pet owner

How To: Create Chinchilla Videos

While photographing chinchillas can be challenging, its rewards are adorable and its cuteness nearly unmatched. However, aside from taking your chinchilla photography to the next level through creating adorable sets, there is another medium which is much more true-to-life and far more engaging: videography.

Chinchilla videos allow for additional dimensions of sharing: movement, sounds, and quirky personalities shine! But creating and editing videos is a time-consuming process that may seem daunting for new videographers. No fret – I’ll help you break down the requisites to create compelling pet videos without getting overwhelmed.CaptureThere are a few steps to consider when it comes to the video-creation process: conceptualization, setup, videoing, post-production, and sharing. Read on, and you’ll be creating delightful videos in no time!

Step One: Conceptualization

Each great video starts with an epic theme: cuteness. But the question is, what kind of cuteness do you want to capture? Sometimes it’s fun to play into a certain theme or creative concept, such as “Paranormal Chintivity,” “Chillaween,” or “CHINN Breaking News: Ebola Cure Found,”  there’s always room in the webiverse for no-frills, simple shots of your adorable fluffballs. While creating sets and developing themes is always fun, don’t forget to manage expectations. Every single set I’ve created for the fluffs has been thoroughly destroyed by the end of filming – and certainly, with all the destruction and re-takes, these videos require more post-production than a simple scene. If you’re just starting out, simplicity is key. A well-lit room (I prefer natural light always, but artificial light is also helpful when needed) and a chin-comfortable environment are the two must-haves for your chin’s YouTube success.ly edit_DSCF0060Another important question to ask is: how well do you know your chinchillas? Of course there will always be natural variables to every chinchilla’s behavior, but you should be in a comfortable enough place in bonding and learning your chin’s general demeanor. For example, I’d say “Muff’s not going to do well in a large, unconfined area. He’s a speed demon on the open road!” or “Koko Bear loves cuddling and massages. She’ll be a perfect cuddle or scratchies video subject!” or “Lulu and Fifi are wildcards! It’s pretty safe to say they’ll be little troublemakers on a hand-crafted set,” or “Mitty is an intelligent divo. He’s going to either give us incredible angles or ignore the camera entirely… likely a mix of both.” These kinds of insights into your fluffy ones will be the foundation upon which your video relies. Pick a personality and a setting to fit.ly edit_DSCF0063

Step Two: Setup

If you’re just starting out, it’s a great idea to start out in-cage to prevent your chinchilla from behaving sporadically due to being filmed in a new environment. Try to pick a time of day where your chin will be between sleepy and feisty – normally, midday works pretty well, between naps. This will also allow for the most amount of natural night for filming.ly edit_DSCF3742After a while, if you’ve become comfortable with in-cage videoing, you can start to get a bit more creative by moving your set to another area of the house. Great places are confined playroom areas such as closets, bathrooms, and other properly chinchilla-proofed spaces.

In order to put as much of the focus as possible on your little best friend, it’s important to make sure each area is as clean as possible. If in-cage, take the time to clean. If out-of-cage, same thing (+ chin-proofing). It may seem redundant and unnecessary, but the filming process and final output will thank you!ly fb edit_DSCF4065

Step Three: Videoing

There are plenty of options when it comes to the best gear to choose. Of course, still photography is one thing. Videography may seem similar, but there are a few more factors to consider with regards to this medium: ease of use and desired output.

While the bulk of our current YouTube videos are created with the latest iPhones, I have been taking more time and energy to create more beautiful and artistic videos with the 4K options that FUJIFILM X Series cameras have to offer. My go-to camera choices for video capture is the FUJIFILM X-T2 or X-T20, both boasting beautiful 4K with film simulation overlay options. I love the X-T20’s touchscreen LCD focus, which makes capturing moving fluffballs as much of a breeze as possible. Both options are mirrorless, meaning they’re lighter and easier to use than DSLRs.ly edit_DSCF0039A few of my favorite lenses for creating lovely video shots are the XF50mmF2 and XF16mmF1.4 for cinematic vibes. If you need an extra hand, try using a tripod to help steady your takes. I also love the XF10-24mmF4 and XF50-140mmF2.8 for the epic OIS (optical image stabilization), which minimizes shakiness (typical to iPhone output), and diversity of focal lengths in the zooms. If you’re working alone, OIS will come in handy when you’re shooting handheld. ly edit_DSCF0044So, which option is best for you: a smartphone, or a professional camera? It comes down to what you’re comfortable with and what kind of feel you want to convey in your videos. Oftentimes, a phone is all that’s available when something supercute happens out of the blue – making it perfect for those quick snaps and adorable memories. However, if you’re putting the time into a concept and setup, you should consider a more professional system for more epic chinchilla videos.ly edit_DSCF0056Gear aside, don’t get discouraged when you’re shooting – remember, there’s an inherent learning curve in all new and worthwhile endeavors. Try to time your filming on a treat day – don’t overindulge your chins, but if they’re on schedule for a treat, this is a great overlap. If you don’t get the shot, take a break and try again. If today’s not your day, maybe tomorrow is. Oftentimes, a patient and relaxed approach will yield the best possible results.

