Footloose Furballs

Guinea pigs, as with most animals, need exercise to stay fit and healthy. Having a big area to explore and bullet around in also keeps our furry friends stimulated and entertained, which is equally as important. Opening up your home to your guinea pigs seems an ideal way to cover both.

But how easy is it to make your house safe for the wanderings of small animals on a free-range or semi free-range basis, and what are the benefits of doing so?

Giving your guinea pigs access to a big and varied environment improves their world in an incredible way. Even a large cage or hutch is quite a restrictive space, which is why daily floor time or sessions in an exercise pen are so important. Free roaming brings the obvious increases in opportunities for mental and physical stimulation for them, but let’s not forget there’s plenty in it for us too!

Popcorning and strutting piggers

Seeing them strut around the house as bold as brass, popcorning across the rug and playing piggy trains around the sofas is delightful! They usually become more active, their confidence increases and they seek interaction in a much more liberated way than simply squeaking at you from a cage.

Having guinea pigs follow you round the house pied piper style isn’t unusual, and just you try making a meal without the odd piggy popping in to the kitchen to see if he can help dispose of any unwanted veggies! The extra freedom does of course give them additional powers of manipulation which they will inevitably abuse.

It’s hard to turn down a line of pigs who all come over to where you’re sitting and stand on their back legs begging for food with desperate, hungry faces. Not to mention those who figure out where the veggies come from, and pace the floor by the fridge, chuntering impatiently until some romaine falls down. But seeing your pet active and having fun is what it’s all about – the happier you can make them, the more pleasure they bring you.

Safety

So now to the practical aspects of free-ranging. Firstly, anywhere animals like cats and dogs have access to is ruled out. Same rule applies where small children may be wandering about, or where there are children of an age that still need supervision to ensure they handle animals safely and gently.

All could create situations where the pigs could be unintentionally stressed out, injured or killed. In all these circumstances, a secure pen is better for exercise.

Next, the issue of ‘pig proofing’. Basically anywhere they could crawl in to and get trapped, or where you don’t want them to go must be securely blocked off. Think about your houseplants. Many are poisonous to small animals so these should not only be out of reach, but away from where they could drop leaves on to areas the pigs have access to. Here is a list of some poisonous plants http://www.cavies.com/poisplnt.htm.

You must be careful about leaving large windows and doors open as cats and wild animals could climb in and injure or kill your pet. And then there’s the chewing problem. Every wire they could chew must be placed safely out of reach.

I’ve never had a problem with them chewing furniture but that’s also something worth considering if you have furniture you think of as anything other than a place to park your behind. Incidentally, people who have bar chewing pigs often think free-ranging would be unsuitable or dangerous for them. But many actually find that the destructive chewing behaviour stops once the pig has more space and stimulation. He will still nibble at things as they all do, but now has better things to do than constantly twang on the bars!

As a matter of habit, don’t put anything valuable or important on the floor in reach of their teeth – they have a particular liking for papers and books.

Once you have the basic set up secured, keeping it up and watching where you put your feet quickly becomes second nature.

Litter training

Those who haven’t already tried free-ranging will probably be thinking about toileting matters about now – won’t they just wee everywhere? The good news is that many guinea pigs can be litter trained whether they return to the open cage, or use a litter tray in the room. Most pigs can be encouraged to at least wee in certain areas, while dropping the odd rebellious bean, which is enough for a lot of people. And many can go the whole way. It’s a gentle process and simply involves providing a litter tray (I first used shredded newspaper in a filing tray) or an easy return to the cage for them.

With the litter tray method, just pop some soiled bedding from their cage in it and place it in a corner of the room. This may be enough but if they go elsewhere, just clean up what they do straight away, and place it in the litter tray until they catch on. If they select another regular place to go, simply move the litter tray there. You may find that placing the pig in the litter tray (or back in the cage if you are not using one) from time to time will encourage them to go there too.

