesn’t stop him from trying to burrow in.

 

 

Physical Capability? Agility is super-chinchilla level! Moderate jump height. Willing to walk for rare treats. Will, shockingly, happily finish the entire wood stick, not just the bark. Greatest strength probably being a lack of fear and a sense of youthful invincibility. He is incredibly talented, however, at wall climbing! He even has his own climbing wall in his cage, which has been super customized for his quirky personality.

 

 

 

Vocal? You betcha! Muff will sing, chirp, bark, and from time to time, even scream (especially if he’s hopeful to gain a bit of the girls’ attention). He has been physically vet-cleared as healthy, but there’s some dark music behind that cute little face and gleaming, beady eyes.

Human Cuddle Status? Definitely not. No chance. It’s impossible to contain a squishing athlete! He’ll squirm right out of your arms and bolt away at super speeds! A more recent development, however, is that he LOVES scratches! I’m such a happy chin-momma to see this little guy just melt under the chin and chest rubs!

 

Favorite Way to Be Picked Up? Sir Mufftoneous will only allow a pick-up with a regal hand elevator. Hand is offered, and Muff will hop right on until the destination is reached.

Intelligence? Eh, it ebbs and flows. Muff can be very loving and kind, but a lot of the time he’s totally ridiculous. I question the gleaming universe behind those eyes – is it empty? Is it just a reflection? What is the meaning of it all?

Muffton Squish

Is He Compatible with Other Chinchillas? Muff is in full love with Lulu. He can’t even bear a moment without her (even though he lives a whole room away from her, and only gets supervised playtimes once a month with his lady). Of course, because his heart is taken, no other chinchilla comes close to interesting. Naturally, this means him and Mitty are pretty much sworn enemies. How cute is Muff around Lulu? Take a look below!

 

 

 

 

Ready for a Photo Shoot? Muff will jet off even before you get the chance to set him down on set! Good luck, human! The best bet is for Muff to tire himself out during playtime and grab a few shots when he’s resting – and if you insist on a set, you better have some treats on hand.

Love to Dust? Favorite. Thing. Ever! Muffton will stop at nothing! Dusting is his all-time favorite thing in the world. Dust? MORE DUST PLEASE! He bats my hands away every day when dusting is over, eager for just another roll in the heavenly blue cloud.

Muff Dusty Scale2

Three Words/Phrases to Sum Up His Personality? Fearless Goofball, Hopeless Romantic, Jester Who Refuses to Play by Your Rules!

Muff Vday

Next Week… Lulu!

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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?” 🙂

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How To: Bond With Your Chinchilla

Here we are traipsing the threshold of 2015, and it’s golden skies and sunny days as far as the eye can see (optimism, optimism!). Instead of writing a post on this year’s reflection (which, if you do want to read, I’ve already written), I’m going to instead share something that could be useful to you and your sweet furry pets in the new year – especially for all you new chinchilla owners. Today’s post will be all about best bonding practices!

There are a few major pointers I’d like to make to cast an umbrella over the whole of this post, which I think are good fundamental rules to follow in the entirety of your relationship with your pet:

  1. Set realistic expectations. Try very, very hard not to idealize your relationship with your chinchilla. A lot of chinchilla owners become disheartened when they learn their adorable new pet doesn’t seem to reciprocate their feelings. Be ready to be disliked or apathetically treated for months! The need for instant gratification is something we have become accustomed to in our society, but it shouldn’t be automatically transferred to human or animal relationships. The crux of good relationships take time, energy, and more time.
  2. Chinchillas are people, too. What I mean by this is, chins have exuberant and specific personalities and great memories. They resemble people in their ability to feel emotion, have thoughts, and hold opinions, although they are not able to express it in ways that appear clairvoyant to humans. Chins are all different, with different mannerisms, idiosyncrasies, and intelligence levels. So to say, not all chins should be treated the same way and it’s necessary to try your best to come to an understanding about who your chinchilla is.
  3. Above all, take your time and stay positive. Anyone who has successfully bonded with their chinchillas will be able to tell you that it’s one of the most rewarding processes and relationships they’ve been able to build. You won’t get there if you give up! It’s brick-by-brick; Rome wasn’t built in a day; take it slow and keep a steady pace with your bonding techniques, and you’ll get there eventually!

