When you think of rodent pets, you think of exercise balls. While chinchillas are exotic pets, they’re rodents too, and they need exercise. Put two and two together, and you might think that letting your chinchilal run around in a running ball is a good idea.
Can chinchillas use exercise balls? They physically can, but exercise balls are dangerous for chinchillas. They cause chinchillas to overheat, and if they have slats, your pet could break its toes, nails or feet in them. Experienced owners call them ‘death balls’ because of how unsafe they are. Consider alternative exercise methods for chinchillas like running wheels or play pens.
This advice applies to all small pets, not just chinchillas. Exercise balls are very dangerous, and it’s not even clear that pets enjoy going in them. Read our guide below to find out why!
Can Chinchillas Use Exercise Balls?
If your pet won’t run in its exercise wheel, you need an alternative way for it to stay healthy. Likely the first thing that will come to your mind is the exercise ball. If you aren’t familiar with them, these are small plastic balls people buy for their rodent pets. They have a small door you can put your pet through. It will then run around inside the ball, and the ball will move around it.
Chinchillas can physically use exercise balls, although it’s not safe for them to do so. You can put your pet inside one, and if the ball is big enough, your chinchilla will eventually figure out how to move inside it. That’s because all a pet has to do is run as it normally does, and the ball will move underneath/around it.
It may surprise you that exercise balls aren’t safe for chinchillas. After all, they’re sold in practically every pet store and are a recommended toy for any rodent pet. But they aren’t safe, either for chinchillas or other pets. We’ll get to the reasons why in a moment.
Can Chinchillas Use Hamster Balls?
Chinchillas cannot use hamster balls. That’s because hamster balls are far too small for chinchillas. Some are too small for a chinchilla to even fit in, let alone run around in. Hamsters are only 2-5in long, while chinchillas are 10in long or bigger.
Even if the chinchilla can fit, it’s still not safe. With its small interior surface, the ball would force your chinchilla to run in an unnatural posture. It would be like running on a tiny treadmill: if you can’t run with proper posture, you’ll hurt your legs and back. The same happens to chinchillas, and this is also the reason why they can’t use hamster running wheels. As such, if you have a hamster ball lying around that used to belong to your last pet, you can’t reuse it with your chinchilla.
Is There Such a Thing as a Chinchilla Running Ball?
They do make exercise balls that are larger, even chinchilla-sized. These balls are 13in in diameter or bigger, which is big enough for a chinchilla to fit in (although bigger than 13in is better for chinchilla exercise equipment).
However, these still may not be appropriate. This is something you have to get used to as a chinchilla parent: pet shop staff and equipment manufacturers may not understand the needs of rodent pets, let alone exotic ones like chinchillas. So, you may see an exercise ball marketed specifically for chinchilla owners; but it will:
- Have slats your pet can get its feet caught in
- Not have enough ventilation
- Be far too small
As a chinchilla owner, you have to be wary of issues like these. If you’re not, you could hurt your pet. While chinchilla running balls are more suitable than hamster balls for chinchillas, they still aren’t a good option.
Do Chinchillas Like Running Balls?
Exercise balls can be fun for pets, although they can be stressful too.
In many ways, pets are like people: they get bored if they’re stuck with nothing to do for days on end. So, if the first thing your pet has done for days is to run around in a ball, it will enjoy the experience in a way. All chinchillas enjoy exercise, for example; getting exercise is far better than being stuck in a cage with nothing to do. Plus, the exercise ball means that you don’t have to thoroughly chinchilla-proof your room, which is a bonus for you.
But there are several reasons why using an exercise ball can be stressful for a pet:
- Your pet may not know how to use a running ball. Owners report that their pets don’t take naturally to running balls like hamsters do.
- Your pet can’t go where it wants. The ball is big enough that it will stop the chinchilla getting in small spaces, and is difficult to control.
- Your pet can’t smell the world around it (at least as well as it might like). The ball is an enclosed space with only a few slats in it. Considering that chinchillas use their sense of smell more than we do, this is like a person walking around blindly.
- Your pet may not like being in an enclosed space. Chinchillas can overheat easily, especially when they exercise, and especially in enclosed spaces.
- Your pet will poo and pee as it moves around. Chinchillas get rid of waste throughout the day. It will stay in the tiny ball with them, or alternatively, leak through the slits in the ball.
- The plastic may not be see-through. If your chinchilla can’t see where it’s going, how can it be having fun?
