and behavior determinants, basic
ways to prevent stress, potential
Attitude & Behavior Determinants
Often, the people
who give the most online advice are not the same people who spend
hours every day working with high-strung, oversensitive or troubled
chins, and that's why these chins are so often overlooked, misunderstood
or dismissed as the rare exception. Thus, it's easy for some people
to over-generalize from their
experience with very mellow, well-adjusted chins and they may not
see the need to address the subject of stress and its consequences,
because indeed, those mellow, well-adjusted chins are more adaptive
and resilient. But this is not representative of the common experience,
rescue workers and anyone who's been on a forum and watched chinparents
recycle the same old stress-related health and behavioral problems
can attest to.
When we refer to environmental
stress, we mean anything external to the chin that affects him: how
he's treated and cared for, what his environment is like, and not
just the physical environment but who and what is in it. Throughout
our years of rescue
work, which includes networking with rescuers internationally, we've
come to realize that chinchilla health and behavioral problems are
frequently rooted in a single cause: STRESS.
As stated in Critical
Points, "Because they are highly intelligent, chinchillas
can easily become stressed or bored... They cannot just sit, caged,
for hours on end without sufficient environmental
stimulation, exercise or interaction."
There are a wide range of health (stress
weakens the immune system, increasing vulnerability) and behavioral
problems which in reality are only SYMPTOMATIC of the cause, the real
problem: environmental STRESS.
Symptoms of environmental stess include, among other things:
goop, smallish or squashy fecal droppings,
behavior(chasing and pulling fur, biting, urine-spraying) directed
at the chinparent or cagemates (causing conflicts),
lethargy, acting depressed and withdrawn, weight loss, persistent
territory with urine, fidgeting behaviors such as obsessive chewing
of cage bars, hammock, water bottle, etc., and neurotic behaviors
fur biting, pacing in circles or somersaulting.
Besides being affected by environmental
a chin can also suffer from health and behavioral problems that originate
with the chin himself, internal factors, such as when a chin has a
particular sensitivity to a certain brand of dustbath
that gives him eye
irritations, or when a chin is recovering from a recent operation,
illness or injury and the stress of recovery (especially if not
on pain medication) causes him to fur bite or to act anti-social
in self-defense. In the event of the latter, when a chin is in recovery
from something stressful or traumatic, extra measures should be put
into place to ensure maximum comfort, security and tranquility; providing
helps ease stress and boredom. It is very important to rule out any
potential internal cause before assuming and addressing a health or
behavioral problem from the environmental stress angle, because a
chin that is ill or suffering should see a vet without delay.
This section on Environmental Stress takes a broad approach, so that
the chinparent can apply their analytical skills and intuition to
troubleshoot within the context of their particular situation. Often
chinparents don't realize there is an environmental stress factor
at work until after one of the aforementioned symptoms develops, sometimes
in a serious or chronic way, and then the focus
is often on "how do I make it stop" (treating the symptom)
rather than "what is causing this to happen" (addressing
the real problem). To resolve a stress-related health or
behavioral problem, it's necessary to pinpoint and address the underlying
cause, because treating the symptom (fur biting, weight
loss, change in fecal
droppings, anti-social behavior, etc.) in isolation of understanding
and correcting the actual problem usually fails and can even make
matters worse. Foresight and prevention
are best, of course.
This section is not intended to suggest
that all chinchillas are super-fragile, neurotic, nervous wrecks.
Generally speaking, chinchillas are adaptive, resilient animals,
HOWEVER, some are more susceptible to the consequences of environmental
stress. By examining the determinants
that shape a chin's attitude and behavior, we can better understand
and potentially predict how environmental stress will affect a particular
chin's ability to adjust and cope in life situations:
...whether the chinchilla is easy-going, high-strung, etc.
Chinchilla temperaments generally tend to mellow with age. For
instance, a chinchilla with a naturally high-strung (should
be regarded as NFB)
or oversensitive temperament is more likely to be negatively
impacted by environmental stress than a chinchilla with a calm,
easy-going, mellow temperament. Behavioral
rehabilitation can reassure a high-strung or oversensitive
chin and help him gain confidence in his ability to cope.
Males fall into three general types: typical Alphas, extreme
Alphas and Betas
Alpha males (both typical and extreme) have a stronger
and mating drive than Beta males, who are more submissive
and less driven (but not altogether disinterested!)
to dominate in M/M relationships or to mate with females. In
about 75% of all males are typical Alphas: they only mount
to establish dominance and determine social rank among other
males or to attempt mating with females.
The extreme Alpha, however, is
persistent (mounts relentlessly, even after rank is established)
and/ or aggressive in
his mounting (rough grooming that pulls head fur or
biting about the head, neck and ears) and
usually requires neutering
to achieve (non-reproductive) compatibility with either
sometimes the single life suits him best.
Females can of course be dominant or submissive too, but asserting
dominance and maintaining social rank and order is more characteristic
of the male chinchilla (the guardian) than the female
(the family maker); female chinchillas tend to be more
territorial, especially when carrying or caring for young. The
degree to which a chin, male or female, is dominance driven
can change, especially with regard to mellowing with age.