Mom Ellen and Koko

Step 1: Introductions! When you first meet your darling chinchilla(s), there will be a great deal of confusion on their end. They’ve likely been through the ringer on the first day in their new home, what with transport, new smells, sounds, and vibrations. Hopefully, their last owner provided you with some of their pellets so you can make an eventual transition to their new feed over the course of several weeks. If not, they’ll have the added stress of a new diet to deal with. It’s important to be understanding during the first few weeks. They will be understandably skittish and scared – but don’t worry, chinchillas are extremely adaptable, resilient, and curious, and will come to know their cage and environment within a day or two. Some owners have found that having a television on by the cage has helped alleviate stress during a move and acted as a distraction for their chinchillas during times of change. In this initial introductory period, you should spend time around your chinchilla, but should not force them to leave their cage or be unwillingly held if not needed. It’s always helpful to speak quietly to your chinchilla in a calming voice, allowing them to become familiarized to your baseline temperament. Once your chinchilla begins to feel safe and the introductory period is nearing an end, you’ll notice your chinchilla approaching you with curiosity and willingness. In some cases, this can happen almost immediately with a very social and friendly chin – in most cases, the process takes much longer, up to several months. In the meantime, it’s time for Step 2.

Mitty Under Couch

Step 2: Develop a Routine! Adopt a healthy diet, dusting routine, and cleaning schedule for your chinchillas. Feeding your chins should be a daily exercise. Free feeding pellets is the way to go; hays and pellets should be re-upped every day to ensure maximal freshness. When you’re in the cage, be sure to say hi to your chinchilla and remind them what a great job you’re doing as a parent. As far as dusting goes, since my chinchillas don’t have dry skin issues and all love to dust, I have a dust compartment separate from their cages that I allow them access to every day. Since it’s a controlled dusting environment and not a free-for-all, I use their dusting time as an opportunity to pick them up, hold them briefly, and weigh them daily. I’ve found that this daily routine has helped me bond with my chin-kids, learning how they like to be picked up, how long they can tolerate a cuddle, and reassuring them that I’m still here for them. Additionally, it’s helpful to objectively weigh their growth – based on water and food consumption and time of day, chinchillas can gain or lose up to 20 grams per day, but as long as the overall trajectory is weight gain and not loss, there isn’t much to worry about. All chin owners know that cleaning is needed almost daily. Deep cleaning occurs perhaps once or twice a week, but some minor tidying is a daily task. During this time, I like to sing to my chins, even though human bystanders insist they’re begging me to stop (I know the truth: that they LOVE it).  The importance of routine cannot be overlooked – it’s the daily interactions that amount to aggregate care. Nobody said caring for a chinchilla was easy, and if they did, they were wrong! It does gets easier though, once you adopt a manageable schedule and supportive network.

Koko Wheatie

Step 3: Playtime! Given your chinchilla is over 6 months old, you can let them out for playtime once or twice a week. Eventually, as long as you have the time and energy to supervise a safe playtime session and know your chinchilla well enough, even daily playtime is fine. I’d suggest starting out in a bathroom or closet for 10 minutes at a time, sitting with them and allowing them to learn and explore the space before moving on to a larger area. To read more about playtime tips, read this post. Not every chinchilla is fond of playtime, some prefer their cage. However, playtime is always a great way to boost trust and confidence in one another, getting to know your little friend through exploration. The more attention and interaction you give your chinchilla, the better their quality of life and the more satisfied they’ll be in their home. Boredom can be a killer for any species, especially for intelligent, active, caged chinchillas. Stimulation is critical for their health and happiness – physical activity can help ebb the issue of containment or inactivity. Hopefully, in addition to a great playtime, your chinchillas have access to a large, spacious, and fun cage where they can explore, chew, and entertain themselves during your off hours. If not, you can look into building your own cage for them! It’s a lot of work, but a lot of reward as well.

 

Step 4: Lots of Love! There are a plethora of ways to continue on the bonding process. Offering scratches to your chinchillas behind the ears and under the chin can be a great way to bond! For chinnies that don’t want to be scratched, chew toys are always a great peace offering. Teaching your chins that you feed them, bathe them, and treat them helps to develop a great maternal or paternal relationship with your chin-kid. Essentially, any amount of quality time spent with your chinchilla serves to improve human-chinchilla relations, bringing you and your chin closer each day. It’s the little successes that often make us happiest, since these little critters can’t speak or sing or shout about how much they love us. There’s really nothing that can replace the time and energy spent towards great care. We can only do the very best that we can do. Your chinchillas will come to respect you and appreciate you, and simply take you for granted. But, isn’t that just the joy of it all anyhow? You see, that’s the ultimate takeaway from all the hard work that goes into bonding with your chinchilla. You’ve just come to the end of this lengthy article on bonding, but the truth is, if you are a great pet owner, you’ll do everything you can for the animals you love, expecting absolutely nothing in return. Just safety, health, and happiness! That’s our motto – Happy 2015 ya’ll!

