physical

Chin-to-Chin Relationships

Chins are adorable, there’s no way around it. Who doesn’t love chubby chinchillas all cuddled up in a cuddle circle? But what do you do if there’s trouble in chinchilla paradise? What happens when chinchillas start fighting, barking, yelling, or attacking one another? There are a few different types of situations and ways to handle them that encourage safety and promote a peaceful living situation.

Fifi Snuggles

To preface, I’ll offer some fundamental advice for current and future chinchilla owners: please do not purchase a chinchilla in the hopes that he or she will cuddle with you – 90% of the time, this won’t happen. Chinchillas are a ton of work and have quite a few requirements for a healthy, happy life. Placing your hopes and dreams for who your chinchilla will ‘become’ or goals for how he or she will behave in relation to your expectations won’t work out well for either party. Secondly, please do not purchase an additional chinchilla for an existing chinchilla in the singular hope that your current chinchilla will have a new best friend – it’s a 50% chance that they will have to live separately, oftentimes for their entire lives – that means double the cages, double the play times, double the bonding efforts. Building up an idea in your head that your chinchilla needs a friend is potentially selfish and untrue – oftentimes, it results in disappointment. If you would like another chinchilla, you should make that decision for yourself as a capable and loving owner that is ready to take on an additional responsibility, recognizing the risks of potential disharmony in your existing chin-family.

Muff Buggy Cute

So far in my experience, I have had two major chinchilla-to-chinchilla relationship problems arise. First, the slow, eventual, and final separation of my two male chinchillas, Mitty and Muff. Second, a recent scare between my mosaic sisters, Lulu and Fifi. Sweetheart Koko, as you may have guessed, has never needed a soul to make her happy self any happier, so she has always been on her own in that way.

Koko Cuddly

When I first welcomed Mitty and Muff to my home, Muff roughly 6 months after Mitty, they were pretty great friends. They were around the same age and still quite young, under a year old. They shared a double-level cage and had a grand time, swapping stories about their kit days and demolishing shredded wheaties as a team. Their breakup was gradual, building up over time and finally resulting in permanent separation. It began with a few barks every few days, perhaps a scurry in the cages. There was no lost fur, no broken skin, no weight loss, no physical injuries, and both kids were still consuming and behaving quite normally aside from the one-offs. This continued for two months. In the third month, the frequency of their one-offs became less like aberrations in behavior and more like a consistent flow of small arguments. We even separated the cages with a partition, but Muff would burrow and dig and squeeze his way through the 1″ gap just to cuddle with Mitty. It was a back and forth of likes and dislikes, of cuddling and arguing, of love and hate.

Muff Crown

One day, Muff was squealing at the top of his lungs and going full Batman towards Mitty, chasing him around the cage. I decided, that was it. The next day, they each got their own cages and have been separated ever since. It was clear that the escalation was not going to lead anywhere but to a potentially violent place. An affirmation came a few months later, after they had settled in to their new living situations and made peace with their solitude. I was tidying up Muff’s cage while he was still in it and Mitty had a brief playtime. While Mitty was standing outside Muff’s cage, Muff went crazy trying to attack him – although he would not have been able to reach his nemesis, I put my hand up to block him from the wire mesh and he chomped down on my finger as if he was trying to tear it apart. Luckily, although the bite was deep, I was fine and so were they. I don’t blame myself for that situation, but I am thankful that it occurred. Muff is an extremely gentle chin, as is Mitty. I was able to learn that their problem was not inherent in their personalities, but rather brought out by one another. From that point on, they have had 100% security from one other and have never been able to make future contact – and they’ve been very thankful for it. They have grown into fine young men and flourish as their best selves without the conflict of an opposing personality.

Mitty Cookie Adore

Lulu and Fifi, on the other hand, are sisters. They cuddle and groom and play all the time. They’ve been great for years, but more recently, they had been having their share of problems, kacking and chasing one another around their shared cage. Before anything serious happened – that is to say, before any rough-housing or physical fighting – I took Fifi out, as it appeared she was the aggressor in most of their arguments. I placed her in a temporary cage and set it by the foot of their shared cage. I gave them a two day time out from one another, but they were always able to talk through the cage bars and sleep next to each other. They were given some time together every day to groom and say hello; it was evident that they missed each other greatly (surprisingly, Fifi more-so than Lulu). The time apart was healing for them, and since Fifi returned to their space, it’s been smooth sailing. As an owner, I’m always mindful that the bond between all of us needs to be built back up before returning to a comfortable place of trust and a solid sense of safety. It’s important to note that blood relationships are not immune to chaos or disorder, and require TLC from all parties to keep the good vibes going. The good thing about these girls (and luckily, how it played out with the boys) is that they will display their feelings vocally and behaviorally prior to lashing out physically.

Girls Together

It’s important to keep in mind that these examples of broken bonds and healing bonds are my stories, based solely on the disposition and personalities of my chinchillas. I have heard several horror stories from fellow chinchilla owners of pure physical violence emerging with minimal warning signs, leading to devastating injuries for their weaker chinchillas. The best advice I can give is to take great care to properly introduce chinchillas over a period of many weeks prior to allowing them to live together, monitoring their behavior constantly, and remove any aggressive chinchilla into a separate cage immediately upon any suspicion of anger or danger (weighing your chinchillas can be a good way to catch a bully by determining who is able to consume more and overall weight trends). Removing a bonded pair from one another for any reason will require the proper re-introductions to prevent conflict, and of course, there is no guarantee of rebuilding bonds.

Mitt Fat Upwards

Play it safe at all times and prepare for permanent separation, with extra cages, water bottles, and supplies. Keep a bottle of Blu-Kote for potential scratches or shallow bites. Always have the numbers of a trusted exotic vet and emergency vet on hand for potential emergencies. Remember, when it comes to your chin-kids, it’s better safe than sorry! You may have to mourn the loss of a bond, but it’s important to give each animal their full right to live a long, happy, and healthy life. You’re much better off enjoying their company one-on-one than having to deal with a crippling injury, or worse. In fact, you may get to know them better than you ever could have if they were still bonded. 🙂

Koko Dusty

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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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