Step Four: Post-Production

The easiest way to share is to simply upload your captured video to your favorite social website, no frills and no post-production. This also means no post-production: no color correction, frame adjustments, splicing/cropping, or intro/outros – but it sure does get your chinchilla’s cuteness out there as fast as possible!

While that’s an expeditious method, I’m going to dive a little deeper into your alternatives if you’re looking to invest a little more time and energy into your post.

Apple’s iMovie is one of my favorites: it’s incredibly easy to use, and the learning curve is very mild if you’re a regular smartphone user. This is how the bulk of our videos were created, and the software is certainly good enough for most videographers operating in the pet-video-creation realm.ly edit_DSCF0045Final Cut Pro or Adobe Premiere Pro are great options for the more technically-savvy out there. These two are definitely professional grade software; a bit more difficult to learn than a simple interface like iMovie. However, it’s worth putting in the time, pulling up a few YouTube tutorials, and getting deeper into the edit! There are a lot more options in these types of technologies than a simpler interface can offer. To get started, a simple YouTube How-To search will get you where you need to go!19686725_10154490867201415_960349302_o.pngThere are also a plethora of other post-production options out there, but those are the ones we’re comfortable with! If you have any other favorites, feel free to comment and share with us.

Step Five: Sharing!

YouTube, Instagram, and Facebook are our all-time favorite sharing platforms. But, it’s really up to who you want to see your videos and how you want to share your chinchillas with the world. They’re definitely cute enough that they deserve to be shared, and you know it! Be sure to have fun and create a sense of community while you’re at it.edit_DSCF0069.jpg

Step Six: Bask in the Cuteness!

There you have it: the five simple steps to creating adorable chinchilla videos. Take this summer as a time to keep your chinchillas cool and creating even cooler videos! Don’t forget to check out our official YouTube channel here! There are a ton new videos on their way, just hit subscribe and enjoy the pawdorable fluffs. 🙂

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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

Plastic is Bad, Wood is Good!

When it comes to chinchilla care, all owners understand – or will eventually come to understand – the negative risk associated with plastic consumption. It’s too easy to turn a blind eye to this issue, as pet stores and manufacturers across the world push its occupants towards plastic for an obvious profit. It’s cheap, easy to produce en masse, and nearly indestructible – except when it comes in contact with a determined set of chinchilla chompers. Today, I’m raising my digital paws to the sky and asking all chinchilla owners to please – for the love of fluff – switch to a chinchilla-safe wood alternative.

Mitty Home

Plastic consumption can cause blockage or impaction in a chinchilla’s digestive system, causing discomfort, pain, or even death. Sure, we’ve all had experiences of miraculous chinchilla digestion: for example, Muff, why are you drawn to chewing fabric? Why does it enchant you so? Why must I chinchilla-proof my outfit before handling you? 😉 I will say that my chinchillas have had their share of quirks and unsafe behaviors, but their mishaps are always recognized, seriously addressed, and prevented until the behavior is eventually resolved. But the simple relief of your – or my – chinchillas being safe after an unsafe behavior is no indication of future success. Yes, plastic can kill your chinchilla. I mean, it probably won’t, but it can. And putting your chinchilla in a potentially dangerous situation when you have the power to chinchilla-proof their living and playing space is simply unnecessary. As good owners, it is our responsibility to take the care of these fluffy lives very seriously and get rid of the plastic.

