chinchilla rescue

The World is a Beautiful, Maddening Place

Hello, friends and fluffs. I know it has been a long time since my last post here, approximately 5 years since regular posts of substance. That’s a hefty hiatus, one that was filled with human activity and unrelenting busyness. Work/life balance was a tough thing to achieve while working for global companies and living in New York City. I’ll admit: I thought about updating this blog with sincerity from time to time but was unable to commit for a bevy of excuses. But those excuses have entirely dissipated. Why? Well, for a reason that can only be described as unpredictable, unbelievable, and a little bit insane.

Here we are today, surrounded by a pandemic that is infecting and affecting our global citizens in an exponential manner. Here you are now, reading about it on a chinchilla education blog. I said it in the title and I’ll say it again: the world is a beautiful, maddening place.

I know you are all having immeasurable waves of great fear, feeling, and love for life right now, so I’ll keep it brief and intimate. This post is about humanity, togetherness, and responsibility. And, chinchillas. Let’s get to it.

First, I have a few sad updates for our followers. Koko Bear, a beloved and incredibly kind rescue that many knew as the sweetest extra dark ebony they’ve ever had the pleasure of watching, sadly passed away a little over two years ago. Her passing was sudden and unforeseen. I weighed her weekly, saw no drop in weight and no change in behavior, healthy water/food consumption, and normal stools. But to be honest, I knew deep down that there has always been something a little too sweet about her. Her little head used to shiver from time to time, a symptom of possible dental protrusions into the brain. I have a feeling that the very thing that brought such joy to the world could have been the very thing that took her from it too.

I should have updated you – and I wanted to – but her passing was a shock and devastation to me. It took me the better part of a year to process her loss and embrace the spirit of joy she brought to our lives, and even still, a part of me doesn’t want to let her go. But it’s time to share that truth with you, even though I intend to continue sharing adorable photos and videos of her on our platforms. At the time of her passing, I brought her home to Connecticut and we buried her under a young fruit tree – she was my little fatty pear.

She touched the lives of all my family members, so we held a memorial for her and shared beautiful stories of our time with her alongside a meaningful slideshow. She isn’t gone, her spirit lives on in all of us. Koko reflects that part inside each one of us that shines with pure innocent love, joy, and positivity. I truly believe that.

After Koko departed the physical plane that we share, I went though quite a few life changes and personal adjustments. A year later, after extensive consideration and research, I decided to rehome Lulu and Fifi to Forever Feisty Chinchilla Rescue, where Andrea has done a beautiful job of keeping them happy, healthy, and together. I’ve always known that the mosaic ladies have each other, and in turn, always needed me a little less than the others.

I cannot stress enough the amount of consideration and research I conducted to ensure that they were placed in a safe and educated environment. There were phone calls, extensive emails, and referral research sessions. I drove to Connecticut to meet and discuss the ladies and rehoming process with Andrea in length before deciding to sign them over and donated whatever I could to see that their transition was made safe and easy. I also changed my Amazon account’s Smile function to support her nonprofit, and I encourage you to do so as well (this charity function is at no cost to account holders whatsoever, so do it now). She’s a bonafide chinchilla expert and doing amazing work with these spectacular animals, and any amount of charity helps. I’ll continue to do my part for that.

I encourage every owner going through difficult times and diminished care capacities to weigh the gravity of rehoming your loved fluffs and act responsibly when doing so. As an owner, you should already know how unique and specific these animals’ requirements are – so selling them quickly or passing them along to uneducated new owners should be considered a heinous crime.

Perhaps with these few paragraphs, you can understand why it was difficult for me to come here to post, especially when my heart was longing for the truth of the situation to be as it once was – I wanted my personal truth to be different than what the reality was.

But those desires now pale in the immense impending pain that we will be touched by. The stark reality of our current global pandemic has changed the narrative for me, as it has for millions around the world. I’m currently working from home in NYC to help slow the spread of this disease (although I’m not currently infected, we all need to be proactive to help our communities) and spending more time than ever bonding with Mittenmaus and Mufftoneous.

Mitty is my standard boy and Muff is my black velvet boy. They were the original bad boy duo of LY Chinchillas. They lived in a shared cage but experienced a broken brotherly bond when Lulu and Fifi moved in. They currently live separately, each with their own double unit Ferret Nation 182 setup, but reside together in one (very air-conditioned) room.

It is during this trying time that I am reminded of the sheer magic of chinchillas and the real power of peace that they can bring into difficult times. I am reminded why we should all take the time to reflect and cherish the relationships we have with them and with each other. I want to strongly encourage each one of you to further build your connections with your respective fluffballs, too.

Mitty and Muff have been there for me at the start of my NYC journey: I credit them for getting me through my younger years of hardship and heartbreak, life changes and paradigm shifts. Becoming an adult and functioning part of society in the greatest city in the world has been an upward grind; something I’m proud of now but has not always been easy. Of course, those growing pains dissolve in comparison to the life and death perspectives we are seeing around the world. In the face of immense hard-to-understand adversity, where can we turn?

For me, it is again to Mitty and Muff that I look to for some answers. What do I find? True resilience, beautiful individuality, and strength in independence. Chinchillas are incredibly intelligent animals with highly specific needs, but they can live for over twenty years when cared for properly. They are so hilarious and spunky, each with their very own personality that they develop out of that fun nature/nurture mix. And they are daringly independent but caring. They can live perfectly happily alone for their entire lives, as long as they have the occasional company and love of a caring human.

There is something to be learned from our chinchillas at this time in history. We may never return to life as we knew it, but we can build a future that resembles the strengths that our chinchillas carry throughout their lives and the strengths that they, in turn, bring out in each one of us. There has never been a better time to be thankful and present than right now, my friends. I look forward to seeing you and your loved ones safe and healthy on the other side of this pandemic, chinchillas in tow.

I’ll leave it here for now, but I’ll be back in the coming weeks with some helpful tips on how to stay connected to loved ones, continue your chinchilla bonding process, and all kinds of quarantine tips and games you can get into with your beloved fluffs.

Stay safe. Stay home. Sending love.

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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