Muff 2015 2

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How To: Build a Custom Chinchilla Cage

This week’s post will be all about how to build your own custom chinchilla cage! Since last week’s post, I’ve had many inquiries asking how I built my own cage and the step-by-step process involved. So let’s get to it!

There are a few things to remember prior to making this decision:

  1. Building your own cage is NOT less expensive than buying a quality pre-made cage. In fact, it often runs more expensive in terms of items needed and time spent designing and creating the cage. Our cage cost roughly $600 to construct, and that’s an ongoing number as we continue to modify and improve it.
  2. Knowing your chinchillas well or caring to know about them well is critical to building a successful cage (although there will be many things you’ll learn about them as they discover new spaces). The whole purpose of custom building is to allow your chins exactly what they want and prefer out of a home, so it’s best to keep that in mind when making it the first time around.
  3. This process is extremely time and energy consuming, so it’s best to team up with someone that has some patience and strength! We built our cage in a single day, but we also were incredibly motivated at the time.

Step 1: Gather tools!

For the foundation:

  • Wardrobe unit or sheets of kiln-dried pine, fitting for your space and preference
    • Minimum unit size per chin should ideally be a 3 foot cube; when constructing your own cage it’s beneficial to offer them as much space as possible. Our single units are approximately 4 feet x 3 feet x 2 feet. We would love to give them each a much larger home, but we do live in NYC and have four full units for five chinchillas.
  • Jigsaw, chop saw, or skill saw
  • Hole saw, 4” diameter or larger
  • Drill with self-tapping screws, from ½” to 2” long
  • Drill bits of various sizes, from 1/8” to ½”

For the screen:

  • Mesh wire, ¼” or ½”
  • Wire cutters
  • Carpet trim, metal or wood

For the inside:

  • Kiln-dried pine for constructing ledges and platforms
  • Tubes
  • Hammocks
  • Food Bowls and Hay Racks
  • Dust houses
  • Chinchilla-specific huts, toys, and wheels
  • Granite or marble slabs

For the lighting (if you should choose to include):

  • Light fixture
  • Extension cords
  • Staple gun with ½” long staples

Accessories:

  • Lock
  • Bungee Cords
  • Thermometer
  • Water bottles

Step 2: Construct & Deconstruct the Foundation

This would be a lovely time to create a design for your chinchillas. Depending on how many single units you want to fit in your chinchilla complex, you’re going to have to make some decisions. Who goes where, what they love, who wants to jump, who likes to be lazy, etc. If all your chinchillas are amicable, I’d suggest creating something that could potentially be sectioned off into different levels later on, should any disharmony come into the group.

It’s important to note that most wardrobes purchased at most stores are wood veneer covered chipboard. It’s not ideal – the most ideal wood to use would be kiln-dried untreated pine. However, in my experience, my chinchillas will chew platforms and ledges prior to their cage frames.

So, take a look at the wardrobe you’ve selected. It’s time to mentally construct and deconstruct this guy! You’ll need to keep the frame but remove as much of the walls as possible in order to ensure maximal wire mesh coverage. This is so that your chins have a breezy complex that allows the passage of air through their living space at all times. It’s important for chins to have fresh food, water, and circulating airflow. I try to keep it all very zen and health-conscious in that way. In order to accomplish this, there will need be a sturdy frame and pillar or sections to keep the cage sturdy.

You’ll need to decide the overall structure of the frame prior to assembling or disassembling. It’s best to start out with drawings or sketches, and change as needed if you hit certain roadblocks. Once you’ve made up your mind, you can cut out the front walls, construct the cage and begin to remove certain elements.

The first physical step will be to cut out the front of the cage. The front walls are typically doors, so you’ll need to use a saw and remove the meat of the doors, leaving a frame which will be fitted with wire mesh. The best way to secure mesh is to start tightly from one corner and work your way out, securing with screws as you go in both directions.

Then, you’ll need to construct the frame of the cage, leaving out the back panel. Typically, it will be the back walls that will go completely and the shelving that will stay in some way. You can remove the entire back before it has even been affixed and fit it with mesh instead.

