ownership

Chinchillas and Cleaning

An often overlooked part of chinchilla ownership is the cleaning. Let’s face it: it’s not the cutest thing to talk about, but it’s an absolutely crucial part of caring for your chinchilla and maintaining their continued well-being. Everyone’s cleaning schedule varies depending on their own routines and lifestyle, but I want to share my daily cleaning routine with you. This is also a great post to help new or potential owners understand chinchilla basics a little better in order to best plan for chinchilla ownership.

Koko smiling joy joyous

It’s important to touch on why cleaning is important. It may seem self-explanatory, and it is, but it’s always good to revisit the “why”s of it all. Not only is good hygiene attributed to a higher quality of life, but cleanliness can often prevent illness and infection, leading to better health and perhaps even a longer lifespan for your chinchilla.

To start, I have tried different cleaning routines and techniques, depending on the cage structures and how busy my life gets. Luckily, I work remotely and am able to spend a great deal of time around my chins, which has allowed me to streamline the techniques I use to care for them. Once your chinchilla routines have been developed and well-practiced, you can be confident of your ability to do your job as a chin-parent regardless of the type of day you have. Not everything will work right away, and sometimes you’ll need to step back and reevaluate your ratio of energy input to cleanliness output, but that’s all part of being a parent and doing the work it takes to make your life easier, minimizing effort and maximizing reward.

Muff sleepy ish

My chinchillas are the sleepiest from 11 AM to 3 PM, making that window of time the best for cleaning. My first step is to assess the damage and complain with a seasoned acceptance of reality. I’ll remove all loose chew toys and cuddle buddies to make sure they are safe from the cleaning process. Then, I’ll use my paws to gather and discard all loose hay that has fallen on their cage floor, as pieces of hay aren’t part of my vacuum hose’s vocabulary. The last in-cage step is to vacuum out all poop to the skeptical pirate eye of a half-sleeping chinchilla. I use a bagless upright vacuum with a stretchable hose, although shop vacs work just as well. I advise against handheld vacs, as I’ve yet to find one able to adequately accomplish even one session of light cage cleaning. Finally, I’ll sweep up the floor around the cage, collecting fallen poop and hay. This also a great time to replace litter box bedding or refresh hay and pellet supplies. For all four cages, this process takes roughly 45-60 minutes a day. While it seems like a lengthy process, it’s much more preferable to me than allowing a larger mess to accumulate, both due to my unwillingness of having to tackle a larger mess and because I truly believe this daily cleaning routine is a chore of parental responsibility that I owe to my chins (although I do dream of them one day being able to clean their own spaces. And talk to me. And fully comprehend a chin-mama’s struggle).

Mitty Dirty Messy Cage

Before Cleaning: The Daily Mess

Mitty Clean Cage

After Cleaning: The Restoration

If I’m not able to make this time bracket, I’ll schedule in cleaning at a time that’s more convenient for that day. I have a smaller cage space with a running wheel that the chins use for exercise sessions, time outs, or these types of cleaning sessions. It’s a brief 10-15 minutes in which they can enjoy (or abhor) the smells of the other chins that have occupied the cage before them, burrow under an excess of bedding, or go for a jog. I also keep a water bottle and bowl of pellets adhered to the cage, just in case someone wants a quick bite or sip.

Ladies running wheel cage

On a weekly or bi-weekly timeline (depending on which chins are litter trained), I’ll wash out their fleece liners with hot water and vinegar. I hand wash and air dry, as I don’t have my own laundry unit (this is New York City, after all) and I’d rather be hands-on with the chinchilla maintenance process. During this time, I also clean the steel pan foundation of each cage with a water, vinegar, and lemon mixture (50% water, 40% vinegar, and a splash of lemon). Lemon and citrus on their own are harmful to chinchillas, but the acidity in lemon juice can be great for getting out the grime – it’s necessary to thoroughly rinse and dry all items that use this mixture, rendering the mixture chinchilla-safe. It’s important to maintain all cage items, including fleece, pans, platforms, ledges, and accessories – it’s the surest way to get the most value out of your cage investments!

ladies cage

It’s my theory that the time spent with my chinchillas is never enough, and that bonding practices are forever tasks and never a lost energy. As a chin-parent, your work is never done! Don’t get overwhelmed or discouraged; this is all part of the beautiful journey of chin ownership. Cleaning is a really amazing time to check your bond with your chinchillas, building trust and allowing your chins to familiarize with your presence. This ritual can also be critical to build a baseline level of interaction; over time, you’ll become familiarized with daily behaviors and potential aberrations that require further observation or attention. Eventually, you’ll even bring comfort to them with your shared routine. You’d think that a screeching vacuum and clanking human would illicit a greater reaction than a slight eye peep, but all my chinchillas are so comfortable with our daily routine that they are happy to slumber luxuriously on despite their maid’s – err, I mean mom’s struggle. 🙂

Muff Skeptical Pirate

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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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LY Chinchillas Treat Donation

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

$5.00