There are some pigs who don’t catch on, or just can’t be bothered, and in this case an exercise pen where you can protect the floor is a much better idea as you really don’t want urine soaking in to your floorboards. Something waterproof like a shower curtain, covered with a towel is a good choice.

So give it a go! If it doesn’t work out for you and your pets, then concentrate on having as big a cage for them as you can manage, and giving them as much exercise and stimulation as possible – see www.cavycages.com for how to make a splendidly sized cage or pen your pig will love for very little money!

About the Author

Article written by piggie fanatic Treen of the wonderful www.treenspigs.com website. Check out piccies of piggers as you’ve never seen them before, enter fun competitions and watch Treen’s animated piggies among lots of other brilliant stuff!!

It really is an excellent site for lovers of all small furries, not just piggy lovers…if you are ever having a bad day, log on to www.treenspigs.com and you’ll soon be laughing!

Guide to Gerbils

Although there are many different species of Gerbil or Jirds / Girds in the wild the one most commonly available as pets is the Mongolian Gerbil. This species was first brought into the United Kingdom in the 1930’s and 40’s to be used in laboratory experiments – whilst being bred under these conditions they were tamed and domesticated with the first specimens released to the public as pets in the 1950’s.

In the wild these very sociable animals live in family groups or colonies, in their burrow systems that contain nesting and sleeping chambers, separate food stores and a latrine area. These animals are not only active during part of the night but have periods of activity in the early morning, late afternoon and evening.

Their life span is about 3 years, although many will reach 4, and some even 5 years old. The most common colour for a gerbil is agouti; this name comes from the agouti animal of South America, and is an overall speckled Brown and grey.

This is achieved by each single hair having different colours along its length which when combined produce the final coat colour. Over the years and with selective breeding these colours have been separated out to produce the wide variety of colours that are now available.

Housing

Gerbils are natural diggers, even the young when only 10 days old without yet having their eyes open can be seen wandering around and digging in the deep bedding, which should be used to cover the floor of their home.

For this reason gerbils are best housed in aquariums with a snug-fitting top made from wire mesh over a wooden frame and not cages. This housing should be bought as large as possible; males kept together are less likely to squabble providing they have sufficient space.

As with all rodents, gerbils teeth (incisors) grow continually so it is necessary to give them safe toys and objects to gnaw on which will help to prevent teeth problems from occurring, and any wooden or plastic items placed in the tank will eventually need replacing as they become worn and eventually ignored.

Gerbils are also less likely to use any of the many housing options available, which some hamsters will use, and prefer to make a shallow dip in their bedding (we use Biocatolet cat litter; Carefresh, Ecopetbed or Finacard as bedding – all are dust free and safe).

As for nesting material, this should again be made from a safe material. Shredded paper is ideal, as they will take great pleasure from shredding it down even further before using it. Always avoid the material that looks like cotton wool or J-cloths and never use newspaper, as all of these materials could if accidentally swallowed cause the death of the gerbil.

Gerbils are very active and inquisitive animals, which will not only investigate and gnaw any new items but also try and bury most things that are in their tank. Food dishes are no exception so by sprinkling a little food around the tank, being careful to avoid their toilet area, will let them behave more naturally.

Sexing

When deciding on what gerbils to keep remember they are very social animals and will do much better when kept as a group and not singly, however sometimes this is unavoidable if a partner has died, in which case more attention must be paid to the survivor if it is not to pine away.

Obviously mixed sexes will produce many more gerbils who, after opening their eyes at about 14 days, will be sexually mature at 8 weeks with the females producing between 4 and 7 young after gestating for only 25 days.

Sexing gerbils is quite easy, as with all rodents; the difference between the sexes is in the distance between the genitals and the anus, this distance being greater in the males than in the females. So even if trying to sex gerbils at an early age and are unsure of the exact sex of the animal by comparing two you should at least be able to separate them successfully.

Handling

The correct way to pick up a gerbil, that is not tame enough to come onto your hand, is to hold the animal at the base of its tail, (nearest the body), between thumb and forefinger without pinching it, and then placing it on the palm of your other hand for support. Never leave the animal swinging around or pick it up by any other part of its tail, as long as the animal feels safe it is less likely to wriggle or bite. Never surprise any animal by putting your hand in quickly and immediately trying to pick it up always give the animal time to sniff and smell your hand first.

