MAINTAINING GROUP COMPATIBILITY
for conflict, the
two kinds of mounting)
Also see: Anti-Social
Behavior and Fights
on Grooming, Fur and Skin Health
Cagemate conflicts are anti-social behavior (see that
section for description and important details) that occurs
within a group (two or more) after
they've been cohabitating peacefully, after they're bonded. Conflicts
can occur with any number or combination of chins (same or opposite-sex),
at any age and regardless of whether the group is related (mom
and daughter, brothers, etc) or has cohabitated for a long time
without any problems.
Although chinchillas are herd animals in the wild and can definitely
get along in groups of more than two in captivity, limiting
groups to two, or pairs, greatly reduces the potential for cagemate
conflicts. As more personalities are added,
the potential for future conflict increases exponentially.
Cagemate conflicts, especially with bonded pairs, are NOT
that commonplace in a stable environment where the chinparent pays
attention to potential stress factors
and provides enough distractions (a variety of chew
toys, a safe exercise wheel,
watching) to counteract boredom. Be aware that even with the suggested
measures here, chinchillas must ALWAYS be observed for continued compatibility
because the unforeseen can indeed happen.
Minor conflicts among bonded or recently introduced cagemates are
those where non-injurious anti-social
behavior occurs, for example, urine-spraying
and dominance mounting
may occur from time to time and that's harmless and normal, it's also
normal for chins to gruff and yip at each other in an agitated way
now and then, especially during grooming. As
long as the minor conflicts are not persistent, as long as they happen
very infrequently and neither cagemate begins to regularly exhibit
signs of stress
such as: squashy fecal droppings,
weight loss, fur
biting, acting afraid to venture out and make use of the entire
cage, huddling in a corner with back to the wall, etc., then the cagemates
will still be compatible and can remain together, of course with close
If the minor conflicts become more persistent or frequent, if one
of the cagemates begins to regularly exhibit signs of stress
or if the "victim" reacts adversely and reciprocates with
anti-social behavior of his own that can cause the situation to escalate,
then it's time to seriously examine the problem and see whether an
environmental stress factor
is at work. Usually by finding and resolving the stress
factor, harmony can be restored and a major conflict (injurious
can be prevented.
Major conflicts among bonded or recently introduced cagemates are
those where intent to commit injurious anti-social behavior occurs.
Conflicts are especially dangerous when they occur within the confines
of the cage, where the pursued chin has no opportunity to escape his
attacker. It is crucial to realize that once
physical injury has been inflicted (wounds,
missing digits, etc; fur slip and urine-spraying are not injurious),
the attackerand his victim will NOT be compatible any longer,
period, they must be separated and remain that way. They will not
just "work it out on their own," regardless of whether they're
related or whether they've been bonded for years, and attempts to
force compatibility in such a situation will only result in more serious
injuries and even death from injuries or stress.
Sometimes a conflict-causing
event will make a bonded group reevaluate their situation and attempt
to reestablish group order, a process that can lead to persistent
which in turn can instigate fighting or an attempt to drive out a
particular group member.
Preventing Group Conflicts
Also see Routines:
Sleep and Covering Cages, "Preventing Problems Related to Territorialism"
Besides these precautionary measures it's also necessary to be aware
Chinchillas are Territorial!
and the sexes, out-of-cage
playtime and cage
Territorialism: Basic Points
chins before cohabitation to prevent potentially deadly fighting,
and never use an introduction method that will threaten their sense
of territorialism or put their safety in jeopardy. Some chins are
much more territorial than others, it varies by the attitude and behavior
e.g., whether a chin is easy-going or high-strung, whether or not
he is accustomed to having chins outside of his group near his territorial
range, or whether he was attacked in the past by another chin. Sometimes
when chins are relocated, to either a new cage or a new home, one
may barricade, staking territory, and that can instigate conflict.
It is not safe to assume that your chin/s aren't territorial, if you
have more than one bonded group it is your responsibility to
take precautions that will accomodate and respect their territorialistic
instincts in order to prevent things like: territorial
anxiety (and excessively marking territory with urine), persistent
or aggressive dominance mounting
that can lead to cagemate conflicts,
(biting, urine-spraying) behavior that some chins may direct
at their chinparent to convey their extreme stress and agitation.
