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Chinchillas and Babysitters

As a chinchilla owner, sometimes the world beckons you away from the life of a stay-at-home chin-slave guardian. When the sweet oceanside breeze or faded sirens of some delightful foreign city tug at your heartstrings, you begin to remember what life was like before owning a chinchilla.

mitty love pillow chinchilla

All the feeding, cleaning, dusting, weighing, and constant bonding efforts can get overwhelming at times – not to mention the cage building, cage purchasing, DIY cage accents and hanging toys, cookie making, perpetual safeguarding against plastic, hefty air conditioning/dehumidifier bills, and constant provision of chin-safe chews, occasional chin-proofed playtimes, and continual supply of soft entertainment. And if you think that’s a handful, it’s just the start! For very loving chin-owners, chinchilla ownership is a way of life and chinchilla care and parenthood is just as much a part of your daily routine as work, friends, or school! They’re family! Honestly, caring for a chinchilla properly is time, energy, and money-consuming, but that smug smile on their fat, furry faces is worth every ounce of trouble! For new or potential owners, just go ahead and skip to our post all about chinchilla care basics to gather a light gist of what your fluffy workflow will be like.

Ko Tutu

So, back to that wanderlust dreamscape: island sunrise, countryside mountaintop, or city retreat. Maybe you’re thinking of leaving for a weekend, or flying off for a few weeks – after all, you’re a hardworking chin-parent, you deserve it! What’s the best course of action when you can’t take your babies with you? Let’s chat about chin-sitters! Inevitably, at some point in your chin’s very long and happy life with you, you will likely have to leave your beloveds in the care of a third party. This post is all about how to select and direct the perfect chinchilla sitter, and make sure your fluffs are well-cared for in your bittersweet absence.

lulu chinchilla hat

Step 1: Find your potential sitter. I’m lucky: I have an incredible family that lives close and are well-versed with my chinchilla obsession – they’ve endured endless lectures from me on chinchilla health and safety. Ideally, a family member or very close friend would be the best choice – someone who lives nearby, so you always have a reachable emergency contact. It’s best to find a sitter well in advance, as it’s all about availability and suitability.

Koko and Ellen

Step 2: Provide all necessary information to your sitter. I make a very thorough document touching on all major points, as well as directing them to this blog to find additional information. Of course, they can contact me at anytime through any social media platform, phone, or email in order to obtain additional information. Adding in the number of your exotic vet is always a great move, too. I always try to drive home the idea that this incredibly important document will be their chinchilla bible for the duration of their stay. Instructions should typically be much more conservative than the way you care for your chins, taking into account the differentiation in familiarity and knowledge of your particular chinnies.

Chin Care

Step 3: Test your potential sitter. After allowing sitters to review information, I’ll invite them over each day for several days in order to test their ability to handle, feed, dust, and care for the chins. I typically skip imposing the daily weighing routine while I’m away, as it is more involved than the other care elements and requires a deeper understanding of each chinchilla in order to successfully weigh them. I’ll always ask a few questions as I watch them work, including a few “what if” situations for good measure.

I was asked recently about why my playtime rules are so conservative. To elaborate, I’m all about playing it safe with my babies – especially given new circumstances, people, or events. Too many things can go wrong if your sitter isn’t completely trained for playtime, so I err on the side of caution. Every chinchilla is unique, and some are crazier than others (cough, Muff!); each new variable equates to a slew of new, potentially harmful results. Playtime is, in general, optional based on the opinion of each chinchilla owner. Additionally, playtime is not crucial in any means to a chin’s general health, so skipping a few sessions couldn’t possibly hurt them. On the other hand, overheating, fur slip, stress, or injury could. The most nightmarish situation I could think up would be a chinchilla injury occurring while I’m not home with no concrete proof of how, why, or when. I’d personally wait until I was home to conduct any playtimes, but everyone is different! Who knows, you could know a true chinchilla guru – but that would still be a risk you’d have to be willing to take as a responsible pet owner.

Muff Windowsill

Step 4: Buy a webcam! This is a great piece of technology that every chinchilla owner should buy, as it captures what your chin-sitter may neglect. I position the cam between the cages and angle the cages so I can see everything: water bottles, hay feeders, pellet bowls, and so on. Additionally, I’ll always position my thermometer close enough to the webcam in order to monitor their environment from afar. I have a webcam that’s easy to check via phone and even allows me to coo or sing to them from another zip code!

Fifi Super Cute

Step 5: Check in with your sitter every day. Text, call, or email! A short catch-up on your chin’s day is always in order. Of course, you can also inquire about how your sitter is doing! 😛

Step 6: Pay your sitter (with friendship, or money). Payment for quality service is always a gesture of goodwill. 🙂 Unless we’re talking family – in that case, put it on the communal tab.

muff light chinchilla cutie

Step 7: Keep in contact and repeat as needed! As the sourcing part of this process can be quite intense, it’s best to maintain great relations with your chin-sitter and keep in touch, as you never know when your travel bug will catch up with you again.

lulu chinchilla city

There you have it; the 7 steps to take when selecting and utilizing a chinchilla babysitter. Of course, use your sitters as sparingly as possible: chin-sitting is time and energy consuming, and only you know your chins best! 🙂 As with all exotic pets with specific needs, chinchillas require very willing and knowledgeable sitters, but most pet lovers can be trained with adequate time and accurate information over time. Happy travels, chin-lovers – and make sure your lovely fluffs are safe at home for when you return!

LY Chinchillas Treat Donation

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

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Custom Pet Portraits!

So, are you guys ready for this? It’s time! I’ve opened a shop on Etsy for custom chinchilla and pet portraits!

Enchilada LYC2Disco LYC2Gible LYC2

In an attempt to encourage everyone to celebrate their respective pet love, I’ve combined my passion for visual art and my sweet, lovable pets to create these art pieces for your space.

Sweetie LYC2Molly LYC2

I use largely natural materials to create my artworks, which are mixed media pieces created with linen paper, homemade herbal paint, fire, charcoal, watercolors, acrylic paint, graphite, and ink. They are carefully created with lots of time and lots of love, and produce an awesome effect that is perfect for any home or apartment!

Nala LYC2Oli LYC2Turbo LYC2

Celebrate your adorable pets with these unique artworks, which are centered beautifully on a 4-ply white archival mat board. The final size is 8×10″, with your pet’s likeness approximately 6×8″. Names and text can be inscribed in ink beneath your pet with a little linen paper plaque. These pieces ship fully assembled in a sleek black 8×10″ frame, and come with a pair of white cotton gloves for handling and care.

Sophie Charlie LYC2

Visit us today! We look forward to spreading art and love to as many awesome pet owners as possible 🙂

LY Chinchillas Treat Donation

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

$5.00

How To: Weigh Your Chinchilla

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

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

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

Scale

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

Paper Pen

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

Muff Holding

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

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

Lulu Holding

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

Muff Dusty Scale

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

Lulu Willow Stix

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

Weights

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

Mitty Scale 2

LY Chinchillas Treat Donation

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

$5.00

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!

LY Chinchillas Treat Donation

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

$5.00