water bottle

Should I Get Another Chinchilla?

This question comes up all the time from chinchilla owners, as it rightfully and naturally would. Should I get another chinchilla for my existing chinchilla(s)? Is my chinchilla lonely? Does my chinchilla deserve a playmate? Cage mate? Best friend?

The answer, unequivocally, is no. Well, it’s no and yes. Let me explain!CuddlesIf you are a current chinchilla owner, you know that chinchillas are unique animals that are a true gift to the world! They have one-of-a-kind personalities with their own cute idiosyncrasies, adorable quirks, and delightful oddities that are distinct to each individual pet. This allows us to come to a few conclusions: 1. Chinchillas are particular, 2. Chinchillas are individualistic, and 3. Chinchilla behavior can sometimes be categorized as inexplicable. These reasonable conclusions – along with the fact that chins can be territorial – show us that the odds of one chinchilla getting along with another chinchilla is slim (depending on your chinchilla’s personality, of course).Mitty smilesThis is not to say that chinchillas can’t be properly introduced over time and come to be great mates – it’s only to say that your chinchilla does not need another chinchilla to live a long, happy life. This is a main point to consider. In my personal experience, every single one of my chinchillas (with the exception of the mosaic sisters Lulu and Fifi) live alone in their own cage and are living a healthy, satisfying existence. Do I wish they got along? Of COURSE! Did I try to bond them within reason? Definitely! Do I still have dreams? Forever and always. It’s my dream for all my babies to cuddle up and coo at me. However, it’s only a dream – that’s my reality, and that’s okay.Koko Cuteness BellyThe only reason you should get another chinchilla is because YOU – as a responsible, capable owner – want to take on the duty of another precious life in your home. That means double the mess, double the work, double the expense, double the personality, and double the adorable joy that comes from each and every chinchilla. Be aware that your decision will impact YOUR life, your existing chinchilla’s life, and your new chinchilla’s life as well. The main focus should be the well-being of your pets, despite their ability to cohabitate.Mitty sleepingSo, let’s say you’re ready to take the next step: another fluffy baby in the household! Great: congratulations for coming to this decision based solely on your willfulness to take on another chinchilla, understanding the great probability that he or she may not be able to live amicably with your current chinchilla. Bravo! What’s next? Firstly, if you have intentions to house your chinchillas together, you must purchase a chinchilla of the same sex (unless one of them has been fixed). Then, be sure to purchase all the necessities your FIRST chinchilla required: new cage, water bottles, shelves, hammocks, accessories, food bowls, and fleece! Do not pick up another chinchilla without first getting all the essentials that he or she may need. Never assume you can just plop him or her in with your existing fluffball – that could have devastating consequences for either or both babies. It’s also good to brush up on the basics for each new chinchilla, as no two are alike.sistersThen, you can introduce your chinchillas slowly to one another, placing their cages near one another to allow them to get accustomed to new smells and the new presence. I won’t go into the controversial topic of talking about how exactly to introduce your chinchillas, as there are plenty of suggestions out there and very strongly opinionated owners. The safest way that I have found is to place them in proximity to one another with a barrier and allow them to react to one another without having to fear for their safety. Based on their reactions initially and over time, you can safely determine how they might react with one another. In my experience, my boys got along until the ladies arrived, and the ladies never got along with one another (aside from the sisters, of course). I would never consider housing the males and females together because none of them are fixed, and I don’t have the capability to take care of any kits with my very full-time job if anything were to go wrong with the birth. I can’t stomach the idea of losing any of my existing babies, even to their babies.

What I’ve learned is that my chinchillas are generally solitary animals, and I am their best human friend. I clean, scratch, and provide emotional support to them (oft via song), and they have shown me time and time again that they don’t need – and never needed – another chinchilla friend for them to live a loved, loving life. No, your chinchilla is not lonely or lacking. Are they bored sometimes? Maybe. But that’s what stimulating cages, safe chews, and occasional treats or playtimes are for! You can provide a beautiful, fulfilling life for your chinchilla – never doubt that. They do deserve a great mate, and I’m certain they can find that in you.scratches

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Chinchillas and Babysitters

As a chinchilla owner, sometimes the world beckons you away from the life of a stay-at-home chin-slave guardian. When the sweet oceanside breeze or faded sirens of some delightful foreign city tug at your heartstrings, you begin to remember what life was like before owning a chinchilla.

mitty love pillow chinchilla

All the feeding, cleaning, dusting, weighing, and constant bonding efforts can get overwhelming at times – not to mention the cage building, cage purchasing, DIY cage accents and hanging toys, cookie making, perpetual safeguarding against plastic, hefty air conditioning/dehumidifier bills, and constant provision of chin-safe chews, occasional chin-proofed playtimes, and continual supply of soft entertainment. And if you think that’s a handful, it’s just the start! For very loving chin-owners, chinchilla ownership is a way of life and chinchilla care and parenthood is just as much a part of your daily routine as work, friends, or school! They’re family! Honestly, caring for a chinchilla properly is time, energy, and money-consuming, but that smug smile on their fat, furry faces is worth every ounce of trouble! For new or potential owners, just go ahead and skip to our post all about chinchilla care basics to gather a light gist of what your fluffy workflow will be like.

