Chinchillas are cute and cuddly, but are they friendly? Do they show affection, enjoy hugs and cuddles, and get along well with their owners?
Are chinchillas friendly animals? They are very friendly if you’re friendly too. Chinchillas can show affection by spending time with you, licking you and letting you pick them up, but only once you gain their trust. They can show that they don’t like you by hiding from you, spraying you with pee, or biting you (but the latter is very rare). To gain a chinchilla’s trust, be kind and respectful to it, and give it space when it’s moody or uncomfortable.
The guide below first looks at the chinchilla’s reputation as a friendly pet, explaining why they’re both docile and skittish. We’ll cover how to tame a chinchilla, why a chinchilla might not like you, how they show affection, and much, much more.
Are Chinchillas Friendly Pets, or Are Chinchillas Aggressive?
Chinchillas are very docile and friendly. They very rarely bite, and can learn to tolerate and eventually enjoy human company.
This friendliness has a downside. They are skittish as well as being docile. That means they try to avoid what they perceive as threats and conflict. As your chinchilla doesn’t know you when you first meet it, it will try to avoid contact with you: it won’t enjoy being picked up or cuddled, and it won’t want to sit on your lap. If you make it feel consistently threatened, it will use one of several defense mechanisms, like spraying or biting. Over time, most chinchillas would learn to like you. It will then show signs of affection and trust, and will be friendly like other pets are.
That doesn’t mean, though, that there’s no such thing as a defensive or aggressive chinchilla. Chins can bite, can feel defensive when cornered, and can be nervous or aggressive with strangers. Part of this is due to the chinchilla’s nature, and part of this is due to the owner’s sensibility.
Are Chinchillas Tame/Are Chinchillas Easy to Tame?
Chinchillas aren’t yet fully domesticated, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be made more amenable to their owners and people in general.
For an animal to become domesticated takes many hundreds, if not thousands of years. That’s why only a few animals like the dog and the horse are considered fully domesticated. Domestication entails breeding successive generations of animals, and picking the best ones to breed. That doesn’t just mean breeding the biggest, or those with the best coats. It means breeding the ones that are the most docile, the least violent, and the most affectionate.
That’s why dogs have become ‘man’s best friend’. We bred them over many thousands of years, keeping only the ones that displayed loyalty and friendliness towards people. We did the same with horses, which is why they let us ride on their backs.
Chinchillas haven’t been through this process. While there is evidence that they were kept as pets a few hundred years ago, that was in a sporadic sense rather than in an organised way. And besides, today’s pet chinchillas are descended from a small group that was only caught a hundred years ago. That’s not enough time for the chinchilla to be fully domesticated.
All that being said, you can make a chinchilla more friendly by behaving in a kind way towards it. It will gradually come to understand that you aren’t a threat. When it understands that, it won’t be as skittish or defensive around you any more.
Are Chinchillas Affectionate?
In a broad sense, yes, chinchillas are affectionate. If your pet likes you, it will show you that it does in several ways, which are explored in depth later on. An affectionate chinchilla will enjoy sitting with its owner, sitting on their lap, even licking and nibbling their owner. What’s most obvious is that your chinchilla won’t want to avoid you, your hands and your presence when you’re nearby.
But beyond that, are chinchillas loving? This is a question that owners disagree on. On the one hand, it seems clear that chinchillas develop bonds with specific people. They can learn to recognize their owners through smell, sight and sound, and are obviously more comfortable around them than other people. And, yes, they display affection.
On the other hand, whether a pet that hasn’t been domesticated can be described as ‘loving’ isn’t as clear. Domestication fosters trust, loyalty and affection, which is what we see in domesticated animals like dogs. But it seems like much of the time, chinchillas tolerate us rather than ‘love’ us, and some people consider terms like ‘love’ to anthropomorphize what is, still, an essentially wild animal. All of this is to say that whether you consider chinchillas loving is a matter of opinion.
Are Chinchillas Friendly to Other Pets?
We don’t recommend that you allow your chinchilla to spend time with other pets. That includes both bigger pets like cats and dogs, and smaller pets like rabbits or other rodents.
There are a couple of reasons why. The first is that other animals make your chinchilla feel vulnerable and threatened. That’s especially the case for bigger animals, which your chinchilla wants to avoid, as it thinks they may be predators. But even small and non-threatening animals can cause your pet stress, because your chinchilla thinks they are a threat to its territory and resources (like food). Since your chinchilla feels threatened around other animals, it won’t be friendly towards them.
The second reason is that pets can pass infestations or illnesses from one to another. Your chinchilla could catch fleas from a dog or a cat, for example. There are also illnesses and certain kinds of bacteria your chinchilla can catch from other pets like rabbits.
