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Knowing your chins

Piper (White Violet TOV)

Many chinchilla owners become disillusioned because their pet doesn’t respond the way they think it should. New owners tend to continually reach into the chinchilla’s cage and chase it around until they are able to grab it. This frightens the chinchilla and frustrates the owner. With a new chinchilla, we always approach the cage quietly. We will open the door and put our hand in for the chinchilla to sniff, taste and explore. The first few times, the chinchilla may hide, but gradually it will come out to explore, making more progress each time until it eventually sits on your hand . This is a first step on which to build. Often, we have a new chinchilla’s cage set up on the floor in a quiet room so that we can sit down at the chinchilla’s level. Over time, this encourages him/her to venture out of the cage and crawl onto your leg or lap (be sure all doors are closed into this room so the chinchilla does not escape). We use these opportunities to gently scratch behind the ears or put our hands around the chinchilla and gauge the response. The first few times, the chinchilla will run back into its cage if it sees you move your hands. But s/he comes right back to explore again and again. If you touch your chinchilla, s/he may make a chirp "touch me not" sound or may jump away. This can mean it does not want to be touched or that you’ve tickled him/her. We have one male black velvet who loves to be scratched. Each morning, he will crawl out on our hand and tilt his head. If we touch his whiskers in any way, he chirps and jumps off. But he will keep jumping back on our hand, positioning his head more sideways so we have better access to scratch. As long as we stay clear of the whiskers, he will sit quietly until we get tired of scratching. This was a chinchilla who was very terrified of us when he arrived several months earlier.

Chinchillas appear to enjoy having a set routine. We normally feed ours at the same time in the morning and the evening. We give them a treat late in the evening. They are always there waiting by the cage doors at the usual feeding and treat times. There are particular times during the day we play with certain chinchillas. Each chinchilla seems to know his/her own time to play. If we come to their cages at other than their usual times, they tend not to want to come out. Many chinchillas are a lot like people in that they don’t like a change in routine.

Chinchillas are naturally curious, and love to explore, run, jump and play. We delight in letting our chinchillas run free in a "chinchilla proof" room. We like to use a room with a tile floor that can be washed (if using a bathroom, be sure the toilet seat is down and open drains are closed). Also, be sure there are no exposed outlets, cords, garbage cans containing refuse, or anything that might be toxic to the chinchilla if ingested. Check carefully for any nooks or crannies where a chinchilla may escape or get trapped. This is particularly important if you have a baby chinchilla. Our chinchillas who are experienced in the playtime routine tend to come right into our arms and we just carry them to the play area.

Bandit (Black Velvet)

When we introduce a new chinchilla to the playroom, we place its cage on the floor in the center of the room and open the cage door. We stay back so the chinchilla can feel at ease. S/he will often come out and then dart back inside if you even begin to move. It takes a little while for the chinchilla to feel comfortable enough to actually come out and explore. But once your chinchilla discovers this new freedom, it’s hard to hold him/her back. We often sit on the floor watching them bounce off the walls, twirl, and explore their playthings. They always include us in their play—climbing all over and using our body as a springboard to the floor. Sometimes when one chinchilla gets tired, it will fall asleep for a few minutes in our lap or next to our legs. Chinchillas can run very quickly and disappear in the blink of an eye. That is why it is important to let them out only in a room that can be secure.

Supervising their playtime is advisable because they like to gnaw and can discover that your wood trim is a great chew block. Any toys you give them should be non toxic and not upset their digestive system should the chinchilla chew the toy. We always offer small Whiffel balls, toilet paper rolls, PVC pipe parts in different shapes, chew blocks, booda bones, metal bells, a large plastic rodent ball and other fun things we find or make for them. The chinchillas like to carry their toys around and are hilarious in their comical antics. When playtime is over, we usually can herd the chinchilla(s) back into their cage(s) or often just pick them up. It is a very enjoyable time for both the chinchillas and us.

All animals can bite when provoked or frightened and chinchillas are no exception. If your chinchilla should bite, please do not hit your chinchilla. A good training technique is to blow directly into his/her face while s/he is biting. Chinchillas do not like this and will learn to associate it with biting and eventually stop. However, do not confuse biting with curiosity. Baby chins, like human babies, will put everything in their mouths to taste. Sometimes the baby’s teeth can be a might sharp if s/he is tasting your finger. A chinchilla will definitely bite fingers if you have a tasty food residue (especially raisins) on them. This is why it is always advisable to thoroughly wash your hands before touching your chinchilla. Also, many times, your chinchilla may groom your hand or arm. Do not confuse this with biting. It will be a light to medium nibbling on the back of your hand (sometimes even pulling out a hair or two). This is your chinchilla’s way of letting you know s/he is your friend. And sometimes your chinchilla will lightly nip your hand to indicate s/he wants to go down or back into his/her cage.  Your chinchilla may do this lightly several times to get  your attention, but then may nip harder if his/her needs are not acknowledged.

Jazz (Beige Violet TOV)

Chinchillas become frightened easily when they hear loud , sudden noises or movements. This includes the sound of barking dogs or loud machinery. Repeated stress like this can lead to fur chewing, loss of appetite and a general decline in your chinchilla’s health.

Chinchillas can break bones just like humans can. Use good judgment when taking your chinchilla out of the cage, taking care s/he doesn’t jump out of your arms and onto the floor from a high distance. Also be sure not to place them on high surfaces (bed, tables, etc.) unattended.