The side walls and ceiling, after the frame is constructed, can contain many unique window cutouts that can be fitted with wire mesh or plexi from the outside. All wire mesh should be affixed from the outside, so that your chinchillas will not have access to biting the sharp edges (which can’t help but stay sharp unless you weld it in some way). Same with plexi, as eating plastic is never chin-healthy. Luckily, some of my chins have an aversion to eating plastics, so based on my personal experience with them, I allow some to have plexi platforms.

As your cage comes together, you’ll notice that the wire mesh is quite unsightly. To solve this, you can purchase lengths of carpet trim in either metal or wood, whatever fits with your theme best. This will serve to cover the edges of the wire mesh, also helping to secure them neatly.

So, at this point, your cage should be fully structurally sound and fully formed. It’s all about moving on to the inside of the cage and personalizing for your little babies.

Step 3: Interior Design

Platforms first! Getting the larger basics down will help section off your space and make for safe, fun levels. I suggest keeping platforms 6-8” apart height-wise just for safety. Any higher, and a fall could potentially hurt your chin. Also, platforms should be around 4-5” wide. Platforms can be secured from one side to the other, or just act as a large ledge protruding from the left, back, or right of the cage.

Don’t forget ledges! Fun rounded shapes for corners, sides, and all around. Sizes can vary, from 3″ upward. We started with cutting a plethora of ledges or preparing appropriate chin-safe wood branches and then went around, screwing them in with hardware from the outside.

Personally, I never worry about ledges or platforms getting dirty or worn down. Kiln-dried pine is relatively inexpensive and easy to replace when you have a custom-built cage, so the chins are encouraged to destroy and munch as much as their little hearts desire.

Great things to incorporate into your cage are bedding pans! I’d suggest powder-coated metal with a drawer mechanism, although for now we are using Vitakraft ECO bedding and creating little litter corners for the kids. It works for us for now; we have had a tough time finding custom pans for the kids, so we’ll wait until we’re ready to create custom metal pans.

For our cage, we went with aluminum tubes – my chins don’t even show the slightest interest in chewing metals (although if yours do, this is not a safe option). They’re very sturdy and a year in, they look as new as the day we got them. There are many different sizes and shapes for chins who love to cuddle or just relax on their own. I know many people use fleece-covered PVC or cardboard tubes; that’s a great addition too.

Fun additions are little chin-holes for traveling between units! This works great for chins who want a little space from a friend, or some time to reflect on which unit is their favorite. We did this for our kids early on; when they became inharmonious together, we simply closed off the adjoining holes and brought back some peace to the family.

As far as food provisions go, we use PVC tube coverings (they look like little bowls) with a screw through the bottom, which then connects to a drilled hole at the bottom of their cage. The bowls are easy to remove and stand-alone, which is pretty cool. Everyone except Muff gets this PVC, because they know not to chew plastic. Muff, on the other paw, has a glass bowl for his food. We still use physical glass bowls for hay, because our chins don’t have any respect for hay racks.

We also screwed down a few slivers of pine to affix granite slabs in their place, so they can freely be placed on a platform without a worry of being shifted. We have never had a problem with our chins and screws, because we use a countersink method (which means the screw falls flush or deeper than the wood).

Hammocks, huts, wheels, and toys are final additions for the kids. Some use these items more than others; it’s a great chance to personalize each area for each chinchilla. I personally don’t let them have individual dust houses, but that’s only because their cage is in our living space (so it would be wildly messy – even more-so than the crazy cleaning schedule we have now) and I also enjoy handling and bonding with them each and every day when they receive their dust baths. It’s a nice daily ritual we have, and it works for us.

Step 4: Lighting and Accessories

We’ve tried a few different lighting techniques for the cage. It’s easy to lose the kids in a dark background (especially if your chin’s fur is dark as well), so lighting is a great option if done safely. We always use low power LED lights that don’t generate any actual level of noticeable heat, fixed to areas that the chins can’t reach – such as the cage ceiling or on the outside, near but not on a window. The lights we have now have a switch for easy on/off. We use extension cords to power the lights and used a staple gun to adhere the wires flush to the outside of the cage, creating a clean look. We always unplug the light if we aren’t using it, or are out of town for a day or two.