...how the chinchilla has been cared for (his needs
on all levels) by people, both past and present. If the
chinchilla came from an abuse or neglect situation or if he
was treated well, given a LARGE
cage and frequent exercise
and is now relegated to
a small cage and is given little attention, this type of thing
will have a direct bearing on the chin's current outlook and
attitude. If a chinchilla was handled roughly by their previous
chinparent, say it was a man as opposed to a woman, he may then
generalize about the human sexes and practice anti-social
behavior towards men only in a new home.
...what kind of environment the chinchilla has been in (underactive,
moderately active, overactive), both past and present
largely ignored, almost nothing to do or play with, no sounds,
music, nothing to watch, etc.
e.g., regular out-of-cage exercise time and bonding, an exercise
wheel, variety of chew toys and TV at night that's not too loud,
some quiet and solitude for daytime sleep, etc.
prying pets, constant loud or intimidating noise and traffic,
frequent rough handling, disregard for the chin's need for daytime
rest, his basic needs sometimes neglected, etc.
|It's important to
realize that an environment of perpetual, unrelenting boredom
(underactive) is just as nerve-wracking and stressful
for a chinchilla as one that is noisy and chaotic (overactive),
and both cause similar health and behavioral problems. For instance,
biting is common in chinchillas from either an underactive
or overactive environment. A moderately
active environment is best, some activity and noise is
stimulating without being overwhelming or stupefying, it desensitizes
the chinchilla just enough so he can cope with change or the
unexpected without being traumatized by things like thunderstorms,
visitors, when their chinparent takes a trip and they get a
pet sitter, or a ride to the vet. The chinchilla's curious,
intelligent mind craves some environmental stimulation but BOTH
chaos and boredom are problematic.
When a chinchilla comes to a new home from a previous environment
that was underactive OR overactive, he'll need a few days to
a week in a calm, relaxed setting with soft music, some mellow
the First Contact Procedure
and no other household pets
prior to being brought into the mainstream of a moderately active
household. Covering his cage, as described on Routines,
will help him feel more secure. He'll also need at least a week,
maybe more, to settle in and feel safe and comfortable with
his new chinparent before being introduced
to a new cagemate.
This transitional period is necessary because the chin from
an overactive environment will need a chance to rest his nerves
and regroup and the chin from an underactive environment isn't
prepared to handle a lot of stimulation all at once. Too much,
too soon can overwhelm the chin from an underactive environment
and lead to acute
shock. It will take some intuition on the part of the chinparent
to determine when their new chin is ready for more environmental
stimulation, a larger cage,
etc., but it's always best to start out with less stimulation
or a familiar cage size and then work up from there to allow
the chin to gradually transition to an improved lifestyle.
Basic Ways to Prevent Environmental Stress
Read this section on Environmental Stress thoroughly and ensure
your chinchilla has a moderately
active environment in which all his needs (The
Essentials) are met with unfailing reliability. The Essentials
include regular out-of-cage exercise,
and sufficient daytime rest.
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.
Also, covering the chin's cage (as described on Routines)
will go a long way in providing a sense of security and privacy
that greatly reduces stress.
Providing distractions (chew
to prevent boredom is crucial. Chinchillas
are far too intelligent to be caged for long periods of constant,
stupefying boredom and when they have lots of time and nothing interesting
to do, they may obsess or instigate trouble which can easily lead
to neurotic behaviors such as
fur biting, pacing in circles or somersaulting, fidgeting behaviors
such as obsessive gnawing of cage bars, hammock, water bottle, etc.,
or cagemate conflicts.
Introduce any MAJOR change, such as a change of chinparents, an
to other chins or a complete change of environment- new home, people,
cage, unfamiliar noises and household pets, etc.- slowly if at all
possible. Having a "familiarity connection"
helps, such as when a chin moves from one home to another
and both homes have TV
for him to watch, or if the chin's cage
and accessories make the transition with him.
Gradual adjustments are best and this can prevent acute
shock, an uncommon but very real phenomenon most familiar to
tenured rescue workers. It is brought on when a chin with low stress
tolerance feels overwhelmed by abrupt, MAJOR change/s and perceives
his situation to be inescapable, hopeless, and completely overpowering
of his ability to cope; and he fails to survive the adjustment.
Acute shock may happen right away (heart attack), as an immediate
reaction to intense stress, or the chin may expire days or even
a week or two later when his heart just gives out from the strain
of cumulative, prolonged stress. If addressed early, the condition
may not result in death.
Chins, like other animals, live very much "in the now,"
and that's why they're not always good at waiting things out and
seeing the light at the end of the tunnel when things look very
bleak. Sudden, overwhelming change, especially
a lot of change all at once, or going between extremes like from
an underactive to an overactive environment, can sometimes be too
much. Chins with low stress tolerance include those that
are high-strung or oversensitive, that have come from an abuse situation,
or that were previously kept (especially for a long time) in
a very underactive or overactive (chaotic) environment, per
the attitude and behavior determinants
described in the previous section. Symptoms of acute shock range
from extreme lethargy to extreme activity to seizures,
but those symptoms are only indicative of this condition when they
occur within the context of MAJOR, stressful change/s.