It’s also impossible to tell from its behavior alone whether the chinchilla enjoys the experience or not. It may be running because it enjoys moving around. Or, it may be running because it wants to find somewhere to hide from the horrible experience it’s having. Plus, it’s likely that some chinchillas would enjoy being in a ball while others wouldn’t.
So, your chinchilla might enjoy being in an exercise ball for a small while or in certain ways. But there are things they won’t like about the experience, too. Considering that there are other ways to get a chinchilla to exercise that are unequivocally good, this means exercise balls are a bad choice for chinchillas.
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Are Exercise Balls Safe for Chinchillas?
In addition to the issues described above, exercise balls are unsafe for chinchillas, too. Your pet can hurt itself inside them, and if left alone for long periods of time, could experience severe injury. The relevant issues are as follows:
- Exercise balls don’t have brakes. If your chinchilla wants to stop moving, it can’t. Your chinchilla will crash and hurt itself.
- Exercise balls have poor ventilation. Your pet will struggle to get enough air inside one.
- Exercise balls have slats your chinchilla can get its toes or legs caught in, which could break them. Your chinchilla could also hurt its delicate tail inside one.
- Because exercise balls are closed, chinchillas can overheat inside them. Chinchilals are prone to overheating, especially when they exercise. Overheating can kill.
Other exercise methods don’t have these negative effects on chinchillas. Exercise wheels, for example, can be made so that they don’t have slats and are big enough for your chinchilla to fit in. But exercise balls all have these issues built into them by their nature.
How Dangerous Are Exercise Balls for Chinchillas?
So, there are definite dangers related to chinchilla excercise balls. But there’s still the question of how often these dangers apply: is the poor ventilation only an issue for one in a thousand chinchillas? Or is it almost a guarantee that your pet would hurt your feet in one?
It’s certain that if you leave your chinchilla in an exercise ball for long enough, it will hurt itself. Experienced owners call them death balls because of how bad they are for chinchillas. It’s a source of frustration to experienced owners and breeders when they see new owners buying exercise balls for chinchillas.
What’s even more frustrating is that pet shops and pet product manufacturers don’t understand this either. Many stores stock exercise balls supposedly designed for chinchillas. These are larger than the average running ball, which is better than nothing. But all the issues described above still apply, and a chinchilla left in a ball for long enough could die.
What this means is that you should never under any circumstances put your chinchilla in an exercise ball.
Alternatives to Exercise Balls for Chinchillas
There are still plenty of ways you can get your chinchilla to exercise. Some involve your pet exercising on its own; others are ways you can get it to exercise during playtime. It doesn’t matter which option you pick, so long as your chinchilla has at least one way to keep itself fit.
Chinchilla Running Wheel
Chinchilla running wheels are a safer way for your pet to keep itself healthy. Again, a hamster running wheel isn’t big enough for a chinchilla. But ones that are the right size (13in at the very least) are safe for chinchillas. Your pet will run in it as other rodents do. Crucially, the wheel will allow it to reach full speed when running, which is food for your chinchilla.
There are safety issues to be aware of. You must pick a wheel that doesn’t have slats, as your chinchilla can get its feet caught in these. You must also pick one that’s made of wood or metal rather than plastic, as your chinchilla will get sick if it gnaws on a plastic wheel.
Put the wheel in the corner of your chinchilla’s cage. It should take to the wheel on its own without encouragement. If it doesn’t, place a treat on the wheel to get it to sit on it, as the movement of the wheel underneath it may show it what the wheel is for. If you have two chinchillas, having the ‘lazy’ one watch the ‘active’ one exercising on the wheel may also teach it how to use it.
There’s also such a thing as an ‘exercise saucer’. This looks like a large metal dish suspended at a slight angle. It can spin around like a record. Your chinchilla stands on it and runs, much like a running wheel.
Chinchilla Play Pen
A play pen is an enclosed space that your chinchilla can run around in. You can make one out of cardboard and decorate it however you like (avoiding plastic materials that your pet might chew on).
Alternatively, you could ‘chinchilla-proof’ your room. This involves things like hiding away any wires as chinchillas like to chew on them, and keeping doors and windows fully shut. Then, you can let the chinchilla run around the room as it likes.
Chinchillas find this to be lots of fun. Yours may run around in circles, jumping up against the wall and kicking away from it. It may keep this up for several minutes. It will at least have fun wandering around somewhere new.
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