exotic pet

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

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Chinchilla Basics 101

After spending a decent amount of time on social media posting about my fur-babies and receiving feedback, I’ve come to realize that there are quite a few people out there with very basic questions about chinchillas. It seems I’ve skipped right over that in my blog and discussed more complex issues! In an effort to condense all beginner Q&A in one area, I’ve decided to do a very simple blog post with a lot of information this week: Chinchilla Basics 101.

Koko Window

What is a chinchilla? A chinchilla is super soft crepuscular rodent, native to South America’s Andes. Simply because these animals have a rodentia classification, they are no ordinary rodent: they are extremely clean, beautiful animals with a great depth of emotive and intellectual capability. Their name means “little Chincha,” named after the indigenous Chincha people of the Andes. Crepuscular means that chinchillas are most active at dawn and dusk. It is a common misconception that chins are nocturnal, as they are not. In the wild, they’ve been known to live at high altitudes in herds of up to over 100 chinchillas, but as a pet, can be very picky about which chinchilla(s) he or she wants to live with. Chinchillas have poor eyesight but a strong sense of smell, hearing, and through their whiskers, touch. Through their whiskers, they can sense pressure changes and vibrations. They also have excellent memories and are incredibly fast, agile, and can be very high jumpers. Chinchillas are very intelligent and have specific personalities and preferences, which means it can take quite a while to bond and get to truly know your chinchilla. How long can a chinchilla live? Chinchillas can live upwards of 20 years with strong genetics and a healthy diet, although the average is 12-15 years. Chins are no short-term commitment, meaning that a lot of consideration must be made prior to buying your first chinchilla. Your heart may start in the right place, but due to your wallet, growing family, or lost interest, you may put a sweet chinchilla out of a good home, causing this intelligent and emotional animal to become neglected and end up in the hands of someone who doesn’t care to research a chinchilla’s needs as well as another first-time owner. In such a case, you are encouraged to reach out to a chinchilla rescue and research the best options for your pet.

Muff Cuddle Buddy

Are chinchillas considered exotic pets? Chinchillas are critically endangered animals, having been hunted to near-extinction for the profit-hungry fur industry – 90% killed off in the wild in the span of a mere 15 years. They are indeed exotic (although not in terms of import/export in the United States) – there has yet to be extensive scientific research on their species, in terms of intellectual, emotional, or physical capabilities, outside of some agricultural uses. Most of what chinchilla owners know beyond the very basics is based largely on first-hand experience, opinion, or what we have gathered about chinchillas prior to hunting them out of the wild. Since chins have been domesticated, bred in captivity, and raised as pets, chinchilla breeding has become an art of sorts – with very beautiful colors (i.e. Blue Diamond) and variations (i.e. Royal Persian Angora and Locken), in extremely exclusive markets (i.e. select markets have refused to sell to others, keeping the costs of certain variations of chinchillas in the high thousands). Aside from color mutations and breeding variations, chinchillas are all-around very special animals, with special needs. A few of these needs are:

  • Temperature: chinchillas can overheat at temperatures over 75°F, as they do not have sweat glands. Chinchillas have 50-100 hairs per follicle, as compared to a human’s 1 to 1 ratio. They are built for high altitude, cold environments with very low humidity. Owners are responsible for recreating that environment – it’s suggested to keep your chin’s living space between 60 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit (still comfortable for owners, safe for chinchillas). Red ears are a sure sign of overheating: if your chinchilla is too hot, be sure to place him/her in a cool environment with a cool slab of granite and closely monitor his or her water and food consumption. Be sure to always have a 24-hour exotic vet’s contact information on hand, in case of emergency.
  • Diet: Chinchillas should be free-fed, and they have very specific diets (and very sensitive little tummies!). While they can over-indulge on any plethora of treats, they cannot overeat on their diet basics: high quality chinchilla pellets and fresh Timothy hay. Read up on my version of a safe chinchilla diet here.
  • Teeth: Dental care for chinchillas is critical for a healthy lifestyle. Chin teeth are constantly growing, and need to be filed down with wood chews to stay healthy. There are quite a few dental problems that can occur, rising either genetically or through poor care. It’s imperative to have a plethora of safe woods and chews readily available for your chinchilla and check for any changes in consumption or behavior, as changes could be a sign of dental problems.
  • Health: Chinchillas require careful monitoring, as they do not show illness or pain very visibly. They are unable to communicate in the way a dog or cat could whine, as some chins are not very vocal. It’s necessary for owners to constantly monitor food and water consumption, as well as ‘output’.
  • Cage: Ideally, chinchillas need spacious, non-plastic, multilevel cages with safe wood platforms and other elements to encourage chewing and prevent boredom. Additionally, wire bottomed cages can create a condition known as ulcerative pododermatitis, or “bumblefoot”, which is a bacterial infection that occurs from calloused feet. It’s important that if you have a wire cage, offer many areas where the wire is covered with fleece or replaced with hard flooring. Read up on how to build your own custom chinchilla cage here.
  • Exercise: Chinchillas need a good amount of safe room for exercise and stretching their furry legs! Everything in your chin’s exercise space must be chinchilla-proofed – tight spaces must be closed off, sharp objects put away, wires and molding hidden behind blankets or cardboard. It’s necessary for owners to be present and active watchers during playtime, in case something goes awry. Chinchillas are like babies – they truly need constant supervision. Read up on tips for chinchilla playtime here.
  • Cleaning: Well, chinchillas are high maintenance. You’ll find yourself vacuuming, dusting, sweeping, filling food bowls, hay racks, and water bottles, sneezing up dust and hay particles left and right. It’s no glamorous job, but owners have to do it daily. I would say that upwards of 33.33% of my relationship with my chinchillas is active cleaning or feeding duty.

Mitty Cage

Are chinchillas easy to care for? No. Do not be fooled by pet stores or oblivious owners. If you are a caring owner, chinchillas are not easy pets. Be prepared to spend at least an hour a day with these guys, especially if you want to bond with them. My family has often told me my energy and time dedicated to my 5 chinchillas is very similar to owning a mid-sized dog (albeit a dog that can live up to 20 years), and I wouldn’t disagree. It requires just as much time, money, energy, and emotion to adequately provide what I consider to be a happy life for these guys. Does it get easier? Yes. With time, routine, and a little bit of help from your loved ones, caring for your chinchillas is like riding a bike – still takes energy, but you get stronger with experience.

Ellen and Koko

Why do chinchillas need dust baths? Because chinchillas have around 60 hairs per follicle, their fur is the densest in the world. Their fur is so dense that they cannot contract fleas, nor bathe in water to clean themselves. Their fur is not be able to dry naturally and could create deadly fungus or other skin conditions if not treated immediately (AKA carefully blow-dried on the coolest setting). In the wild, chins bathe in volcanic ash to ensure the richness and cleanliness of their dense coats, which helps to remove moisture and oil. In captivity, chins bathe in a very similar dust (created from ultra-fine aluminum silicate powder), often branded as Californian blue cloud dust. If your chinchilla has dry skin problems (this can occur in dryer times of the year), dust 2-3 times per week. If your chinchillas have no skin issues and love to dust, daily dusting is totally fine!

 

What items do I need/should I buy for my first chinchilla?