Apart from the normal food consumption curve, shown by all animals, which sees an increase in food intake up to the time when they reach maturity and then a slow decrease in food consumption, as they grow older, other factors can effect the amount of food any gerbil will eat and, like us, include exercise; active gerbils will require extra food to maintain good condition.

If the conditions are too cold the gerbils will need extra food for energy to keep them warm. Reproductive females will also need extra food just prior to and immediately after giving birth.

Any sick animal will also loose its appetite during the illness and then benefit from an increase in good quality food as they recover. The mental state of an animal can and will adversely effect its eating habits, and depending on how the individual copes with the stress it will either eat absolutely everything that is put in front of it, or in other cases refuse to eat at all.

Diet

Gerbils should have a balanced diet made up from a basic hard food gerbil mix, which can be brought from any pet shop, with this being supplemented with a variety of fresh items which can include; Swede, Tomato, Lettuce, Cheese, Carrots, Dried or Baked Bread, Celery, Grapes, Grass, Apples, Hardboiled Egg, Orange, Dandelion Leaves and Raisins.

When any fresh food is offered make sure it has been washed and dried, that any foods collected from the wild are free from any chemicals, pesticides or fouling by other animals.

The size of the item is relative to the size of the gerbil it is being offered to, lettuce is about 85% water and if fed in large quantities will act as a laxative while hardboiled egg will have the opposite effect. Always remove any uneaten fresh food the same day to prevent it from spoiling in the tank.

All animals are individuals and will have their own tastes and preferences for foods that might not be good for them in large quantities, so it’s up to you to make sure your gerbils get and eat a good and proper balanced diet.

Baby gerbil’s injured paw

In July 2005, myself and my daughter Coral helped foster some silver fawn gerbils – among many other small furries! – from GBH Rescue in Kent.

Within two days of their arrival, lots of squeaking indicated that Mum gerbil had given birth to seven babies. Having never had new born animals before, I was far too frightened to handle these little guys for the first day or so – they looked so fragile.

However, I was assured by Jacky that the Mum would not mind and eventually I took the plunge, handling the babies every day for a few minutes and making sure they were all okay.

Jacky also gave me a crash course on how to sex the gerbils and we eventually established that we had 5 little boys and 2 girls.

Late one night when they were about 10 days old, I was checking them all over and saw that something was not quite right with one of the little boys. Initially I thought something had got stuck to one of its front paws, but on closer examination, it was the limb itself which was the problem. It was very swollen and didn’t look at all nice.

Coral came over the following morning with her camera and took some pictures in order to get some advice as to the problem. On zooming in, it looked as if something had wrapped itself around the limb and was cutting into it. I was mortified and could not understand how anything could have got into the cage which would cause this to occur. That afternoon, off we went to the vets with Mum and all her babes.

Our vet managed to remove the offending article which resembled a thread, but could give us no guarantee whether the little chap would lose the limb or not. Antibiotics were prescribed together with some cream which we were told to apply liberally to the wound in an endeavour to promote healing and minimise any scar tissue.

The baby boy was very good and liked his medicine so much that he would nibble the end of the syringe! Applying the cream was not quite so easy as he was so small and wriggly and invariably the cream ended up not only on his paw but around his nose and all over his body as well.

Days passed, the swelling subsided and although the wound healed, the end of the limb was not bearing his weight and would bend under him at right angles. I was convinced that the end of the limb was totally useless and that he would lose it, but it remained pink and healthy looking, even though the paw itself was not useable.

Five weeks after the birth, the babies were split with the 2 girls remaining with their Mum. The boys became little characters in their own right and as days went on, I realised that the little boy with the poorly paw was getting around just as easily as all the others, the only noticeable difference being the way he held his food.

