Chinsfield

Click on this picture 
to see more pictures of Fenn the chinchilla.
Tribute Pages: Nemo / Elsa / Mujibur
Vital Stats
Name: Fenn
Birthday: January 5, 2004
Adopted: March 20, 2004 (3 months old)
Age: 4 years old
Coloring: Ebony
Likes: Me, Eating pieces of paper with names on it, finding food on the floor
Dislikes: Windy car rides that seem to go on forever, going back in her cage after playtime
Talents: Not getting car sick, running in her wheel
Motto: The squeaky wheel makes a lot of noise.
Pictures: Go to Fenn's Chinchilla Camp
History: Fenn was born in a breeder's house in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. I found the breeder on-line and sent him an e-mail asking if he had any chinnies that would be a good friend to poor little Elsa, who had just lost Nemo and was very sad. He had a cute little ebony girl that needed a home. My sister Dawn and I made a road trip to Iowa on the first day of Spring. It was an 11 hour adventure on that fine, extremely windy Saturday. On the way back, little Fenn slept the entire time, although we joked that she was going to get car sick from all the rocking the wind was causing on our vehicle.

As usual, we try to give a new animal a name that is fitting or meaningful rather than just "pretty." Fenn is no exception. Dawn and I came up with a couple of names on the car ride home from Iowa. I wrote them down on pieces of paper along with one that Jeff came up with. I then put the names in the new little girl's cage and waited for her to choose one. After SEVERAL hours, she investigated the paper, picked up several names, tossed them aside, and then finally began to devour one. I took it away from her and shuffled the names again. I dealt the names out to her. She took a few out of my hand, nibbled on them a bit, and then finally gnawed the heck out of another. It was the same one as before. She had chosen the name Fenn.

So what does Fenn mean anyway? Well, the true meaning of Fen is "marsh land" but that's not why we chose it. Fenn is short for Fenway (is anyone starting to get a sense of which one of us contributed this name?). Fenway Park was the background for a scene in Field of Dreams. Where does Field of Dreams take place (mostly)? Iowa. And that's where little Fenn was born - Iowa.

When I brought Fenn home Saturday night and put her in her new cage, Elsa saw her new neighbor. She ran around her cage, desperately trying to find a way to get closer to the new chinchilla. She frantically darted around for several minutes before I took little Fenn out and held her next to Elsa's cage. They sniffed each other very feverishly. I then put little Fenn back in her own cage and let Elsa run around the animal room outside her cage. She took every opportunity she could to smell the new gal on the block and when she wasn't busy sniffing Fenn, she was sniffing Fenn's belongings that were outside the cage. When she wasn't sniffing Fenn's things, she was hopping on me in a very happy manner. I think she was definitely excited to have a new neighbor.

It will be several days before the two will meet without bars separating them. It will be weeks before they move in together. Hopefully they will be good roommates. If not, they can be good neighbors.

Disclaimer
My only interaction with a chinchilla are my own chinchillas. Just like people, their tastes, moods and overall behaviors are very different. I漓e done a lot of reading about chinchillas but I榦 no expert. If you click on chinchillas, it'll take you to some good links about chinchillas.

What is a chinchilla?
Chinchillas are small furry animals. In most dictionaries, chinchillas are listed as rodents, but some recent studies suggest that they are not. They have very soft fur, hence the reason the fur industry finds them so appealing. Like the mink, chinchillas are most often breed and raised for the specific purpose of killing them and harvesting their fur. Chinchillas are small creatures - they are about the size of a squirrel (slightly bigger than a guinea pig, smaller than a rabbit). They have huge, round ears, very fine whiskers, and a wiry tail that resembles a squirrel漳 tail.

The History of a Chinchilla
Chinchillas are native to the Andes mountains - around Peru, Chile and Argentina. When the Spaniards first came to South America, they stumbled across these tiny creatures. They immediately recognized the value in their fur and soon began hunting the chinchillas. This is not to say that the chinchillas weren演 killed for their fur before Pizarro, in fact the Incas had chinchilla blankets. It wasn演 until Pizarro that the hunting became excessive. Around the 20th century, these little critters were on the verge of extinction. They actually found themselves on the endangered species list for awhile.

The Diet of a Chinchilla
If you have ever taken care of a guinea pig (I only use a cavy as an example because we have two), then you know the basics for taking care of a chinchilla. Chinchillas eat hay, pellets and fruit. Their normal diet should consist of 2 tablespoons of pellets and a handful or two of hay.

Chinchillas have special pellets that can be found at most pet stores. If you can演 find pellets for chinchillas in your area, you can e-mail Chinchillas To Go at ChinsToGo@aol.com. They should be able to send you some pellets and have a very nice catalogue containing chinchilla paraphernalia - like wheels, pumice stones, dust, etc. There are rumors floating around the internet that suggest that you only feed your chinchilla the pellets designed especially for them. Other pellets, like for guinea pigs and rabbits, contain hormones that could kill your pet. Some people have reported that they feed their chinchillas rabbit pellets and their pets are fine and healthy. Still, I chose to be safe and only buy the bag with the picture of the chinchilla on it. If you should opt to feed different pellets to your chinchilla, I would recommend that you do so in small doses first to allow for their stomachs to adjust to the new food. Their stomachs are very delicate and change upsets them.