Ko Tutu

So, back to that wanderlust dreamscape: island sunrise, countryside mountaintop, or city retreat. Maybe you’re thinking of leaving for a weekend, or flying off for a few weeks – after all, you’re a hardworking chin-parent, you deserve it! What’s the best course of action when you can’t take your babies with you? Let’s chat about chin-sitters! Inevitably, at some point in your chin’s very long and happy life with you, you will likely have to leave your beloveds in the care of a third party. This post is all about how to select and direct the perfect chinchilla sitter, and make sure your fluffs are well-cared for in your bittersweet absence.

lulu chinchilla hat

Step 1: Find your potential sitter. I’m lucky: I have an incredible family that lives close and are well-versed with my chinchilla obsession – they’ve endured endless lectures from me on chinchilla health and safety. Ideally, a family member or very close friend would be the best choice – someone who lives nearby, so you always have a reachable emergency contact. It’s best to find a sitter well in advance, as it’s all about availability and suitability.

Koko and Ellen

Step 2: Provide all necessary information to your sitter. I make a very thorough document touching on all major points, as well as directing them to this blog to find additional information. Of course, they can contact me at anytime through any social media platform, phone, or email in order to obtain additional information. Adding in the number of your exotic vet is always a great move, too. I always try to drive home the idea that this incredibly important document will be their chinchilla bible for the duration of their stay. Instructions should typically be much more conservative than the way you care for your chins, taking into account the differentiation in familiarity and knowledge of your particular chinnies.

Chin Care

Step 3: Test your potential sitter. After allowing sitters to review information, I’ll invite them over each day for several days in order to test their ability to handle, feed, dust, and care for the chins. I typically skip imposing the daily weighing routine while I’m away, as it is more involved than the other care elements and requires a deeper understanding of each chinchilla in order to successfully weigh them. I’ll always ask a few questions as I watch them work, including a few “what if” situations for good measure.

I was asked recently about why my playtime rules are so conservative. To elaborate, I’m all about playing it safe with my babies – especially given new circumstances, people, or events. Too many things can go wrong if your sitter isn’t completely trained for playtime, so I err on the side of caution. Every chinchilla is unique, and some are crazier than others (cough, Muff!); each new variable equates to a slew of new, potentially harmful results. Playtime is, in general, optional based on the opinion of each chinchilla owner. Additionally, playtime is not crucial in any means to a chin’s general health, so skipping a few sessions couldn’t possibly hurt them. On the other hand, overheating, fur slip, stress, or injury could. The most nightmarish situation I could think up would be a chinchilla injury occurring while I’m not home with no concrete proof of how, why, or when. I’d personally wait until I was home to conduct any playtimes, but everyone is different! Who knows, you could know a true chinchilla guru – but that would still be a risk you’d have to be willing to take as a responsible pet owner.

Muff Windowsill

Step 4: Buy a webcam! This is a great piece of technology that every chinchilla owner should buy, as it captures what your chin-sitter may neglect. I position the cam between the cages and angle the cages so I can see everything: water bottles, hay feeders, pellet bowls, and so on. Additionally, I’ll always position my thermometer close enough to the webcam in order to monitor their environment from afar. I have a webcam that’s easy to check via phone and even allows me to coo or sing to them from another zip code!

Fifi Super Cute

Step 5: Check in with your sitter every day. Text, call, or email! A short catch-up on your chin’s day is always in order. Of course, you can also inquire about how your sitter is doing! 😛

Step 6: Pay your sitter (with friendship, or money). Payment for quality service is always a gesture of goodwill. 🙂 Unless we’re talking family – in that case, put it on the communal tab.

muff light chinchilla cutie

Step 7: Keep in contact and repeat as needed! As the sourcing part of this process can be quite intense, it’s best to maintain great relations with your chin-sitter and keep in touch, as you never know when your travel bug will catch up with you again.

lulu chinchilla city

There you have it; the 7 steps to take when selecting and utilizing a chinchilla babysitter. Of course, use your sitters as sparingly as possible: chin-sitting is time and energy consuming, and only you know your chins best! 🙂 As with all exotic pets with specific needs, chinchillas require very willing and knowledgeable sitters, but most pet lovers can be trained with adequate time and accurate information over time. Happy travels, chin-lovers – and make sure your lovely fluffs are safe at home for when you return!

