Custom chinchilla cages?

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LittleDuck

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Dec 23, 2021
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I'm considering getting a chinchilla in the future (after plenty of research), and though the Critter Nation looks to be a good option I'm interested in making a custom cage. Not only to provide more space but for the aesthetic too.
Here's a few pictures I've saved from Pinterest.
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But I've noticed most of them are made of wood. Would it be an issue with then chewing on it? I'd imagine that like rabbits, they'll chew on anything they can get their teeth on.
Is there any way to chinchilla proof wood, or would y'all have any recommendations for alternative materials?
 

Jawramik

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Nov 3, 2021
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I considered getting a custom cage, but ultimately decided against it mainly because of the issues presented by wood cages (plus custom cages are very expensive).

With a wood cage, you have to be sure that any wood the chins have access to is safe for them to chew, because they likely will chew it at least a little. You have to be sure it doesn't use any toxic paint, glue, sealants, or anything else that is potentially harmful for your chin on the inside. There's also the potential issue of your chin being able to chew through the wood and escape. Not all chins chew that voraciously....but some do. There have absolutely been reports of chins chewing their way out of beautiful custom wood cages. It's not the norm, but it does happen.

There's also the issue of urine seeping into the wood. Unless your chin pees in a litterbox 100% of the time, odds are you're going to be doing a lot of work sanding down pee spots on a cage mainly made from wood. In a metal cage with wood accessories, it's not that big a deal to sand down or replace the occasional ledge or bridge or house that gets peed on, but when the whole cage is constructed of wood, that's going to mean a whole lot more time and expense to maintain, especially if your chin decides to start peeing everywhere (which is not all that uncommon, mine went from peeing quite reliably in the litterbox to peeing everywhere when I moved her to a new cage).

As far as I know, there's no safe way to "chin-proof" wood. Most of not all wood sealants and varnishes that might protect the wood from pee would be toxic for chins to ingest if they chewed it, and there's really no way to keep them from chewing it.

You could tile the floor of the cage, which would probably help. The way I've seen recommended on here is to cut a sheet of laminated plastic to size to cover the floor (to protect the wood underneath from pee), and then to lie stone or ceramic tiles on top. That allows you to easily pull up the tiles and plastic liner for cleaning, and also protects the wood underneath from any pee that seeps between the tiles. And since the chins don't have access to the plastic liner, they can't chew it. A lot of people use that method to tile the floors of their Critter/Ferret Nation cages, but I'm sure it would also work in a custom cage.

At the end of the day, I opted to just buy a Ferret Nation cage instead of messing around with the hassle and expense of a custom cage. It's plenty big, it's way easier to clean and maintain, and I think it looks perfectly nice. But you have to decide what works best for you and your situation. If you're willing to put in the extra time, money, and effort to acquiring and maintaining a suitable custom cage, it could be a good option.
 

Jawramik

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Nov 3, 2021
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Here's a list of chin-safe woods that are not harmful for them to chew/ingest. (I can't take credit for it, I shamelessly stole it from Amethyst on this site.)

And keep in mind that materials like plywood, particle board, and most/all laminating materials are NOT chin-safe. They contain adhesives and other chemicals that are toxic to chins. That's one reason why truly safe custom cages tend to be quite expensive: the cheapest building materials simply aren't safe to use for a chin cage, so they have to use safer, more expensive wood. Even if you build your own, the materials are still going to cost you a pretty penny.
 

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Amethyst

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The critter and ferret nations are pretty expandable, you can go with single unit, double unit, triple unit, or even have the cages side by side (removing the side panels) to make the cage huge. Here are some examples I found online of massive customized cages people created joining multiple units together (there are tons more on pinterest). If you gut it out (remove all the plastic shelves and ramps) it gives you a huge chew proof metal cage to customize however you want. You could even just make a wood frame to go around the outside of the cage if you want something more interesting looking, just far enough away that the chin can't touch it.

