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Health & Lifestyle Pages (site map lists page contents) Chinchilla Behavior: Relating to People and Other Animals
Chinchilla Introductions and Group Dynamics/ Chintelligence and Communication/ Dental Health/ Exercise and Play Grooming, Fur and Skin Health/ Healing: Ailments & Remedies/ Nutrition/ Origins and Wild Chinchillas Today

*The Red Print: Please Read First
*Adoption Source, or Background, and Behavioral Expecations (pet breeder, ranch, pet store, rehoming, rescue)
*General Characteristics of Behavior
*Routines (exercise, sleep and covering cages)

Continued on next page:
*Initiating Bonding, A Hands-On Approach (first contact procedure)
*Relating to Your Chinchilla (chin scratches or grooming, playtime bonding, catching and handling)

Continued on next page:
Environmental Stress (attitude and behavior determinants, basic ways to prevent stress, potential stress factors)
*Anti-Social Behavior (biting; urine-spraying- single female chin syndrome; rearing up and chattering teeth; hostilely pursuing, cornering, fur-pulling)
*Facts About Discipline
*Behavioral Rehabilitation: Addressing Biting and Urine-Spraying

Continued on next page:
*Relating Articles
*Compatibility With Other Animals (chins and buns don't mix)
*As Classroom Pets -and- Are Chinchillas a Good Pet for Children? (pets for kids)

Some of the general behavioral patterns or guidelines that we have learned derive from our years of working with hundreds of chins via our chinfamily since 1997, rescue work since 2000 and saving ranchies since 2004.

Chinchillas are complex and truly unique as individuals, they vary as much as people do. Relating to chinchillas is not an exact science and it's not always instantaneous and easy, sometimes a lot of time and patience is required before you find your particular communication groove- especially if the chin has come from a background of negative socialization with people due to his previous environment or treatment.

When a chin acts out with anti-social behavior it is because they are stressed or afraid, it is NOT proof that the chin is "bad" or that he simply dislikes his chinparent, read more.
We encourage people to first be knowledgeable, and then empathetic and intuitive with their chins, using their own instincts to guide them in their particular situation. Above all, a chinparent should be patient and resolved never to compromise their chin's health, happiness or safety.

As stated in Critical Points: "Chinchillas think and behave a lot like small children, and because they are highly intelligent they can easily become stressed or bored (which can lead to various health and behavioral problems) if they are forced to sit, caged, for hours on end without sufficient environmental stimulation, exercise or interaction... A LARGE cage to accomodate running and playing, a variety of chew toys, at least one hideaway per chin and a cage wheel will help decrease stress and boredom inside the cage while TV during waking hours will provide environmental stimulation when the chin isn't actively engaged in out-of-cage exercise and interaction."

It is important to keep a new chin out of sight/ contact (across the room is okay) of your other chin/s not only for quarantine reasons, but because until chins are introduced it violates their natural territorial instinct and creates an environmental stress factor that can ruin the potential for bonding with either you or other chins.

(pet breeder, ranch, pet store, rehoming, rescue)

Some general points, from our and other's observation and experience, about what to expect when adopting...

bonding with people
Pet breeders, especially those with a small breeding herd of about a dozen chins or fewer, sometimes refer to themselves as a "hobby breeder." Chinchillas from this background often take easily to bonding with people because pet breeders tend to spend time handling and socializing their kits.

bonding with other chins
Introductions are required, but these chins often have a positive social disposition.

FROM A RANCH (In the U.S., ranches sell primarily for pets or breeding stock)
Chinchillas that come from a ranch have been kept in a confined space with no human interaction or socialization with other chins. We take sheets (no strings, fringe or loose weave)
along when we do Pet Homes For Ranchies (PHFR) projects. After putting previously unacquainted ranch chinchillas together in a carrier for the ride back from the ranch, we put a sheet over them to cover them. They tunnel and snuggle under the sheet, it's reassuring and comforting and helps defuse the stress of taking an unfamiliar car ride with unfamiliar chins.

NOTE: rushing familiarity with a large cage OR introducing a ranchie to too many cagemates at once can result in LETHAL acute shock
. From conducting
PHFR projects that have saved over one hundred chinchillas from pelting, this is our advice for dealing with ranch chinchillas when they arrive in their new domestic environment:

When coming right off the ranch, ranchies should be paired according to compatible temperaments, with two chins per single level cage or extra large carrier (photo). Put a large towel or sheet over them when they're inside so they can rest on it or snuggle into it (photo). They need to feel secure and have something to hide in to ease the stress of adjustment. Also cover their cage or carrier with a sheet, as described on Routines.