Chinchillas eat hay. Our first chinchilla Mujibur was actually allergic to alfalfa hay so we gave him timothy hay. Elsa, on the other hand, loves her alfalfa, which is very good because that's also what the guinea pig likes. Either is fine. A word of caution: remember to make switches from timothy to alfalfa or whatever gradually. Make a mixture of new and old types (with the new type in a very small dose) before going solo with the new. Alfalfa blocks are good for their teeth (it helps gnaw them down) and are rich in vitamins.

Chinchillas love fruit (I have yet to find a vegetable that Muji will eat) and should be given as a treat or as a slight addition to his regular food. While fruit is healthy, it should not be considered a staple (besides, if you give them too much fruit, they won't eat their pellets). The pellets are created with the essential nutrients in mind so they provide a more healthy, balanced diet. Also, too much fruit can cause their stomachs to be upset and could cause diarrhea. Try cleaning that up! Chinchillas will probably eat just about any fruit, although I have found that raisins, blueberries and apples are what most people feed to their chinchillas. Muji likes dried cranberries but won演 touch a real one. He also likes dried banana chips, provided they are broken up into chinchilla-paw sized pieces. Actually, his preferences tend to lean towards the dried versions of fruit - he likes dried apples, dried apricots, dried papaya and prunes. Elsa, in keeping with fashion, also loves dried cranberries.

Finally, there are "packaged" treats that you can give your chinchilla. Muji likes yogurt drops - both the wild berry and plain variety. There are also honey drops. Another treat I have been giving Muji is sugar cane. Most pet stores (and grocery stores) sell packs of sugar cane that are vacuumed sealed. The only problem with sugar cane is that is kind of expensive and goes bad fairly quickly. Make sure to chop up the cane into small pieces.

Chinchillas drink water (most animals do, but I thought I榛 mention it. They do some bizarre things other animals don演). Make sure their bottle is cleaned daily as they are easily susceptible to Giardia, a water bacteria. You may want to consider getting a glass water bottle rather than a plastic one. Muji liked to climb on top of his plastic water bottle and chew a hole in it. I think we went through three water bottles before we got him a glass one (which looks like a test tube). Once he had bitten a hole in the plastic, all of the water leaked out. It was the pressure that kept the water in.

The House of Chinchilla
When considering where your chinchilla should reside, you should take note that chinchillas will chew on anything. This leaves the option of a wood hutch out of the question. They will chew through it in just days (and then you槌l have a loose chinny on your hands). Another note worthy point is that chinchillas like to run and hop so the cage should be accommodating. It should be big enough and have levels. The best option is a wire mesh cage, although a glass aquarium wouldn演 be bad, provided that the bottom be made of wire mesh. If a "small animal" wire mesh cage is not available near you, an alternative might be to use a bird cage - a rather large bird cage. You can then construct levels yourself to optimize the height. Wire mesh cages come with removable bottoms (a plastic, catch-all "lid" that slips under the cage) or as a one-piece-all-wire cage.

If you漓e kept other small animals like hamsters and guinea pigs, you are familiar with lining the cage floor with wood shavings or bedding. If you have a wire mesh cage, you will probably not want to line the floor with wood shavings because in the process of running and hopping about, the chinchilla will throw the bedding out. Trust me, it makes a big mess very quickly. If your cage comes with a removable bottom, you will want to line the removable bottom with newspaper or the wood shavings. The waste will drop through the wire slots and collect and absorb into the newspaper/wood chips below. This method gives less access of the wood chips to your chinchilla so he cannot throw them out of the cage as easily. If the cage is one piece, you may want to just line it with newspaper (it漳 non-toxic as most newspapers use vegetable oil ink). Keep in mind that the chinchilla will eat the newspaper and move it around. They like to redecorate. WARNING: If you do opt to use wood shavings, be aware that some wood and their oils are toxic to your chinchilla. Do not use cedar or undried pine (the oil in pine is what is toxic). These woods could kill your chinchilla! Some sites have mentioned that oak is bad, too, based on the assumption that oak is bad for horses and the GI-tract of a chinchilla is similar to a horse漳. In any case, use aspen.

Baths
Chinchillas do not bathe like most animals. They do not use water and they do not lick themselves. In fact, getting a chinchilla wet is like getting a Mogwai (as in Gremlins) wet. Just don演 do it. If he does get wet, quickly get him dry (don演 use a blow dryer - it槌l probably scare him). Instead, chinchillas bathe with dust. Yes, dust. You will actually have to go to the pet store and buy dust. It漳 a very fine powder (I find it really itches if I get any on my hands). Place it in a big bowl (like a ceramic dog water bowl), fill the bowl fairly full with a few inches at the top, and place it in the cage. The dust will then fly. Chinchillas love to roll in it - you don演 even have to tell them what it漳 for. They just know. The people at the pet store recommended that the bath only be given to them two or three times a week. They槌l get ear mites if they use it every day. I don演 know if that漳 true...

