consistency

How To: Build Pine Litter Boxes

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

Boxes

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

Litter Box

Step 1: Tools!

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

Tools Box

Step 2: Construct!

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

Hooks

Step 3: Set Up!

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

Koko Cutie

Step 4: Monitor!

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

Fifi Smiles

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

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

LY Chinchillas Treat Donation

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How To: Weigh Your Chinchilla

An often overlooked aspect of chinchilla ownership is weighing your chinchilla. While it’s not imminently necessary if you have a healthy chinchilla, owners often regret not weighing them once an illness or injury has occurred. Because chinchillas don’t show too many visual cues, weight is a great albeit general way to see how everything is doing with your chin. In addition to weight, behavior, consumption, and digestive output (poop!) are important elements to consistently monitor – they’re major cues to any potential problems.

There are only a few simple steps to successfully weighing your chinchilla.

Buy a Scale: Scales are easy to purchase in stores or online, and relatively inexpensive (around $30). I use a digital kitchen and food scale that weigh items (and chinchillas) up to 10-12 lbs. Most chinchillas weigh under 4 pounds, so these scales are more than adequate for your chin-kids. There are many different styles; some have circular platforms, rectangular, oval, and even curved platforms, which many owners love because of its harder-for-chinchillas-to-escape design. I use an Ozeri brand food scale with a circular surface, and it works well for my round babies.

Scale

Be Consistent: It’s important to weigh your chinchilla from time to time in order to utilize the aspect of weight in your chinchilla’s health. Each owner has their own routine: some weigh monthly, weekly, or from time to time when they suspect any health problems. Personally, I try to weigh my chinchillas every day. I feel that the routine helps me bond with my chins and build a level of baseline interaction. Interaction is more important than weight, as it helps you understand any variations in your chinchilla’s behavior (which, if acutely different, should be checked out by an exotic vet). I try and weigh my chinchillas at roughly the same time of the day – although it doesn’t necessarily guarantee consistent results, I try to keep my variables as close to a baseline as possible.

Paper Pen

Understand Variation: Due to consumption, time of day, and slightly altering routines, your chin’s weight can fluctuate daily, upwards of 15-20 grams! It’s important to note that weight is only one indicator of many to your chin’s health. Most of the time, any weight lost yesterday will be replaced tomorrow. My rule is, if there are no changes in consumption, poops, or behavior, then I’ll give my chins one week to bring their weight back up before considering further action. If there’s weight loss coupled with a negative change in any of the other three indicators, I’ll give 2-3 days for self-recovery prior to a vet visit. If there’s weight loss coupled with obvious injury or a more acute drop in consumption or behavior, I’ll schedule a visit for the next day. Growth slows over time and chinchillas are considered full-grown around 8-18 months old; prior to then, chins should be gaining weight steadily over time. Once full-grown, chins should be maintaining their weights or slightly increasing with slight variation. For LY Chinchillas, Mittenmaus is leading the way at 835 grams and Koko ties Fifi for last place at 663 grams! Aside from controllable factors like diet and exercise, uncontrollable factors like genetics and age always have something to do with weight; that’s important to remember.

Muff Holding

The Weighing Process: You only need your chinchilla to be still for 2-3 seconds on the scale in order to successfully record your data. This process can be quite tough for most people, as chinchillas are skittish and hate standing still! Many owners like to tempt stillness with a safe treat – however, with daily weighing, I’ve opted out of the treat option and learned how to hone the chinchillas without any treats. Like many things with chinchilla ownership, the first step is patience. Of course, you’ll want to set your scale to measure in grams, which is the most common unit of measure for these little guys. After that, get familiar with your scale and keep your weight notebook nearby. At that point, these are my steps:

1. I dust my chinchilla. Because we live in an area of relative humidity and none of my chinchillas have dry skin problems (and love to dust), this is added on to my daily routine. This step disorients them a little, and they’ve just exuded a little bit of energy rolling themselves around and getting dizzy. If you’re not able to dust daily or daily dusting isn’t needed due to your geography and preference, then this step can be skipped.

Lulu Holding

2. I carefully lift my chinchilla and place him/her on the scale. I handle them either with them willingly standing on my palm to be transported – see Muff above, or being held gently by the torso and base of the tail – see Lulu above. The scale is located 3-4 feet from their cages; minimizing distance traveled helps the process be as seamless as possible. Patience is key here, as after they are oriented, they’ll try to scurry away and jet. I’ll steady the chinchilla, making sure the tail is lifted and not touching the ground (if the tail is resting on a surface, it will take pressure off the scale and the chinchilla will end up weighing 10-20 grams less) and lift my hands away, keeping a sharp eye on the number and the chin. I’ll try this four or five times if the chinchilla is being uncooperative, cupping my hands around the chin until he/she is still and then removing my hands in an attempt for a quick read. If a chin really isn’t in the mood to stay still, I’ll return the unwilling participant to his or her cage and try again later. At this point, since the scale is part of their daily routine, I have minimal problems and it’s a rare day if I have a chin behaving badly.

Muff Dusty Scale

3. I record their weights. After successful weighing, I won’t have enough time to write their number down. Instead, I’ll memorize the number and place the chinchilla back in their cage, often with a little willow twig or apple stick as a safe chewy reward. After they’re safely in their cage, I’ll write their number down and do a quick comparison. If the number is not showing a steep or steady decline, I’ll continue on the daily routine without worry.

Lulu Willow Stix

4. I analyze the numbers! Every week or two, I’ll enter these numbers in an Excel spreadsheet and graph the bad boys just for some visual fun! Working with numbers isn’t exactly the most exciting thing, so it’s always rewarding to watch the numbers grow and change over time!

Weights

Another method which has been successful for owners (but requires some minimal math or resetting of your scale settings) is to place a container on your scale that more easily confines your chinchilla, then weigh your chinchilla and subtract the weight of the container. This method helps minimize the need to manually contain your chinchilla, although you may need to try this method several times as well, due to any shifting weight or escape attempts. Stillness is key to a successful weighing, and most chins won’t let you succeed too easily! Patience is key to unlocking your chinchilla’s weight, and a can-do attitude never hurts!

Mitty Scale 2

LY Chinchillas Treat Donation

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

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