This page outlines some ideas that may help you when caring for your chinchilla and its supplies. These have been discovered over years of chinchilla care experience. If you have ideas that have worked wonders for you, please share them with us!
Vinegar is your best friend Amazingly, you don't need harsh cleaners which can be toxic to your chinchilla (and you!) to keep your chinchilla's cage sparkling clean! Regular household white or apple cider vinegar, preferably with 5% acidity (it will say on the bottle) is absolutely fabulous for "no-scrub" cleaning of your chinchilla's litter tray and galvanized wire cage. A gallon jug can be purchased at the grocery store for about $3.00. A urine-crusted item soaked in straight vinegar will be sparkling clean in just a few minutes without you needing to scrape or scrub. This is especially useful when cleaning the litter tray and the wire flooring of some cages. We recommend rinsing or wiping out litter trays and pouring a little puddle of vinegar on the spots and letting it do its thing! Rinse (you may have to wipe away some of the grime if it's not kept up with on a regular basis), dry and you're done. We recently disassembled all of our wire cages, and soaked all the parts in vinegar (we have litter trays from very large cages to do this in). It took a while, but all of our cages are sparking clean and new looking again. If the vinegar hasn't lost all of its acidity from heavy usage, it can be strained and used again. We strain using a coffee filter inside a kitchen strainer over a bowl. The vinegar is put into an empty vinegar jug labeled "used cleaning vinegar" for later use. You can also dispose of it if you wish, just remember that the vinegar will kill grass/plants, so don't dump it on the lawn!
Rag on a stick Ok, so you've read about our magical cleaning formula above, but are wondering "how do I clean the underside of my wire floor without taking my cage apart?" If the wire is really crusty on the underside, removing it and soaking it in vinegar is really the best option, assuming you have the tool and extra rings to re-attach the flooring to the cage. However, if you have a newer cage, or you've taken it apart for thorough cleaning and want to keep up with it, you can take an old rag and wrap it around a broom handle or some similar stick and fasten it tightly with a rubber band. Dip the end of this rather primitive cleaning item into vinegar and rub on the underside of the wire. The stick will allow you to reach all the way to the far back reaches of the cage without too much strain. Re dip the rag in the vinegar as needed so that the wire is actually getting pretty wet with the vinegar. We recommend wrapping another clean rag around the stick and using plain water for a rinse of sorts to help neutralize the vinegar. You can also use a paper towel, laid on top of the wire for any spots that need cleaning on the top side of the wire. Use a turkey baster (yes, a turkey baster) to carefully squirt vinegar onto the paper towel until it's saturated. It's much easier to do this than to try to get the paper towel wet and then put it in place and you get more vinegar on the towel so that the wire can soak better. If you don't have a turkey baster, or don't want to use your kitchen items for your chins, you can pick up a turkey baster at many dollar stores. Rinse out the baster by filling it with fresh water and giving it a little shake while holding your finger over the end and squirt back out.
Laundering fleece items Fleece items, such as hammocks can be washed right in your washing machine with your own clothing. We recommend using a "red velvety" type lint brush (also available at some dollar stores) to wipe off accumulated fur from the items prior to washing to minimize fur getting all over everything else in that load. We put ours into a mesh lingerie bag (also available at some dollar stores) throughout the wash and dry cycles to help minimize pilling of the fleece. Wash on a normal cycle along with jeans or sweatshirts and toss into the dryer on low heat or line dry.
Bleaching water bottles To maintain a healthy water supply for your chinchilla, we recommend periodically bleaching your chinchilla's water bottle. Simply put a little bleach into a clean bucket with some fresh water. Submerge the spout and fill the bottle about half-way with the bleach water. Put your hand over the water bottle and shake vigorously a few times. If you have a bottle brush, you can give the inside a quick scrub as well. Empty the water from the bottle and repeat. Rinse, rinse and rinse again with fresh water to be sure all remnants of the bleach are rinsed away. Use a cotton swab or a pipe cleaner (chenille stem) to clean inside the spout. Be careful not to push on the balls inside the spout if you have a dripless style bottle as this can make the bottle not operate properly. Rinse the spout under running water and put your finger on the edge of the bottom of the spout and push the ball up so water come continuously through the spout for a thorough rinse. Refill the bottle and return it to the cage. We recommend doing this about every 4 weeks or so. Stagnant water can grow bacteria.
Latex glove saves the day! A simple tool that many people have already can be very useful when cleaning your chinchillas cage. A plain latex glove, the heavier kind, usually sold for dishwashing, not the disposable, can be a big time saver when cleaning the loose hay from a wire floored cage or carpeting. Put on the glove and run your gloved hand over the wire or the carpet. You'll find that the glove helps grab the hay better than your skin does and you'll have a more thorough, more quickly done cleaning job. Do be aware that stiff hay pieces can pierce the glove so swipe the wire or carpet rather carefully to avoid being "stuck" by a piece of hay. Cleaning day hasn't been the same since we discovered this little trick!
