diy

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

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Chinchilla Parenthood – It’s Ongoing!

Well, it’s official: this autumn has been incredibly busy for the human (that’s me!). However, that doesn’t mean that I’ve been neglecting my babies. Life is all about priorities: the people, experiences, and fluffs that are meaningful in your life will rise to the top of your to-do’s and will always be accounted for. So, let me catch you up on some of the fun changes ongoing in the world of LY Chinchillas!whats New Mitty

Pumice Stone RocksVines and ShreddersFun Toy PartsShredder Tape VinesNew DIY Goodies: I am a huge fan of DIY when it comes to the world of chinchillas: cages, toys, accessories, sourcing and preparing your own chin-safe wood (a list of safe wood can be found here), litter boxes, cookies, and more! Most recently, we’ve replaced our pine litter boxes, swapped out some older ledges for clean pine, and added in a slew of fun new hanging toys! It’s always great to make your own toys: it’s less costly than buying toys outright and allows you to be as creative as you want. I often dream up toy designs depending on each of my chins’ quirky personalities!

Always in Stock: While not such an exciting ongoing development, it’s important to mention that with chins, there come perpetual costs. Although pellets and hay are not that expensive if you buy in bulk, chinchillas are intellectual and emotional creatures that deserve (and need) a good deal of mental and dental stimulation. That’s why I always have a full stock of apple sticks, cholla sticks, pumice stones, rosebuds, rose hips, marigolds, shredder tape, and other delicious chew/treat options. Over the years, I’ve been able to curate a good balance of their favorite chew selections and make sure to award them for cuteness! This is all, of course, in addition to the plentiful hay and pellets included in a healthy chinchilla diet. Oh – it never hurts to remind everyone that I have two 26 oz water bottles per cage, and at least two extras on hand for replacement just in case. You never know, and water’s one of those fundamental necessities!

Muff Scratches New FleeceNew Fleece: When the seasons change, so doth the fleece. While colors and designs bring a fresh new feel to their cages, it’s also important to discard fleece after a certain level of usage. Typically, when non-pill fleece starts to lose its original texture, that’s the sign to swap. Luckily, fleece ordered online is inexpensive and plentiful, meaning there’s tons of delightful – and affordable – designs to choose from!New FleeceLulu OctagonMuff Piano PawsMitty OctagonNew Accessories: Not only have we re-stocked on some fun hammocks for Muff and Koko, but we’ve also been fortunate enough to have discovered a new chinchilla vendor – Whisking Woodworks! Creator Robyn is a young furniture designer and chinchilla lover in Seattle, WA, and Whisking Woodworks is all about creating unique chin-safe accessories for fluffy friends. Be sure to visit her website and check out the beautifully crafted octagonal furnishings – perfect for the contemporary, modern, or spunky chinchilla! 😛

As far as existing shelving and ledges, a super helpful tip for a super busy month: if you’re unable to make it out to refurnish your chin’s kiln-dried pine, simply flip your less-than-perfect ledges upside down and re-adhere! You’ll be set for at least a few weeks while you get ready to hit up the local lumber supplier. Over the years, I’ve found it’s much more convenient to buy large quantities of kiln-dried pine in bulk and properly store goods in a dry, clean environment until you’re ready to create some delectable chinjoyable structures! You never know, inspiration can hit you like a 50 lb. bag of blue cloud dust, so the basics are great to always have on hand.

Holiday Photos: Yes, it’s almost that time of year again, where the elves of the world ready their cameras for prime-time-chinchilla-photoshoot time!Fifi pumpkinsWhile we’ve only managed to grab a few pumpkin and autumn-themed captures, we are keen on remaking horror movies and having some spooky fun (click the link – you won’t be disappointed by Mitty’s acting debut)!  But definitely, be on the lookout for some Christmas-themed goodness headed your way, direct from the five flooferoos! 🙂 Have a wonderful month, fluffs and fluff-lovers!

How To: Prepare Chinchilla Wood!