They were delightful to look after and I continued to handle them all on a daily basis, just holding them in my hand as I took them out of the cage one after the other until all 5 were in my hand where they would all sit quite happily for a few minutes before wanting to be on the move again.

They went off to the new home before Christmas by which time, it was very difficult to find the boy with the damaged paw. He had made a wonderful recovery, his fur had grown over the wound and unless you looked very, very carefully, it was difficult to tell him apart from his brothers. The limb had regained its strength although I suspect that a weakness will always be there. I just hope it will never hinder that little chap in any way.

Article by : Sylvia Meetens

Gerbil Rescue

Back in July 2005, my daughter Coral asked me if I could help with what came to be known as the Cambridge Rescues. A vast quantity of exotics, hamsters of all varieties and gerbils needed to be collected and transported to various rescue centres and subsequently rehomed as far as this was possible.

I agreed to assist and we made our first journey to Bishops Stortford at the end of the month and collected a significant number of dwarf hamsters and gerbils in breeding pairs, some of which had litters already, which we took to GBH Rescue in Beckenham, Kent and placed into the care of Jacky Carter.

Jacky had previously asked Coral if she might like to foster and rehome some animals, to which Coral agreed, thinking at that time she was going to get some Syrian hammies, but no Syrians were collected on that trip.

In one of the containers was a pair of silver fawn gerbils with their litter which were old enough to be split away from the parents. Mum and Dad were also separated, although Mum was already noticeably pregnant again. As Coral did not have sufficient space to foster them at her flat, we arrived back at my house that evening with the pregnant Mum, her 3 daughters and a breeding pair of Roborovski hamsters who had not had babies for the previous 8 weeks.

Within 10 minutes, my lounge had become a mini animal sanctuary. We had no idea what to expect, never having dealt with new born baby animals before.

Two days later and lots of squeaking indicated that Mum had given birth. Having read a few articles on the Internet, I took the plunge and gently investigated the nest to find 7 little pink bodies. I was far too frightened to handle these little guys for the first day or so – they looked so fragile – but I was assured that the Mum would not mind and eventually took the plunge, handling them every day for a few minutes and making sure they were all okay.

Jacky had given us a crash course on how to sex them and we eventually established that we had 5 little boys and 2 girls.

They went off to the new home before Christmas and Coral gets regular updates from their new owner. It seems they are all doing well and still providing lots of amusement with their antics.

Being involved with those babies right from the outset was a wonderful experience – we wouldn’t have missed it for the world. Sadly, one of the older girls that we bought home to foster, died only 24 hours after bringing her home, but her sisters survived well and were also successfully rehomed. The Mum and 2 daughters born at my house are now looked after by my youngest daughter and I gather are almost impossible to tell apart now.

As for the Roborovski hamsters, they had 5 babies about 7 to 10 days after bringing them home and the 2 groups – Mum and 2 daughters and Dad and 3 sons were all rehomed shortly before Christmas 2005.

A happy ending all round.

Article by : Sylvia Meetens

Flystrike

Flystrike is a horrible illness that can cause terrible pain and distress to an animal and can even lead to death. However, there are simple, easy steps you can take to help prevent it.

What it is

Flystrike happens when adult flies lay their eggs in faeces-soiled fur around a rabbit’s or guinea pig’s bottom. Within as little as 8-10 hours the eggs hatch into rapidly-multiplying maggots which feed on the animal by burrowing into its flesh.

This causes extreme pain and distress for the animal and eventually, they will go into shock and die. While flystrike most commonly occurs in rabbits and guinea pigs, debilitated cats and dogs who are unable to groom themselves properly, can be affected too.

Pet hygiene and prevention

It is imperative that you give any pet a daily hygiene check – twice daily during hot and humid weather, when flies are particularly active.

Examine your pet every morning and evening and check that their fur is clean, dry and not matted. If their bottom is not clean, use cotton wool and warm water or fragrance free baby wipes to clean it for them.

In the case of rabbits and guinea pigs, change their bedding daily and ensure the rest of their home is clean and dry. Be particularly vigilant if the pet has ‘loose’ droppings, as they will be more at risk.