For the first two weeks off the ranch, keep them in pairs in their single level cage or extra large carrier
(photo); the companionship of their own kind is comforting as well as socializing. During waking hours let them watch TV, this helps them adjust to their new domestic environment while reducing stress and boredom that could cause problems such as group conflicts or fur biting. See "The TV Attraction," we recommend TV for all chins because it adds environmental stimulation when they're in their cage during waking hours. TV's can be purchased inexpensivelyon ebay, at a yard sale, store sales or at your local thrift store.

By the end of the second week a ranchie may be ready to be introduced to a larger cage with an exercise wheel and out-of-cage exercise time; the chinparent should use their empathy and intuition to discern whether the ranchie is acting confident and impatient (and ready to move on) or if he's frightened and tentative and needs more time in his present carrier arrangement. Be aware that ranch chinchillas that have spent their entire lifetime confined to a tiny cage without exercise don't know how to jump or run, they can't judge height or depth and when first given some freedom to run they may instead hop or creep along at a slow, tentative pace. When adjusting to a large cage with levels, it's important to observe the ranchie to be sure he's learning to jump and is able to navigate to reach his food and water.

bonding with people
In our experience, ranchies are more apt to be frightened of people than anti-social toward them, this is due to their inexperience or lack of socialization. HOWEVER, if a ranchie is acting hysterical and chattering or baring his teeth, it's adviseable to proceed with caution and start behavioral rehabilitation. Usually they may just gruff or bark at first, even shake when being held, that's why it's important to bear in mind that ranchies may need several sessions of bonding to reform their impression of people and learn what to expect from you.

In effect, their relationship with people has been one of neglect, not abuse. Don't be aloof thinking that ignoring them for awhile will give them a chance to "settle in," BE PERSISTENT IN FOLLOWING THE FIRST CONTACT PROCEDURE WITH RANCHIES! They are especially susceptible to acute shock and they need you to be persistent and gentle in demonstrating that they have nothing to fear, that you mean them no harm, that they can expect only good things from their new situation.

bonding with other chins
Ranch chinchillas usually have an inexperienced social disposition when they're right off the ranch, from being caged solitarily. When chins are still inexperienced they will be naive, curious, interested and open to other chins but as time goes on and social experience is gained, territorial and dominance drives will surface and a positive or negative social disposition will also emerge. Placing a socially inexperienced ranch chin with another socially inexperienced ranch chin doesn't usually require any introduction at all, only some monitoring to ensure they're temperamentally compatible, but placing a socially inexperienced ranch chinchilla with a chinchilla that HAS had social experience will require the usual process of introducing.

bonding with people
We've adopted several pet store chins over the years and it seems that they're often the ones that need Behavioral Rehabilitation, but start with Initiating Bonding, A Hands-On Approach first because that's all they may need once they're away from the pet store environment. Considering what they've been put through, who can blame them if they're stressed out or anti-social: temperatures usually well above their comfort range, bright lights, chaos and noise all day long during their natural sleeping hours, curious customers stopping by to pick them up and put them down, up, down, up, down... Pet stores may also keep barking dogs and a variety of squawking birds, a close parallel to foxes and owls that are predators of the chinchilla in the wild. See Environmental Stress for details on how to treat a chin coming from a chaotic environment.

Pet store chins are sometimes confined for weeks or months on end without exercise in their small display cages, which aren't always equipped with safe bedding, proper chinchilla food or access to hay. Be aware that pet stores typically group chinchillas by color and price range rather than separating them by gender, and pet store employees VERY frequently mis-sex them. Chinchillas are sometimes pregnant when they leave the pet store or become pregnant later on when mistakenly paired with a "same-sex" cagemate, this happened to us with our first chin. It's important to be aware of all these issues when getting a chin from a pet store, but they're no less deserving of a good home.

bonding with other chins
What the description above adds up to is one aggravated, exhausted little animal, who will need time to completely relax and form a bond of trust with his chinparent before being introduced to another chin, at least a week but longer is adviseable for a chin from a chaotic environment. It is VERY important to check a pet store chin's gender before introductions, and if it's a female, to wait at least three months (chinchilla gestation periods are from 111-128 days) before conducting introductions to ensure that she's not pregnant from her pet store experience. Females can be very defensive, antagonistic and territorial toward other chins when expecting kits. Even if the pet store had only one chinchilla when you arrived, don't presume that there's no chance of pregnancy. Pet stores typically get their "stock" in bunches, so at one point that chin had company.

