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How To: Prepare Chinchilla Wood!

During apple-picking season, you may be compelled to think about your fluffs while you’re out with friends and family, gathering delicious ripe fruits by the handful. I certainly always think about my chinchillas, especially when I’m out and about in nature! As my fluffs are indoor pets, I always dream up ways to bring a taste of the outdoors to them. On occasion, one way I do that is by preparing delicious chin-safe woods with organic, pesticide-free wood. Multitasking in the orchard is always a challenge, but the chins will thank you! 🙂

Apple Orchard

Because apple wood is an absolute favorite for all my chin-babies, I love to source what I can during the season from healthy apple trees at local, untreated orchards in upstate NY or eastern CT. I’ll always ask the orchard manager if it’s okay for me to snip some branches from the trees as I’m picking my fair share of apples, and 9 times out of 10, they’ll comply with a smile. I aim mostly for twigs and sticks – the thinner, the better, as those are plentiful and easy to collect (and the chins love destroying twiggies!). Plus, smaller sticks and twigs are easier to manage when you’re preparing the wood for chewy consumption. Be sure to snip live branches, as those are the safest for your chins to chew once properly prepared.

Koko Fall

When you’ve gathered your arsenal of future treats, the first step is to break or cut them to size – delectable treat size, that is! I usually aim for 4-5″ in length, because they fit so perfectly in those adorable chinchilla paws. 😛 Place the pre-sized goods into a container of hot water, and use a clean toothbrush or scrubber to remove tannin and lichen from the sticks. You may have to rinse and repeat several times until the water runs clear over the sticks. Alternatively, you can opt to boil your pre-cut wood for 15-20 minutes, rinse, and scrub. Boiling the wood will help sanitize them better than hot water alone. It’s also fine to use a combination of these methods, as long as you fully implement one or the other.

Muff Cholla

After a final rinse, air dry the sticks over a towel. Once the sticks are completely dry to the touch, evenly space the sticks over aluminum foil or a tin pan, and place your chin-treats in the oven. Baking the wood is a matter of personal preference: some like to bake at an extended period of time on the lowest possible temperature, while others are more aggressive with the baking process. The most common range of temperatures fluctuate from 170 degrees to 300 degrees Fahrenheit.

Lulu cute

While chinchilla owners have their own preferences, I suggest trying out a few different temperatures to determine your favorite. Keep in mind that time and temperature can – and should – vary, depending on the thickness of your wood and overall quantity. I generally like to veer in the middle, around 230 degrees for as long as possible. I constantly keep the oven light on and check for any smoking bark. I’ll rotate the sticks or coins every half hour or so. Eventually, you’ll be able to see or test whether or not the wood is done – coins may be cracked, wood will be dry to the touch, and twigs will snap crisply and easily.

Apple Stick

Finally, turn off your oven and remove your sticks to cool. Once cooled, store your wood in a cardboard box and keep your goodies handy in a cool, dry place close to your chinnies. Or, you could work on some more DIY projects, such as creating hanging toys from your delicious woods! They’ll thank you for all your hard work – or at the very least, they’ll delight you with their happiness as they’re munching away! 🙂

Mitty Hanging toy

Chinchillas and Cleaning

An often overlooked part of chinchilla ownership is the cleaning. Let’s face it: it’s not the cutest thing to talk about, but it’s an absolutely crucial part of caring for your chinchilla and maintaining their continued well-being. Everyone’s cleaning schedule varies depending on their own routines and lifestyle, but I want to share my daily cleaning routine with you. This is also a great post to help new or potential owners understand chinchilla basics a little better in order to best plan for chinchilla ownership.

Koko smiling joy joyous

It’s important to touch on why cleaning is important. It may seem self-explanatory, and it is, but it’s always good to revisit the “why”s of it all. Not only is good hygiene attributed to a higher quality of life, but cleanliness can often prevent illness and infection, leading to better health and perhaps even a longer lifespan for your chinchilla.