To keep the flies away, use a suitable pet-friendly fly repellent available from your vet or pet store, and hang a fly strip close to the hutch. (The safest fly strips to buy are available from equestrian centres – some traditional fly strips or fly killers may be suitable for household use, but can be lethal in close proximity to small pets).

There is also a product called Rearguard that is suitable for rabbits and promises to keep them free from maggot infestation for up to 10 weeks.

Speak to your vet for further help and information on preventative measures.

Finally, if you think your pet may be suffering from flystrike or you can see maggots, treat it as an emergency and get your pet to a vet immediately. Prompt treatment can save your pet from unnecessary suffering and even death.

Guide to Degus

Degus are lovely, entertaining little creatures. However, if you are thinking about getting a couple, then be warned that they are very messy little devils and they need a special diet. While they can be friendly and handable, those that aren’t can give you a nasty bite!

The background to how degus became household pets is from the 1950’s. They were transported to Europe and North America from Chile, where they live from the West Coast to the Andes Mountains.

The primary reason for this transportation was that in the 1950’s, degus were used in laboratories for tests relating to diabetes. This is because degus are naturally diabetic l – they lack the ability to digest sugar in their food. Even the sugars in an apple, can lead to eventual death. See more about their diet in the relevant section.

Never try to catch a degu by his tail. In defence against their natural enemies, degus can loose the end of their tails. The result is a bloody injury, and the end of their tail never grows back again. If left untreated, a degloved tail can get infected.

Degus in captivity often live 10 years or even more. The hair is tweed brown coloured, the tummy has a cream colour and they have lighter circles around the eyes.
They have long whiskers, and their big ears are dominant. The hind legs are shorter than their forelimbs. Each has five hair-covered fingers that degus often nibble on, so their claws do not grow too long.

The teeth of a healthy degu are yellow or orange coloured. White teeth are an indication of a serious disease. Degus’ teeth become orange a couple of weeks after their birth because of the reaction of chlorophyll from green plants with degus’ saliva – this reaction also makes the degus’ saliva orange.

Degus are sociable animals, so it is best to keep at least two animals. Never keep one degu, as it will not be happy and will not live as long as it could have if it had a same sex friend. If kept alone, it could become depressed, and cause it to become aggressive.

Degus are very vocal and have a large spectrum of sounds which includes beeps, whistles and squeaks. Ours tend to squeak at us when it is food time!

Diet

The Degu is herbivorous. In nature, he eats various plants, bulbs, farm crop, leaves and bark from trees and bushes. Try to give them similar food. Don’t give degus any sugar, and very little carbohydrates and fats. If you overfeed these foods to degus, you can cause serious problems to them, which are similar to diabetes.

We feed our degus the following combination of food as advised by our vet: 70% hay (timothy hay is best); 15% hard vegetables – carrots, green beans etc – and cucumber and 15% chinchilla pellets. Now and again we also mix in good quality guinea pig food and uncooked pasta.

Housing

Degus like to climb and have fun. An ideal cage would be a three tier wire cage, like those made by terenziani and used for chinchillas and rats. However, the wire base should be removed (the cage sits in a metal base) to prevent bumblefoot (see below).

As degus do like to make a mess kicking out hay and bits of food, you can use perspex secured to the lower part of the cage to stop you having to clean the area outside their cage every ten minutes!

For suitable bedding, we either use a paper based cat litter such as biocatolet or carefresh supreme or a cardboard bedding such as EcoPetbed or Financard. In our experience, in some cases, woodshavings/sawdust can cause respiratory problems which can kill.

Also add a little hay to cover the floor of the aquarium and some paper for nest material. Clean the housing out about once a week. The more degus who live together, the more often you will have to clean it.

If your cage/aquarium is big enough, leave a dish filled with chinchilla dust in there. Like chinchillas, degus need a daily ‘bath’. If their house isn’t big enough, make sure you place their ‘bath’ in there for at least 10 minutes a day.