Territorialism: Scent and the Sexes
Contrary to myth,
male groups and female groups can coexist in the same household, provided
that they don't come into direct contact with each other or with each
other's physical excretions (urine/ urine marks, fecal droppings,
estrus or mating plug,
etc.), and that they are prevented from seeing each other per
explanation in the other four points. Behavior can be an indicator
of gender, like urine-spraying
being a mostly female behavior and reproductive mounting
being a male behavior, but gender
is confirmed by scent and this is only discernable by direct
olfactory contact (and possibly
by tasting another chin's fecal droppings) with the other sexes'
physical excretions or from putting their nose to another chin's bottom
for a sniff.
Adequate ventilation and air circulation, which are basic to chinchilla
in general, will prevent the possible accumulation of urine scent
(which is not normally pungent unless cleaning
is inadequate) to the point where it is detectable and potentially
While awareness of the presence of the opposite sex doesn't seem to
have an affect on the social order of all-female groups, it does affect
males, especially unneutered Alpha
males with their strong dominance and mating drive. Once the presence
of the opposite sex is realized by an all-male group, it can lead
to their competing for the right to mate by subjugating their cagemate/s,
and this is done by dominance mounting.
If the dominance mounting gets persistent or aggressive, it can result
in retaliation (fighting,
sometimes to the death) by the antagonized cagemate/s. In the
case of an M/F group, the male will be inclined (less so
if neutered, more so if not neutered)
to mount his female/s in order to reassert his authority and
control in the group.
Direct contact with scent is necessary for it to be potentially problematic,
and scent is not detected when cages are covered, or between rooms
or at the other end of the house. Most online advice
derives from pet breeders who don't cover their cages, but we have
cages since 1997 and even though the sheet around the cage catches
that group's urine (scent) between changings, we've never had
a problem housing unneutered male groups (we've worked with hundreds
of chins) right next door to females provided that these four
points regarding territorialism were observed.
Territorialism: Out-Of-Cage Playtime
Only let bonded cagemates out together for out-of-cage exercise
time, DON'T MIX GROUPS. Chinchillas do have a social order and mixing
groups (especially opposite sex groups) will cause confusion
and instigate conflict. If different groups use the same playroom,
sprinkle Baby Cornstarch
Powder or Arm &
Hammer Baking Soda (not talc,
it's carcinogenic) on carpet urine stains and then vacuum the
room well between uses, this will also remove fecal droppings. Clean
the carpet periodically.
Chinchillas do have a territorial range or "comfort zone"
that extends a few feet out from their cage
in the directions they can see, and by instinct they want to guard
and defend that immediate territory. For this reason, DO NOT USE THE
CAGE ROOM AS A PLAYROOM! An outsider (intruder) wandering near
other cages is in danger of getting bitten on the nose or toes, sometimes
as a result of being encouraged to come closer (with ostensibly
friendly baiting) by the irate caged chins, and the intruder's
presence can instigate persistent dominance mounting
(and fights) as the lead chin in the caged groups attempts
to reestablish social rank and control in response to the territorial
Territorialism: Cage Environment
We recommend covering cages, as described on Routines,
also see that section for more on preventing
problems related to territorialism: "A barrier between cages
prevents knowledge of (and contact
with) the opposite
sex or other chinchillas right next door. This is a PROXIMITY
and SIGHT issue, it's not about scent unless the chins are in direct
olfactory contact with each other's
physical excretions (urine/ urine marks, fecal droppings, estrus
or mating plug,
etc.), or are able to put their nose to another chin's bottom
for a sniff.
"Seeing other chins across the room or more than a few feet away
is normally not a problem, but seeing them camped right next door
often is. Calm,
easy-going, and not very territorialistic chins that are accustomed
to this may not care, but even they may have a problem if they get
different neighbors. Chins that are more territorial, high-strung,
or not accustomed to having other chins right next door and who are
suddenly confronted with this territorial violation
may get very nervous and upset, exhibiting territorial anxiety (and
excessively marking territory with urine), persistent or aggressive
that can lead to cagemate conflicts,
(biting, urine-spraying) behavior that some chins may direct
at their chinparent to convey their extreme stress and agitation."
Introduce major changes
in their environment gradually whenever possible.
Chinchillas must NEVER be put in a position
where they feel they must hoard, bully or fight for essential resources!!
The chinparent must ensure- even if this means getting a bigger food
dish, using multiple water bottles or checking their supplies a few
times a day- that they NEVER run out of OR have to compete for the
dietary staples of fresh, high quality hay,
(chinchillas will not overeat of their dietary staples, only treats)
and distilled or filtered water.
Watch for water bottle failure
at the spout end, this will curtail their access to water.