During apple-picking season, you may be compelled to think about your fluffs while you’re out with friends and family, gathering delicious ripe fruits by the handful. I certainly always think about my chinchillas, especially when I’m out and about in nature! As my fluffs are indoor pets, I always dream up ways to bring a taste of the outdoors to them. On occasion, one way I do that is by preparing delicious chin-safe woods with organic, pesticide-free wood. Multitasking in the orchard is always a challenge, but the chins will thank you! 🙂

Apple Orchard

Because apple wood is an absolute favorite for all my chin-babies, I love to source what I can during the season from healthy apple trees at local, untreated orchards in upstate NY or eastern CT. I’ll always ask the orchard manager if it’s okay for me to snip some branches from the trees as I’m picking my fair share of apples, and 9 times out of 10, they’ll comply with a smile. I aim mostly for twigs and sticks – the thinner, the better, as those are plentiful and easy to collect (and the chins love destroying twiggies!). Plus, smaller sticks and twigs are easier to manage when you’re preparing the wood for chewy consumption. Be sure to snip live branches, as those are the safest for your chins to chew once properly prepared.

Koko Fall

When you’ve gathered your arsenal of future treats, the first step is to break or cut them to size – delectable treat size, that is! I usually aim for 4-5″ in length, because they fit so perfectly in those adorable chinchilla paws. 😛 Place the pre-sized goods into a container of hot water, and use a clean toothbrush or scrubber to remove tannin and lichen from the sticks. You may have to rinse and repeat several times until the water runs clear over the sticks. Alternatively, you can opt to boil your pre-cut wood for 15-20 minutes, rinse, and scrub. Boiling the wood will help sanitize them better than hot water alone. It’s also fine to use a combination of these methods, as long as you fully implement one or the other.

Muff Cholla

After a final rinse, air dry the sticks over a towel. Once the sticks are completely dry to the touch, evenly space the sticks over aluminum foil or a tin pan, and place your chin-treats in the oven. Baking the wood is a matter of personal preference: some like to bake at an extended period of time on the lowest possible temperature, while others are more aggressive with the baking process. The most common range of temperatures fluctuate from 170 degrees to 300 degrees Fahrenheit.

Lulu cute

While chinchilla owners have their own preferences, I suggest trying out a few different temperatures to determine your favorite. Keep in mind that time and temperature can – and should – vary, depending on the thickness of your wood and overall quantity. I generally like to veer in the middle, around 230 degrees for as long as possible. I constantly keep the oven light on and check for any smoking bark. I’ll rotate the sticks or coins every half hour or so. Eventually, you’ll be able to see or test whether or not the wood is done – coins may be cracked, wood will be dry to the touch, and twigs will snap crisply and easily.

Apple Stick

Finally, turn off your oven and remove your sticks to cool. Once cooled, store your wood in a cardboard box and keep your goodies handy in a cool, dry place close to your chinnies. Or, you could work on some more DIY projects, such as creating hanging toys from your delicious woods! They’ll thank you for all your hard work – or at the very least, they’ll delight you with their happiness as they’re munching away! 🙂

Mitty Hanging toy

Our Favorite Chinchilla Topics!

Over the year, we’ve had some great topics and fun things to write about! Located on our Favorite Topics page, we wanted to share with you our most poignant and important posts that have helped out our furry friends and their owners the most. The entries are linked so you can click through and read whichever article you find most helpful!

ft page lulu cutie


What’s a Chinchilla?

ft page meemau

Chinchilla Health

Chinchilla Care

Chinchilla Food

ft page muff hammock

Custom Chinchilla Cages

Chinchilla Cage Accents

1 blog fifi eye

Chinchilla Playtime

LY Chinchillas: About Us!


ft page koko chubby

As always, don’t forget to reach out and stay in touch with LY Chinchillas on social media! We’re on YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, Vine, and Twitter!