FROM A REHOMING (a pet chinchilla rehomed)
bonding with people
When adopting a rehomed chinchilla, not one rescued from abuse or neglect, they should be regarded as those from a pet breeding background. Rehomed chinchillas constitute the majority of the chinchillas at a rescue, and they are not always troubled or difficult as is sometimes assumed, they're usually relinquished due to issues on their owner's part, like allergies, change of lifestyle or interests, etc.

bonding with other chins
Introductions are required.

FROM A RESCUE (an abuse or neglect situation)
bonding with people
Chinchillas rescued from a neglect or abuse situation should receive immediate reassurance as described in Initiating Bonding, A Hands-On Approach. Behavioral rehabilitation may be required in cases where the chin has learned to act out defensively against what he perceives to be his human antagonists. It should be kept in mind that chins who have survived neglect or abuse are reacting to people as a result of generalizing from their past encounters and they will simply need time to readjust their perspective; this will require great patience, empathy and compassion on the part of the chinparent. Rescue services should know how to behaviorally rehabilitate chins so that they will someday be ready to be rehomed with the public.

bonding with other chins
As with chinchillas from a pet store background, chinchillas from a rescue situation will need time to completely relax and form a bond of trust with their chinparent before being introduced to another chin, at least a week but longer is strongly advised.


Also see: General Characteristics of Communication,
Speech Recognition and Animal Sentience Site

This section offers a general starting point for understanding chinchilla behavior, but it's vital to bear in mind that chinchilla personalities are absolutely, *distinctly,* individual, as much so as people's. So take time to understand and appreciate your chin for the wonderfully unique individual that he is, no two are exactly alike!

Don't expect a high level of control over your chin's behavior, their ability to perceive and reason is more sophisticated than most people anticipate and blind obedience to human will is not a realistic expectation. They're extremely intelligent, complex, independent and inquisitive animals, and if you want a positive relationship with your chin you'll need to dedicate time and patience to understanding him and developing a rapport.

People have the perspective of predators while chinchillas are prey animals, to understand them it's necessary to realize that and empathize with their perspective.

Chinchillas can tell the difference between human males and females, and some chins may develop a preference or aversion to either men or women, generalizing from how they've been treated by a member of that gender.

Chinchillas don't reach adult size until they're a year old, with males it can take longer. Until then, you have chinchilla CHILDREN on your hands, so be patient, protective and doting. Even as adults, chinchillas actually exhibit a lot of qualities that young human children have, such as being eager to please or showing jealousy if they feel they must compete for attention.

Young chinchillas are typically hyperactive with a short attention span. At any age they tend to be independent and have a mind and will of their own rather than being the docile lap pet that most people expect. However, chins do relax some as they become accustomed to you and they do tend to mellow with age, eventually becoming more receptive to sitting still for holding and petting. They are sociable and do enjoy the company of people, but more so when it's on their terms.

They sometimes inherit traits, quirks of attitude or habit, from their parents.

It is very typical for chins to be reluctant or suspicious of change or of something that's new or unfamiliar, whether it's a change in diet, a new cage accessory, a bonding approach, etc. This means that a chin's initial reaction, whether for positive or negative, should not be assumed to be his final opinion. The chinparent needs to allow their chin time to become familiar with something, to give it a fair chance, to adjust, to decide.

Chinchillas can spread their whiskers and also the hairs on their tail when exploring, frightened or nervous. If something should touch their whiskers or tail hairs unexpectedly while they're splayed, it gives the chin a sensory advantage that translates into increased reaction time to flee or retract if he needs to (photo). They can also hold their ears erect or point an ear in the direction of something that concerns them, to concentrate their ability to listen. When chins run, they usually hold their tail down, and this is most probably a defensive tactic which they'd use in the wild to keep their tail from injury or from being noticed and seized by predators. Chinchillas also practice fur slip, as detailed in that section.

Chins are very clean animals, they will draw back their whiskers if they are eating something messy or taking medicine, they lift their tail to urinate and many set aside one particular place, like a cage corner/s, to do that. If a chin is urinating continuously and excessively everywhere in his home territory, then he is acting territorial and this can be successfully addressed.

If a chin gets wet (normally they shouldn't, see "The Wet Bath"), he may do a "doggie shake" to try and fluff out his wet fur. The "doggie shake" can also apply to situations where a chin just thinks he's gotten wet, as in the case of getting kisses, even when they're (and they always should be) dry kisses.

Chinchillas are social animals, in the wild they travel in groups, or "herds." They prefer companionship, the company of their own kind. We advise same-sex pairs, it's the easiest way to meet their need for social contact without involving reproduction.