Because degus are susceptible to various ailments, do ring around and try to find a vet who has plenty of experience with small rodents and is interested in finding out about Degus even if he/she has not seen one before.

It is worth doing this before you need one in an emergency. Degus seem to be generally robust little rodents but there are certain conditions that you should be aware of.

Health

Diabetes: Degus cannot metabolise sugar; therefore, if they eat too much of it they can become diabetic. The first sign of trouble can be that your Degu gets very fat. They will drink more water than normal and towards the end may become very thin.

Diabetes is always fatal and cannot be treated in small animals. Don’t feed your degu any food that contains sugar. That includes fruit, and raisins. Don’t let your degu get too fat – it is not kind to feed an animal treats until it becomes obese and dies young. If you have a fat degu reduce the amount of pellets and cut out all treats letting the animal eat mainly hay.

Bumblefoot: Having to walk on wire surfaces continually can cause this painful condition. The degu may have difficulty walking and might show pain while on his feet. Remove wire-mesh bottoms from chinchilla cages and try to provide a solid wheel. See you vet for a suitable treatment.

Liver Disease: If Degus are fed too much fat, they will contract liver problems. These can have similar symptoms to Diabetes in that they animal may drink lots of water and get very thin after being quite fat. Don’t feed your degus too much food that is fatty, such as sunflower seeds, peanuts and nuts.

Mouth Disease: Degus are very prone to infections of the mouth. Make sure that the water bottle is kept spotlessly clean.

Inbreeding: Because of the small population of Degus in the country inbreeding inevitably occurs. This can cause many health problems in the babies and should be avoided.

Cataracts: Cataracts in Degus are a genetic condition and the symptoms are greying of the eye and sight problems in older Degus. Degus have whiskers which prevent them from bumping into things and a good sense of smell and so should manage fine.

Eye Infections: We have had a spate of eye injuries with degus in the past, this has been caused by two things, firstly sand baths. (Make sure you clean out your sand bath daily as they will climb in and kick hay, bedding allsorts into the bath.) This can get into the eye while they bathe.

Secondly – their teeth. If your degu has recurring eye problems (such as a white discharge) and your vet has looked inside your degus mouth and his teeth seem fine, an x-ray should be carried out. This way the vet can see if the root of the teeth are growing upwards and causing pressure on the eye socket.

Degus have what is called an open root – if the back teeth aren’t used constantly (by gnawing and grinding on lots of hard foodstuffs and hay) they keep on growing – inside the mouth as well as up towards the eye sockets and down through the jaw (the same as chinchilla and in some cases, guinea pigs).

By giving your degu lots to gnaw on – like timothy hay and hard foods – you are doing your best to keep their teeth healthy – as well as their general health too.

It must be stated here that there is no substitute for good veterinary advice when treating your rodents. If you know of a good specialist in this field please email us with their details.

Coping with the death of your pet

Losing your pet to death is a horrible experience to go through. Nothing can prepare you for it, even if your pet had been ill for a while and you had been expecting it. Sadness, loneliness, despair and even guilt and anger are all natural emotions and how long these feelings last is down to each individual.

It’s not so much about coping with your pet’s death, more about learning to live with it. Commemorate your pet’s life – look at old photographs, buy a small tree and plant it in their memory. Allow yourself time each day to think about them – not when they were old or ill, but when they were in the prime of their life.

If your pet has been cremated and you have his or her ashes, you may find once you have laid them to rest, the grief subsides a little. If your pet died in an accident and the body was never recovered, bury a few of their toys in their favourite position in the garden.

Talk to your friends and family and explain how you feel – don’t feel embarrassed, your pet was a family member.

If there are surviving pets in the household, they too may be grieving. Give them extra reassurance, but don’t alter their routine, as this will distress them even more.

Whether you decide to get another pet straight away or to wait a while is your choice – some people feel guilty for trying to ‘replace’ their pet and others – especially those who were nursing ill or elderly pets – may feel they need a breathing space.