We’ll be sure to update the Favorite Topics page as time goes on, so don’t forget to leave us some commentary and follow the blog! 🙂

How To: DIY Chinchilla Hanging Toys

Hanging toys: the cutest, most heartfelt way to watch a chinchilla struggle without a twinge of guilt! They’re also dental-friendly treats that keep your fluffs engaged and entertained during long work or school days. I love chinchilla-safe woods and chews because they are a fabulous non-food way to make your chins happy and show them that you care – not that they need even more from you to be spoiled with! But really, just one more chew toy couldn’t hurt.. (and seriously, it couldn’t!) 😛 So, today’s post is all about how to make DIY hanging toys!

Lulu Fifi Lady Hanging Toy

There are only a handful of tools that are needed to make a very simple hanging toy:

  • Chinchilla-Safe Woods and Chews, 6″ or Smaller
  • Drill with Thin Drill Bit
  • Solid Craft Wire or Pliable Metal Wire
  • Hook to Adhere Toy to Cage Bars
  • Pliers to Cinch Wire Ends
  • Wire Cutter or Strong Scissors to Cut Wire

Craft Wire Drill Wood

The first step is to gather your goods! We use apple sticks, pear sticks, chunks of pine, and vine twirls – but some all-time favorites include natural loofah, blocks of pumice stone, shredder tape, and more! Feel free to read about chinchilla safe woods and chews to get some ideas for your own custom toys. Over time, you’ll come to realize which woods or chews your chins prefer. Another great tactic is to use the barkless wood that your chins have already partially demolished; it’s a thrifty way to re-purpose the seemingly unwanted sticks (they’ll be slower to go at them, but they’ll begrudgingly get to it eventually). Then, I drill through the center of the wood, but wood vendors tend to sell pre-drilled wood for easy toy-making.

wood and fine toys

The next step is to cut your wire to the desired hanging length, adding on a little extra just in case. I typically cut the wire to 12″ and remove any extra length prior to finalizing the toy. It’s important for your wire to be made out of a solid metal to dissuade exploratory chewers (although they’re typically too preoccupied with the hanging toy to consider munching on the wire). Another great way to put your mind at ease is to either fill the wood to the very top so that there is no exposed metal, or to hang the toy strategically so that the exposed area is not reachable. I have seen other varieties in toy-making such as seagrass or chains, but it ultimately depends on what you know to be the safest, best option for your particular chins. So far, there have been zero issues with our construction and the final products are spot-on for my five furry babies.

Muff going for his chew toy

For the top of the toy, I’ll wrap the wire tightly around the hook, using pliers to tuck the edge away. Since we go through faulty glass water bottles every few months, I make sure to keep the hardware for hanging toys – the hooks are perfect for the cage bars, because they’re made for just that! Another good alternative would be shower hooks, as they’re self explanatory and easy to work with.

Water Bottle Hook and Pliers

The funnest part for me is next: to string all the toys on the wire in my favorite order! I like to mix up the different woods and chews to offer some variety for the chins – plus, they look really nice when they have some diversity to them.

Mittenmaus Hanging Toy

The trickiest and final part is to close off the hanging toy. If you’re using a thicker wire, you can simply use pliers to close off the toy in a “U” with the wire and call it a day. Using a thinner wire is easier to work with initially, but is a tad tougher to close off. The way I do it is to string the wire through the last stick – enough slack for the wire to wrap around the stick twice – and thread the wire through the hole a second time, pulling the wire flush to the stick. Because this type of craft wire is so malleable, it will secure itself easily after being pulled and be unable to be readjusted without pliers. The last step is to cut the excess wire flush with wire cutters or strong scissors (although after a certain amount of practice, you’ll be able to calculate the perfect amount of slack not to need to cut the wire at all).

Drilled wood and secured wireSecured wire in drilled wood

And voilà! There we have it – hang away and watch your happy chinchillas struggle with sheer delight! 🙂 The more toys you make, the more endless variety you’ll find that there is! You can make toys in all different sizes and shapes – the fun is being able to take some time out of your day and do something that takes your mind off of how much money, time, and energy you spend on your chinchillas by creating something lovingly by hand for their spoiled enjoyment!