If your chin stares into space now and then this is not abnormal, but if he's doing it often he's probably BORED! Chins don't do well when left to sit for hours on end with little or nothing interesting or new to occupy their intelligent minds with. As noted previously on this page, chins need and will greatly benefit from: a
LARGE cage to accomodate running and playing, a variety of chew toys, at least one hideaway per chin and a cage wheel to help decrease stress and boredom inside the cage and TV during waking hours to provide environmental stimulation when the chin isn't actively engaged in out-of-cage exercise and interaction.

Chins will often snatch food away from each other, right out of the other's mouth as they're chewing, in fact. This is either tolerated because the chin with the tidbit wasn't that interested in it to begin with, or, if it's something really deletable, they'll take the treat and run to a corner or other spot where they can eat undisturbed. There is usually no real strife that arises when food is snatched, this is because as kits chinchillas learn to sample adult food by smelling, tasting and often taking what their parents are eating. Hogging the food dish by blocking another's access to it is another matter, however, and that can result in urine-spraying or dominance mounting.

(exercise, sleep and covering cages)

Chinchillas appreciate routines because predicability is comforting to animals of prey, it doesn't challenge their ability to cope. This is NOT to say that chins don't appreciate change or something new, it's only to say that their first reaction may be rejection or reluctance, they simply need time and opportunity to adjust and only then do their real preferences become clear, see Environmental Stress.

In our experience, the only routines that should be observed with strict regularity are those of exercise and sleep. Aside from those, other routines will develop based on what you've led them to expect. Chew toys and the dietary staples of
fresh, high quality pellets, hay, and distilled or filtered water should always be available, these are part of The Essentials. If you check their supply and replenish it in the morning before you go to work, they'll come to expect it then, if you do it in the evening after work, then that's what they'll come to expect. You may notice, too, that if you're around more in the daytime during the weekends that they may stay up later into the day or wake up earlier in the evening.

If you introduce a routine, chinchillas do have an internal sense of timing and they will anticipate whatever it is they've come to expect at that certain time. If your routine changes, it may take them a while to adjust, but they eventually will. Some stability and predictability in their environment is good for chins, so it's best to choose a routine and be consistent. For instance, when our chinkids wake up in the evening, if the TV is still on the music station instead of a show, they'll bark to let us know they're up and ready to watch something interesting. Some people give their chinchillas a treat after exercise time to "bribe" them back into their cage, if you do so even once, they will look for it the next time in hopes that you're establishing a routine!

Routines: Exercise

Out-of-cage exercise time, even if they have a wheel, is VERY important to chinchilla health and disposition. This will be something they look forward to, establishing a routine for that is also important to maintaining a bond with you. See Exercise and Play and Playtime Bonding for details.

Routines: Sleep and Covering Cages
(benefits of covering cages, preventing problems related to territorialism)

Also see: Urinary Indiscretions by Second Chance Chins and Maintaining Group Compatibility

Chinchillas are chiefly nocturnal but can be crepuscular, i.e., active at twilight in morning and evening, and they need a hideaway (tube, hammock, house- no plastic- and one hideaway for each cohabitating chin can help prevent cagemate conflicts) in their cage as well as a cage location that is relatively quiet and secure (away from prying pets, excessive traffic) so as to be conducive to daytime sleeping. Chinchillas are all somewhat territorial and guarded by virtue of their being an animal of prey, so it is EXTREMELY important to their health both mentally and physically that they feel safe, especially when they need to sleep.

There are many sleeping positions (photo) and some appear quite bizarre, as with chins who sleep with their head and upper torso hanging down out of their hammock, almost upside down. Typical sleeping habits include lying on their side (photo), lying on their back while wedged under something (shelf, wheel), using something (ledge, chew toy, etc.) as a pillow, or sleeping in a "chin pile" where they're wrapped over or around another cagemate/s (photo). If you are concerned about your chinchilla's state of being while he's asleep, take note of his sides to see that he's still breathing regularly.

Since 1997 we've kept sheets around our chinfamily's cages (on three sides with front open, as pictured), and due to the positive effects that we and others have experienced, especially those who handle difficult behavioral cases in rescue, we advise keeping a sheet (no strings, fringe or loose weave) wrapped around the individual chinchilla cages. New, king or queen-sized flat sheets can be purchased cheaply on ebay, at store sales, etc., and of course always wash linen before putting it to use. We also play soothing music softly in the background during sleeping hours.

