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The World is a Beautiful, Maddening Place

Hello, friends and fluffs. I know it has been a long time since my last post here, approximately 5 years since regular posts of substance. That’s a hefty hiatus, one that was filled with human activity and unrelenting busyness. Work/life balance was a tough thing to achieve while working for global companies and living in New York City. I’ll admit: I thought about updating this blog with sincerity from time to time but was unable to commit for a bevy of excuses. But those excuses have entirely dissipated. Why? Well, for a reason that can only be described as unpredictable, unbelievable, and a little bit insane.

Here we are today, surrounded by a pandemic that is infecting and affecting our global citizens in an exponential manner. Here you are now, reading about it on a chinchilla education blog. I said it in the title and I’ll say it again: the world is a beautiful, maddening place.

I know you are all having immeasurable waves of great fear, feeling, and love for life right now, so I’ll keep it brief and intimate. This post is about humanity, togetherness, and responsibility. And, chinchillas. Let’s get to it.

First, I have a few sad updates for our followers. Koko Bear, a beloved and incredibly kind rescue that many knew as the sweetest extra dark ebony they’ve ever had the pleasure of watching, sadly passed away a little over two years ago. Her passing was sudden and unforeseen. I weighed her weekly, saw no drop in weight and no change in behavior, healthy water/food consumption, and normal stools. But to be honest, I knew deep down that there has always been something a little too sweet about her. Her little head used to shiver from time to time, a symptom of possible dental protrusions into the brain. I have a feeling that the very thing that brought such joy to the world could have been the very thing that took her from it too.

I should have updated you – and I wanted to – but her passing was a shock and devastation to me. It took me the better part of a year to process her loss and embrace the spirit of joy she brought to our lives, and even still, a part of me doesn’t want to let her go. But it’s time to share that truth with you, even though I intend to continue sharing adorable photos and videos of her on our platforms. At the time of her passing, I brought her home to Connecticut and we buried her under a young fruit tree – she was my little fatty pear.

She touched the lives of all my family members, so we held a memorial for her and shared beautiful stories of our time with her alongside a meaningful slideshow. She isn’t gone, her spirit lives on in all of us. Koko reflects that part inside each one of us that shines with pure innocent love, joy, and positivity. I truly believe that.

After Koko departed the physical plane that we share, I went though quite a few life changes and personal adjustments. A year later, after extensive consideration and research, I decided to rehome Lulu and Fifi to Forever Feisty Chinchilla Rescue, where Andrea has done a beautiful job of keeping them happy, healthy, and together. I’ve always known that the mosaic ladies have each other, and in turn, always needed me a little less than the others.

I cannot stress enough the amount of consideration and research I conducted to ensure that they were placed in a safe and educated environment. There were phone calls, extensive emails, and referral research sessions. I drove to Connecticut to meet and discuss the ladies and rehoming process with Andrea in length before deciding to sign them over and donated whatever I could to see that their transition was made safe and easy. I also changed my Amazon account’s Smile function to support her nonprofit, and I encourage you to do so as well (this charity function is at no cost to account holders whatsoever, so do it now). She’s a bonafide chinchilla expert and doing amazing work with these spectacular animals, and any amount of charity helps. I’ll continue to do my part for that.

I encourage every owner going through difficult times and diminished care capacities to weigh the gravity of rehoming your loved fluffs and act responsibly when doing so. As an owner, you should already know how unique and specific these animals’ requirements are – so selling them quickly or passing them along to uneducated new owners should be considered a heinous crime.

Perhaps with these few paragraphs, you can understand why it was difficult for me to come here to post, especially when my heart was longing for the truth of the situation to be as it once was – I wanted my personal truth to be different than what the reality was.

But those desires now pale in the immense impending pain that we will be touched by. The stark reality of our current global pandemic has changed the narrative for me, as it has for millions around the world. I’m currently working from home in NYC to help slow the spread of this disease (although I’m not currently infected, we all need to be proactive to help our communities) and spending more time than ever bonding with Mittenmaus and Mufftoneous.

Mitty is my standard boy and Muff is my black velvet boy. They were the original bad boy duo of LY Chinchillas. They lived in a shared cage but experienced a broken brotherly bond when Lulu and Fifi moved in. They currently live separately, each with their own double unit Ferret Nation 182 setup, but reside together in one (very air-conditioned) room.

It is during this trying time that I am reminded of the sheer magic of chinchillas and the real power of peace that they can bring into difficult times. I am reminded why we should all take the time to reflect and cherish the relationships we have with them and with each other. I want to strongly encourage each one of you to further build your connections with your respective fluffballs, too.

Mitty and Muff have been there for me at the start of my NYC journey: I credit them for getting me through my younger years of hardship and heartbreak, life changes and paradigm shifts. Becoming an adult and functioning part of society in the greatest city in the world has been an upward grind; something I’m proud of now but has not always been easy. Of course, those growing pains dissolve in comparison to the life and death perspectives we are seeing around the world. In the face of immense hard-to-understand adversity, where can we turn?