  • Cage: Try at all cost to avoid plastic, which most chins will chew up, and as mentioned before, cover wire bottoms. Cages should be multilevel, spacious, and if you have the time/energy, you should build your own! It’s suggested that chins should have a safe wooden house to hide away in while they become accustomed to their new environment.
  • Food: High quality pellets and a variety of hays (Timothy should always be available and the foundation for your chin’s hay diet). Read up on my version of a good diet here.
  • Wood and Chews: The more, the better! Woods and chews prevent boredom and encourage teeth filing. Read up on your safest options here.
  • Ceramic Bowls: One for hay and one for pellets! Ceramic tends to be most popular, but I also use some very thick bottom-heavy glass bowls – it’s important to ensure glass bowls don’t tip and aren’t movable. If you’re able to affix these to your shelves, that would be for the best. Chins love to tip bowls over. I would suggest a hay rack as well, but certain types are chin-dangerous in their structure, so I would avoid using a rack until you do a bit more research about what works with your particular cage and what will be safest for your setup.
  • Glass Water Bottle: Avoid plastic! Chins will chew right through them, leaving them without water and a big mess.
  • Dust: Blue cloud dust is widely available on the web, and can be bought in bulk quantities if needed. I start with 2-3 cups of dust in my container, reuse that quantity daily for all my chins, and add a half cup every week. It’s best to use a mostly closed container with an opening for fresh air. Remember to dust in a confined area because Dust. Gets. Everywhere. It’s important to note that not every chin needs to be dusted daily; mine do because they love to dust, have no dry skin issues, and we live in an area with moderate humidity.
  • Granite or Stone Slab: Chinchillas need to stay cool, as you now should know. A slab of granite or polished stone will do nicely for a nice relaxing place to sleep, although it is in no way a replacement for the proper environment and temperature!
  • Air Conditioning Unit and Thermometer: Yep, this is a step that’s critical for the warmer times of the year! Chinchillas don’t have sweat glands and are densely surrounded with fur, so they need to stay cool year-round at temperatures 75°F and below. Over-heating can be deadly, so don’t skimp on this one!
  • Food Scale: Most commonly, chins are weighed in grams. Due to genetics, diet, and other factors, full-grown chinchilla weights can vary dramatically, from 400 g to 1200 g+! Most chinchillas are considered full grown around 8-18 months, so they should be constantly growing until then. As aforementioned, since chinchillas aren’t very expressive, their weight is a great way to see how they’re doing, and to determine the possibility of illness or injury. Any sharp decreases in weight should warrant an exotic vet visit ASAP. I keep record of my chins’ weight daily, so I know that there can be quite a variance in their weights on any given day due to consumption level, time of day, and other factors. Weights can fluctuate up to 20 grams a day, but as long as overall trend is upwards or at least the same over a period of 2-3 months, I’m happy. Read about how to weigh your chinchilla here!

Start there, and learn as you go! Sure, as time goes on you’ll probably look into a wheel, hammock, cuddle buddy, and other fun accoutrements for your pet. But basics are basics, and that’s what this post is all about. I hope you find this helpful, and feel free to share with your friends and acquaintances – you know, the ones who ask, “What’s a chinchilla?” 🙂

LY Chinchillas Treat Donation

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How To: Bond With Your Chinchilla

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

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

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

Mom Ellen and Koko

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

Mitty Under Couch

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

Koko Wheatie

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

 

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

Muff 2015 2

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LY Chinchillas Treat Donation

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

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How To: Build a Custom Chinchilla Cage

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

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

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

Step 1: Gather tools!

For the foundation:

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

For the screen:

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

For the inside:

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

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

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

Accessories:

  • Lock
  • Bungee Cords
  • Thermometer
  • Water bottles

Step 2: Construct & Deconstruct the Foundation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Step 3: Interior Design

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Step 4: Lighting and Accessories

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

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

Step Five: Kick Back and Enjoy!

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

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

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Custom Chinchilla Cages

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

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

Cage 2013 2014

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

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

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

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

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

Stay tuned for our weekly Wednesday blog posts by following via email. Also, subscribe to us on YouTube and visit us on Facebook! We leave you with a sweet video and we hope you all have a great holiday, and spread that furry chinchilla love to your friends and family. Cheers!

 

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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.

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Chinchilla Thanksgiving

After spending a lovely evening on Fifth Ave with my adorable sister, we sit down for a slice of cake and a spot of tea. The lights shimmer on the streets outside, heavy with a festive sparkle. The window displays drip with gaudy exuberance, enticing tourists and shoppers alike. Year after year, the decor outdoes itself, the budgets double, and the holiday mania ensues in the same deliberate fashion. This is the center of commerce, New York City – encapsulating the dreams, hopes, and desires of each and every generation. We try our best to avoid it, but every year the glitz of ‘Christmas before Thanksgiving’ jolts us into the holiday spirit, regardless of its true monetary intentions.