The chinparent needs to allow their chin time to become familiar
with something, to give it a fair chance, to adjust, to decide,
because 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., a chin's initial reaction, whether for positive
or negative, should not be assumed to be his final opinion. This
sometimes reserved and cautious approach undoubtably derives from
their position as a relatively powerless prey animal, it's also
why they appreciate routines so much, because what is safe and familiar
is comforting and doesn't challenge their ability to cope.
It is very important to realize that this does NOT mean that any
change is bad and that anything new or improved should be withheld,
chinchillas can and do adjust if allowed the time to do so and only
then will their preference for the old or the new become clear.
Especially if a chin is being transitioned from something harmful
or unsafe, like a bad diet
or an unsafe wheel,
to something better, then it is absolutely necessary to see to it
that the changeover successfully takes place. Be assertive, don't
allow your chin to continue being exposed to something that's bad
for him just because he appears to reject the new when in reality,
he only needs a chance, some TIME, to adjust.
Chins normally enjoy non-threatening change
in their environment, sometimes they just need time to adjust and
some chins adjust more quickly than others depending on factors
like their age, health and temperament. For instance, an older,
and sight-deficient chin will be more likely to begin fur
biting (from stress) when an additional household pet
is introduced than a younger, mellower chin whose sight is intact
and who can better assess and adjust to the change. It's also a
good idea to invite your pet sitter over a few times to become acquainted
with your chin before going on a trip and leaving him entirely in
the pet sitter's care. If the chin will be staying at the pet sitter's
while you're gone, take him over there to get acquainted with the
pet sitter's environment prior to dropping him off for a prolonged
Changes such as a new cage
location, a new movie
or TV show, a new wheel or different type of hay
toy are usually welcomed with great enthusiasm and enjoyment,
albeit sometimes after the chin's had a chance to assess and adjust;
change can make a chin's life more interesting, exciting and fulfilling.
If something is changed and the chin has been given awhile to adjust
(it can take time!) but it becomes clear that the change is
causing the chin to exhibit stress-related health and behavioral
then the change (just be sure you've pinpointed the real problem,
that it's not something else!) should be treated as an environmental
and adjustments should be made.
Potential Environmental Stress Factors
and nutrition, loneliness
or boredom, personal
safety and security)
Chinchillas in captivity are entirely dependent on their chinparent
for everything, they have no freedom to run, forage or hide, no
control over the environment they exist in and this complete powerlessness
can be difficult and overwhelming for a small animal of prey. The
pet chinchilla's complete dependence on people for their care is
what makes the following list of potential stress factors so wide
and varied. The ability to make changes, to address an environmental
stress factor, IS completely within the chinparent's control, and
it is their duty to be observant and aware of how the chin is affected
by his environment so that appropriate changes can be made if the
chin becomes affected by a stress factor.
Once the attitude and behavior determinants
that directly influence a chin's ability to adjust and cope (temperament,
treatment, environment) have been assessed, it should be easier
to see what the potential environmental stress factor that is causing
the condition (fur
biting, whitish eye
goop, etc.) might be. Bear in mind that what is a stress factor
for one chin may not be for another. For instance, a high-strung
or oversensitive chin may be more bothered by noise while sleeping
than other chins would be. Or, a group of chins that have never
had other chins close by and then find themselves in full view of
chins right next door (proximity
is the issue, seeing other chins across the room or more than a
few feet away is normally not a problem, but seeing them right next
door often is) may start having internal cagemate conflicts.
It may take some TIME and observation to pinpoint what the
REAL stress factor is or there may be more than one stress factor
at work. Once pinpointed and addressed, it may take TIME again for
the condition (fur biting, eye goop, etc.) to clear up, improvement
is not always "instantaneous."
This list is NOT all-inclusive, and as stated previously, the Environmental
Stress section takes a broad approach because the chinparent should
apply their analytical skills and intuition to troubleshoot within
the context of their particular situation. Follow the hyperlink
within the point made for further elaboration:
HEALTH AND NUTRITION
An abrupt change in diet
Deprived of adequate rest (chins need some quiet solitude during
exercise time (exercise is vital and a chin may act
out if deprived of it)
Deprived of dustbath
Feed or hay that is soiled or moldy
Cage too small and confining, a LARGE
cage that allows for some running and jumping is a MUST!
Poor diet that causes malnutrition
(unsuitable pellets, i.e., those meant for other animals and
not chins; unhealthy or too many treats; no hay, etc.)
Unreliable availability of or inappropriate essential
or filtered water, dustbath,
toys, etc. Note that fresh, hay, pellets and water should ALWAYS
be available for consumption, do NOT ration pellets!)
LONELINESS OR BOREDOM
for a cagemate that has departed.
biters are often particularly intelligent and sensitive to an
underactive or overactive environment.