On the other hand, you may find that there is a big void in your life that only a pet could fill, or you may find shifting your attention onto a new pet helps you with your grief. Whatever you do, it’s your decision and you should never let anyone talk you into getting or not getting another pet. (Note: If your pet died of an infectious disease and you want to get a new pet straight away, check with your vet first that it is okay as strains of the infections may still be present in your home).

Finally, look after yourself. Try to eat well and get as much sleep as you can. To many pet owners, losing their pet is like losing a partner and the grief can be overwhelming. Take each day a step at the time and don’t expect to suddenly feel great overnight.

With time, the feelings of sadness and angst will lessen, even if they do not completely go, and you will be able to look back with happy memories at the time you and your pet spent together.

Guide to Chinchillas

Chinchillas are sweet, entertaining and somewhat destructive little creatures, so if you are fond of your skirting boards, then think twice abut getting a chinny unless you have a separate room where they can play.

Also, as Chinchillas live quite a long time (between 8 and 10 years although there are reports of them reaching 16 years), getting a chinchilla should be given careful thought as they will b around for a long time.

The natural habitat of the chinchilla is on the slopes of the Andes mountain range in South America, at altitudes of between 3000 to 5000m (10,000 to 16,000ft). Little is known about their diet in the wild, and is thought to be made up of course grasses, shrubs, cacti and mosses.

In the 1920’s these animals were killed in their thousands to supply the fur trade of the time, and only swift action, and regulations, introduced by the government at the time, prevented this animals extinction. However, there are still chinchilla farms where they are bred purely for their pelt.

The chinchilla’s fur is very dense and soft. The natural wild colour is mottled charcoal on the back and a creamy white on the underside, although now many more colours are available which include light and dark beige, silver, blond, pastel, blue velvet, velvet, light and dark brown, charcoal and violet.
Housing

Ideal housing for a chinchillas should be a cage made from 16 gauge galvanised weld mesh with ј” to ѕ” squares on the floor and Ѕ” to 1” squares on the sides and top. The size of a cage to house 1 adult chinchilla should measure at least 24” deep, 36″ wide and 24” high.

Fruit branches and wooden shelves should be fitted because chinchillas prefer to sit on something solid. And blocks of wood 2 to 4” square will soon be whittled away by their strong teeth, water should be offered in a glass bottle, with a stainless steel spout, firmly attached to the outside of the cage.

The position of the cage is also important as chinchillas – like all small animals – are particularly susceptible to damp and draughty conditions. Loud voices and sudden noises will also disturb them, so keep them out of busy hallways, and the clicking sound normally made to budgies will only worry and confuse them, so always talk to them using a soft and soothing tone.

Handling

Before holding any chinchilla make sure your hands are clean and dry because any dirt, grease or sweat will damage the fur. If a chinchilla feels threatened, in its cage, it will retreat into a corner and sit down facing you, and if grabbed the animals defences include the ability to shed clumps of fur in order to escape, to prevent this from happening to remove a chinchilla from its cage keep your hand as low as possible, as this poses less of a threat to the animal, and gently hold the animals ear, not too hard, as it is possible to burst blood vessels in the chinchilla’s ears, this should make it sit quietly, then put your other hand in and pick the animal up.

To calm a frightened chinchilla, as with most small animals, cup your hands over its eyes and gently rub around its ears.

When holding a chinchilla it is important that it feels safe this is best achieved by holding the tail firmly between your index and middle fingers while the chinchilla sits on the palm of your hand, holding the animal by its shoulders with your other hand.

Once used to this the animal should sit quite still on your palm without the need to be held by the shoulders.

Diet

The most important food a chinchilla can be given is good quality hay. This mimics the sort of foodstuffs a chinchilla would eat in the wild, giving them lots of gnawing action and therefore keeping their teeth healthy as well as digestive sustem.

Chinchilla’s digest their food in two stages, this involves firstly eating food and then re-ingesting a food pellet straight from the anus, and then finally expelling a fully digested waste pellet.