Koko Hanging Toy

Plastic is Bad, Wood is Good!

When it comes to chinchilla care, all owners understand – or will eventually come to understand – the negative risk associated with plastic consumption. It’s too easy to turn a blind eye to this issue, as pet stores and manufacturers across the world push its occupants towards plastic for an obvious profit. It’s cheap, easy to produce en masse, and nearly indestructible – except when it comes in contact with a determined set of chinchilla chompers. Today, I’m raising my digital paws to the sky and asking all chinchilla owners to please – for the love of fluff – switch to a chinchilla-safe wood alternative.

Mitty Home

Plastic consumption can cause blockage or impaction in a chinchilla’s digestive system, causing discomfort, pain, or even death. Sure, we’ve all had experiences of miraculous chinchilla digestion: for example, Muff, why are you drawn to chewing fabric? Why does it enchant you so? Why must I chinchilla-proof my outfit before handling you? 😉 I will say that my chinchillas have had their share of quirks and unsafe behaviors, but their mishaps are always recognized, seriously addressed, and prevented until the behavior is eventually resolved. But the simple relief of your – or my – chinchillas being safe after an unsafe behavior is no indication of future success. Yes, plastic can kill your chinchilla. I mean, it probably won’t, but it can. And putting your chinchilla in a potentially dangerous situation when you have the power to chinchilla-proof their living and playing space is simply unnecessary. As good owners, it is our responsibility to take the care of these fluffy lives very seriously and get rid of the plastic.

But how can we go on? How do we really live in an affordable manner without plastic? I mentioned in my Ferret Nation post that when it comes to cost-effective production, the small animal industry too often turns to plastic. Outside of cage fabricators, there are also major manufacturers pushing cheap dust houses, running wheels, litter boxes, hideaways, water bottles – plastic, plastic, plastic. As small of a media sector as there is for the small animal community, we need to stop listening to the part of it that is telling us to put perceived low cost and ease of purchase over the health and well-being of our animals.

Koko Sleepy Ledge

The answer is, we need to shop differently and stop the flow of plastic consumption. Stop by Home Depot or a lumber supply, grab some cheap kiln-dried wood, screws and washers, and learn to make some simple things for your chins. And yes, it is actually cheap – as cheap or cheaper than plastic, and far more healthy both in the interim and long-term. Another DIY option is to cover plastic items tightly in fleece, a safe way to modify existing plastic items. A great way to think about improving your chinchilla’s environment is to look at the process as a positive bonding experience – a way for you to give your energy to your fluffy child in a way that they can truly appreciate. As chin owners, we really don’t get to experience a silent cuddle without any signs of struggle, so watching your chinchilla enjoy their well-made home is truly an expression of appreciation for all the work that you’ve done. And yes, we know that you have done a lot of work, and the work ceases to end, especially if you’re doing a great job.

Ladies Cage Wood Ledge

Or, a less energy-consuming alternative: find a vendor that makes safe chinchilla ledges, platforms, houses, and accessories. There are plenty of great home-spun chinchilla vendors that put a lot of work and energy into making some beautiful accents for your chinchillas so you don’t have to! I will note, however, that when energy goes down for the end user, cost will tend to rise: the cost of purchasing from these vendors is almost always at least double the cost of producing these goods yourself (although a lot of people don’t want to make the initial investment of purchasing a drill, saw, and other construction materials needed to start on projects that require energy and attention, which I also understand). But honestly, if you aren’t going to break out the tools and do it yourself, by all means – buy from these vendors. It’s a higher cost than plastic, sure – but it is invaluable for your chinchilla to have that safe, healthy environment that he or she needs. The investment is not short-term, and it’s important not to lose sight of that.