Again, though, there are exceptions to this rule. Some owners allow their chinchillas to spend time around other pets, even though almost all experienced owners think it’s a bad idea. In select cases, the chinchilla may seem comfortable around them. We don’t recommend ‘testing your pet out’ to see its reaction, though.
Are Chinchillas Good with Kids?
Chinchillas can be good with kids. What matters just as much as the chinchilla’ temperament, though, is how well the child understands the needs and personality of their pet.
There are many ways in which a child can accidentally hurt a chinchilla. Chins are, obviously, very cuddly animals; any child’s first instinct will probably be to give their chinchilla a big, cuddly hug. But chinchillas don’t like being squeezed because they’re delicate, and they won’t enjoy being around children who cuddle them in that way.
At the other end of the spectrum, chinchillas also don’t like being picked up and moved around quickly. Energetic kids who make lots of sudden movements will scare a chinchilla.
You can avoid both of these problems by teaching the child how to correctly act around their chinchilla. Explain to them why chinchillas can’t be squeezed and cuddled close: they have thin, delicate bones that can easily be bent and snapped. And explain why they don’t like sudden movements (they remind chinchillas of predators). If the child acts responsibly, with empathy and with understanding, their chinchilla will grow to like them as it would grow to like an adult.
How Do Chinchillas Show Affection?
Chinchillas are highly social animals. They have developed several ways to show friendship and trust, and these are as relevant for your relationship with your pet as they are between chinchillas.
Your Chinchilla Spending Time with You
If you want to know how to tell if a chinchilla likes you, this is the best way. It’s the best because it’s simple. If your chinchilla wants to show you affection, it will spend time near you. It may let you pick it up, or it may sit near you, in your lap or on your shoulder. If it doesn’t like you, it will avoid you; when you let it out of its cage, it won’t stay sat near you, but will instead head off to do its own thing.
Your Chinchilla Licking You
This is a point of debate among owners. What’s known for sure is that chinchillas do sometimes lick their owners, but what isn’t as clear is why. Some people think it’s because they can taste the salt in the sweat on your skin. Even if you aren’t heavily sweating, your skin will taste interesting to your chinchilla, so it might lick you for that reason.
Other owners take it to be a sign of affection, and there’s certainly reason to think that; lots of pets lick their owners to show that they love them. Chinchillas do groom each other as a show of trust, so this may be an extension of that behavior. It’s certainly not a sign that the chinchilla doesn’t like you.
Do Chinchillas Cuddle with You?
They can, but that’s normally because they tolerate it rather than enjoy it.
As stated above, chinchillas are very delicate animals. They have thin, bendy ribs that are mostly made of cartilage rather than bone. It’s all too easy to bend these ribs and put pressure on your chinchilla’s internal organs. Even a child could easily snap them, and then they would puncture your pet’s lungs and liver.
This is reason enough for you to avoid cuddling your chinchilla too tight. But chins know that they’re delicate, so don’t enjoy being held close. Besides that, the only circumstance they understand in which they’d be picked up and held by another animal is if the other animal is a predator.
That being said, chinchillas are smart and can learn over time that you are to be trusted. Once your chinchilla knows you and knows that you won’t hurt it, it can learn to tolerate being held. There are even some chinchillas that seem to enjoy close contact, and will readily hop onto your hands for you to pick them up.
What kind of chinchilla you have largely depends on how kind and understanding you are towards it during its formative years.
How to Tell If a Chinchilla Doesn’t Like You
As it would show you that it likes you by being affectionate, so too would your chinchilla show that it doesn’t like you. It does this in several ways. Which one it uses depends on how threatened it feels.
‘Kacking’ Noises Chinchillas Make
Kacking, which may also be spelled kecking, is a kind of noise chinchillas make. It’s onomatopoeic, which means that the word that describes the noise is similar to the noise itself. It’s a sharp, sudden noise that chinchillas make when they want you to leave them alone.
Sometimes even friendly chinchillas will make this noise, if they aren’t in the mood to be handled or pestered. But unfriendly chinchillas make it far more often.
Chinchilla Avoiding Your Hands
If your chinchilla doesn’t want you to handle it, it will take matters into its own hands. It will dodge, duck, dip and dive out of your way to avoid your hands as you try and catch it. The more intent you seem to be on catching it―the longer and more frequently you try―the more it will try and avoid you.
Chinchilla Spraying Urine at You
Spraying is yet another line of defense in the chinchilla’s arsenal. It’s a behavior that chinchillas developed to deal with chinchillas they don’t like, but they’re smart enough that they’ll do the same to you, too.
Spraying is different to regular peeing. The chinchilla will first stand on its hind legs and turn to face you. This is your first and final warning, because if you don’t then leave your chinchilla alone, it will let loose a stream of pee straight at you. It may do this as you try to pick it up, or even just as you walk past its cage.