The commercially available chinchilla pellets are well balanced and contain about 17% protein, and most chinchillas will eat about 1 to 1-Ѕ tablespoons (1oz) per day. These pellets should not be kept for more than 2 – 3 months after the date of purchase and stored in a dry lidded container.

As we said before, hay is a vital part of the chinchilla’s diet, and one animal will eat about a handful each day. The use of a hayrack will reduce the wastage, as any that has been trodden on will not be eaten. Any hay on the floor of the cage should be removed daily and disposed of.

Under normal conditions the pellets and hay is all the food the animal will need to keep fit and healthy, however treats can be offered, the golden rule being to feed very small quantities of not too ofetn. Some of the foods that can be given include grass, clover, comfrey, dandelion, plantain and dock.

Also small quantities of carrot and celery tops and edible leaves from trees and shrubs such as hawthorn, willow, apple, raspberry and blackberry will also be accepted. Always make sure that any foods collected from the wild are washed thoroughly and have not been contaminated by chemicals or the waste of other animals.

Chinchillas, like most animals, have a sweet tooth, and given the chance will eat more than is good for them.Raisins are, for this reason, a firm favourite but because they are preserved in mineral oil, they like most fruits will act as a laxative, but small amounts fed in a controlled way will do no harm.

Cooked mixed flake cereals are also popular but should never replace the pellets completely.

Chinchillas have delicate digestive systems, therefore it is imperative their food bowl and water bottle are washed daily to stop any bacteria forming. We only use boiled tap water in our chinchilla bottles.

Nuts and oily seeds such as rape and sunflower should be avoided and remember that the chinchilla’s digestive system cannot cope with large quantities of rich, moist food.

Bathing

Chinchilla’s are special in that they bathe in dust, and although this can be a very messy affair, it is also one of the highlights of keeping this wonderful animal.

Only sepiolite dust should be used, given to them once a day, for about 20 minutes, and always removed after to prevent it becoming too soiled. The dust should be offered in a deep sided container and about 1” in depth.

Specially formulated to ensure a balanced but varied diet.This palatable Alfalfa-based mix includes raisins, carrots and flaked peas. It is high in fibre low in fat providing a correctly based diet for healthy chinchillas.

Health

Eyes

If your chinchilla has recurring eye problems (such as a white discharge) and your vet has checked out your chinchilla’s mouth and his teeth seem fine, an x-ray should be carried out. This way the vet can see if the root of the teeth are growing upwards and causing pressure on the eye socket.

Chinchillas have what is called an open root – if the teeth aren’t used constantly (by gnawing and grinding on lots of hard foodstuffs and hay) they keep on growing – inside the mouth as well as up towards the eye sockets and down through the jaw (the same as degus and in some cases, guinea pigs).

By giving your chinchilla lots to gnaw on – like timothy hay and hard foods – you are doing your best to keep their teeth healthy – as well as their general health too.

It must be stated here that there is no substitute for good veterinary advice when treating your small furries. If you know of a good specialist in this field please email us with their details.

Teeth

Teeth problems are the curse of chinchillas – see under ‘eyes’ above. If your chinchilla has difficulty eating and/ or has a wet chin, then you must see a vet immediately. While their teeth may seem healthy to look at, there could be problems with the roots causing pain and inability to eat as they grow up towards the eye socket or down through the jaw.

Fur chewing

A chinchilla can become a fur chewier, it is not really understood why this behaviour occurs although a dietary deficiency or boredom have both been suggested as a cause, although this does not seem to adversely affect the animal, once started this is a very difficult behavioural problem to cure.

Chinchilla’s can also suffer from fur fungus; this condition is recognised by a lot of broken whiskers, scabs on the ears and/or missing clumps of fur, this can be treated but is best avoided by good care and cage hygiene.

Heat

During the summer chinchilla’s can suffer from heat stress; the normal rectal temperature is 97oF (37oC). Any higher and the animal will have problems keeping cool, and in extreme cases can even fall into a coma. At the first sign of overheating remove the animal to a cooler position and lightly dampen its ears and feet with a cool cloth. Seek veterinary advice.