safe

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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Chinchilla Cage Accents

Muff hilarious face tube

In tandem with recent posts about Ferret Nation Cages and How To: Build a Custom Chinchilla Cage, this post is all about cage details – all the necessary components that help make your chin’s cage feel like a meaningful, functioning home! Although there are online vendors for listed accessories, all items that are realistically able to be made at home have been described in a DIY manner.

Ladies cage

Platforms & Ledges: I suggest keeping platforms 4-5″ wide, installed under 6” apart height-wise for safety. Any higher, and a fall could potentially hurt your chin. And don’t forget ledges – fun shapes for corners, sides, and all around. Sizes can vary, from 3″ upward. The hardware part is simple: screws, washers, and a drill will keep your items snug and secure.

LYC Hay Feeder

Hay Feeders: Hay is an integral part of any healthy chinchilla diet, and it gets everywhere! Our cages have DIY hay feeders, complete with a standing perch for easy eating. Connected with two sturdy hooks, these feeders are a chin favorite, adhere to horizontal bars with ease, and keep the mess minimal!

 

 

Food Bowls: We recently switched from bottom-heavy bowls to stainless steel bowls that adhere directly to cage bars. It’s been a wonderful transition, as the stainless steel bowls are sleek, safe, attractive – and most of all, easy to use.

Koko litter box

Litter Boxes: Read this post all about DIY litter boxes and litter training! Litter boxes can be a tidy addition to your chin’s cage, encouraging your pets to maintain their space and keep clean. Of course, not all chinchillas can be litter trained, but it never hurts to try.

Muff Home

Huts & Houses: The fluffs love hiding houses, tight corners, and crunching down on the very infrastructure they inhabit. The best way to inhibit this type of behavior is by encouraging it in a safe, healthy manner! Our hideaways are made from kiln-dried pine and offer privacy-seeking chins a lovely respite from the craziness of their peaceful environments (because we all know being a well-cared-for chinchilla is exhausting). 😛

Mitty Granite Marble Tile

Stone Cooling Tiles: Our chins prefer marble or granite cooling tiles; they are a great accessory for the active buggers who dart all over their cages, working up some heat! The tiles offer temporary relief for warm tummies, but only act effectively if hand-in-hand with low temperatures or air-conditioning.

Girls Cage Toy Bowl Hay

Hanging Toys: Hanging toys are quite simple to make, and shockingly fun to watch as your chins swing them from side to side in impatient demolition attempts. Some drilled apple sticks, chunks of kiln-dried pine, and pumice stones make for a really great time – especially for the attention deficit types!

koko hammock

Hammocks and Tubes: While not every chin enjoys hammocks, a lucky few really do love lounging in comfy floating fleece blankets. There’s nothing like a softly swinging sleepy chinchilla to bring a smile to your face! Tubes are also great accessories, offering a round retreat for your fluffballs. I use galvanized steel ducts, which have rounded steel that can be used safely without fleece coverings. Other tube options include PVC or cardboard tubes with snug fleece covers to prevent harmful ingestion.

Muff Heart

Cuddle Buddies: Fleece teddies can be perfect for solo chinchillas! As long as the cuddle buddy has fine stitching and good construction, your chin will be snuggling up next to their new friend (or tossing it around) in no time.

 

Water Bottle: Water bottles are the bane of my existence. As I’m living in the city, I do not have an adequate setup for a water pump system. So, I run through glass water bottles every few months. I always have two water bottles in each cage, a 32 oz. and an additional 16 oz., just in case. Currently, I use Kaytee, Living World, and Lixit (although I’ve tried more than a handful of brands), and simply cross my fingers. I have never understood why water bottles do not have any type of manufacturer’s warranty, as they are often faulty and fail to stand the test of time.

Ladies FN

Running Wheel: Although chinchillas do not require a wheel, it is nice to have one for exercise purposes. My chins have a running wheel in a separate playtime cage, which is an excellent way to encourage a weekly allotment of exercise while teaching them to manage their stress when being introduced to different environments.