Oh, and keep the bowl out of reach of cats. My cat thought the bowl was a litter box.

Maintenance
Give the chinchillas things to chew on - wood blocks, cardboard (make sure it漳 clean). I learned the hard way that if you don演 give them enough to chew on, they槌l chew on whatever is handy - like a bookshelf. You might want to give them a house, too, to get away from on lookers or to just hide out. Don演 be surprised if they over turn their house or move it to another location. You can give them a shoebox with a door cut out. Pet stores carry wood houses for guinea pigs and ferrets that work just fine for chinchillas.

Chinchillas like to run and hop. You might want to get her a wheel to run in - like a hamster漳 wheel. You will need to get one that漳 about 15 inches and is made from ribbed plastic (and not wire with slots). Since their feet are smaller than ferrets, they can get caught in the spokes.

Medical Things
Fur fungus is one of the most common ailments to attack your chinchilla. It's not too serious, but if left untreated, could pose potential problems. Fur fungus doesn't mean you're a bad chinny owner - sometimes it just happens.

Fur fungus appears with humidity. It causes the skin to get irritated and the fur to fall out. It's most common around the eyes and nose (as Elsa can attest to) but can also appear on the body. If you notice bald patches, it's probably fur fungus. If this happens, you'll need to take your chinny to the vet to get some antibiotics, which are pretty easy to administer. The medicine comes in liquid form. Just drop it on a raisin (or dried cranberry) and give it to your chinchilla. The antibiotics are supposed to be sweet tasting and since chins love sweets, they'll eat it without even thinking that it may be good for them.

Fur fungus can be nipped in the bud before it even occurs, though. Placing some Dessenx Athlete's Foot Cure Powder in their dust bath (one tablespoon for every two cups of dust) will help prevent the fungus from appearing. After 6-8 baths, dump the dust bath, clean the bowl, and fill with new dust (and add the Dessenx). Keeping the dust bath clean will also prevent the fungus from attacking your chinchilla's fur.

Another common problem chinchillas have (which ultimately killed Mujibur) is tooth problems. Since their teeth are constantly growing, chinchilla's teeth can cause all sorts of problems. Their front teeth can grow into their skull if they are not whittled down. Giving your chinchilla some wood to gnaw on will help grind down their teeth, however, you may also need to clip their front teeth from time to time (which is always best to let a vet do - it's easy, takes two seconds, but if done wrong can seriously harm your chinny). Check their front teeth regularly to make sure they're not too long.

In addition to the front teeth (which are easy to get a look at and deal with), a chinchilla's back teeth can cause problems. One of Mujibur's back teeth grew into his tongue. This can be corrected by simply filing down the tooth (however, a vet will have to do this).

How do you know your chinchilla is experiencing tooth problems? One easy clue is drooling. You probably won't see your chinchilla drool (they're sneaky that way) but you will be able to see the drool on the fur around the neck and mouth. If your chinchilla's fur seems to be wet (or looks like it has been wet and dried), he's probably drooling.

Another easy way to tell is lack of appetite. Does your chinny run to get his raisin from your fingers, sniff it madly, put it to his mouth, but then drop it and not eat? This is a pretty good sign that he is hungry but for some reason, cannot actually bring himself to eat. Get him to a vet pronto!

Take your chinchilla to the vet every six months (or, at the very least, once a year) for a dental exam. If your vet is not a chinchilla expert, ask for a yearly dental X-Ray. This will help to spot any teeth that are not growing properly.

Although I'm not one hundred percent sure about this, it is worth noting. If your chinchilla has to undergo anesthesia, there is a potential side effect. Bring your chinchilla home but watch him closely. Has he eaten within 24 hours of ordeal? If not, bring him back to the vet and ask to have an X-Ray taken immediately. I have found that small animals develop a gas bubble after being put under anesthesia. This makes them not want to eat and, if left undetected, can kill them. Force feeding does not solve this problem.

General Information
Chinchillas are nocturnal, although if they know you槌l play with them during the day, they槌l gladly wake up. At night they like to run around and can make a lot of noise. My chinchilla decides that 3:00 am is the best time to redecorate his cage. He likes to pull his water bottle down and overturn his house. He has a two level cage with a ladder to get from one level to the next. His food bowl used to be on the top level (I thought that would keep it cleaner). Sometime during the night, he would take his bowl and push it down the ladder. Sometimes it would just slide down, most times it would overturn and spill all over. He also likes to throw his wood chew blocks out of the cage. I think he漳 trying to hit the cat.

Chinchillas are supposed to be very smart creatures, too. I say supposed to be because I don演 really know how trainable they are. I just know he can train his human companions. Muji learned very quickly that if he would put his paws on the bars of his cage and stare out at us, we would get up and give him a yogurt drop. He certainly knows how to train his owners.

Finally, your chinchilla will get to know you and your habits very quickly. They are fairly loving creatures but if you scare them, they will remember it for a long time. They have great memories (or perhaps they just hold grudges). In any event, if you scare your chinchilla, give him time to get over it. He will eventually remember that you do love him and it was only accident.