Muff Home

Since the chinchilla pet owning market has not really spoken out against plastic in mainstream commercial avenues (i.e. endorsed by major chinchilla-selling pet stores) most creators of chin-safe goods will be sold at a premium. The more we evolve and begin to understand the chinchilla on a national scale – their complexities, individuality, health requirements, and all the basics – will we begin the full evolution of a safer, inexpensive, more comprehensive chinchilla market that gives our fur-babies exactly what they need, at a cost that won’t break the bank.

We already do so much for our chins, the least the industry could do is recognize and proliferate the true requirements that chinchillas need so as to promote ownership that is not ignorant for a lack of preliminary information. Ignorance will continue in each and every pet kingdom, that’s just the unfortunate truth. However, we should do our best to dissuade unfit owners through education and knowledge. I know the knowledge is out there, and amazing owners and breeders contribute to the chinchilla society, but too often the contributions are laced with a high-strung attitude about best practices. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a person without opinion, and I definitely feel that there are a great many ways how to raise a chinchilla and a great many ways how not to. But I think there needs to be an open dialogue with the community – chinchilla owning and not – about chinchilla ownership and coming to an understanding of general chinchilla needs, and having that conversation turn into a pedestal for future expansion of the industry. The lack of a centralized commercial understanding of chinchilla care – or the willingness to promote bad care in exchange for profit – is unacceptable.

Hay Feeder 1

For my chinchillas, I make everything out of kiln-dried pine, from litter boxes to hay feeders to ledges, platforms, and toys (toys are often made from a variety of vendor-purchased pear or apple woods). I use stainless steel bowls, glass water bottles, and metal pans with fleece covering as a replacement for the stock plastic components in my cages. But then again, I’m just one loving chinchilla owner, and I can only do so much for the community at large. Chinchilla education starts with you, learning and sharing and learning again. There’s an endless ocean of information out there, and it’s spectacular. I spend a lot of my free time reading and learning and searching for more, for the simple reason that I care about chinchillas and would like to know more. Don’t be afraid to be wrong, but always try to fix your mistakes and practice great caution before making any decisions or setting your mind to some half-fact that could negatively impact your chinchilla. Knowledge is always power: the type of power that leads to a happy chinchilla home. Also, don’t get discouraged if you can’t do everything at once: making improvements is a process that expends time, money, and energy. You learn about what works best for your chinchilla, making positive changes whenever you can.. and every step counts.

Providing a happy home is, above all else, providing a healthy home. The happiest home is an environment that allows your chinchilla to explore their personality, growth, and development in a space that fosters and caters to their safety and health. I urge all owners to get rid of plastics inside your chinchilla’s cage and replace them with delicious, crunchy, dental-health-promoting chinchilla safe woods! 🙂

Muff Sleeping Litter Bxo

Muffton sleeping like a baby in his safe wood litter box! He might not use it as he should, but enjoys it all the same!

 

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. 🙂

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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We leave you with a sweet video and wish you a wonderful holiday week!

Chinchilla TLC: Toys, Love, Care!

As we know, the holiday season is in full swing! As we cross off Santa’s ever-expanding list for family and close friends, we turn to our chinnies for a sweet, longing gaze. I heard you, buddy. I know what you want. Let me grab my Santa hat, hop online, and get to ordering your holiday stocking stuffers. Who could say no to such sweet faces?

Around this time of year, I spend a few hundred on the little guys, most of the money going towards stocking up on diet essentials and safe chew toys. Not only are prices competitive, running on a fever from Black Friday deals, but delivery is prompt and customer service steps up its game. The earlier, the better, though – the closer you push towards Christmas, the crazier the frenzy on all operational fronts, increasing the chances of higher prices and sloppy service.

Christmas Lights NYC

This year, we opted for a mix of willow balls, a few fleece hammocks, apple sticks, sisal toys, mulberry sticks, and a variety of wooden coins! Nothing too special or different from their usual mix of toys.