Koko Fleece Cage

Fleece: The safest fabric for chins, fleece is a good way to cover up harmful plastics in your cage or line the bottom of your cage with a pretty pattern. While fleece is not necessarily easier to clean than bedding, it does help make your chin’s home more personal. If your chin is litter trained, I suggest washing fleece every 2 weeks with a hot water and lemon juice/vinegar mixture. If your chin is not litter trained, fleece should be washed weekly to prevent urine buildup. It’s important to note that while most chins do not eat fleece, some will try! If that’s the case, then fabric should be removed immediately to prevent consumption.

Mitty pan

Custom Steel Pans: Galvanized or stainless steel pans for your chin’s cage are an awesome investment – they are easy to manage and long lasting with proper care. Swapping out plastics for steel is a simple way to prevent harmful ingestion, blockage, or impaction that can come with gnawing malleable plastics.

Ko ball

As always, try to incorporate safe woods into your chin’s environment, and understand the importance of choosing wood over plastic. Be sure to always have an air-conditioning unit (or two!) during warm months, keep a regular dusting routine, and monitor your chin’s weight for changes in consumption in order to catch early warning signs of illness. 🙂

Mitty tail tube

LY Chinchillas Treat Donation

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

$5.00

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!

LY Chinchillas Treat Donation

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

$5.00

Ferret Nation Cages: Pros and Cons

These past few weeks have been busy! As we slowly emerge from a long winter, a few major changes have come to LY Chinchillas too: we switched from our custom-built digs over to Ferret Nation 182 cages! Admittedly, I went a little crazy with the purchasing process because we ended up with 3 full double units, but after much deliberation on space and convenience, I’ve decided to keep the third double unit boxed up and in storage until more space allows for it in the future.

To start, I’ll speak a little about the emotional change that comes with a major cage change. We had built our custom cages with time, energy, and great care, and they turned out great. They were a little less spacious than I had hoped given the constraints of finding a convertible wardrobe unit, but the larger cages had a lot of vertical space for the two mosaic girls Lulu & Fifi, as well as my standard firstborn son Mittenmaus. Koko resided in the top cage partition, as she has never (to this day) displayed an iota of jumping capability. Separately, Muff had a custom cage built out of two smaller unit cages that he simply loved, including a climbing wall and lots of space for his jellybean self to roam and chirp. There were some downsides to the custom cages, but overall, they were built with great love and care with safety and personalities in mind.

Ferret Nation Cages

And then, before I knew it, the Ferret Nations were on their way. Honestly, it was a spur of the moment order. I had been thinking about new cages for a while, and after researching options on the market, opted for the 182 model. And then, before I knew it, the Ferret Nations had arrived. The cages have a ton of positive points, but the first few nights were actually filled with anxiety for both me and some of the chins.

The girls didn’t mind at all. They are seemingly more independent and less attached to the comfort of any one place, as if peace of mind is something already engrained in their brains, bringing a sense of ease and calm to their transition. Mitty is an (unsuccessful) escape artist, that’s just how he rolls. He explored his cage to the fullest, memorized each jump and leap and corner, and settled in. Of course, he’s still going forward with his master plan of eventually escaping, and I do wish I could give him a full double unit to himself, but the space is adequate for him and I’m confident that he will adjust over time. Muff, on the other hand, was as nervous as I was. He missed his old cage! Truthfully, this space was a little bit of a downgrade for him, height-wise. The way Muff was acting, I was really starting to doubt my decision. There was a noticeable increase in stress: nervous squeaking, an unwillingness to talk to me or meet my hands, weight loss, and agitated jumping for several days. Part of me wanted to turn back and give him back his old everything, but I made the executive decision to wait and let the new cages settle in – for both me, and the chins.

Muff FN

Ladies FN

Mitty FN

Koko FN

I knew that I purchased these cages for a particular reason: in the hopes that they are the very best, safest, and cleanest option for our living situation right now. Residing in a NYC apartment is not exactly spacious, and every square foot counts. The same day the cages were set up and before I had the chance to reconsider turning back, I had already dismantled the old cages and re-purposed any salvageable kiln-dried pine for ledges and platforms in the new cages. This made it tough, because the moment I started taking parts down, I knew that I wasn’t going to reconstruct the old cages. I had some restless sleep (yes, I’m seriously in tune with my kids) but I lived with it. It was time to move forward. In the following week, all of Muff’s weight loss had been regained, and attitudes from all parties were perking up.

