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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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The ‘LY Chinchillas’ Diet

Today, I’m going to share my chinchilla diet with all of you! Now, I’m sure that there are many amazing owners out there that choose differing approaches, and that’s not to say that any method is better or worse than others (although there ARE chinchilla basics to abide by). Every pet owner, like every parent, has their own opinion regarding best practices for raising their chin-children. That’s simply how it is. Different countries adapt different standards based on experience and availability. For example, French, Russian, British, and other global owners will all have slightly differing opinions on chinchilla care. I suspect their level of love for the furries are equal, no matter their distance from one another.

Muff Blue

To start, pellets! As the foundation of my chins’ diet, I use Manna Pro SHO. Although Manna Pro SHO is a show quality rabbit food, it’s known to breeders and owners alike to be chinchilla-safe. Most rabbit foods are NOT chinchilla-safe, and I would advise against using most any foods intended for other small animals. About a year ago, I began mixing the feeds because after a brief trial run, it became evident that my chins were eating more with a combination of the pellets than with either alone. Although I started with a mix of Manna Pro and Mazuri, I found my chins to respond much better to Manna Pro SHO alone and decided to absolve Mazuri of its duties (over the course of several weeks, of course). Again, it’s all about preference and quality.

Another basic element of my chinchilla diet is hay. I use 2/3 mix Timothy hay and 1/3 mix Orchard hay or another variety of grassy hay. I feed alfalfa hay twice a week at the same amount as the Orchard mix. I feed more to Koko, my youngest. Alfalfa is great for growing chinchillas and higher in protein and calories, so it makes for a delicious snack. I know some owners have picky chins, but hay is an essential part of healthy eating for chinchillas and should always be readily available for them – I’d suggest trying out different brands to find your chin’s favorite. I personally prefer Kaytee brand for most of my hays, as they are easy to find in my area and cut at a nice length, enough to serve without huge pieces or too many loose pieces (which chins won’t eat). Oxbow is a close second, if Kaytee’s not in stock.

Now for the accoutrements! Aside from hay and pellets, I like to offer a variety of consumptive elements for my kids. Let me stress that hay and pellets should be 95% of their diet – the higher quality pellets and hay, the less your chin will require anything else. A semblance of choice is always great, but the basics should always remain fresh and available.

The safest and most necessary of these fun additions is wood and chews! Be sure to check out this list of safe woods and chews. The reason these elements aren’t part of the 95% of their diet is because chins chew these goodies more than they actually eat them. Chins love wood! Their teeth are constantly growing, and wood chews are necessary to keep them filed down. To start, I have custom-built a cage to include all kiln-dried pine ledges and houses, which ensures that without adding any chew toys, the kids are still adequately able to file their chompers. Then, I pick out or harvest additional wood for them to enjoy, such as apple, pear, or other safe woods. The little apple sticks are their favorite! Loofahs, pumice stones, and other safe chewy elements are also great for them to chew. My avid dusters Muff and Lulu will chew on the stones and then attempt to bathe! 😛

As for food treats, it’s important to moderate consumption, and be sure to avoid giving treats to chins younger than 6 months old. Their growing bodies need to develop before incorporating treats into their diet. However, when chinchillas ready for treats, a big go-to for me are shredded wheaties! The spoon-sized sugar-free version of the cereal is a delicious wheat-based treat for the kids. They love the big crunch and the perfect portion. I’ll give them half a piece of shredded wheaties once or twice a week. Sugar-free Cheerios are also fun, but they contain more additives than the shredded wheat, so I’ll toss them a piece every few weeks. These treats are in no way a replacement for actual pellets or hay!

Another nice treat for them are herbs and select flora, such as rose hips and marigolds. My chinchillas love these additions, but they are only offered once every few weeks. It’s important to research herbs prior to consumption, because most herbs contain medicinal properties.

I also created a little supplement for my chins, consisting of organic rolled oats, a pinch of wheat germ and cold-milled flax seed. While I respect that many owners feel that supplements are unnecessary, I’ve found that the mixture stimulates overall appetite, and is perfectly safe. I portion out about 1 teaspoons every 2 months.

A more “dangerous” treat for chins (quotations because of highly varying opinions) I allow my chins are three types of dried fruits: dried apple, dried goji berries, and more rarely, dried mangoes. I’ll give them one (not all three) of these treats once every 3 months, and very small pieces. They are high in sugar, which can lead to bloating and tooth decay in chins down the road, potentially shortening overall lifespan. However, as with humans and all of the world’s animals, moderation is key. Dried apples, mangoes, and goji berries are, in my opinion, better than craisins and raisins for the simple fact that they have a lower sugar content dispersed in a larger piece of the fruit. Raisins and craisins have a lot more sugar packed into a tiny little area, making them more dangerous for chins in the long run.

Finally, the most controversial treats of all: nuts. I know owners love to crucify one another for feeding chinchillas nuts or seeds. I can see why – setting a precedent for other owners is a sticky thing – we all learn from one another, and gain knowledge from experience. That’s why I carefully approach this subject. Many are quick to say that chinchillas can’t digest fat. It is not true that chins can’t digest fat. They can; they simply cannot metabolize a lot of it (so to say, a diet high in fat and oils). A rare treat of an almond or sunflower seed benefits them with a safe dose of essential fatty acids. Being a responsible chin owner means knowing the difference between a rare treat and a safe treat is (yes, such as wood chews and select herbs and hays like alfalfa). I understand folks out there can see a video or a photo and think that owners like myself are perpetuating the idea that almonds and nuts are okay as frequent treats – but that’s not true, nor is it the intention. Nuts are not inherently deadly to a chinchilla, they are simply very unhealthy if intake is not strictly monitored. It’s ultimately a chinchilla owner’s responsibility to research safe, healthy treats to give to their pet. After speaking to breeders and owners alike who have cared for chinchillas that have lived up to 20 years, I’m not entirely convinced at the searing level of scrutiny placed on chinchillas consuming nuts – although yes, it does have some merit. I personally will allow my chins a sunflower seed or an almond sliver every 3 months. Please note these quantities are very, very low and I am insistent on low overall treat intake.

As a final note, I’ll add that I always stay far away from processed treats – even if they’re from big brand names – because there is not enough research to support how chinchillas react to chemicals and additives. However, if human response is any parallel, we can see how negative of a reaction chins might have! If a treat has too many elements or looks more like it should feed a human more than a chinchilla, I’d skip right over it and look for organic options, preferably something that has not been treated or processed at all. In fact, making your own pellet and hay based chinchilla cookie is downright delicious and safe! Read my recipe here.

And there you have it, folks! The LY Chinchillas diet! Feel free to comment or share, and definitely feel free to disagree with me. I have curated information from vets, breeders, owners, and my five chinchillas to come to my personal conclusions for what I believe are the healthiest and happiest ways to feed my chinchillas. I hope you do the same for yours!

LY Chinchillas Treat Donation

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

$5.00