NYC Xmas

We find a place in the plaza, settling in with our 20-layer crepe cake and strawberry tea. She’s so bright, and the conversation follows suit. We discuss the upcoming holidays, the changing weather, and the state of the union. During our chit-chat, the soft blur of Thanksgiving appears like a warm veil over my eyes. I hug her, and tell her I love her.

Sis and Me

In honor of this year’s Thanksgiving, I’ll be sharing a little bit of what I’m thankful for. And as a preface, it won’t be the city lights, the bustling crowds, and the freezing temperatures – although, sure, that’s all a part of it. It’s about my babies – the five little souls that fill mine with such thanks and appreciation for the present moments; the inevitable ‘growing up’ of it all, and the ‘do your best’ attitude that has become increasingly more profound as the years pass.

Koko bear – As the youngest and darkest ball of fluff in our ‘Haus of Maus’, I’m thankful that Koko is sweet. She’s incredible – bouncing about from corner to corner, accepting our scratches, and smiling happily with her little overbite. Definitely functioning with a glaze over her little teddybear eyes, Koko is a warm, fluffy cuddle monster! The only chinchilla I know that will allow true cuddles and sleep right in my arms.

Fifi – I’m thankful that Fifi is a wildchild. She’s uncontrollable and inconsolable at nearly all times – darting around and constantly speeding through life. It’s as if in every situation, Fifi truly believes she is constantly escaping death. She keeps us balanced, patient, and forces us to slow down and appreciate the calmer moments in life.

Lulu – Lulu is an adorable sweetheart. Keeping her sister Fifi in check, she has a cool head and a curious, lovely demeanor. With her eyes close together and a fat butt, watching Lulu is a smile waiting to happen! When times get tough, I look to Lulu for a quick pick-me-up – and for that, I’m thankful.

Mufftoneous – I’m so thankful for Muff! What a gumdrop jelly bean teardrop! How much jolliness and joy can one confused chinchilla bring a person? INFINITE! He is such a vocal, silly, adorable little guy! He is not a brilliant chinchilla so to say, but he always gives us a big laugh!

Mittenmaus – As the firstborn, Mitty has a special place in our hearts. He opened the door for all the other babies, and we couldn’t be more thankful. On top of the happy change he has led to, he remains the most intelligent chinchilla we have. Known as ‘the engineer’, he’s always searching for a way into the ‘real world’ – I swear, if it were up to him, he’d rock a suit and tie and sit at the head of our dinner table, nibbling a shredded wheatie, directing conversations and speaking on politics.

Thanks for stopping by today and we’re all wishing you a VERY Happy Thanksgiving! 😀

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Tips for Chinchilla Playtime!

As all chinchilla owners know, chins are high energy and high maintenance – there’s no sugar-coating it! We go out of our way to provide safe multi-level havens for our babies, order them the finest foods, and hope that one day they’ll come around and show us some love back! A major part of chinchilla health and bonding is playtime. Playtime is critical for chins, as it gives them a chance to discover a new environment, stretch their legs, and get to know their owners a little better.

Get to know your fluffball. Playtime is an incredible way to get to know your little babies. Chinchillas have abundant personalities, and you miss a lot of that while they’re in their cages. Letting them out will encourage them to approach you (as so oftentimes it’s the other way around) and share their squeaks, leaps, wall jumps, and more with you! I encourage all owners to be very aware of their chinchilla’s behaviors – study them: their idiosyncrasies, movements, and physical characteristics. Any change in personality or behavior can be indicative of a health issue and should be carefully monitored – but you need to know your chinchilla’s baseline personality in order to detect any semblance of a change. There are a lot of health issues or injuries that can be fixed simply by detecting them early, and to put it simply, you can’t catch it if you aren’t looking.

Be present at playtime. Watch them like a hawk! – at least, keep a very watchful eye when you first start letting your chinchillas out. As you get to know your chins, you’ll be able to know which ones respect authority more than others, which ones you can trust around the furniture, and where they like to hide. There’s nothing more terrifying than fearing your chinchilla has dissipated into thin air when they’re actually snoozing under the couch – true story.