So, that brings me to this very lengthy post – a post which, in many ways, is a formulation of my opinions that are still in infancy. I’ve had the new cages for under a month, and have had some time to modify their interiors to my liking. While I have yet to make any definitive emotional connection with Ferret Nation, I’ve also been forced to put my custom cages in my past. I figured that places me in a unique position to evenly critique the pros and cons of Ferret Nation.

Mitty FN2

PROS

  • User-Friendly, Lots of Control: This is a huge pro! These cages are truly designed for the pet owner, many thanks to Ferret Nation for that. All the points below will simply highlight and point back to this one major pro.
  • Reliable Doors: Two self-locking doors that swing open as far as possible? Yes, please! The doors swing open a lovely 225 degrees. This means you can deal with one chinchilla at a time with all the elbow space you need, without having to worry about another chin’s escape.
  • Mobility: Smooth wheels do the trick. Rolling the cages from room to room or rotating 360 degrees is totally manageable with one person. I should note that although the wheels have worked fabulously for these first few weeks, a double unit cage is pretty heavy and could cause some wear and tear on the wheel function over time. As mobile as these cages can be, they are more suitable for a stationary situation.
  • Light and Ventilation: Nothing sucks more than not being able to see your super cute chinchilla. These cages are awesome for that! Light passes through really easily, making it a little easier to catch the cuteness on camera (which, as chin owners know, is part of the struggle). Bottom levels have a little less light than desired, but such is the payoff for separated top and bottom units. An added bonus of light passage is also air passage, which helps ventilation and improves overall living conditions.
  • Universal Nature: So easy to use and self-explanatory, I would consider trusting a pet sitter to handle these cages – and for me, that says a lot.
  • Longevity: These cages will last for years. They may get scratched up, but these cages will stay relevant and get the job done.
  • Professional Look: The design is simple and sleek.
  • Safe and Sturdy: The bars and overall structure is pretty heavy duty, easing the weight of worry on neurotic owners.
  • Easy to Clean: A simple structural design makes cleaning as easy as could possibly be! Double unit cages have corners that are easy to reach with (almost) no hidden areas for grime to build up in.
  • Resale Value: Hand-in-hand with the “Cost” bullet point in the Cons section, these cages maintain their value pretty well in comparison with other cages.
  • Brand Recognition: The commercial value of this product and presence in the industry is pretty solid. This at least means the brand has been somewhat successful long enough to be oft recommended and widely distributed.

CONS

  • Customization/Inability to Prorate Space: As customizable as the inside space of the cage may be, the size of each cage is fixed. That means there are three choices: 1, 2, or 3 unit cages. I can’t, for example, give a little more height to the boys or a little more width to my girls without adding another overwhelming unit to their existing spaces.
  • More Width Than Height: This might seem like a weird point for some people because most cages are wider than they are high, but with custom cages we had the luxury of being able to customize a safe cage with more height than width, which the chins seemed to love and have more fun with. Of course, you could add on that additional unit and make the height appear, but the overwhelming presence! I would like to point out that this Con is also a Pro, limiting falls and height-related injuries.
  • Presence: These cages command attention and space, and definitely carry a presence. A three unit cage would be a little daunting to run into at a friend’s apartment (unless you love chinchillas, which I’m sure most of you do).
  • Loud: FN cages consist largely of bars, and these bars reverberate sound against any connected point, such as hammock hangers, washers, and attached ledges. Any jump or leap will produce more sound than wood, which better absorbs vibrations and sounds.
  • Bars and Biting: Bar biting is really annoying. Not only is it noisy, but it also leaves a mark – yes, chin chewing can easily create indents and grooves in the cage bars’ powder coating. Behaviorally, it’s a bummer to see your chin trying so hard to escape. Wire mesh in custom cages completely prevents this type of behavior.
  • Cleaning Between the Bars: Tough! Dust is the main contender against a totally clean cage situation. Residual dust settles between the bars, and those little nooks are pretty tough to reach and stubborn to clean, even with a high-powered vac.
  • Ferret Nation Quality Control: Leaves a bit to be desired. Some details are offset, door locks aren’t symmetrical, plastic panels that I didn’t use arrived shattered and broken, and there were minor scuffs on nearly every piece of metal. Part of these problems are due to their shipping practices (one large cardboard box and no reinforcement) but must also be due to manufacturing practices and company quality control. To be fair, there’s a limited one-year warranty and FN will replace broken parts, but if there was a higher standard across the board, there would be no need to go through a time-consuming warranty shakedown.
  • Plastic Bottoms and Platforms: I know there’s a profit to be made, but I could never understand why high-volume national suppliers don’t switch to metal instead of providing their customer’s pets with low quality edible plastic, which can cause blockage or worse. From a caring owner’s standpoint, I’d have hoped for a better industry standard by now. Anyhow, I had to order custom metal pans at an additional cost (which were a great investment, and I’m very happy with).
  • Shaking: Although somewhat subtle, the cages will shake from side to side if your chins are running on their wheels.
  • Cost: The cost is relatively high, but as would be a custom cage of a similar size.