It is of course not absolutely necessary to use cloth,
any barrier that is chewproof or safe to chew will do if the chinparent's main purpose in covering cages is to prevent problems related to territorialism.

The sheet will help contain mess and dust, prevent drafts, help prevent problems related to territorialism, and perhaps most importantly, covering the cage provides some privacy and seclusion which reassures the chin (especially high-strung chins) that the area within their domain is protected and secure, especially for daytime sleeping.

When a small animal of prey feels trapped (caged) in an exposed and vulnerable position, this can be VERY stressful. In the wild, chins seek shelter in a "covered" place; they inhabit the abandoned burrows of other animals, hide in vegetation, or find naturally formed holes and crevices to reside in. Throughout our years of rescue work we've taken in chins that were high-strung, severely stressed and fur bitten that made rapid improvement due in large part to simply having their cage, their place of shelter, covered.

PLEASE NOTE: If the cages are right next to each other and the sheet is pulled taut around the cage, which can be done by tucking it under the cage, it will be more difficult to pull in. But if your chin's cage doesn't have the safe (smaller) mesh width, then he will most likely get a curiosity itch and will try to pull the sheet into his cage, and probably with great success because a larger, unsafe mesh width (which is conducive to accidents) makes it easier for chins to pull things into the cage that they shouldn't. Pulling the sheet in is more of an inconvenience for the chinparent who has to readjust it than a problem for the chin as long as the sheet has no strings, fringe or loose weave that could be pulled loose and accidentally ingested, causing a fatal intestinal blockage. A regular bedsheet or cloth of tight weave may eventually get worn or even get holes from occasional gnawing, but that's not a potential health hazard for the chin.

If your chin displays an avid interest in chewing his sheet, change the brand or scent of your detergent or fabric softener, it can sometimes cause the sheet to smell appetizing. Chins don't normally make a habit of chewing on cage sheets, but a chin who is stressed or bored, ESPECIALLY bored, can resort to such fidgeting behaviors. As noted previously on this page, a LARGE cage to accomodate running and playing, a variety of chew toys, at least one hideaway per chin and a cage wheel will help decrease stress and boredom inside the cage while TV during waking hours will provide environmental stimulation when the chin isn't actively engaged in out-of-cage exercise and interaction.

As stated previously, any barrier that is chewproof or safe to chew will do if the chinparent's main purpose in covering cages is to prevent 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 and competing for the right to mate unless the chins are able to determine gender by 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.

Adequate ventilation and air circulation, which are basic to chinchilla housing 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 problematic.

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 dominance mounting that can lead to cagemate conflicts, or anti-social (biting, urine-spraying) behavior that some chins may direct at their chinparent to convey their extreme stress and agitation.

If the cages aren't covered and the view of other chins right next door has already provoked fighting within a group, then the problem has become INTERNAL to the group (a problem between cagemates) rather than external (a problem with other chins violating their territory), and at that point covering the cage probably will not "fix" the problem the way it could have prevented it. Also be aware that if playtime territorial issues, such as having a playroom separate from the cage room, are not observed, then territorial problems (fighting, excessive territorial marking) may continue in spite of covering cages.

If a single chin is "securing" his home territory by marking it with urine continuously and excessively, peeing on wooden shelves, wheels, houses and so forth (it's normal for chins to urinate in their cage corners and to urinate on cage accessories once in awhile, some territorial marking is also normal), especially around the periphery, then covering the cage can curb that behavior because it will secure the chin's territory for him so that he doesn't "need" to. This solution doesn't always work instantly though, because, as is typical with chins, they often need time to adjust to the change. A chin that is very territorialistic may even increase his territorial marking for awhile before realizing and accepting that his home territory is secure. Chins will also mark territory excessively if there is an environmental stress factor (chaotic environment, prying household pets, incompatible roommates, new chin that doesn't yet trust their chinparent, etc.) at work that needs to be resolved.

We have had both wire and wooden shelving for years, we also keep metal tubes (pointy edges sanded down), hammocks, wooden houses and both Saucer and classic style wheels in our chinkids' cages and we've never had a problem with excessive territorial marking. Sometimes when a cage accessory is new they may mark it a few times, and but otherwise they almost never urinate on their cage accessories. And this isn't because our chinkids are charm school graduates, either, our chinfamily is composed of mostly rescues and we make a point of taking in and working with the worst behavioral cases, many of which are very territorialistic. We attribute the lack of excessive territorial marking to the measures we take to ensure our chins feel secure and protected (covering cages) and the distractions (chew toys, wheel, TV) we provide to help prevent environmental stresses, boredom in particular.