Why does my chin pee in its food dish/hay? The short answer to this question is "we don't know". We believe there are a variety of reasons why a chin may do this. What we do know is some possible remedies for the behavior. The first thing to try is the simplest. Try moving where the hay/food dish is. We've found that sometimes the chin wants to establish that area as their "potty area". Simply moving the dish may resolve the issue. We've also found that if you provide food in a large dish, putting it in a much smaller dish, that is more difficult to sit on may take care of the problem. Using a coop cup style dish that hangs on the side of the cage is another possible remedy. If you try this, place the dish where it would be very hard for a chinchilla to sit on the edge, such as under a shelf or near the roof of the cage. Just be sure that the chinchilla can reach the food easily so it can freely eat. Using some kind of dish (or hay container) that prevents them from sitting above the food/hay is also a good option. We have one ceramic dish that came in with a rescue that has a little hood over part of the dish, preventing a chinchilla from sitting on it. (See also: ceramic chinchilla bath suggestion on this page.) Yet another suggestion is to provide a place for the chin TO pee, other than in the food dish, in essence, a litter pan. We've found that using an 11 cup Pyrex storage container (we purchased ours at Wal*Mart) and putting in some litter did the trick. You may want to put a small amount of soiled litter in the litter pan to give the chin the idea. You could also use a large crock dish, or something from your cupboard provided it's not plastic. Be cautious about using a metal pan, because some metals are not good for chins to chew on. The Pyrex is nice because it cleans beautifully and easily with the vinegar suggestion above. Another reason that a chinchilla might pee in its food is if there are other chinchillas nearby. If you have other chinchillas and their cages are near each other, try moving one of the cages so that they are far apart and/or cannot see each other. This is especially typical with female chins, who tend to be more territorial.
Dish digging prevention Dish digging, is very annoying for a chin-parent, as well as expensive! We believe that chinchillas do this much as a child would dig to the bottom of a cereal box...to get the toy surprise! If you're feeding a food that contains "treat" items, and not just a plain pellet, we recommend changing to a high-quality pellet. The reasons are two-fold. First, treats should be given to chins in strict moderation of one raisin-sized piece per day. Commercially available mixes do not limit the treats in this way. Secondly, chins will actually dig to the bottom of their food dish to get the goodies while ignoring the pellets they should be eating. This is not a healthy diet for a chinchilla, and it's expensive for the owner. The food is dug out of the dish, ends up in the litter and is soiled and needs to be tossed out. Switching to a palatable plain pellet, is a good way to try to curb this behavior. It may take a little while for your chin to figure out the treats are not in there anymore and actually stop digging in the dish. We'd be more than happy to give suggestions on food brands upon request, just email us! Another possible way to prevent this if you are already feeding a plain pellet and the chin still dish digs, is to put a smaller amount of pellets into a larger dish. While this sounds odd, it still allows them unlimited access to their food, but makes it harder to dig them out with their hands.
Dust pans are for more than sweeping the floor For a quick way to empty the litter from your cage bottom without making the biggest mess in the world, try using a dust pan to scoop it up. We have a dust pan that has the single purpose of cage cleaning. Combined with a 5-gallon bucket to dump the dust pan into, cage cleaning day goes pretty quickly. It allows you to be pretty thorough when emptying the litter from the cage, without ending up dumping a whole cage full of litter on the carpet!
Inexpensive kitchen strainer for bath dust Just about everything these days is expensive, litter, food, hay, even DUST! Extend the life of your chinchillas bath dust by using a small inexpensive kitchen strainer to sift the droppings out of your chinchilla's bath dust. We got ours, you guessed it, at the dollar store! We use the plastic dust houses to bathe our chins, and this little strainer fits right into the opening so the dust can be sifted right inside the house with little mess. Shaking the dust house side to side will bring the droppings to the top of the dust where you can grab them with the strainer. We have our trusty 5 gallon bucket (dedicated to chin waste/cage cleaning) nearby to dump the droppings into. This will also remove some fur from the dust as well. Then just add a little fresh dust to freshen it up and top it off and you're good to go. If your chin has urinated in the bath (it will look like clumped kitty litter), you'll want to dump it out and wash the container and put fresh dust in (make sure the container is fully dry before refilling).
Ceramic chinchilla bath container makes a great hay feeder The ceramic dust bath container shaped like a chinchilla, we feel is WAY too small for a dust bath because chins cannot roll around in it. However, the container does make a superb hay feeder! They can't get in it when it's stuffed with hay, so they can't pee in the hay, and the hay is well contained, but freely accessible and you can stuff a lot of hay inside so it's appropriate for a single chin or a pair. As with any heavy object, we recommend this sit on the lowest level of your chinchilla's cage to avoid it falling off a shelf and injuring your chinchilla.
Catching a loose chinchilla This is a "when it happens" issue, not an "if it happens". At some time in every chin-parent's life, their chin gets loose and they need to catch him or her. You never want to chase your chinchilla because it will stress him or her out. You also don't want to grab at him or her haphazardly, for fear of injuring the chinchilla. Ok, so what do you do? You can't leave the chinchilla running loose! Go get your dust bath container and set it on the floor near the chinchilla. There are very few chinchillas that can resist their dust bath when it's offered. Step away from the bath container and wait for the chinchilla to hop in. Once he/she does, quietly step over to the container and loosely put your hand over the opening and pick it up for transport back to the cage. Hold the container opening side to the open door of the cage and allow your chin to jump out into the cage, or place the bath completely into the cage and remove it once the chin has finished with the bath. This is the safest and probably the quickest way to catch a loose chinchilla.