A single chin will require much more daily attention, interaction
with their chinparent than those with a cagemate.
sickness or recuperation should not consist of keeping the chin
closed off from any interaction or environmental stimulation. Even
under normal circumstances chinchillas need distractions in their
environment that keep them occupied when they're not actively engaged
in interaction and out-of-cage exercise
time. For this purpose a variety of chew
toys, a cage wheel
are all strongly advised, although in some cases a wheel may not
be feasible for a chin in recuperation.
Boredom is a very common
environmental stress factor because people often underestimate
how intelligent chins are and their need for sufficient interaction
and environmental stimulation.
Chins that are bored may gnaw on water bottles, their cage wheel
or bars or their hammock just for something to do.
PERSONAL SAFETY AND SECURITY
too hot and/or humid
A big change, like a new pet (dog, cat, etc.) in the household,
moving to another city or state, getting rehomed
Too frequent or improper handling
Not being reassured upon arrival, see Initiating
Bonding, A Hands-On Approach
Not enough hideaways
plastic- and one hideaway for each cohabitating chin can help
prevent cagemate conflicts)
Fear of other household pets
(owls and foxes prey on chinchillas in the wild) or visiting
Using introduction methods that jeapordize
the chin's safety or violate their territorial
Territory not secured (cage fully exposed to the epicenter of
household noise and chaos, full view of chins right next door that
marauding household pets)
Occasional or frequent neglect, abuse by people
Cagemate conflicts (dominating
cagemate or insistent mate). Weight loss can result when a bullied
cagemate spends his time defensively backed into a cage corner,
afraid to seek nourishment. See Maintaining
Group Compatibility: Preventing Conflicts, Causes
single female chin syndrome; rearing
up and chattering teeth;
pursuing, cornering and causing fur slip/ fur-pulling)
About Discipline and Behavioral
Rehabilitation for an understanding of how to address anti-social
behavior directed at people. See Maintaining
Group Compatibility for information about anti-social behavior
and chinchilla group dynamics.
We refer to
the behaviors described in this article as anti-social because they're
chiefly used to repel people or other chins, and sometimes other
household pets. By nature chinchillas are gentle and friendly toward
people, this has been routinely noted: historically by those who
hunted them for the fur trade, by those who have studied them in
the wild (these wild chinchilla photos
speak volumes to that effect), and by those who own or breed
them today in captivity for pets.
Chinchillas are herbivorous prey animals, they aren't prone to be
aggressive or confrontational, especially with predators (humans)
where they do in fact recognize that they are at a disadvantage,
being comparitively weak and powerless. That's right, the "ferocious"
looking chinchilla before you is not mounting an offensive, does
not want to "attack," and his behavior is NOT a sign that
he dislikes you. He is just on the defensive and his
anti-social behavior is meant to communicate, as in the case of
a small child who acts out because he cannot put his predicament
into words, that he is either physically injured and suffering pain,
is afraid, or is sufficiently stressed
Chinchillas travel in herds in the wild and are therefore inclined
to be sociable
with other chins. They will, however, demonstrate anti-social (defensive)
behavior toward other chins if they feel threatened based on previous
bad experience, if the othe chin provokes them with anti-social
behavior first, or if they feel they must defend their territory
or members of their group.
Anti-social behavior may appear by intent to be an offensive maneuver
but it is in fact defensive. In our experience working with hundreds
of chinchillas from all backgrounds
since 1997, we have never met a "mean" chinchilla, there
is ALWAYS a reason for the anti-social behavior, a past or present
provocation coming to bear on the current situation. For instance,
a chinchilla with past negative experiences with people (neglect,
abuse, being subjected to environmental stress)
or other chinchillas (being the victim of anti-social behavior)
may generalize from that past experience so that sometime in
the future when he feels confronted by another person or chinchilla,
he'll act out preemptively with anti-social (defensive)
behavior. It will appear that there was no provocation, but indeed
there was, just not immediately preceding.
behavior is usually learned as a result of bad past experiences,
but sometimes this behavior is instinctual to a high-strung
or oversensitive chin; they are more likely to overreact in self-defense.
A chin cannot "unlearn" anti-social behavior, but it can
be successfully addressed through behavioral
rehabilitation or by using time-outs in an introductory
session. Anti-social behavior isn't always rooted in the past, though,
sometimes it's the result of a problem in the present, like an evironmental
or the chin may be stressed due to recovering from a recent operation,
illness or injury, especially if not on pain medication. As the
section on Environmental
Stress relates, some chins are more temperamentally sensitive
to stress than others.
We define chinchilla anti-social behavior as any of the following:
mounting (it is instinctual for males to want to establish
social rank but it becomes problematic when carried to the point
where there is persistent or aggressive mounting), biting, urine-spraying,
rearing up and chattering teeth, hostile pursuit, cornering and
slip/ fur-pulling. Fighting itself may be injurious
(involves biting) or non-injurious (involves a combination
of the other, less severe behaviors).