Females are better at spraying than males are. When males try to spray, they typically produce a dribble or a trickle, while females have a stream of pee that they can aim surprisingly well (and which reaches surprisingly far). Females are better at spraying because this is their primary defense mechanism against males they don’t want to mate with.
Do Chinchillas Bite?
Biting is the absolute last resort of a highly stressed, highly uncomfortable chinchilla. It’s very, very rare for a chinchilla to bite—by which we mean a hard bite, rather than a playful nibble—unless it feels threatened. This is more likely to occur if it has been neglected, mistreated, or otherwise learned not to like people. That could either be because you haven’t cared for your pet properly, or because it grew up in unsuitable conditions where the previous owner, the breeder, the wholesaler or the pet store mistreated it.
Chinchillas will do everything they can to avoid the necessity of biting. Your pet will first try to get away from you. If it’s in its cage, it will try to get as far from you as possible, or alternatively hide in its hide. If it’s not in its cage, it may hide under furniture to avoid you instead.
If you insist on continuing to try and handle it, it will then display the behaviors described above, such as spraying and kacking. These are warning signs. Your chinchilla is saying “Please leave me alone. I feel very threatened!” Bear in mind that the only instances in which another animal would try to pick it up or reach it when it’s hiding would be predators, which explains why your chinchilla feels so vulnerable. If you won’t leave it alone even then, it may nip you: either a warning shot or a full-blown bite.
Biting can be a self-perpetuating cycle. If your chinchilla bites you and you react by yelping loudly, moving your hand or arm away quickly, shouting at your chinchilla or hitting it back, it will feel even more threatened and defensive. It’s then more likely to bite you in the future. The best thing to do is to avoid reacting at all, although if you’re sensitive to pain, that’s easier said than done!
Why Would a Chinchilla Be Unfriendly?
The main reason why a chinchilla would be unfriendly is as described above: if you consistently annoy, hurt, neglect and/or mistreat your pet, then it won’t want to be around you. But that’s not the only reason.
You Haven’t Owned Your Chinchilla Long
New owners often misunderstand their pets’ behavior, and mistakenly think that a chinchilla which isn’t used to them yet is unfriendly or aggressive. But that’s not entirely accurate.
Chinchillas take time to get used to people. That’s because they aren’t fully tamed or domesticated. They don’t know, like actual domesticated animals do, to trust humans and enjoy being around them (us!) As such, when a chinchilla first meets a human, it doesn’t know that they aren’t a threat.
Beyond that, they also need to learn to trust different people individually. Chins recognize people from what they smell like rather than what they look like, as their sense of smell is better than their sense of sight. Your chinchilla might learn that when it smells your scent, it can expect outside-the-cage time or a treat. But when it smells somebody else’s scent, they don’t know what to expect.
The upshot of all of this is that your chinchilla probably won’t be friendly and trusting of you at first. You have to gain its trust over time. You can do this by being a kind and conscientious owner, not being too loud or too quick in your movements, and respecting your chinchilla’s boundaries. That means not picking it up when it clearly doesn’t want to be picked up.
Stress From Environment Or Other Chinchillas
Your chinchilla may also be highly stressed due to a problem in its cage, or due to the other chinchilla it lives with. When it’s stressed, whether because of you or because of something else, it’s not going to be as friendly as usual.
Cage problems can make a chinchilla stressed because your chin would like to live in a more suitable environment, but it can’t do so without your help. It becomes unhappy whether because it’s in pain, unhealthy, or can’t display natural behaviors. Issues include:
- Cages that are too short. Chinchillas like to jump to and from ledges, which simulates how they jump on rocks in the wild.
- Cages that have too little space overall. While chinchillas do like to have places they can hide, they need space enough that they can stretch out, exercise and feel at least somewhat free.
- Cages that have lots of plastic in them. Chinchillas gnaw on plastic, and when they do, tiny bits of it get stuck in their intestines. These cause ill health.
- Not enough food, or the wrong kind of food. The wrong food can cause diarrhea, nutritional deficiencies and malocclusion.
Living with another chinchilla can also make your pet stressed out. When chinchilla pairs get along, they provide each other with socialization and entertainment. But they can also fall out, and when they do, they can fight. These fights can become serious, especially if one of the chins is significantly bigger than the other.
No Socialization When Young
Another reason why your chinchilla may be unfriendly is if it never learned to trust people when it was young.
This is a problem you see most frequently in rescue chinchillas. The chinchilla may never have gotten used to being around people when it was a kit (baby), and as such, doesn’t trust you as readily as a socialized chinchilla would. It may even have had negative experiences around people when it was growing up, leading it to actively dislike people.
There may be little you can do if that’s the case. Some chinchillas seem not to like socializing at all, either with people or with other chinchillas, and it can cause them great and continued stress. It may therefore be best to give your pet lots of alone time and only enjoy its company from afar.