But how can we go on? How do we really live in an affordable manner without plastic? I mentioned in my Ferret Nation post that when it comes to cost-effective production, the small animal industry too often turns to plastic. Outside of cage fabricators, there are also major manufacturers pushing cheap dust houses, running wheels, litter boxes, hideaways, water bottles – plastic, plastic, plastic. As small of a media sector as there is for the small animal community, we need to stop listening to the part of it that is telling us to put perceived low cost and ease of purchase over the health and well-being of our animals.

Koko Sleepy Ledge

The answer is, we need to shop differently and stop the flow of plastic consumption. Stop by Home Depot or a lumber supply, grab some cheap kiln-dried wood, screws and washers, and learn to make some simple things for your chins. And yes, it is actually cheap – as cheap or cheaper than plastic, and far more healthy both in the interim and long-term. Another DIY option is to cover plastic items tightly in fleece, a safe way to modify existing plastic items. A great way to think about improving your chinchilla’s environment is to look at the process as a positive bonding experience – a way for you to give your energy to your fluffy child in a way that they can truly appreciate. As chin owners, we really don’t get to experience a silent cuddle without any signs of struggle, so watching your chinchilla enjoy their well-made home is truly an expression of appreciation for all the work that you’ve done. And yes, we know that you have done a lot of work, and the work ceases to end, especially if you’re doing a great job.

Ladies Cage Wood Ledge

Or, a less energy-consuming alternative: find a vendor that makes safe chinchilla ledges, platforms, houses, and accessories. There are plenty of great home-spun chinchilla vendors that put a lot of work and energy into making some beautiful accents for your chinchillas so you don’t have to! I will note, however, that when energy goes down for the end user, cost will tend to rise: the cost of purchasing from these vendors is almost always at least double the cost of producing these goods yourself (although a lot of people don’t want to make the initial investment of purchasing a drill, saw, and other construction materials needed to start on projects that require energy and attention, which I also understand). But honestly, if you aren’t going to break out the tools and do it yourself, by all means – buy from these vendors. It’s a higher cost than plastic, sure – but it is invaluable for your chinchilla to have that safe, healthy environment that he or she needs. The investment is not short-term, and it’s important not to lose sight of that.

Muff Home

Since the chinchilla pet owning market has not really spoken out against plastic in mainstream commercial avenues (i.e. endorsed by major chinchilla-selling pet stores) most creators of chin-safe goods will be sold at a premium. The more we evolve and begin to understand the chinchilla on a national scale – their complexities, individuality, health requirements, and all the basics – will we begin the full evolution of a safer, inexpensive, more comprehensive chinchilla market that gives our fur-babies exactly what they need, at a cost that won’t break the bank.

We already do so much for our chins, the least the industry could do is recognize and proliferate the true requirements that chinchillas need so as to promote ownership that is not ignorant for a lack of preliminary information. Ignorance will continue in each and every pet kingdom, that’s just the unfortunate truth. However, we should do our best to dissuade unfit owners through education and knowledge. I know the knowledge is out there, and amazing owners and breeders contribute to the chinchilla society, but too often the contributions are laced with a high-strung attitude about best practices. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a person without opinion, and I definitely feel that there are a great many ways how to raise a chinchilla and a great many ways how not to. But I think there needs to be an open dialogue with the community – chinchilla owning and not – about chinchilla ownership and coming to an understanding of general chinchilla needs, and having that conversation turn into a pedestal for future expansion of the industry. The lack of a centralized commercial understanding of chinchilla care – or the willingness to promote bad care in exchange for profit – is unacceptable.

Hay Feeder 1

For my chinchillas, I make everything out of kiln-dried pine, from litter boxes to hay feeders to ledges, platforms, and toys (toys are often made from a variety of vendor-purchased pear or apple woods). I use stainless steel bowls, glass water bottles, and metal pans with fleece covering as a replacement for the stock plastic components in my cages. But then again, I’m just one loving chinchilla owner, and I can only do so much for the community at large. Chinchilla education starts with you, learning and sharing and learning again. There’s an endless ocean of information out there, and it’s spectacular. I spend a lot of my free time reading and learning and searching for more, for the simple reason that I care about chinchillas and would like to know more. Don’t be afraid to be wrong, but always try to fix your mistakes and practice great caution before making any decisions or setting your mind to some half-fact that could negatively impact your chinchilla. Knowledge is always power: the type of power that leads to a happy chinchilla home. Also, don’t get discouraged if you can’t do everything at once: making improvements is a process that expends time, money, and energy. You learn about what works best for your chinchilla, making positive changes whenever you can.. and every step counts.

