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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. đŸ™‚

Koko Dusty

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How To: Weigh Your Chinchilla

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

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

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

Scale

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

Paper Pen

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

Muff Holding

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

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

Lulu Holding

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

Muff Dusty Scale

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

Lulu Willow Stix

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

Weights

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

Mitty Scale 2

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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! đŸ˜›

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 few weeks. 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 1 teaspoons every 2 months.

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 3 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 or an almond sliver every 3 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!

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