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Metal is really your best option for material, you could get a metal cage custom made, but that would likely cost a lot unless you know someone that can do it for you. As mentioned any wood used in or on the cage needs be be safe to chew on, and chins can be worse then rabbits in terms of chewing out. There is no chin safe sealant or anything like that to prevent them chewing on it. Aside from dealing with cleaning the pee off the wood, if your chin gets diarrhea that could need more cleaning, or replacing. I have heard some people make the cage so they can replace any boards as they get too dirty or chewed up, but that does mean you need to have wood boards on hand to change them out a few times a year as needed, which would get expensive. Also if your chin ever gets an issue like ringworm, anything wood would need to be replaced, and if the cage is made of wood then that includes the cage itself. Things like the perches, huts, and ledges are bad enough to have to toss, but throwing the whole cage out would be expensive. You also need to be sure the cage has enough ventilation, otherwise you increase the chance of respiratory issues as well as risk overheating.
 

Wonderz

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Nov 27, 2021
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My chins were in a custom cage built made by one of my relatives for about 2-3 years. It worked well for them. They did chew corners but we were able to cover it with mesh so they'd leave it alone. If you were to do this, I would recommend making metal guards on the corners and having metal pans for easy clean. You could probably look at the measurements of the critter nation and make your cage like theirs but more to your liking. You then could buy metal pans online so they'd fit perfectly and you don't have to diy those. Another option would be turning a piece of furniture into a cage, like a dresser.

The only issue I could see you running into is where you'd put ledges. In the 2nd and 3rd photo its seems that the ledges are just screwed into the cage. I can't see how you would be able to rearrange things and it can be hard to clean. You could use mesh on the sides, so it would be able to remove and replace ledges. Mesh is also good for ventilation. My ledges were screwed in (even though I had mesh walls), which was terrible because the water bottle would stain the wood and we couldn't replace it.

I'll try to find pictures of my old one.
Anyways, hope it turns out well and I would definitely like to see pictures! :)
 
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Jawramik

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Nov 3, 2021
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264
My chins were in a custom cage built made by one of my relatives for about 2-3 years. It worked well for them. They did chew corners but we were able to cover it with mesh so they'd leave it alone. If you were to do this, I would recommend making metal guards on the corners and having metal pans for easy clean. You could probably look at the measurements of the critter nation and make your cage like theirs but more to your liking. You then could buy metal pans online so they'd fit perfectly and you don't have to diy those. Another option would be turning a piece of furniture into a cage, like a dresser.

The only issue I could see you running into is where you'd put ledges. In the 2nd and 3rd photo its seems that the ledges are just screwed into the cage. I can't see how you would be able to rearrange things and it can be hard to clean. You could use mesh on the sides, so it would be able to remove and replace ledges. Mesh is also good for ventilation. My ledges were screwed in (even though I had mesh walls), which was terrible because the water bottle would stain the wood and we couldn't replace it.

I'll try to find pictures of my old one.
Anyways, hope it turns out well and I would definitely like to see pictures! :)
I haven't worked much with hardware cloth, but if you were to put in panels of hardware cloth on the front and sides, could you attach ledges and stuff to the hardware cloth? (The sorts of ledges with the washer/wingnut hardware that you can buy, I mean.) Would it be sturdy enough to support that weight? It would also improve ventilation, so it might be a good idea regardless.

I will say, one thing I love about having a Nation cage is all the pre-made accessories available for them. Because they're so popular, people are making all kinds of things you can buy to deck them out. It's awesome for people like me who aren't builders. I can make my own liners and hanging chew toys, but that's about the limit of my available tools and skill set....and sometimes I'm just lazy, so having the option to buy pre-made liners is still nice.

Depending on the exact size and style, with a custom cage, you may have to be willing/able to make all that stuff yourself to work with your cage. Granted, some people really enjoy doing that stuff, so that may be a feature rather than a bug for some, but it's something else to factor into your decision.
 

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