Providing a happy home is, above all else, providing a healthy home. The happiest home is an environment that allows your chinchilla to explore their personality, growth, and development in a space that fosters and caters to their safety and health. I urge all owners to get rid of plastics inside your chinchilla’s cage and replace them with delicious, crunchy, dental-health-promoting chinchilla safe woods! 🙂

Muff Sleeping Litter Bxo

Muffton sleeping like a baby in his safe wood litter box! He might not use it as he should, but enjoys it all the same!

 

Get To Know: Koko Bear

KOKO BEAR [my sweetfaced sweetheart] AKA Koko, Ko, Ko-Bear, Fatty-Ko, RoKoko

Extra Dark Ebony, Born 06/28/2014, approximately 700 grams

Koko Box

Role in Playtime Kingdom? Lovely damsel in distress – desperately in need of a good scratching! She absolutely melts for scratches in any situation, and oftentimes needs mom to swoop in for a cuddle and scratch!

Favorite Hiding Place? Koko doesn’t have very adventurous playtimes, and couches are her haven. She’ll simply waddle her cute butt around under the periphery of the couches (most of the space beneath the couches have been blocked for playtime safety purposes) and pick a spot to prance around back and forth.

Physical Capability? Koko is cautious! She likes to take her time, and stick to the well-known spots. She also isn’t capable of jumping very high or wall-surfing (yet). As slow as Koko is in most environments, she’s also capable of being speedy in her home! She’ll dart around her cage with exact precision. Every time she receives a shredded wheatie in her cage, she’ll run all around her cage with the treat in her mouth for a good 3-4 minutes before choosing a corner to settle down in and get her munch on!

Koko Tutu

Vocal? Hardly! Koko is super quiet, except for little squeaks when you traverse onto her belly during scratch-time.

Human Cuddle Status? Yes, she will! Shocking, right? But Koko is a surprising little jellybean and a total joy to have. She’s the most recent chinchilla to join the family, and it has been a whole new experience! She’s unlike any of my other babies.

Koko and Ellen

Favorite Way to Be Picked Up? This delicate fluffball enjoys being picked up by the torso and tail – she always starts head-shaking when she’s picked up, and it immediately ceases after she’s adjusted (thank goodness her shaking was proven to be an expression of nervousness, not a neurological problem)!

Intelligence? Low. But who needs it when you’re the sweetest chinchilla in all the land! Koko is the slowest to come to the cage door for treats, and when anyone talks sweetly to her, she looks all around in honest confusion! I’m glad she has the eating and drinking thing down, though 😛

Ko ball

Is She Compatible with Other Chinchillas? I personally believe she would be, if I had a sweet cage mate for her. But in the current state of events, no one likes Koko’s scent! It’s so unfortunate: the mosaic sisters have each other, and they look at her as a threat.. the boys don’t register that she’s female, even though they’ve all gone through a lengthy introduction process with her! Sometimes, things just don’t work out the way you’d hope. But it doesn’t detract from the happiness they experience and the joy they bring a dedicated owner separately!

Koko Box Pink

Ready for a Photo Shoot? She’s the reigning queen of photo shoots! I have an endless arsenal of super-cute Koko photos, because she’s so darling and docile and happy to be there. No treats needed – this model is a pro!

Koko Posing

Love to Dust? She dusts in sporadic energetic bursts, but I don’t think she enjoys it or dislikes it either way. Just another part of life for this little sootball.

Three Words/Phrases to Sum Up Her Personality? Docile Darling, A Pure Joy, Luckiest Find in All the Land

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 video and wish you a wonderful holiday week!

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!

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.

 

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! 😀

The ‘LY Chinchillas’ Diet

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

Muff Blue

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

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

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

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

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

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

I also created a little supplement for my chins, consisting of organic rolled oats, a pinch of wheat germ and cold-milled flax seed. While I respect that many owners feel that supplements are unnecessary, I’ve found that the mixture stimulates overall appetite, and is perfectly safe. I portion out about 2-3 teaspoons every month.