It is also worth noting that when afraid, a chinchilla may release
an odor from his anal gland, which is "a scent gland located
in the opening of the anus" (ref-
Lioncrusher's Domain). The odor isn't particularly pungent but
it is definitely noticeable within a range of about 2-3', and has
been described as the smell of "burnt almonds." We jokingly
refer to this as "mad chin farts" and it's one of many
"warnings" that a chin may give leading up to biting or
urine-spraying, in fact, most of the anti-social behaviors are signs
pointing to the possible or eventual deployment of those two ultimate
Dominance Mounting occurs between chins and is covered in a
In the many years that we've
worked with hundreds of chins, including unsocialized ranchies
and rescue chins from neglect and abuse situations, we've met maybe
a half dozen chins that were true biters, that is, that REALLY bit
and pierced skin rather than just nibbled or gave a pressure bite.
There are three types of biting: nibbles, pressure biting and biting
itself, and pressure biting (in an urgency context) and nibbles
aren't actually biting or anti-social, they're part of normal chinchilla
communication and are just described here alongside biting for comparitive
1) Nibbling is not anti-social behavior, it's a normal, non-offensive
mode of communication
and should not be reacted to adversely. Nibbling can involve light
or firm contact, but it's not insistent to the point of almost piercing
skin, and it's done in a positive, amicable context. Chins nibble
each other while grooming to demonstrate acceptance and affection
and they may do the same with their chinparent, especially during
scratches. Kits will nibble just as a baby explores his environment
by putting things in his mouth, all you need to do if the nibbling
becomes a bit too rough is to give a simple admonishment like, "gentle,
honey, gentle" and pull your hand back a little as a deterrent.
2) Pressure biting is definitely firm and insistent contact,
but unlike with an actual bite, the skin isn't pierced. On some
occasions, as in the context of stress/ fear, it may come close
and leave a bruise. Pressure bites can happen in one of two situational
A) When a chin is expressing urgency: Like nibbling, pressure biting
(in the context of urgency) is not an anti-social behavior,
it's a normal, non-offensive mode of communication.
When a chin needs to urinate, wants down to play, to go back to
his cage, etc., he may put his teeth carefully on your hand or around
your finger and squeeze firmly but without intent to harm, just
to impart a sense of real urgency. In this case, try to figure out
what the chin wants and comply, there is no need to discourage pressure
biting when done in this context, after all, how else is a chin
supposed to express urgency?
B) When a chin is expressing extreme stress or fear: In this context,
pressure biting becomes anti-social enough to warrant using the
Bite" technique immediately to discourage future attempts.
Pressure biting in the context of stress/ fear has the same motivation
and intent as a chinchilla attempting to give an actual bite, only
the chin doesn't pierce skin either because he realizes that people
really can feel it when he bites (some chins are very surprised
that their bite is even noticed by the "giant" human)
or because he's too timid or temperamentally mellow to persist with
breaking skin. A chin who uses pressure biting in this context may
rehabilitation, especially if he bites often or uses other anti-social
3) Biting itself indicates a chinchilla at his MOST stressed
or afraid, when he is using the most persuasive, urgent means conceivable
of communicating his feelings. As stated previously, some chins,
in particular those who've had negative or limited experience with
people, may not even realize that their bite will affect the "giant"
human, but in any case, it is VERY important for the chinparent
to calmly put the chin down and NOT to display anger, pain or fear.
Such a display will only make the chin more afraid (of retaliation),
and it will reinforce the
biting behavior, showing the chin in very dramatic terms that biting
grants him power leverage whenever he is feeling helpless and upset
in any way.
Provided that there isn't physical injury involved that requires
immediate first aid attention, this anti-social behavior will need
to be discouraged immediately with the "No
Bite" technique. Biters should be considered a candidate
Rehabilitation, and they need to be handled with gloves until
they are socialized and no longer so deeply stressed and afraid
that they want to bite.
Chinchilla bites are usually deep and piercing rather than wide
and gouging. Biting directed at people is rare, but biting between
chins is more common. Fight wounds (with other chins) should
receive immediate treatment.
Grinding or baring of teeth is a typical forewarning to biting,
Nebula and Friends provides a good general guide to the warning
signs of biting.
female chin syndrome)
Males can spray urine but rarely do, it's almost exclusively
a female behavior and is especially common to females with a high-strung
or oversensitive temperament.
Such temperamentally "difficult" chins may take more time
to get to know, and may require more bonding
effort on your part, but in our opinion these are frequently the
most intelligent, fascinating and fun chins to know.
Urine-spraying occurs when a female rears up and expels a jet of
urine, which can easily reach up to a few feet in length. The chin
may stand on her hind legs for a moment and give a warning sound
first in low buzzing tones, but there isn't always forewarning.
Be aware that larger chins may have trouble projecting the urine
and can end up with a wet bottom that will need dried off with a
cloth and the chin given dustbath. The urine
isn't harmful in any way, to people or other chins (although
a shot in the eye can cause an eye irritation),
but if you suspect that a female is going to spray urine anywhere
near your head, keep your mouth shut! A chin that urine-sprays frequently
should be considered a candidate for Behavioral
When a chin gets urine-sprayed, providing the chinparent is privvy
to it, then he should receive a dustbath
right afterward so that he can keep clean; chins get very dismayed
if they're not able to clean up right after being urine-sprayed.