For me, it is again to Mitty and Muff that I look to for some answers. What do I find? True resilience, beautiful individuality, and strength in independence. Chinchillas are incredibly intelligent animals with highly specific needs, but they can live for over twenty years when cared for properly. They are so hilarious and spunky, each with their very own personality that they develop out of that fun nature/nurture mix. And they are daringly independent but caring. They can live perfectly happily alone for their entire lives, as long as they have the occasional company and love of a caring human.

There is something to be learned from our chinchillas at this time in history. We may never return to life as we knew it, but we can build a future that resembles the strengths that our chinchillas carry throughout their lives and the strengths that they, in turn, bring out in each one of us. There has never been a better time to be thankful and present than right now, my friends. I look forward to seeing you and your loved ones safe and healthy on the other side of this pandemic, chinchillas in tow.

I’ll leave it here for now, but I’ll be back in the coming weeks with some helpful tips on how to stay connected to loved ones, continue your chinchilla bonding process, and all kinds of quarantine tips and games you can get into with your beloved fluffs.

Stay safe. Stay home. Sending love.

How To: Prepare Chinchilla Wood!

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

Apple Orchard

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

Koko Fall

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

Muff Cholla

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

Lulu cute

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

Apple Stick

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

Mitty Hanging toy

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Get To Know: Lulu

LULU [my graceful chubster] AKA Lululumon, FattyLoo, Lu, Fatty

Mosaic, Born 08/21/2013, approximately 800 grams

Lu Loaf

Role in Playtime Kingdom? Graceful little queen bee! Lulu prances around like a beautiful butterfly, making jumps gingerly and landing them with a cute twirl and smile. Such a debutant!

Favorite Hiding Place? Under the filing cabinet, just like Muff! But since it’s been long blocked off, little lady Lu enjoys spending time out in the open, roaming about like a curious princess.

Lulu Standing

Physical Capability? Oblivious grace! Lulu has the luck of a true happy-go-lucky darling. She’s also an occasional high jumper!

Vocal? Not really! Lulu is very quiet, like a fat stealth machine. She’ll only squeak on very rare occasions, like when her sis Fifi overdoes the midnight cage sprints.

Human Cuddle Status? Lu gets all her cuddles in with her sister, so she doesn’t need any human snuggles. Power to the semi-independent woman! She will accept light petting, but not a fan of scratches or massages.

 

 

Favorite Way to Be Picked Up? This lady is a queen, and expects full support from the torso, legs, and base of the tail. She will not lift a paw to help you in the process, although when she’s in the carriage, she’s a happy traveler.

Lulu Holding

Intelligence? Two words: Space. Case. Lulu is extra sweet and adorable, with her eyes a bit closer on her head than the other babies and her unique spots on her back, she’s a real catch! The boys love her, and so does everyone who meets her. But this little girl’s in her own universe! I don’t blame her at all; sometimes, ignorance is bliss. 🙂

 

Is She Compatible with Other Chinchillas? For the most part, yes! Lulu gets flirts left and right from both Muff and Mitty! They have the biggest crushes on her and offer her endless kisses and grooming sessions (supervised, of course). Fifi, her sister, loves to cuddle with her and spend quality cage time together. Her one nemesis, it seems, is young Koko Bear! She can’t stand the way Koko smells, and becomes quite aggressive when she comes into any contact with the new girl’s scent.

Lulu getting kisses

Ready for a Photo Shoot? Due to her ditz, Lu is perfect on set! It typically takes her a while to realize where she is, and if there’s a little treat in the picture, she won’t even care when she figures it out. I mean, she’s no docile Koko Bear, but she’s definitely second in line when it comes to being workable on set!

Lulu 1K

Love to Dust? Just like Muff, Lulu can’t get enough of the dusting -she’d live in dust if she could, I’m sure of it.

Three Words/Phrases to Sum Up Her Personality? Lost in Her Own World, Fluffball Full of Grace, Princess Status/Queen-in-Training

Next Week.. Lu’s sister, Fifi!

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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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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 Holiday Cheer!

As the chestnut praline lattes spiral gloved hands and Christmas tree shops begin to adorn every corner, it’s inevitable to fight it – Holiday Cheer is headed our way! As soon as the Thanksgiving bird is carved, Christmas sparkle starts to infiltrate our spiced cinnamon veins, trickling slowly to our pulsing glitterati hearts. We love this season!

LY Chinchillas Holiday S

The city has been absolutely glimmering. With the bittersweet entrance of winter, we start bundling up in hats and scarves – and we can’t help reminiscing about yesteryear and futurescape. The falling leaves, the harsh wind’s kiss, the soft flutter of snowflakes. It’s important to remember: yes, while this time of year is tough and frigid, it’s romantic as well. This time is as important as any other in our lives. After all, we’re together for now, aren’t we?