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

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

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!

 

How To: Build a Custom Chinchilla Cage

This week’s post will be all about how to build your own custom chinchilla cage! Since last week’s post, I’ve had many inquiries asking how I built my own cage and the step-by-step process involved. So let’s get to it!

There are a few things to remember prior to making this decision:

  1. Building your own cage is NOT less expensive than buying a quality pre-made cage. In fact, it often runs more expensive in terms of items needed and time spent designing and creating the cage. Our cage cost roughly $600 to construct, and that’s an ongoing number as we continue to modify and improve it.
  2. Knowing your chinchillas well or caring to know about them well is critical to building a successful cage (although there will be many things you’ll learn about them as they discover new spaces). The whole purpose of custom building is to allow your chins exactly what they want and prefer out of a home, so it’s best to keep that in mind when making it the first time around.
  3. This process is extremely time and energy consuming, so it’s best to team up with someone that has some patience and strength! We built our cage in a single day, but we also were incredibly motivated at the time.

Step 1: Gather tools!

For the foundation:

  • Wardrobe unit or sheets of kiln-dried pine, fitting for your space and preference
    • Minimum unit size per chin should ideally be a 3 foot cube; when constructing your own cage it’s beneficial to offer them as much space as possible. Our single units are approximately 4 feet x 3 feet x 2 feet. We would love to give them each a much larger home, but we do live in NYC and have four full units for five chinchillas.
  • Jigsaw, chop saw, or skill saw
  • Hole saw, 4” diameter or larger
  • Drill with self-tapping screws, from ½” to 2” long
  • Drill bits of various sizes, from 1/8” to ½”

For the screen:

  • Mesh wire, ¼” or ½”
  • Wire cutters
  • Carpet trim, metal or wood

For the inside:

  • Kiln-dried pine for constructing ledges and platforms
  • Tubes
  • Hammocks
  • Food Bowls and Hay Racks
  • Dust houses
  • Chinchilla-specific huts, toys, and wheels
  • Granite or marble slabs

For the lighting (if you should choose to include):

  • Light fixture
  • Extension cords
  • Staple gun with ½” long staples

Accessories:

  • Lock
  • Bungee Cords
  • Thermometer
  • Water bottles

Step 2: Construct & Deconstruct the Foundation

This would be a lovely time to create a design for your chinchillas. Depending on how many single units you want to fit in your chinchilla complex, you’re going to have to make some decisions. Who goes where, what they love, who wants to jump, who likes to be lazy, etc. If all your chinchillas are amicable, I’d suggest creating something that could potentially be sectioned off into different levels later on, should any disharmony come into the group.

It’s important to note that most wardrobes purchased at most stores are wood veneer covered chipboard. It’s not ideal – the most ideal wood to use would be kiln-dried untreated pine. However, in my experience, my chinchillas will chew platforms and ledges prior to their cage frames.

So, take a look at the wardrobe you’ve selected. It’s time to mentally construct and deconstruct this guy! You’ll need to keep the frame but remove as much of the walls as possible in order to ensure maximal wire mesh coverage. This is so that your chins have a breezy complex that allows the passage of air through their living space at all times. It’s important for chins to have fresh food, water, and circulating airflow. I try to keep it all very zen and health-conscious in that way. In order to accomplish this, there will need be a sturdy frame and pillar or sections to keep the cage sturdy.

You’ll need to decide the overall structure of the frame prior to assembling or disassembling. It’s best to start out with drawings or sketches, and change as needed if you hit certain roadblocks. Once you’ve made up your mind, you can cut out the front walls, construct the cage and begin to remove certain elements.

The first physical step will be to cut out the front of the cage. The front walls are typically doors, so you’ll need to use a saw and remove the meat of the doors, leaving a frame which will be fitted with wire mesh. The best way to secure mesh is to start tightly from one corner and work your way out, securing with screws as you go in both directions.

Then, you’ll need to construct the frame of the cage, leaving out the back panel. Typically, it will be the back walls that will go completely and the shelving that will stay in some way. You can remove the entire back before it has even been affixed and fit it with mesh instead.

The side walls and ceiling, after the frame is constructed, can contain many unique window cutouts that can be fitted with wire mesh or plexi from the outside. All wire mesh should be affixed from the outside, so that your chinchillas will not have access to biting the sharp edges (which can’t help but stay sharp unless you weld it in some way). Same with plexi, as eating plastic is never chin-healthy. Luckily, some of my chins have an aversion to eating plastics, so based on my personal experience with them, I allow some to have plexi platforms.

