chinchilla bonding

How To: Chinchilla Holiday Photography

One of our favorite ways to get festive during the holiday season is with winter-themed chinchilla photo shoots! This guide will go through my process with photographing LY Chinchillas on my own with no strobes or flash (basically, nothing fancy)! Be sure to have a fast camera (I use the Fujifilm X-T10 Camera because of the super-fast continuous shooting mode) and light sources ready to go!Koko Warm Posing XmasThe very first thing to check prior to starting the shoot is the chin-proof factor. Admittedly, the actual time on set is very short – and the rest of the time is spent coaxing your little one back on set or sending them back to their cage to nap off a hard 10 seconds of work! In those off-set moments, you’ll need to make sure that everything is completely chin-proofed to prevent any accidents, fur loss, or injury.Muff Sideways HolidaysThe next thing you’ll want to check are your ambient light sources – that means your natural light, ceiling lights, desk lights, lamps, floor lamps, whatever other illuminating tools you may have in the shooting area. This will help capture your chinchilla by allowing you to have a faster shutter speed due to more available light. Normally, I prefer a clean white light, but for the holidays, there’s nothing wrong with a warmer glow that comes standard in most home lighting.
Grab a portable spotlight if your natural lighting is low – ideally, this will be somehow diffused. You can do this by using a strong flashlight or adjustable desk lamp covered and tied down with a very sheer scarf. This will make sure that your light is not too harsh and capture your chinchillas in all their softness.Set design holidays 2016 The third step is to create your set: start out with a fun, safe idea and execute! Fleece is always great, but other textures can be visually pleasing too. For my holiday shoot this year, I went with simple silver and white tree decorations, along with a chunky knit sweater. It’s important to note that these decorations are obviously not safe for consumption, so I would not suggest this for anyone who is starting out with shoots; managing the talent on set is a huge part of the multitasking these types of productions require!Lulu Munching Warm HolidaysThe final step is to shoot away! I like to set up the scene, get the lights on, take a few test shots, and then plop them in one by one to see how they react. Normally, my chins are very confused at the new environment, so they’ll take 10 seconds to look around before dashing off. Those 10 seconds are crucial! With a fast continuous shooting mode, you can grab up to 8 images per second – more than enough to finalize at least one adorable final shot.Mitty HolidaysKnowing your chinchillas, staying very patient, and setting realistic expectations is key: after shooting for years with them, I know that Fifi will be tough to contain (she has a strong dislike for unfamiliar environments) – so during this year’s shoot, she slipped out of the roster by her own sheer determination. Remember, it’s your own selfish cute-loving self who happens to be encouraging them to pose for adorable photos, so never get frustrated if things aren’t working out. If someone is being a diva, simply save the shoot for another day. Or, if you know a shoot is coming up, hold off on safe chews and treats for the week prior and let them munch on set. If difficulties arise, the rule is: better safe than sorry, always! It’s not worth straining your relationship with your beloved chin over some images.Muff Holiday Warm EatingDon’t be apprehensive to reinvent the concept if needed. Sometimes, simple is better. A fleece backdrop and a chew stick can yield incredibly cute shots, too! Staying basic is an awesome way to start learning how your chins will behave in front of the lights and camera. It’s always truly just a buildup of trust, anyhow. We all wish you a very warm and happy holidays with tons of bonding and photography, sweet friends! Koko Cute Head Warm Holidays

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

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