City Holidays LYCs

While we’ve had a barrage of family visiting from nearby states and overseas alike, we’ve found a way to incorporate chin-love into the center of the holidays. Sure, we traipse the incredibly shimmery streets of New York City during the day while the chins are snoozing, but upon our return, we shower them with holiday cheer and endless love! That’s what the holidays are all about – forcible cuddling (just kidding!), delicious treats (sparingly!), and family.

And yes, of course – I conducted a full-on holiday photo shoot. No shame, only props and sweet misbehaving chinchillas! Photos will be released on our Facebook Page throughout this lovely month! I’m also thinking of doing another shoot with snowflakes and drums (think snowy little drummer boy scene) – but we’ll have to wait til the excitement of this week’s shoot has calmed a bit. Luckily, this shoot required no treats and that is a great thing – it means more shoots and more obedient, healthy chins.

That doesn’t mean, however, that the lucky babies don’t get any treaties! We all need a special little something from time to time in order to ensure our ongoing sanity. That, my friends, is how I spent my Black Friday weekend – buying family gifts and getting myself a little something as well. 🙂

 

Anyhow, as things are regulating lately, I’ll be posting every Wednesday here on the blog! There will be daily postings on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, weekly on YouTube (be sure to subscribe!). The whole family wishes you a great start to your December!

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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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How To: Chinchilla Photography

As a professional photographer in New York City, I’ve had my share of dramatic clients – fussing over hair and makeup, complaining about angles, and throwing out last-minute conceptual changes. Yeah, sometimes high fashion and editorial work can be extremely particular, but if great minds come together to accomplish the task, beautiful imagery can result.

Chinchillas, on the other hand – well, where to begin? They are inherently adorable (to me, they are the cutest animals on this planet) and can do no wrong visually. However, they won’t come together with you on a photo shoot. They won’t say – oh sure, I’ll swipe my tail 45 degrees to the left and wink at you while holding up an apple stick with my right paw. If only! Chins are hard to get ahold of, and even if you have a non-reactive chinchilla (like my Koko), photographing them can be tough. They’re drama queens in their own right!

Flash photography is the easiest and most practical type of photography to use when snapping an image of a high-speed, high-energy animal. It freezes them in frame instantly, and most of the time won’t have blur. That means you can capture them jumping, twirling, turning, or performing any onslaught of energetic feats – but the image won’t be soft or cuddly, like we know our chinchillas to be. Along with diminishing their furry details and barraging their colors with an unsightly whitewash, flash photography will likely cause you to put in some post-processing time; you should expect to use a photo-editing program to get those tiny red eyes out of your photo.

Chins look best when photographed without flash, as most standard non-diffused flash units will be too harsh on their fluffy details. The problem with studio photography is that it typically requires more setup time, careful planning, and safe treats on hand! As far as camera settings go, you’ll need a slower shutter speed (or a super-bright lighting system). I like to maintain a low ISO on all my photographs to keep images less noisy, meaning my settings will slow down overall processing speeds even more.

As far as personal photographic tastes go, I’m ALL about natural lighting. Give me the morning sun, sulking half-light, or a heavy sunset. I love it all: the emotive depth, the searing contrast, the daring illusory effects. For all my clients, I suggest going natural. It’s more challenging (so to say, more interesting) than a studio shoot and lends a level of professionalism that supersedes the senseless ‘pro ideal’ of a $20,000 camera set and a 3,000 square ft NYC studio (although wouldn’t we all love to bathe in such fanciness ~ as the chins love to bathe in dust). I believe strongly in natural lighting, it shows in my work.

As far as chinchilla photography goes, I’m ALL about just surviving the shoot! Natural light is still the best for beautiful images, but studio photography accomplishes what natural lighting can’t – being able to be done at any time of the day. I’ll still grab my Nikon for the playtime sessions with the kids, but if I’m looking for some high-quality commercial-level imagery, I’ll overwhelmingly choose a studio set.  That means I’m gonna put in 20 minutes to get the lighting right but only end up shooting for a minute or two. Sets should be simple and clean, allowing the focus to be on the chins – adding in a colorful fleece background or sprinkling marigolds can brighten up the scene without detracting from the furry spectacle.

It’s imperative to prepare for the skittishness of the babies. Since chinchillas are nocturnal, their eyes perform better in low light, so I’m sure the brightness of the set becomes irritating very quickly. Chins have such little patience when it comes to waiting for human error to correct itself, so it’s best to be ready with a tripod and set your camera to high-speed continuous shooting mode, and give it your best!

Remember, patience and effort are the main components to great chinchilla photos. It doesn’t hurt to have a photo assistant to collect escaping chins or a chinchilla-safe treat on set to coax them into staying still – if only for a moment! 😀

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