Fifi New Cage

The takeaway? These cages are great for our status quo. Make no mistake about it: when the time comes to buy a house in the country, I have grand plans to painstakingly build fully customized cage mansions for each of the chins (blueprints are already on hand). For now, Ferret Nations will do the job, and do the job relatively well. Stay tuned for future posts about FN cage customization! 🙂

Angled Ferret Nation

LY Chinchillas Treat Donation

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

$5.00

Chinchilla Basics 101

After spending a decent amount of time on social media posting about my fur-babies and receiving feedback, I’ve come to realize that there are quite a few people out there with very basic questions about chinchillas. It seems I’ve skipped right over that in my blog and discussed more complex issues! In an effort to condense all beginner Q&A in one area, I’ve decided to do a very simple blog post with a lot of information this week: Chinchilla Basics 101.

Koko Window

What is a chinchilla? A chinchilla is super soft crepuscular rodent, native to South America’s Andes. Simply because these animals have a rodentia classification, they are no ordinary rodent: they are extremely clean, beautiful animals with a great depth of emotive and intellectual capability. Their name means “little Chincha,” named after the indigenous Chincha people of the Andes. Crepuscular means that chinchillas are most active at dawn and dusk. It is a common misconception that chins are nocturnal, as they are not. In the wild, they’ve been known to live at high altitudes in herds of up to over 100 chinchillas, but as a pet, can be very picky about which chinchilla(s) he or she wants to live with. Chinchillas have poor eyesight but a strong sense of smell, hearing, and through their whiskers, touch. Through their whiskers, they can sense pressure changes and vibrations. They also have excellent memories and are incredibly fast, agile, and can be very high jumpers. Chinchillas are very intelligent and have specific personalities and preferences, which means it can take quite a while to bond and get to truly know your chinchilla. How long can a chinchilla live? Chinchillas can live upwards of 20 years with strong genetics and a healthy diet, although the average is 12-15 years. Chins are no short-term commitment, meaning that a lot of consideration must be made prior to buying your first chinchilla. Your heart may start in the right place, but due to your wallet, growing family, or lost interest, you may put a sweet chinchilla out of a good home, causing this intelligent and emotional animal to become neglected and end up in the hands of someone who doesn’t care to research a chinchilla’s needs as well as another first-time owner. In such a case, you are encouraged to reach out to a chinchilla rescue and research the best options for your pet.