To start, I have tried different cleaning routines and techniques, depending on the cage structures and how busy my life gets. Luckily, I work remotely and am able to spend a great deal of time around my chins, which has allowed me to streamline the techniques I use to care for them. Once your chinchilla routines have been developed and well-practiced, you can be confident of your ability to do your job as a chin-parent regardless of the type of day you have. Not everything will work right away, and sometimes you’ll need to step back and reevaluate your ratio of energy input to cleanliness output, but that’s all part of being a parent and doing the work it takes to make your life easier, minimizing effort and maximizing reward.

Muff sleepy ish

My chinchillas are the sleepiest from 11 AM to 3 PM, making that window of time the best for cleaning. My first step is to assess the damage and complain with a seasoned acceptance of reality. I’ll remove all loose chew toys and cuddle buddies to make sure they are safe from the cleaning process. Then, I’ll use my paws to gather and discard all loose hay that has fallen on their cage floor, as pieces of hay aren’t part of my vacuum hose’s vocabulary. The last in-cage step is to vacuum out all poop to the skeptical pirate eye of a half-sleeping chinchilla. I use a bagless upright vacuum with a stretchable hose, although shop vacs work just as well. I advise against handheld vacs, as I’ve yet to find one able to adequately accomplish even one session of light cage cleaning. Finally, I’ll sweep up the floor around the cage, collecting fallen poop and hay. This also a great time to replace litter box bedding or refresh hay and pellet supplies. For all four cages, this process takes roughly 45-60 minutes a day. While it seems like a lengthy process, it’s much more preferable to me than allowing a larger mess to accumulate, both due to my unwillingness of having to tackle a larger mess and because I truly believe this daily cleaning routine is a chore of parental responsibility that I owe to my chins (although I do dream of them one day being able to clean their own spaces. And talk to me. And fully comprehend a chin-mama’s struggle).

Mitty Dirty Messy Cage

Before Cleaning: The Daily Mess

Mitty Clean Cage

After Cleaning: The Restoration

If I’m not able to make this time bracket, I’ll schedule in cleaning at a time that’s more convenient for that day. I have a smaller cage space with a running wheel that the chins use for exercise sessions, time outs, or these types of cleaning sessions. It’s a brief 10-15 minutes in which they can enjoy (or abhor) the smells of the other chins that have occupied the cage before them, burrow under an excess of bedding, or go for a jog. I also keep a water bottle and bowl of pellets adhered to the cage, just in case someone wants a quick bite or sip.

Ladies running wheel cage

On a weekly or bi-weekly timeline (depending on which chins are litter trained), I’ll wash out their fleece liners with hot water and vinegar. I hand wash and air dry, as I don’t have my own laundry unit (this is New York City, after all) and I’d rather be hands-on with the chinchilla maintenance process. During this time, I also clean the steel pan foundation of each cage with a water, vinegar, and lemon mixture (50% water, 40% vinegar, and a splash of lemon). Lemon and citrus on their own are harmful to chinchillas, but the acidity in lemon juice can be great for getting out the grime – it’s necessary to thoroughly rinse and dry all items that use this mixture, rendering the mixture chinchilla-safe. It’s important to maintain all cage items, including fleece, pans, platforms, ledges, and accessories – it’s the surest way to get the most value out of your cage investments!

ladies cage

It’s my theory that the time spent with my chinchillas is never enough, and that bonding practices are forever tasks and never a lost energy. As a chin-parent, your work is never done! Don’t get overwhelmed or discouraged; this is all part of the beautiful journey of chin ownership. Cleaning is a really amazing time to check your bond with your chinchillas, building trust and allowing your chins to familiarize with your presence. This ritual can also be critical to build a baseline level of interaction; over time, you’ll become familiarized with daily behaviors and potential aberrations that require further observation or attention. Eventually, you’ll even bring comfort to them with your shared routine. You’d think that a screeching vacuum and clanking human would illicit a greater reaction than a slight eye peep, but all my chinchillas are so comfortable with our daily routine that they are happy to slumber luxuriously on despite their maid’s – err, I mean mom’s struggle. 🙂

Muff Skeptical Pirate