Finally, we have bungee cords at the top and bottom and a lock in the middle! The bungees are to keep the cage doors flush and quiet when they wall jump; the lock is to keep the entire cage secure. Also, there are two glass water bottles adhered to the outside of the back of each cage unit, just in case one water bottle goes wonky. We also placed a thermometer on the cage so we know exactly what the temperature of their environment is, and can adjust accordingly. We never let the room get higher than 75 degrees Fahrenheit.

Step Five: Kick Back and Enjoy!

So, there you have it! The long, arduous, and very rewarding process of building your own custom chinchilla cage! It’s incredibly easy to make changes to your cage once it’s up and running, and your chinchillas will never look back at their old cages. It’s not for everyone, and it’s certainly time, energy, and money consuming, but it’s a really great experience to feel as if you’ve given a part of your creativity and design to your babies. Admittedly, there are many different avenues to feel this way; this is only one!

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Custom Chinchilla Cages

This week has been busy! I’ve been all around the city, catching up with old friends, meeting with clients, and planning for the holidays with the fam. Needless to say, it’s been full of fun and festivity. One major thing I’ve set out to accomplish prior to the new year is to re-customize our custom chinchilla cage.

Chinchillas love change! To encourage mind and body stimulation, I love to move around parts of their cage from time to time – and that’s the best part of having a custom built cage. Everything can be modified simply with new pieces of kiln-dried pine (or other chinchilla safe woods) and just a couple of screws! Since each chin is different, getting to know your chinchilla is critical when it comes to modifying their cages and allowing them the safest & funnest habitat possible.

Cage 2013 2014

Last year, my boyfriend and I custom-built a cage based on the size and preferences of our chinchillas. For most of 2013 into 2014, we had only four chins, so the single custom armoire cage made perfect sense. When Koko came along in the latter half of 2014, we modified and combined two smaller wire-based cages to create a spacious multilevel loft for Mufftoneous (it was best at that point to separate the boys from the same cage complex). Prior to that point, we had a few wire cages in storage and the other as a playtime wheel for the kids, containing a water bottle and wheel for free use. Now, we keep the wheel with Muff because he has been deemed the unstoppable athlete – everyone else gets their energy out at playtime, but Muff just keeps going like the Energizer Chinchilla.

Below, you can see the most recent updates to our cages:

Over the course of the year, there were many small changes and modifications to all cages. But the desire to switch it up even further has officially arrived. So, onward! The process we use to make changes to the cage involves taking the chins out one by one for playtime and modifying cages one at a time. Typically, I start with the oldest chin’s space and work my way to the youngest, although there are always slight aberrations to that selection method. Since I constantly observe my chins in their environment, I have noticed their changes and preferences as they get older, bigger, and more curious. Their cages have always been able to be a reflection of their personality, and I’m happy to be able to be hands-on with it.

Since Mitty [located in the bottom left tripartition] loves organization, he received a few large shelves, VIP bedding area, and a custom house (not pictured). He was also given Muff’s hammock, since Muff used it more as a platform than a relaxation tool. Muff [located in multilevel wire cage] had that hammock replaced with sturdy pine shelving in large and small sizes to keep him entertained. Since I know Muff loves wall climbing and tight spaces, he received a long pine wall to scale and squeeze himself up and down (don’t worry, it’s not too tight). Lulu and Fifi [located in the bottom right tripartition] received a spacious 3-way aluminum tube so they could snuggle together and new platforms to stretch their legs on. Finally, Koko [located in the top tripartition] received Mitty’s old hut and the girls’ smaller tube. She also got a few small ledges to prance around on – she’s not a jumper, so height has never been her preference.

We had a great time modifying our kids’ cages this time around, and it’s always an exhausting pleasure being put to work by the chinchillas! I know they’ll be happy for a few weeks to come. Remember, a chinchilla owner’s job is never truly done – it’s onward, and upward, always!

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A Sister’s Love

On this sleepy Sunday, I made plans with my younger sister to meet up in NYC during the week of Thanksgiving. It’s crazy how quickly time flies, especially as a (chinchilla) parent. So much of my once-spare time has now been siphoned appropriately to my chin-kids, and leaving the city can be an uncomfortable, anxious task. It could be my receding youth, partnered with the new discovery of a deep love for my chinchillas, compounded by a sense of impending responsibility. I’m sure it’s an amalgamation of all those factors. Either way, I attempt to prioritize family time, especially during the holiday seasons.

Which, lovingly, brings me to share these adorable videos of mosaic sisters Lulu and Fifi, snuggling up. I hope it warms up your Sunday night. Feel free to subscribe to my YouTube channel for promised cuteness. Enjoy!