Muff Cuddle Buddy

Are chinchillas considered exotic pets? Chinchillas are critically endangered animals, having been hunted to near-extinction for the profit-hungry fur industry – 90% killed off in the wild in the span of a mere 15 years. They are indeed exotic (although not in terms of import/export in the United States) – there has yet to be extensive scientific research on their species, in terms of intellectual, emotional, or physical capabilities, outside of some agricultural uses. Most of what chinchilla owners know beyond the very basics is based largely on first-hand experience, opinion, or what we have gathered about chinchillas prior to hunting them out of the wild. Since chins have been domesticated, bred in captivity, and raised as pets, chinchilla breeding has become an art of sorts – with very beautiful colors (i.e. Blue Diamond) and variations (i.e. Royal Persian Angora and Locken), in extremely exclusive markets (i.e. select markets have refused to sell to others, keeping the costs of certain variations of chinchillas in the high thousands). Aside from color mutations and breeding variations, chinchillas are all-around very special animals, with special needs. A few of these needs are:

  • Temperature: chinchillas can overheat at temperatures over 75°F, as they do not have sweat glands. Chinchillas have 50-100 hairs per follicle, as compared to a human’s 1 to 1 ratio. They are built for high altitude, cold environments with very low humidity. Owners are responsible for recreating that environment – it’s suggested to keep your chin’s living space between 60 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit (still comfortable for owners, safe for chinchillas). Red ears are a sure sign of overheating: if your chinchilla is too hot, be sure to place him/her in a cool environment with a cool slab of granite and closely monitor his or her water and food consumption. Be sure to always have a 24-hour exotic vet’s contact information on hand, in case of emergency.
  • Diet: Chinchillas should be free-fed, and they have very specific diets (and very sensitive little tummies!). While they can over-indulge on any plethora of treats, they cannot overeat on their diet basics: high quality chinchilla pellets and fresh Timothy hay. Read up on my version of a safe chinchilla diet here.
  • Teeth: Dental care for chinchillas is critical for a healthy lifestyle. Chin teeth are constantly growing, and need to be filed down with wood chews to stay healthy. There are quite a few dental problems that can occur, rising either genetically or through poor care. It’s imperative to have a plethora of safe woods and chews readily available for your chinchilla and check for any changes in consumption or behavior, as changes could be a sign of dental problems.
  • Health: Chinchillas require careful monitoring, as they do not show illness or pain very visibly. They are unable to communicate in the way a dog or cat could whine, as some chins are not very vocal. It’s necessary for owners to constantly monitor food and water consumption, as well as ‘output’.
  • Cage: Ideally, chinchillas need spacious, non-plastic, multilevel cages with safe wood platforms and other elements to encourage chewing and prevent boredom. Additionally, wire bottomed cages can create a condition known as ulcerative pododermatitis, or “bumblefoot”, which is a bacterial infection that occurs from calloused feet. It’s important that if you have a wire cage, offer many areas where the wire is covered with fleece or replaced with hard flooring. Read up on how to build your own custom chinchilla cage here.
  • Exercise: Chinchillas need a good amount of safe room for exercise and stretching their furry legs! Everything in your chin’s exercise space must be chinchilla-proofed – tight spaces must be closed off, sharp objects put away, wires and molding hidden behind blankets or cardboard. It’s necessary for owners to be present and active watchers during playtime, in case something goes awry. Chinchillas are like babies – they truly need constant supervision. Read up on tips for chinchilla playtime here.
  • Cleaning: Well, chinchillas are high maintenance. You’ll find yourself vacuuming, dusting, sweeping, filling food bowls, hay racks, and water bottles, sneezing up dust and hay particles left and right. It’s no glamorous job, but owners have to do it daily. I would say that upwards of 33.33% of my relationship with my chinchillas is active cleaning or feeding duty.

Mitty Cage

Are chinchillas easy to care for? No. Do not be fooled by pet stores or oblivious owners. If you are a caring owner, chinchillas are not easy pets. Be prepared to spend at least an hour a day with these guys, especially if you want to bond with them. My family has often told me my energy and time dedicated to my 5 chinchillas is very similar to owning a mid-sized dog (albeit a dog that can live up to 20 years), and I wouldn’t disagree. It requires just as much time, money, energy, and emotion to adequately provide what I consider to be a happy life for these guys. Does it get easier? Yes. With time, routine, and a little bit of help from your loved ones, caring for your chinchillas is like riding a bike – still takes energy, but you get stronger with experience.

