Posts tagged ownership
Happy February!

For the month of January, eleven (11) chinchillas were surrendered and seven (7) chinchillas were adopted. As usual, we had bunches and bunches of chins visiting for the holidays while their two-footed pets went on vacation. During this time we actually received multiple requests for matchmaking to enlarge the already happy families. New chin owners quickly discover whether or not a chinchilla is the right pet for them. Some people end up expanding their herd, while others decide to bow out and re-surrender their new pets. It’s sad, but a true fact of rescue work.

We all carry preconceived ideas about how life will be with a pet chinchilla. Someone who has owned one before assumes all chins act like their first pet. Someone who has never owned a chin may mistakenly think they are all cuddly, warm balls of delight. Chins each come with their own, individual personality and temperament, but chinchillas all share some very basic qualities. They are prey animals, so are prone to a flight (run away) response. Sensitive individuals may take this behavior personally.  Please know that a chin who runs away from you is not rejecting you. They’re just doing what is natural. Some chinchillas are born with a more inquisitive nature. Those make the best pets. A chinnie who eagerly comes forward for a treat, scratch on the head, or out for playtime is a joy to have. 

Another part of the joy of owning a new pet is in personalizing your relationship. Adoptive chinchilla owners often ask, “Is it ok if I change my chinchilla’s name?” For the most part, chinchillas do not respond to the sound of their name. (We have a couple of chinchillas here who would beg to differ.) In general though, your pet chinchilla is most likely to respond to certain tone of voice or to the sound of the treat bag opening!

Some chinchillas seem to absolutely bloom in the care of one person as compared to another and it doesn’t always have to do with quality of care. Remember your grade school experiments where you were instructed to provide the exact same water levels, light, food, etc. for a plant, but were instructed to sing to, love on and think happy thoughts towards one plant, and ignore the other? The atmosphere in which a pet chinchilla lives can also affect their temperament and health.

When you adopt a chinchilla, it’s the beginning of a whole new relationship. If changing the chinnie’s name helps to solidify that relationship, then we give it a thumbs up. And if your chinnie comes when called, you know you have a winner.

Happy August!

This summer is just flying by! Already it's more than half past the beginning of the month and my update is very, very late. :s

Anywho....for the month of July, nine (9) chinchillas were surrendered and eight (8) chinchillas were adopted.

We had one situation where the surrendering family was obviously distraught about the decision to give up their chinchillas. After a heart to heart chat, we discovered the root cause was one more of guilt than anything else. Guilt over not spending the "time and attention they deserve". The raw truth of the matter is, if a chinchilla has a cage buddy with whom to snuggle, plenty of food, water, appropriate shelter and a clean cage then spending one on one time with them is icing on the cake. Yes, interacting with your pet will serve to enrich theirs and your life, but life is not always absolutely stable.

Even our human friendships suffer when going through a major (or minor) life change. Just because we have little time for our human friends does not mean we ditch them altogether. A good friendship will resume where left off. This is very similar with our relationships with our pets. Unless yours is a situation where there is abuse or damaging neglect, please do not fall victim to the mentality that you are somehow not a good chinchilla owner if you can't play with them every day.

This guilt inflicting mindset has been circulating around the forums for years now and has caused more damage than good. The results are people who come to resent their pets rather than cherish them. While I do agree that having a pet means having a relationship, the guilt involved in spending time with them is counterproductive. Chinchillas do not absolutely positively have to have a specified amount of out of cage time each day. It is ideal, but not a diehard rule. Unless your chin is caged in a shoe box, they should have enough space and environmental stimulation provided in their habitat (cage) to keep them secure and content.

We received a promising email from the people with the change of heart. The following message sent me sailing happily through this post:

Hello again! :)

First, I want to thank you again for changing my mind about surrendering my little ones: now that we are settled into the new house, my schedule really has allowed more time to spend with them and they seem much, much happier. They transitioned very well through the move, and even seem much more relaxed than before. The new cage setup has been fabulous, and I'm looking forward to being able to open the two levels now that I work with an exotics vet who is willing to neuter Cashew. They have LOVED the new diet and all of the different treats they've gotten to play with, but now I am almost out! That must mean it's time for an order! ;)

So it looks like a happy ending, or a new beginning for all.

Happy February!

For the month of January, eleven (11) chinchillas were surrendered and zero (0) chinchillas were adopted. Ouch! We cannot recall ever having a month of no adoptions. It's not entirely surprising though considering Christmas just passed and everyone is financially wiped out after the post-holiday spending frenzy.