If the chin is very urine-sprayed he might smell and be sticky,
and in this case dustbath alone will not suffice. Wipe him down
using a warm, damp cloth in a draft-free room, then towel or blow
dry him completely before administering dustbath.
Some females that are high-strung or oversensitive can be rather
quick to resort to urine-spraying, going beyond just warding off
a perceived threat (person, other chin) to using it when
a cagemate becomes a nuisance or to repel another cagemate in order
to get to something first or to keep something for herself, like
a treat or chew toy. Females that are near or in their estrus
cycle (think "PMS"!) are sometimes more easily
provoked and will spray urine accordingly.
Urine-spraying is also used by females as a way of "training"
their mate (to let ladies go first, to be a better guardian,
etc.). A male that runs over to his female when he should be
taking a stand to ensure she feels safe or doesn't get caught is
sometimes deflected with a reprimanding jet of urine; when people
say that females "rule the roost" in an M/F chinchilla
pairing, this type of "training" is one aspect of that.
Some males try urine-spraying after being on the receiving end of
it with their females, but this isn't necessarily a learned behavior.
Since chinchilla urine is darker in color, ranging from dark yellow
to having a reddish-orange hue, it is easy to spot when sprayed
outside of the cage. Urine that is sprayed will be at a distance,
unlike the usual urine marks that may run down the side or corners
of an uncovered
cage, and these urine spraying marks can be an indicator of the
current social climate between cagemates.
"SINGLE FEMALE CHIN SYNDROME"
Urine-spraying towards people often results from being exposed
to a chaotic household or from other environmental stresses.
This is especially true in the case of a female housed alone who
must do all her own guarding, and who consequently tends to become
paranoid and develop stress-related behavioral problems, especially
frequent urine-spraying or other hostile displays (even biting),
as a result. We've
seen this frequently in the course of our rescue work, owners dropping
off their "impossible" single female chins, and other
rescuers have corroborated our observation. Eventually we had to
to give this phenomenon a name, something dark and ominous sounding...
"Single Female Chin Syndrome."
Chinchillas "stand guard" for each other when in groups
(two or more), this occurs mainly during sleeping hours or
when something stressful is going on (moving, travelling, strangers
in the house, etc.). Posture or position in the cage usually
reveals who is on "guard duty," in this
photo the chin in the protective posture is guarding. When two
chins are resting side by side, they may both be on guard duty.
Chinchilla males usually assume the guardian role in M/F cagemate
situations, in M/M or F/F situations they may take turns or one
chin may prefer to do most of the guarding.
Because males are more instinctually equipped for the protective
or guardian role, and because a female caged alone has no one else
to even share guard duty with, she is at a particular disadvantage
and may feel very vulnerable and stressed because she must overcompensate
to fill the guardian role. The SFC has to be "on" all
the time in order to do all her own guarding. Consequently, this
can make some oversensitive or high-strung
SFC's very defensive and prone to anti-social behaviors such as
urine-spraying. Not all SFC's
have SFCS, but for those who do the best (non-reproductive) solution
is to get the SFC a female companion.
Rearing Up and Chattering Teeth
These two behaviors often occur together, but won't necessarily.
A chin that rears up is getting into position to potentially spray
urine and a chin that is chattering his teeth may potentially bite,
especially if the chattering becomes more like a grinding sound
and the chin is baring his teeth. A chin who is threatening to bite
should be examined immediately to rule out the possibility of physical
injury, the chinparent can use gloves to handle the chin for that
purpose. Often when these behaviors (rearing up and chattering
teeth) are used together it's because a chin feels trapped or
cornered and he feels compelled to pull himself up high and put
on an intimidating act as a last ditch effort to ward off the person
or chin that he feels threatened by. For instance, if a cagemate
is being subjected to occasional dominance mounting
and he's had enough of that, he may rear up and chatter with his
teeth in a warning manner to reject the antagonizer's advances.
Chinchillas also make a number of gruffing and barking sounds which
are part of their natural communication and which are often not
used in the context of anti-social behavior, see Communication.
There is also a "pshaw" swipe that sometimes occurs when
chins are reared up and facing each other. It can happen when the
situation seems at a standstill, or when one chin is testing the
other to see if he really wants to continue the confrontation. The
"pshaw" swipe is the act of one chin swiping his paw across
the face of the other in a leisurely manner, sometimes getting it
into the other chin's mouth, but we've never seen the opposing chin
take advantage of this opportunity to try and bite during a "pshaw"
gesture. The results vary, perhaps the "pshaw" swipe is
only meant to break the tension, because afterward the chins may
calm down or press into more heated conflict.
Hostilely Pursuing, Cornering and Causing
Fur slip/ Fur-Pulling
Hostile pursuit occurs between chins, and this is almost always
bad news, because a chin who is hostilely pursues is very apt to
bite and that's why fur slip occurs, because fur is pulled (released
slipping) from the victim. Hostile pursuit is NOT the same
as when a chin runs about his cage for recreation and fun, it's
only hostile pursuit when there is one chin who pursues and another
chin who flees. It is important to pay attention when the sounds
of vigorous running occur, because when a chin is hostilely pursued
within the limits of his cage, things can turn deadly, see Maintaining
Group Compatibility. The
aftermath of hostile pursuit is sometimes evident by tufts of slipped
fur lying about.