Set your boundaries. Many people like nice things, chinchilla owners being no exception (in fact, I think we have the best taste). So, it’s natural to be apprehensive letting your chinchilla out with such lovely molding, fabrics, and wooden furniture strewn about – chins are known for filing their teeth on wooden toys, and they don’t care whether that toy is your bed frame or an appropriately sized apple stick. It’s critical to set your boundaries and take up a stern talking with your chin. The easiest place to start for most homes is the bathroom or closet, as it’s a confined space and easier to spot a misbehaving chin. When you feel comfortable moving into a larger space, start in the new space by keep the playtimes short and working your way up. Trust is something that is built over time, chinchilla-human relations being no exception.

Chin-proof the playroom. The method I use for training my chinchillas not to bite my things starts with me. As people, we are responsible for our furniture, rug, walls, and important documents. No one can protect these things better than ourselves. Oft, it’s as simple as moving something important out of reach or closing the drawers. Chinchillas are so curious – you really can’t blame small animal instinct for why your favorite book (or camera, or passport, etc.) got destroyed. If you can see it, they can probably get to it. There is always a way. So put the birth certificates away, remove the climbing mechanisms, tape cardboard against your molding (make sure the tape is not reachable), shove pillows and blankets under your couches and around your radiators, and close those windows. When you’re done, you’re probably still not done. Those little buggers are more compact than your foresight will lead you to believe, and aren’t scared of venturing where no chin has gone before. It’s best to simply be there and catch them before they do the deed.

I know many owners have playpens, and I’m all for that – but if you have the time and energy to expend on chin-proofing, you’ll find it’s a much more interesting experience, allowing them to be more fully integrated into your space, if only for a moment.

Train. I don’t use treats when I train, I simply use the concept of ‘playtime’ vs. ‘home’. If they want to be out, they have to be good. If I see someone lingering by a wall for too long, I’ll say his/her name in the same manner I’d speak to a disorderly 4-year-old or a misbehaving dog – I’ll utilize the don’t you dare tone. They will hear you, and if they know you well enough, they’ll turn to you and be aware that you are talking to them. Sometimes they’ll stare right at you as they decide their playtime fate, chomping into a picture frame or art piece. Then, they’re headed home to think about what they’ve done. Less intellectual chins may never put it together, wondering with the same fascination each and every time why they’re going back to their cage! However, most chins will begin to see a trend in playtime consequences and learn what they can and can’t bite. I leave chew toys out for them, and allow them to bite on certain furniture such as my barn wood table and wicker chair. Everything else will simply buy them cage time. Again, you must be present in order to train. You can’t be sending mixed messages while they’re out (i.e. when you’re lazing they can bite, when you’re training they can’t), as it defeats the consistency required to teach & learn. If my chins are good, they can be out for up to 45 minutes before they decide they want to fall asleep, tap on the door to go home, or need a sip of water. I’ve found that some of my chins are now able to communicate their needs to me, which is extremely rewarding to recognize.

 

 

Enjoy and take your time. My chins are my children. I love spending time with them! They are badass kids at times and don’t care at all for what I have to say. That’s fine, they’ll learn – and, don’t tell them, but if they don’t, I’ll still love them. And watch out for them, and take care of them, and make sure they are safe and healthy. When playtime is over, be sure to collect your chinchilla carefully! Do not rush that final process, and if your pet escapes your clutches, do not panic. Be patient and coax your kids back into your arms or their cage, as long as it takes. I have heard too many horror stories of owners losing their chinchillas by stepping on their beloved pet accidentally, or falling on them when chasing an escaped chin. With all your might, try your best to avoid thoughtless and tragic accidents. Safety first! My best advice is to just take your time – don’t force it, and be genuine. If you love them, they’ll know – and on some level, they’ll reciprocate. Enjoy their company and never stop doing your best. Patience, practice, consistency, and human foresight can all create an extremely fun and productive playtime for all.

 

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