A more “dangerous” treat for chins (quotations because of highly varying opinions) I allow my chins are three types of dried fruits: dried apple, dried goji berries, and more rarely, dried mangoes. I’ll give them one (not all three) of these treats once every 2 months, and very small pieces. They are high in sugar, which can lead to bloating and tooth decay in chins down the road, potentially shortening overall lifespan. However, as with humans and all of the world’s animals, moderation is key. Dried apples, mangoes, and goji berries are, in my opinion, better than craisins and raisins for the simple fact that they have a lower sugar content dispersed in a larger piece of the fruit. Raisins and craisins have a lot more sugar packed into a tiny little area, making them more dangerous for chins in the long run.

Finally, the most controversial treats of all: nuts. I know owners love to crucify one another for feeding chinchillas nuts or seeds. I can see why – setting a precedent for other owners is a sticky thing – we all learn from one another, and gain knowledge from experience. That’s why I carefully approach this subject. Many are quick to say that chinchillas can’t digest fat. It is not true that chins can’t digest fat. They can; they simply cannot metabolize a lot of it (so to say, a diet high in fat and oils). A rare treat of an almond or sunflower seed benefits them with a safe dose of essential fatty acids. Being a responsible chin owner means knowing the difference between a rare treat and a safe treat is (yes, such as wood chews and select herbs and hays like alfalfa). I understand folks out there can see a video or a photo and think that owners like myself are perpetuating the idea that almonds and nuts are okay as frequent treats – but that’s not true, nor is it the intention. Nuts are not inherently deadly to a chinchilla, they are simply very unhealthy if intake is not strictly monitored. It’s ultimately a chinchilla owner’s responsibility to research safe, healthy treats to give to their pet. After speaking to breeders and owners alike who have cared for chinchillas that have lived up to 20 years, I’m not entirely convinced at the searing level of scrutiny placed on chinchillas consuming nuts – although yes, it does have some merit. I personally will allow my chins a sunflower seed every month, and an almond sliver every 2 months. Please note these quantities are very, very low and I am insistent on low overall treat intake.

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

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

Chintroductions

Bonjour, chin-loving friends! Welcome to my chinchilla blog, where I’ll be sharing a mighty important sliver of my busy NYC life with you – the love I have for my five amazing chinchillas!

Let me tell you a story about the last potential roommate I met, to preface my NYC chinchilla story. When I was deliberating whether or not to move out of a friend’s apartment and into my own place, I interviewed a lovely young girl who was fresh out of college and had just started working in administration at Columbia University. By all accounts, she seemed responsible and busy, which is an ideal roommate in this city (harder to find than you would dare to imagine!). After a brief meeting, we were all standing in the apartment and she goes, “you want to know something funny?” and we eagerly respond, “Yes!”, in the mood for an awesome joke or hilarious anecdote. Instead, she starts giggling manically and yells out, “I MOVED TO NEW YORK CITY TO FIND LOVE!” and the way she said it (arms flailing and burping out the giggles), coupled with the idiotic sentiment, rendered the apartment completely silent. I thanked her for the time and cemented the move on my own.

As awkward as that experience was, it goes to show that love can move mountains. Or at least, move an impressionable young person to a metropolitan area. Regardless, the point I’m trying to make is that maybe she was right. Even though I certainly did not move to NYC to find love, I did. I met my five babies. And I couldn’t be happier with them, and their myriad of personalities and particularities, and with the stress and worry they bring, as I’m sure all children do. I love my chins, and I’m so happy to share that with the world. It’s a long foreseeable future with them, and a continual learning curve – even in the simple maintenance of these lovable creatures.

The kids, in the order they were acquired, are:

Mittenmaus, pure standard male

Mitt Sill

Mufftoneous, black velvet male

Muffles Sill

Lulu and Fifi, mosaic sisters

Lulu

Fifi Sill

Koko, extra dark ebony female

Koko Window

All chins were purchased around 3-4 months old, and are now ranging from in years. They are still in their childhood, and are growing alongside my young adulthood. I’ve been a very responsible pet owner, cramming as much knowledge as possible from reliable vet and breeder resources, along with reading up on books, blogs, and forums. There’s a seemingly infinite amount of knowledge out there, and always more to learn, which is why I’m excited to be bringing some of my most helpful learning points to you, over time.

Stay tuned, follow, and keep checking back!