Besides food and water, there are other essential resources such as
for getting clean. It's best to use two dustbath houses when giving
dustbath to a group (two or more), and it's important to provide
at least one hideaway (tube, hammock,
plastic) for each cohabitating chin because even well-bonded
cagemates sometimes need an opportunity to "get away" and
have space to themselves. With groups of more than two it is especially
necessary to have multiple shelves, ledges or housetops to perch on.
cage is VERY important, a small cage or overcrowded conditions can
cause bonded chins to turn on each other due to the stress of severe
Give regular out-of-cage
exercise time (reduces stress) and provide in-cage distractions:
a variety of chew
toys, at least one safe exercise wheel
(with our groups of more than two, we provide two different types
of wheels to prevent bickering) and TV
during waking hours for environmental stimulation- these are ALL strongly
recommended because long periods of boredom increases group stress
Have your pet sitter become acquainted with the chins prior to any
pet-sitting. Leave the TV running on a low volume to keep the chins
company while you're gone and be sure the pet sitter has their exotics
number and knows what to do in case of emergency, such as how to keep
the chins cool if the power goes out or the air conditioner fails
Some Common Causes for Group Conflicts
Also see: Environmental
Some of these points are inevitable or unavoidable,
so don't use this as a "never do" list, just be aware of
the conflict causing potential. There is ALWAYS a reason
for a cagemate conflict, chins don't "go psycho for no reason,"
the chinparent should try to troubleshoot the environmental stress
to determine what the cause is if it's not readily evident.
If something significant in their environment is changed, or the environment
itself changes. For example: if key cage accessories are changed or
etc.), if cagemates get a new cage or playroom, if their cage
is moved to another location or the chinparents move to another residence,
if another chin enters the vicinity of their cage, etc.
If cagemates are separated for more than 24 hours. After a period
of time, a chin that has left the group, say for vet treatment, may
be considered an outsider. If the group doesn't accept him back, re-introductions
will be necessary.
If a female cagemate is near or in her estrus
cycle. This causes some females to become highly irritable, whether
in a same or opposite-sex
cagemate situation. We had two sisters who were completely inseperable
except during "PMS," at which time they'd spray
urine at the other's face with very little provocation.
If scents change. Although chinchillas tend take their compatibility
cues more from the other chin's behavior than from scent
has been established, it does factor significantly at times: if a
cagemate is urine-sprayed (marked) by an outsider, is being
treated with a topical medicine, has been given a wet
bath, etc. Scent seems to matter more to chins that are especially
If a newcomer enters a cage of bonded chins without proper introductions.
If there is a territorial violation, overcrowding, if the cage
is too small or if there aren't enough distractions and getaways in
their cage environment, see
Preventing Group Conflicts. Chins who live together, even bonded pairs,
sometimes want their own space.
If the chinparent takes temporary leave and there is a "stranger"
(unfamiliar pet sitter) in the house.
If one or all male cagemates reach the onset of sexual interest, about
6 months- 1 year old. Those who are Alphas
(stronger dominance and mating drive) emerge at this point.
A typical Alpha only mounts
to establish dominance and determine social rank among other males
or to attempt mating with females. In our
experience, about 75% of males are typical Alphas. The extreme Alpha,
however, is persistent (mounts relentlessly,
even after rank is established) and/ or aggressive (rough grooming
that pulls head fur or biting about the head, neck and ears) in
his mounting and usually requires neutering
to achieve (non-reproductive) compatibility with either sex;
sometimes the single life suits him best.
The Two Kinds of Mounting
If a chin climbs onto the lower back of another chin from behind,
this is called "mounting." Be aware that sometimes a chin
will snuggle against or rest his head on the back of another, and
this is NOT mounting. The more mounting that
occurs, especially in breeding situations, the greater the likelihood
hair rings and penis prolapse. There are two kinds of mounting,
which are basically indistinguishable when observed but are situationally
defined by intent:
First, be SURE you know whether your chins are indeed male
or female! Reproductive mounting occurs when a male mounts a female
with the intent of impregnating. While dominance mounting may be a
half-hearted gesture at times, reproductive mounting is always a concentrated,
intensive attempt. When chins of the same sex mount or when a female
mounts a male then it is dominance, not reproductive mounting (scent
Females are often not initially receptive to reproductive mounting,
probably because it feels like dominance mounting to them as the act
does require their submission and compliance for success. An unreceptive
female may act coy, perhaps raising her butt in the air to make mounting
difficult or impossible, or she may retaliate with volatile anti-social
behavior directed at the male. Persistent or aggressive reproductive
mounting can result in serious or even lethal fighting
if the male is not closely observed and removed before the harm is
done. Reproductive mounting may result in the female expelling a heat
or mating (copulatory) plug.
