Bringing Home Your New Chinchilla

It’s a good idea to make certain you are fully prepared before bringing home your new Chinchilla. Make certain the cage is ready, the food has been purchased, water bottles have been washed and are ready, and you’ve picked the prime location for your Chinchilla’s cage. Be certain everyone in your family is prepared for the responsibility, make it a family affair and have everyone participate in the preparations. Once you’re prepared go pick up your Chinchilla.

A few questions many new Chinchilla owners ask is “Why does my Chinchilla hate me?”; “When I go near my Chin’s cage it stands up and barks, chirps, or squeals at me, is this bad?”;” My Chin isn’t sleeping, it is ALWAYS watching me”; and my personal favourite “Help, my new Chin peed on me!”.

The first thing you need to do is relax. This is all VERY common behaviour for Chinchillas. They are very set in their routine and their environment so any changes to their lifestyle, cages, or owners will affect them and they may react in ways that aren’t very pleasant.

To answer these commonly asked questions:

1. Your Chinchilla doesn’t hate you. Chinchillas can take a while to settle in to their new home and environment ESPECIALLY if it is a lot different, i.e. barking dogs, children running around, loud TV’s etc… The best thing you can do is give them some space. Let them have some time to get comfortable with their surroundings before you try to really form a bond with them. Chinchillas are very light sleepers they are very aware of any kind of noise or movement around them. They can and will sleep with their eyes open in an unfamiliar environment. So don’t panic if they seem to be always staring at you, they are trying to get used to their surroundings and you and they are very sensitive to any new movement or noises. The best thing you can do for your Chinchilla is put him/her in a room by themselves during the day. If that isn’t possible then make sure their cage is not in the main traffic areas in your house, i.e. the living room where the TV is always blaring, the kid’s room where they are playing all day, or the kitchen where most families seem to congregate. Once your Chinchilla is used to the varying noises, movements, and distractions in your house they will probably settle down and start sleeping with their eyes closed.

2. Chinchillas are VERY good at letting you know when they are unhappy with something. Barking, Squeaking, Chirping, standing up very straight whenever you come in the room, these are all common Chinchilla behaviours when they are settling in. Again I must stress that your Chinchilla DOESN’T hate you. It is simply that he/she doesn’t know you. When they stand at attention and bark or chirp at you it can sound very threatening. It is meant to sound this way. This is their first line of defence against predators. The best thing you can do is sit quietly in front of the cage each evening (make sure this is done in the evening, DO NOT try to alter your Chinchilla’s normal nocturnal habits) and speak softly to them. Let them get used to your presence and your voice. Some suggest reading to them, others singing, it is all a personal preference. Make sure there are no other distractions in the room with you, i.e. TV, other pets, small children (if you have small children it is a good idea to let your Chinchilla get used to you first, once they trust you they will be ready to go on to meeting others), any distractions that may arise can break the process causing you to have to start all over. The most important thing you need to teach your Chinchilla is that you are not a threat, that you would never hurt him/her. Never do anything to frighten your Chinchilla such as chasing him/her, yelling at them, spraying them with water, etc… They WILL NOT forget this and you will never gain their trust if you do this.

Don’t be surprised if when you approach the cage and begin this ritual they pee on you. Chinchillas can and will spray urine for various reasons and one of those reasons is if they feel threatened. Be prepared for this and try to just laugh it off and go again.

Once your Chinchilla quits threatening you when you come in to the room or sit in front of the cage you then you can gradually step up the bonding process. Try feeding a treat from your hand. Please remember only ONE treat per day. It is very bad for them to over indulge in treats and it can be very easy to be swayed by them, they are very convincing, especially when they haven’t wanted anything to do with you up to this point and now they want treats and will come to you! Too many treats can cause serious health problems, the most common being diarrhoea which can be fatal to Chinchillas.

Once you get your Chinchilla comfortable enough with you to allow you to sit in front of the cage, feed them treats, not freak out when you try to change the cage bedding or their feed and water, you are ready for the next step.

Try opening the cage door and just setting your arm inside the cage. Let your Chinchilla come to you, they will probably crawl on you, nibble your fingers (this is a “test bite” it isn’t meant to cause harm. It can be rather startling but please be assured it is not done in anger it is simply their way of introducing themselves to new things), crawl up your shoulder, etc… Make sure you block the cage doors with your body so the Chinchilla can not get away and have his/her run of the house because if they do that and you chase them you will be back to square one.

Once you feel comfortable that your Chinchilla will return to you, that it is not afraid of you, once you can pet them, they don’t shy away from your touch at all, and they willing greet you at the cage doors, then and only then is it safe to allow them to have a free run time.

Please remember to try not to chase your Chinchilla. Before allowing your Chinchilla free run time please make sure the room is completely Chinchilla safe, that there are no possible escape routes, that there is nothing they could chew and endanger themselves or you, etc… Also please realize they will chew EVERYTHING they can find, this includes, walls, baseboard trim, paper, etc… Be prepared for this, you really can not scold them for it because they don’t understand and you will be back to square one.

Chinchillas are very good about knowing when they have had enough run time. Chances are very good if you sit in the room while they run they will come to you and probably fall asleep in your lap or on your shoulder or they will return to the cage. It is a good idea to make sure they can always return to their cage if they want to. It is not uncommon for a Chinchilla on their first run to stick very close to the cage and run back in every time they are exposed to something new or there is a slight noise. Their cage is their safe haven and they will use it.

This process is quite lengthy and while your Chinchilla could come around right away and it could take 2 days, it could also take weeks, months, or even years. Don’t get discouraged. I always try to keep in mind Chinchillas have an average life span of 10-15 years so you have plenty of time to become friends.

Finally, one thing I feel is VERY important, even though your new Chinchilla looks cuddly and cute, they are very independent and very active animals. While they enjoy the company of another Chinchilla (well most of them do), they do not like to be carried around, snuggled with, or hugged all of the time. The best part about having a Chinchilla is watching them. Letting them be themselves, and free to explore and act out as they are naturally inclined to do will insure your success and a life long bond with your Chinchilla.