We've gone ahead and reached out to the local pet magazine with an article proposal about owning chinchillas. We hope this will spark some interest, dispel some misconceptions, and get people thinking about adopting again. Here is our first draft. 

Exotic Pets: Is a Chinchilla Right For You?

Fluffy, cute, bouncy bundles of awwwww.  Who could resist the adorableness of a pet chinchilla? There are many things to consider when deciding if a chinchilla is a good match for you and your family. Handling, feeding, and other care requirements are chinchilla-specific and not necessarily rodent-general.

Handling a chinchilla requires some finesse. In general, a chinchilla is a hyperactive pet, not prone to cuddles. Their rib structure is especially delicate, so handling a chinchilla is more like allowing them to perch safely on a forearm rather than holding them close and tight. The best way to interact with a chinchilla is to allow them to use you as a playground, not force them into submission of snuggles. 

As much as a chinchilla looks like a rabbit, the dietary requirements are radically different. A chinchilla’s natural habitat is the Andes Mountains in South America, which is a high desert biome. A desert biome is not necessarily hot, but it is dry. This strictly limited moisture means the vegetation that grows there is naturally bland, not lush. Therefore, a chinchilla’s diet should be high in fiber, low in protein with no fats and very little natural sugars. High quality pellets offer a simple, easy method of feeding, but are considered a “soft” food. Soft foods provide calories, vitamins and minerals, but do not offer proper wear for a chinchilla’s ever-growing teeth.

Offering fresh vegetables and fruits can kill a chinchilla quickly, as these high-moisture foods cause a gassy buildup known as bloat. Since chinchillas cannot pass gas, this buildup of pressure will literally cause the intestines to explode. Even offering vegetables in moderation is a very dangerous practice.

In actuality, dried hays like timothy, orchard and alfalfa are the ideal food for chinchillas. Hays and dried grasses offer these hindgut fermenters the fiber necessary for proper digestion, as well as exercise for their teeth and jaws. Because a chinchilla’s teeth keep growing, they need ultra high fiber foods and chew toys to keep them properly worn and trim. With this in mind, chew toys are necessities, not luxury items. 

When contemplating a chinchilla’s habitat (cage) it is important to consider the size, shape and accessories. A proper cage setup should be quite large. The minimum cage size required for a pet chinchilla is 2’x2’x2’ or 8 cubic feet per animal. In their native habitat, chinchillas live in herds. For the benefit of the animal, it is best to keep them in same-gender groups. Single gender groupings discourage breeding and mating fights.  Since a male chinchilla can smell a female in heat up to a mile away, it is ideal to keep just one gender of chinchilla in a home. Littermates usually make the best companions.

Chinchillas live more like mountain goats than ground animals, so a cage taller than its footprint with plenty of staggered ledges is most natural. This allows the chinchilla to choose a safe height from which to survey their environment. Cage ledges should be made of kiln-dried pine. Wooden ledges double as a platform and a safe chewing alternative. Plastic or metal ledges, shelves and ramps run the risk of an intestinal impaction or tooth break. Wire bottom cages or platforms also pose a risk of bumblefoot (ulcerative pododermatitis) or leg fracture.

Another housing consideration; is your home equipped with air conditioning? Chinchillas cannot stand temperatures above 75 degrees Fahrenheit. If they are actively playing, even 75 degrees is dangerously hot. Chinchillas overheat quickly which can cause permanent brain damage or death. Young chinchillas cannot regulate their body temperature as well as an adult and are especially sensitive to heating and over exhaustion.

Does anyone in your home have allergies to dust or pollen? Chinchillas are NOT hypoallergenic pets! One of the top five reasons why we receive chinchilla surrenders is due to allergies of their owners, or someone else living in the home. Chinchillas keep clean by rolling in special volcanic dusty sand. This material is highly irritating to those prone to respiratory and skin issues. Additionally, chinchillas require loose hays, grasses, herbs and other foods that tend to harbor a variety of pollens. Their bedding, if not cleaned at least weekly, is a breeding ground for bacteria and molds. 

The last two care requirements are perhaps the most important; can you provide the funding for emergency vet care, and is your temperament compatible with a chinchilla’s? Chinchillas are highly sensitive animals. Being an exotic pet brings with it exorbitant vet costs. The average cost of a vet visit ranges from $75 for a wellness check, up to several thousand dollars for a leg amputation or casting, tooth trim with x-rays, or other emergency such as surgery to remove an intestinal impaction, spay for a retained placenta or dead kit, or intervention for a rectal or uterine prolapse.