FACTS ABOUT DISCIPLINE
see: General Characteristics
to Your Chinchilla
Chinchillas do NOT respond to negative
chastising, i.e., physical (corporal)
punishment- hitting, smacking or flicking which can easily lead
or reprimands by shouting or similar displays of anger. Such
"discipline" is neither suitable nor effective in relating
to chinchillas, it will have the opposite desired effect.
Because chinchilla anti-social behavior directed at people is defensive
in nature and most often rooted in fear, frustration or stress,
when the chin receives a hostile reaction to his attempt to communicate
these feelings it justifies his need for a stronger defense and
the behavior will worsen, even escalate. Also, never blow on your
chin's face as a form of "punishment." According to our
exotics specialist vet,
chinchillas can catch a virus from people, such as cold or flu.
A chin that bites
or sprays urine may appear to be "vicious,"
may seem to be offensive and hostile, but in reality the
anti-social behavior communicates the chinchilla's intense feelings
of vulnerability, demonstrates that he's feeling defensive for some
underlying reason that needs to be pinpointed and resolved in order
for the anti-social behavior to stop. When the chinparent addresses
the underlying motivation for the anti-social behavior, the chin
will finally be able to feel reassured
that he is now in good hands, relieved
of what's troubling him and secure
in his environment.
Chinchillas will only reform anti-social
behaviors when you use a positive approach
as opposed to a punishing approach, (see Behavioral
Rehabilitation) and that requires maturity, love and PATIENCE
but the results can be truly miraculous! As long as you've always
given positive attention and positive reinforcement when they're
good, then warning them about something they shouldn't get into
or saying "no" in a serious but not intimidating way when
they're misbehaving will not be taken adversely. If you find yourself
saying "no" all the time then chances are you probably
need to make an adjustment, like do a better job chin-proofing
so your chin isn't tempted by hazards that require constant verbal
warnings; that's destructive to bonding
and unfair to the chin who should be free to explore in a safe environment.
Some chinchillas are gruff,
moody characters that are very vocal in their attitude. In our
experience, these chins are always the most interesting personalities,
and ultimately the most soft-hearted, likeable and misunderstood.
Our Sherlock was a good example of this. He was a neutered male
with a strong territorial
instinct and tender devotion to his three quite high-strung females.
Even after his death, an apparent heart attack, they were still
a perfectly harmonious group as a direct result of his influence
and uniting leadership. When one of the chinparents would approach
the cage door, he would dutifully come forward to assess the situation,
and gruff if one of his girls moved ahead of him since that overstepped
When we handed out treats during out-of-cage exercise time he was
happy to let his women go first, but if the cage door was opened,
that was Sherlock's cue! He'd rush up, gruff... and then turn and
run like heck! It was absolutely hilarious, his instinct leading
him to demonstrate verility and devotion to "the herd"
in that obligatory manner. The girls, of course, were always genuinely
impressed by this display. They'd demonstrate their respect for
his leadership by standing back in awe of Sherlock's manly "ferocity."
So what of Sherlock's gruffing, was that "vicious" behavior?
No. Because he was a cuddly sweetheart with us the rest of the time
we knew this was just an act and respected it because it kept him
happy and maintained harmony in his group. In fact, we would support
harmony in that group by acknowledging Sherlock's gruffing with
praise for his noble leadership. When he'd come back after the initial
display of ferocity, we'd tell him what a good boy he was for "defending"
his ladies and then offer a hand, palms up, for him to sniff and
approve of before we would enter his domain to clean up, give them
food or hay, or a scratch behind the ears or under the chin.
For every cage of more than one chin (same or opposite sex)
there will always be a more dominant chin who behaves similarly
to Sherlock. That's the "guardian" chin. If you acknowledge
and respect his authority then you are reinforcing the group bond,
the security and happiness of the group as a whole. As long as you
know the guardian is only gruffing for role playing or from a feisty
personality and is not afraid, frustrated or stressed
by anything in his environment, then it's okay to be affirming when
he gruffs. Tell him he's a good boy and offer your hand palms-up,
and honestly, he'll sit back and look so content, so pleased to
be understood and loved!
ADDRESSING BITING AND URINE-SPRAYING
these articles that have a direct bearing on this section:
Behavior, and Facts
About Discipline (the three preceding articles on this page)
Behavioral rehabilitation (BR)
can begin once it has been ascertained that the chin's anti-social
behavior is not caused by and will not discontinue by adjusting
factors in the environment. BR is often necessary with chins
that have experienced past neglect, abuse or abandonment by people.
BR can also help soothe some chinchillas that are just naturally
(should be regarded as NFB)
Firstly, remember that owning a chinchilla requires maturity
of character: NEVER display temper, do NOT get loud or move in a
loud or boisterous manner around a chin that's already terrified
behaviors are actually defensive). Chins are highly intelligent,
if you act consistently they may come to understand what you mean
but they don't speak fluent English or read minds- don't expect
them to. BE CALM, BE PATIENT.
