safe woods

How To: DIY Chinchilla Hanging Toys

Hanging toys: the cutest, most heartfelt way to watch a chinchilla struggle without a twinge of guilt! They’re also dental-friendly treats that keep your fluffs engaged and entertained during long work or school days. I love chinchilla-safe woods and chews because they are a fabulous non-food way to make your chins happy and show them that you care – not that they need even more from you to be spoiled with! But really, just one more chew toy couldn’t hurt.. (and seriously, it couldn’t!) 😛 So, today’s post is all about how to make DIY hanging toys!

Lulu Fifi Lady Hanging Toy

There are only a handful of tools that are needed to make a very simple hanging toy:

  • Chinchilla-Safe Woods and Chews, 6″ or Smaller
  • Drill with Thin Drill Bit
  • Solid Craft Wire or Pliable Metal Wire
  • Hook to Adhere Toy to Cage Bars
  • Pliers to Cinch Wire Ends
  • Wire Cutter or Strong Scissors to Cut Wire

Craft Wire Drill Wood

The first step is to gather your goods! We use apple sticks, pear sticks, chunks of pine, and vine twirls – but some all-time favorites include natural loofah, blocks of pumice stone, shredder tape, and more! Feel free to read about chinchilla safe woods and chews to get some ideas for your own custom toys. Over time, you’ll come to realize which woods or chews your chins prefer. Another great tactic is to use the barkless wood that your chins have already partially demolished; it’s a thrifty way to re-purpose the seemingly unwanted sticks (they’ll be slower to go at them, but they’ll begrudgingly get to it eventually). Then, I drill through the center of the wood, but wood vendors tend to sell pre-drilled wood for easy toy-making.

wood and fine toys

The next step is to cut your wire to the desired hanging length, adding on a little extra just in case. I typically cut the wire to 12″ and remove any extra length prior to finalizing the toy. It’s important for your wire to be made out of a solid metal to dissuade exploratory chewers (although they’re typically too preoccupied with the hanging toy to consider munching on the wire). Another great way to put your mind at ease is to either fill the wood to the very top so that there is no exposed metal, or to hang the toy strategically so that the exposed area is not reachable. I have seen other varieties in toy-making such as seagrass or chains, but it ultimately depends on what you know to be the safest, best option for your particular chins. So far, there have been zero issues with our construction and the final products are spot-on for my five furry babies.

Muff going for his chew toy

For the top of the toy, I’ll wrap the wire tightly around the hook, using pliers to tuck the edge away. Since we go through faulty glass water bottles every few months, I make sure to keep the hardware for hanging toys – the hooks are perfect for the cage bars, because they’re made for just that! Another good alternative would be shower hooks, as they’re self explanatory and easy to work with.

Water Bottle Hook and Pliers

The funnest part for me is next: to string all the toys on the wire in my favorite order! I like to mix up the different woods and chews to offer some variety for the chins – plus, they look really nice when they have some diversity to them.

Mittenmaus Hanging Toy

The trickiest and final part is to close off the hanging toy. If you’re using a thicker wire, you can simply use pliers to close off the toy in a “U” with the wire and call it a day. Using a thinner wire is easier to work with initially, but is a tad tougher to close off. The way I do it is to string the wire through the last stick – enough slack for the wire to wrap around the stick twice – and thread the wire through the hole a second time, pulling the wire flush to the stick. Because this type of craft wire is so malleable, it will secure itself easily after being pulled and be unable to be readjusted without pliers. The last step is to cut the excess wire flush with wire cutters or strong scissors (although after a certain amount of practice, you’ll be able to calculate the perfect amount of slack not to need to cut the wire at all).

Drilled wood and secured wireSecured wire in drilled wood

And voilà! There we have it – hang away and watch your happy chinchillas struggle with sheer delight! 🙂 The more toys you make, the more endless variety you’ll find that there is! You can make toys in all different sizes and shapes – the fun is being able to take some time out of your day and do something that takes your mind off of how much money, time, and energy you spend on your chinchillas by creating something lovingly by hand for their spoiled enjoyment!

Koko Hanging Toy

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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!

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Safe Chinchilla Woods and Chews

Hi everyone, happy first Wednesday of 2015! For this week’s post, I’ll be listing off woods and chews that can safely be used for wearing down your chinchilla’s constantly growing teeth and help combat boredom. I have collected a cross-referenced list of chinchilla-safe woods, with the help of a few chinchilla friends, studious family members, breeders, and my personal knowledge accumulated over the years.

Mitty 2015 2

All chinchilla woods and chews should be organic, pesticide-free, and untreated. This is not a fully comprehensive list, however woods not found on this list should be carefully researched prior to consumption. All woods should be thoroughly cleaned, boiled, and baked prior to gifting to your chinchilla (obviously with the exception of already prepared or kiln-dried woods). I have used bold print for the more commonly sold and distributed ready-to-chew woods, which should be easier to find and purchase for immediate pet consumption in the United States.

Koko Willow Ball 2

  • Apple
  • Arbutus (Strawberry Wood)
  • Ash
    • Some mountain ash seeds are thought to produce hydrogen cyanide, which lead some to question the safety of the wood. In contrast, others believe there is little evidence to support this belief, and that ash berries and wood are safe for chins.
  • Aspen
  • Bamboo
    • While technically safe, bamboo is less advisable than other woods due to its ability to create sharp splinters, which could injure your pet.
  • Birch: White, Common Birch Only
    • Certain birches are considered safe by some, toxic by others. In general, it comes down to a personal opinion. Many breeders and owners have used white, silver, or common birch with no problems.
  • Blackberry, Blueberry
  • Black Currant, Red Currant, Gooseberry
  • Cholla
    • This is a dried cactus, very soft and used mostly for toy-making
  • Cottonwood
  • Crab Apple
  • Dogwood
  • Elm & Red Elm
    • Many elm trees are treated with herbicides, double-check your organic source before given for consumption.
  • Grape & Grapevine
  • Hawthorn
  • Hazelnut
  • Kiwi
  • Magnolia
  • Manzanita (A Sub-Category of Pine)
  • Mulberry
  • Ocotillo (Desert Origin)
  • Pear
  • Pecan
  • Pine: Only Kiln-Dried White
  • Poplar
  • Quince
  • Rose Hip
  • Sycamore
  • Willow (Although Not White Willow)
  • Yucca

Wood MacroWood 2

The following items are not woods, but chew alternatives. These elements can be used for toy-making. Again, all of these items should be organic, pesticide-free, and untreated.

  • Banana Leaf
  • Cardboard
    • If ingested, cardboard can cause blockage. Some chins only bite at cardboard, but others will try to eat it. Chins should be watched when playing in and around cardboard, and cardboard ingestion should be prevented.
  • Coconut Shells
  • Hay Cubes
  • Mineral Lava
  • Loofah, Unbleached
  • Palm Leaves
  • Pine Cones, Must Be Cleaned and Baked
  • Pumice Stone
  • Seagrass
  • Shredder Tape, Created From Woven Palm Leaves
  • Sisal
    • Sisal rope has been known in rare cases to cause impaction, so it should be used with care and supervision.
  • Sola Plant
  • Vine

Mitty Home

While there could be many more leaves, herbs, and flora to add to this list, I’ll save the rest for a “Safe Herbs” post later this month!

In the meantime, don’t forget to follow the blog for our Weekly Wednesday blog posts, and catch up with us on social media: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Vine, and YouTube! We hope you have a great week and stay warm! 🙂

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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! 😛

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!

LY Chinchillas Treat Donation

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