I think it’s important for us all to remember that it’s not necessary that we spend a great deal of our babies in order to have a fun time this holiday season. A playtime favorite for us is building and playing around in cardboard mansions! They’re free to make and safe, as long as you keep a good eye on your chinchillas. Cardboard, if ingested, can expand and cause blockages that may lead to health issues. However, if you are an active participant during playtime, you can prevent issues before they arise. I created and modified a three-story mansion as my Cyber Monday deliveries rolled in, and the kids simply loved it! The funnest part about creating toys, cages, and mansions is that you are free to modify whenever you want, offering a new feel every week. The more creative you’re able to be, the less you’ll have to depend on others for your fun chin toys.

Oh, and our holiday photo shoot was a great success! We love taking photos and sharing our images with the world. We’re even considering making cards in the future and offering chinchilla photo shoots for interested owners! Of course, all these great additions will come with time and growing interest. For now, enjoy our videos and posts! Stay tuned and subscribe by email for next Wednesday’s blog post.

 

Times Square and Chew Toys

Today was Saturday, and I am prolifically known by my friends and loved ones to be terribly boring and lazy on weekends. However, I had just learned that my photography had been published in a magazine sold only in Midtown Manhattan. Alright, I thought. Time to get out there and see the world! I made a phone call to the cafe, only to find they didn’t have the issue yet. Alright, that’s not gonna stop me – I’m feeling mildly inspired, so let’s bring my Nikon, go to Times Square to shoot around, and stop by the cafe just double check the issue’s release date. I gathered up my belongings, tidied up the place, and ended up spending a few hours laying on the living room floor with my mosaics running around my body like a pile of shredded wheaties.  Eventually though, I made it out the door.

After checking the cafe, I took a long walk around Midtown. The air stung, but the mood was vibrant.

NYC Times Square Logo

I walked by Bryant Park, with its bustling Christmas shops already in full swing, stopped by Rockefeller Center to take a look at the MASSIVE undecorated Norway Spruce Christmas tree, and toured around Times Square for a quick (and always annoying) galavant. The cold is seeping into the New York City streets, but it’s festive and foreboding of a much more frigid freeze to come. I was bundled, and grabbed some hot chocolate to warm my nose.

Minnie Maus NYC Logo

I saw a few middle-aged women in Times Square donning the garb of Hello Kitty and Minnie Mouse. I scoffed, thinking, you want to pass yourself off as a Maus? You’re no Mitty! It was around 8, and I was hungry. I thought about the chinchillas; I missed them so dearly. I always miss them, no matter how close I am to them. In the next room, sometimes. I definitely feel like all my motherly instincts were wrapped into one furry heart and delivered five separate ways. So, I headed home.

Then, came the more exciting part of my night – boiling apple wood branches to make chew toys for the babes! I had gone “apple-picking” a month or so ago and collected short branches from an adorable orchard in northern Connecticut. I boiled the pieces for 20 minutes and then rinsed and cleaned the logs under cool water with a bristly brush, to rid the debris. I placed them on a cookie sheet, baking at 300 degrees at 15 minute intervals until they were ready to chomp. I know chin owners have different methods for baking wood, but that was mine – and the chins loved them!

As soon as I got back, we let Muffton and Mitty out in rotations, as they are no longer compatible friends. When I first got them, they were bonded pretty well, and the fact that Muff was a little less intelligent than Mittenmaus didn’t divide them completely. Over time, they became more evidently unable to see eye to eye, despite being similar heights. Unfortunately, by the time the girls came along, they were finished with each other and squeaking to the ladies about how uneventful the other was and why they shouldn’t even sniff his way. Oh, well! C’est la vie. Sometimes bonded chins simply unbond – perhaps because of puberty, another sex entering the equation, or almost no reason at all.

In other exciting news, we’ve started a brand NEW YouTube channel, NYChinchillas! Be sure to Subscribe and stay tuned for the impeccable cuteness to follow! We’ll start uploading our arsenal of adorable videos starting today.

After an exhausting day out, I’m ready for my chin-feeding daily ritual and human bedtime! I hope you had a great Saturday and did something nice for your babies as well! 😀