This occurs when there is intent to establish dominance or social
rank over another chin. The expected outcome is that the subjugated
chin will recognize the dominant chin as his superior and will submit
to that chin's authority and control.
While dominance mounting occurs most often within M/M groups (two
or more) because males in particular are instinctually predisposed
to want to sort out social rank within their group (in nature the
male of the species often competes with other males for the right
to mate), dominance mounting can occur in ANY gender
combination, in M/F and F/F situations as well. Besides being used
to establish social rank and order, dominance mounting may be used
to get another chin to move out of the way so that the one doing the
mounting can have first or better access to the food bowl, a treat,
the cage ramp or shelf, etc.
It is natural for a group's leading Alpha
male (the Alpha with the strongest dominance and mating drive)
to occasionally use dominance mounting to confirm and reinforce
his authority within his bonded group. For example, when a group is
in a new, stressful or uncertain situation, dominance mounting may
begin in an attempt to reestablish social rank and reassert order
and control, often regardless of whether anyone besides the lead Alpha
seems to see the need for it.
Dominance mounting may result in consummation that causes matted
fur along the backside of the subjugated chin, however, this type
of mounting is not about sex drive, it's for dominance and that can
provoke a cagemate
if the chin on the receiving end is unwilling to submit or is being
subjected to an extreme
Alpha's overbearing dominance drive.
Dominance mounting in itself is NOT "bad," but dominance
mounting does become problematic when carried too far by an extreme
Alpha as opposed to a typical Alpha, who only mounts to determine
rank or attempt mating. An extreme Alpha is
persistent (mounts relentlessly, even after rank is established)
and/ or aggressive (rough grooming that pulls head fur or biting
about the head, neck and ears) in his mounting.
An extreme Alpha male who is constantly dominance mounting will not
just "switch it off" on his own, he'll need to be separated
from his cagemate to avoid potentially deadly fighting, or lethal
retaliation by the subjugated chin who is forced to assert himself
for self-preservation. An extreme Alpha male usually needs to stay
single or should be neutered
to cohabitate peacefully with either sex.
Occasional dominance mounting is just
fine as long as cagemates normally get along well and the subjugated
chin is not behaving as if he's being bullied. A chin who is
being bullied by his cagemate will show signs of severe stress that
include: being afraid to venture about freely, even for food, thus
incurring weight loss; often staying huddled in a place viewed as
less accessible, such as when a chin spends most of his time in the
corner with his back to the wall. Fur
loss and bites (from fighting), especially, are signs that
the pair need separated immediately. Once physical injury has been
missing digits, etc; fur slip and urine-spraying are not injurious),
the attacker and his victim will NOT be compatible any longer, they
won't "work it out on their own," they must be separated
and remain that way.
Be aware that chins in an underactive
environment may resort to frequent dominance mounting because sheer
boredom is stressful
and again, this can provoke conflicts.
Males especially must be observed for continued compatibility after
they reach the onset of sexual interest (about 6 months- 1 year
old), because one may emerge as an extreme Alpha and terrorize
the more submissive male. As chins age they usually mellow and their
dominance drive also lessens. See Maintaining
Group Compatibility for information on preventing persistent dominance
If dominance mounting between cohabitating males is NOT a frequent
or serious problem, it's possible to discourage the more dominant
male on these occasions by...
1) Catch the Alpha male in the act of dominance mounting so
that when you react to his specific behavior he will be better able
to make the connection between your objection and what he was doing.
2) Say his name and "No mounting" in a low, serious
tone (chins respond more to tone of voice) and only if he persists
should you proceed to the next step, the third step is the last resort
and the goal is to get him to respond to your verbal command so that
in future only the verbal command will be necessary.
3) Using a squirt
gun loaded with water, squirt the Alpha male only ONCE, LIGHTLY,
on the backside and repeat his name and "No mounting" in
the low, serious tone of voice. It must be stressed that you should
NOT soak the chin or use this deterrent multiple times in a day as
the density of chinchilla fur easily traps water and being damp can
lead to a case of fungus
After the chins have settled down, then take out the chin that was
squirted, towel dry him, then allow both chins to finish up with dustbath.