Remember, with chinchillas their anti-social behavior is caused
by fear and bringing in corporal punishment compounds the fear.
It'll take maturity and unselfish compassion on your part to look
past the behavior and realize that this little animal is just scared
silly and that no matter how intimidating they manage to appear,
they're not really "bad, psycho, vicious."
The only way to address anti-social behavior
that can't be resolved by addressing an environmental stress
factor is to love them out of it, using empathy, gentleness,
calming reassurance, and persistent affection- NO corporal punishment.
Depending on the chin and their circumstances it can take time,
but BR does work because calming the fear will silence the anti-social
rehabilitation can actually start
as soon as you meet your chin, it can become part of the bonding
process that you share: Do this every day, no more than twice
a day, for at least ten minutes at a time during the evening,
the chin's natural waking hours:
|| If the chin
is biting, start by handling him carefully, needless to
say, don't put yourself in a position to get bit, wear
thick cloth gloves for now.
Female chins that have lived singly for awhile before
being rescue/ rehomed
are especially likely to spray
urine when relocated. Before picking up a chin who sprays
(males can but rarely, this is primarily a female defensive
behavior), have ready a container of Baby
Cornstarch Powder (no Baby Powder, nothing
that can be purchased from the grocery store baby section.
When the female rears up to spray, squirt the cornstarch
at her lower extremities, it may take a couple squirts
and you need to take aim at the chin's LOWER half only,
DON'T get the powder in her nose or eyes. Eye irritants
can be flushed out using Natural Tears, nothing else unless
Scoop the chin up gently with both hands and hold him/her
on your lap, in a quiet place away from noise and distractions.
the chin, kiss (dry kisses!) his tummy and toes
(just in case he's worried, this demonstrates that
you won't eat him) and then rub his tummy, under the
chin, behind the ears or on the forehead; find what he
likes best and do that most. Then speak softly, soothingly,
things like "good boy/ girl, good -name-, good -name-"
and "good boy/ girl, you're my little angel, I love you."
Use loving praise and sweet talk in a reassuring tone,
quiet the fears, calm the anxiety and keep crooning in
a loving way. Remember, this will not be perceived by
the chin as "rewarding" the anti-social
behavior, it's resolving their fear and replacing it with
trust, security and love.
massaging and soothing the chin every day for at least
ten minutes at a time, until you feel confident that
the biting chin is relaxed enough to be picked up without
gloves, and the urine-spraying chin has ceased that defensive
Then work up to the point where you can kiss the biting
chin on the cheek or forehead and he wouldn't even think
of biting you, and the urine-spraying chin should reach
a point where she no longer backs into a corner and rears
up, threatening to spray.
exercise time an extension of the BR time and then
let the chin approach you. You should move slowly around
him, allowing him to take the initiative- see Playtime
|| Give him TV
during his waking hours! This is a tremendous rehabilitative
tool for chins with behavioral issues, see The
|| Provide a
setup that is relatively quiet and peaceful (away from
prying pets, excessive traffic) and cover his cage
with a sheet (as described on Routines)
for privacy and security. You can choose to play some
classical music very softly in the background.
The BR process works, but it takes time, sometimes a few
days, sometimes a few weeks or more than a month- it depends
on the type of anti-social
behavior, what caused it and the personality of the chin.
Gradually, your persistent love and patience WILL win
him over and in time he'll relax, become calmer, curious
and receptive to you as his fear and apprehensions fade
|| Once the anti-social
behavior is gone and you've built a positive rapport, established
trust and your chin is secure in the knowledge that he is safe
and loved, then the only deterrent or reprimand you should need
in the future is a change of tone in your voice and a "no"
spoken firmly, not loudly or in a frightening manner.
|| There are exceptions
to every rule, and the "No Bite" technique
is intended for that. If your chin has been through BR or has
been taught as a youngster not to bite
(i.e., when you know that he knows the difference between
nibbling and biting) but bites anyway, then use this technique.
Again, the No Bite technique is only useful once a bond of
trust and affection has been established, when the chin
understands that you have his best interests at heart and feels
secure and cared for in his environment- otherwise, this
will make matters worse!!
||Catch and hold
him securely, putting your thumb on one side of his mouth
and your index finger on the other side of his mouth,
far back enough not to get bit but forward enough to be
able to GENTLY squeeze just enough so that he's making
a puckered expression similar to what a chin looks
like when his incisors are checked for dental health.
||Say in a low
and firm tone, "no bite, no." DON'T shout. Single syllables
are best to aid remembering.
||DO NOT hold
his face in this position for more than a few seconds
because chins breathe through their nose and this could
make it a bit difficult for him to breathe.
by association- you're holding his mouth so that he can't
bite, while saying "no bite" Once a chin has been reprimanded
with the No Bite technique once, simply saying "no bite"
in a calm and firm tone after that should be a sufficient
deterrent, we rarely have to use the No Bite technique
more than once or twice.