Ellen and Koko

Why do chinchillas need dust baths? Because chinchillas have around 60 hairs per follicle, their fur is the densest in the world. Their fur is so dense that they cannot contract fleas, nor bathe in water to clean themselves. Their fur is not be able to dry naturally and could create deadly fungus or other skin conditions if not treated immediately (AKA carefully blow-dried on the coolest setting). In the wild, chins bathe in volcanic ash to ensure the richness and cleanliness of their dense coats, which helps to remove moisture and oil. In captivity, chins bathe in a very similar dust (created from ultra-fine aluminum silicate powder), often branded as Californian blue cloud dust. If your chinchilla has dry skin problems (this can occur in dryer times of the year), dust 2-3 times per week. If your chinchillas have no skin issues and love to dust, daily dusting is totally fine!

 

What items do I need/should I buy for my first chinchilla?

  • Cage: Try at all cost to avoid plastic, which most chins will chew up, and as mentioned before, cover wire bottoms. Cages should be multilevel, spacious, and if you have the time/energy, you should build your own! It’s suggested that chins should have a safe wooden house to hide away in while they become accustomed to their new environment.
  • Food: High quality pellets and a variety of hays (Timothy should always be available and the foundation for your chin’s hay diet). Read up on my version of a good diet here.
  • Wood and Chews: The more, the better! Woods and chews prevent boredom and encourage teeth filing. Read up on your safest options here.
  • Ceramic Bowls: One for hay and one for pellets! Ceramic tends to be most popular, but I also use some very thick bottom-heavy glass bowls – it’s important to ensure glass bowls don’t tip and aren’t movable. If you’re able to affix these to your shelves, that would be for the best. Chins love to tip bowls over. I would suggest a hay rack as well, but certain types are chin-dangerous in their structure, so I would avoid using a rack until you do a bit more research about what works with your particular cage and what will be safest for your setup.
  • Glass Water Bottle: Avoid plastic! Chins will chew right through them, leaving them without water and a big mess.
  • Dust: Blue cloud dust is widely available on the web, and can be bought in bulk quantities if needed. I start with 2-3 cups of dust in my container, reuse that quantity daily for all my chins, and add a half cup every week. It’s best to use a mostly closed container with an opening for fresh air. Remember to dust in a confined area because Dust. Gets. Everywhere. It’s important to note that not every chin needs to be dusted daily; mine do because they love to dust, have no dry skin issues, and we live in an area with moderate humidity.
  • Granite or Stone Slab: Chinchillas need to stay cool, as you now should know. A slab of granite or polished stone will do nicely for a nice relaxing place to sleep, although it is in no way a replacement for the proper environment and temperature!
  • Air Conditioning Unit and Thermometer: Yep, this is a step that’s critical for the warmer times of the year! Chinchillas don’t have sweat glands and are densely surrounded with fur, so they need to stay cool year-round at temperatures 75°F and below. Over-heating can be deadly, so don’t skimp on this one!
  • Food Scale: Most commonly, chins are weighed in grams. Due to genetics, diet, and other factors, full-grown chinchilla weights can vary dramatically, from 400 g to 1200 g+! Most chinchillas are considered full grown around 8-18 months, so they should be constantly growing until then. As aforementioned, since chinchillas aren’t very expressive, their weight is a great way to see how they’re doing, and to determine the possibility of illness or injury. Any sharp decreases in weight should warrant an exotic vet visit ASAP. I keep record of my chins’ weight daily, so I know that there can be quite a variance in their weights on any given day due to consumption level, time of day, and other factors. Weights can fluctuate up to 20 grams a day, but as long as overall trend is upwards or at least the same over a period of 2-3 months, I’m happy. Read about how to weigh your chinchilla here!

Start there, and learn as you go! Sure, as time goes on you’ll probably look into a wheel, hammock, cuddle buddy, and other fun accoutrements for your pet. But basics are basics, and that’s what this post is all about. I hope you find this helpful, and feel free to share with your friends and acquaintances – you know, the ones who ask, “What’s a chinchilla?” 🙂

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