As your cage comes together, you’ll notice that the wire mesh is quite unsightly. To solve this, you can purchase lengths of carpet trim in either metal or wood, whatever fits with your theme best. This will serve to cover the edges of the wire mesh, also helping to secure them neatly.

So, at this point, your cage should be fully structurally sound and fully formed. It’s all about moving on to the inside of the cage and personalizing for your little babies.

Step 3: Interior Design

Platforms first! Getting the larger basics down will help section off your space and make for safe, fun levels. I suggest keeping platforms 6-8” apart height-wise just for safety. Any higher, and a fall could potentially hurt your chin. Also, platforms should be around 4-5” wide. Platforms can be secured from one side to the other, or just act as a large ledge protruding from the left, back, or right of the cage.

Don’t forget ledges! Fun rounded shapes for corners, sides, and all around. Sizes can vary, from 3″ upward. We started with cutting a plethora of ledges or preparing appropriate chin-safe wood branches and then went around, screwing them in with hardware from the outside.

Personally, I never worry about ledges or platforms getting dirty or worn down. Kiln-dried pine is relatively inexpensive and easy to replace when you have a custom-built cage, so the chins are encouraged to destroy and munch as much as their little hearts desire.

Great things to incorporate into your cage are bedding pans! I’d suggest powder-coated metal with a drawer mechanism, although for now we are using Vitakraft ECO bedding and creating little litter corners for the kids. It works for us for now; we have had a tough time finding custom pans for the kids, so we’ll wait until we’re ready to create custom metal pans.

For our cage, we went with aluminum tubes – my chins don’t even show the slightest interest in chewing metals (although if yours do, this is not a safe option). They’re very sturdy and a year in, they look as new as the day we got them. There are many different sizes and shapes for chins who love to cuddle or just relax on their own. I know many people use fleece-covered PVC or cardboard tubes; that’s a great addition too.

Fun additions are little chin-holes for traveling between units! This works great for chins who want a little space from a friend, or some time to reflect on which unit is their favorite. We did this for our kids early on; when they became inharmonious together, we simply closed off the adjoining holes and brought back some peace to the family.

As far as food provisions go, we use PVC tube coverings (they look like little bowls) with a screw through the bottom, which then connects to a drilled hole at the bottom of their cage. The bowls are easy to remove and stand-alone, which is pretty cool. Everyone except Muff gets this PVC, because they know not to chew plastic. Muff, on the other paw, has a glass bowl for his food. We still use physical glass bowls for hay, because our chins don’t have any respect for hay racks.

We also screwed down a few slivers of pine to affix granite slabs in their place, so they can freely be placed on a platform without a worry of being shifted. We have never had a problem with our chins and screws, because we use a countersink method (which means the screw falls flush or deeper than the wood).

Hammocks, huts, wheels, and toys are final additions for the kids. Some use these items more than others; it’s a great chance to personalize each area for each chinchilla. I personally don’t let them have individual dust houses, but that’s only because their cage is in our living space (so it would be wildly messy – even more-so than the crazy cleaning schedule we have now) and I also enjoy handling and bonding with them each and every day when they receive their dust baths. It’s a nice daily ritual we have, and it works for us.

Step 4: Lighting and Accessories

We’ve tried a few different lighting techniques for the cage. It’s easy to lose the kids in a dark background (especially if your chin’s fur is dark as well), so lighting is a great option if done safely. We always use low power LED lights that don’t generate any actual level of noticeable heat, fixed to areas that the chins can’t reach – such as the cage ceiling or on the outside, near but not on a window. The lights we have now have a switch for easy on/off. We use extension cords to power the lights and used a staple gun to adhere the wires flush to the outside of the cage, creating a clean look. We always unplug the light if we aren’t using it, or are out of town for a day or two.

Finally, we have bungee cords at the top and bottom and a lock in the middle! The bungees are to keep the cage doors flush and quiet when they wall jump; the lock is to keep the entire cage secure. Also, there are two glass water bottles adhered to the outside of the back of each cage unit, just in case one water bottle goes wonky. We also placed a thermometer on the cage so we know exactly what the temperature of their environment is, and can adjust accordingly. We never let the room get higher than 75 degrees Fahrenheit.

Step Five: Kick Back and Enjoy!

So, there you have it! The long, arduous, and very rewarding process of building your own custom chinchilla cage! It’s incredibly easy to make changes to your cage once it’s up and running, and your chinchillas will never look back at their old cages. It’s not for everyone, and it’s certainly time, energy, and money consuming, but it’s a really great experience to feel as if you’ve given a part of your creativity and design to your babies. Admittedly, there are many different avenues to feel this way; this is only one!

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We leave you with a sweet video and wish you a wonderful holiday week!