The personality of the potential owner is a very big indicator of whether a chinchilla is a good choice of pet. Are you responsible? Can you keep a commitment? Are your feelings easily hurt? Do you have the dexterity to catch and handle an energetic pet? Do you have the patience to work with an animal that is typically not one that enjoys handling? Have you considered that the life span of a chinchilla is up to 20 years? Can you accommodate the needs of a live animal long term?

Chinchillas can make the most amazing pets, but they are not ideal for everyone. Pet chinchillas are at the mercy of their owners to provide them with adequate handling, nutrition, housing and attention. If you feel you are a good candidate as a chin parent, we would love to help answer your questions and match you up with the perfect new pal. This is Whimsy, and I approve this message. ;)

About the author: Amie Leigh V. (AKA Whimsy) is a single mother of four children, one of whom has autism. As part of her childrens’ homeschool curriculum they began a home based shelter affiliate and website devoted strictly to chinchillas and their care. Whimsy has owned chinchillas since her teen years and, with a natural love for animals and teaching has become a worldwide resource for chinchilla owners, vet clinics, pet stores and other outreach and education opportunities. Whimsy holds several college degrees in Psychology, Speech/Language Pathology and Special Education with an emphasis in Autism Studies and Behavior Management. She and her children volunteer at Princess Anne High School with the special needs students where together they make chew toys and cage accessories to fund and support the chinchilla rescue. Visit our website at:
...and now, a word about allergies.

Owning chinchillas can be a challenge to those who suffer from allergies and/or asthma.  It is not unusual for a person to develop allergies after having been exposed to a trigger. But just because a person is exhibiting an allergic reaction to their chin, does not necessarily mean the beloved pet has to go. With chinchillas, the majority of allergy triggers stem from the bathing dust, hay or cage bedding. Rarely is it a result of being allergic to the animal itself. 

Whimsy is allergic to all animals, dust, pollen, molds AND has asthma. Therefore, when people contact us to surrender a chin because of allergies we are able to offer firsthand knowledge and options to those who are seeking a solution, rather than an excuse.

Normal chinchilla dust bath is highly irritating, especially for those with respiratory problems.  Our allergy and asthma friendly dust is a lifesaver (literally!) Instead of the microscopically sharp, angular volcanic dust, our bathing dust is made with a mixture of microscopically flat hypoallergenic cosmetic clays and minerals. It’s soft and gentle, and much easier on the lungs.  But please keep in mind, switching dust takes at least 30 days to work its way out of your home and mixing our allergy friendly dust with regular dust is totally worthless.

Timothy hay is a dietary staple for chinchillas, but the heavily pollinated seed heads are also highly irritating. There are easy options to give instead of loose timothy. Orchard grass and other quality, weed-and-seed-free hays are much less likely to trigger an allergic reaction in pet owners. In a pinch, you can provide hay cubes instead of loose hays. 

Sometimes the cage bedding is the culprit. Dusty or dirty bedding is a breeding ground for bacteria, molds and spores. The cage should be cleaned at least once per week. This should include not only emptying the bedding, but wiping down all surfaces with a chin safe cleaner. A water and vinegar solution works well. Some people choose to use a fleece liner instead of dusty loose bedding. Those should be washed at least every 3 days.

There is a workable solution to owning chinchillas and having allergies and/or asthma.  It all depends on how much one is willing to commit to make it happen.

What Kind of Pet Owner are You?

We know all types of pet owners;  

  • Those who purchase a baby animal and get rid of it after the maternal glow is gone.
  • Those who painstakingly research before they add a non-human family member to the home.
  • Those who inherit a pet from another family member or friend.
  • Hardcore pet owner turned animal activist.
  • The infamous collector who dives into snatching up several of the pet Du jour. (We call these the 0-60 in 30 crowd).
  • The "pet is part of the family" group.
  • The “I'm closer to my pet than my human family” group.
  • Quiet and reserved who care for their pets but don’t necessarily shove animal love in your face bunch.

The biggest question of all is: do you consider the needs of the pet before those of your own? Humans are totally autonomous, but the animals depend on us. We give them food, water, shelter, companionship and a clean, stimulating environment… or do we? How much consideration do you give your pet in those areas? We hope that when people seek to adopt a rescue chinchilla, they endeavor to give it the best possible home. Do your motives measure up?