Males of many species are territorial and aggressive. But is that true of chinchillas? Will two male chinchillas living together fight all the time, or get along?
Can two male chinchillas live together? They can. Males are less territorial and aggressive than females due to the role they play in wild chinchilla herds. Females form the bulk of groups, while males move from one group to another, meaning females are more concerned with defending their territory. Male pet chinchilla pairs get along well, but only if you introduce them first using the split cage method. Otherwise, they will be ‘strangers’, and will fight. Male chinchillas can live in pairs or larger groups, although the larger the group, the more likely they will fight even once bonded.
The guide below first answers the question directly, and looks at where the myth or misconception that males are territorial and will fight came from. But because two chinchillas of any sex will fight if you put them together without introducing them, we’ll also explain how to do just that.
Can Male Chinchillas Live Together?
Male chinchillas can definitely live together. They won’t fight any more than females, don’t stand a better chance of killing each other, and certainly won’t make your life a misery. Male chinchillas are actually said to be gentler and to enjoy handling more than females, not more territorial or aggressive.
Owners recommend keeping same sex pairs together. That can mean either a male living with a male or a female living with a female. Males and females can live together too, but that’s not recommended if you’re a new owner, as they will definitely mate and produce offspring. It’s also possible to keep three chinchillas of the same sex together in the same cage, too, although the more chinchillas there are the more likely fighting becomes.
The Male Chinchilla Myth
There are lots of myths about chinchillas. One common myth you used to hear a lot was that males shouldn’t be kept in pairs. It’s not so common to hear owners or pet store clerks say so any more, but because of the nature of the Internet, you’ll still see people claiming that it’s the case. It’s a myth, plain and simple.
This myth probably comes from the idea that males of any species are more aggressive and more territorial than females. Whether that’s because we look at certain species like wolves and assume all other species are the same, or because we think society should be ordered with men at the top of the pyramid, doesn’t particularly matter in this context—what matters is that it’s wrong. In chinchillas, it’s the females that are more aggressive and territorial, and even bigger!
It could also be partially explained as a hangover from when chinchillas were first kept as pets. When any new animal is kept as a pet, it is misunderstood. What could have happened is that decades ago, novice owners put males together without introducing them first, which would make them fight. It may then have been assumed that males are aggressive and can’t live together (although since females will do the same, it’s unclear why this would only have been thought of males).
Whatever the case, it’s not true.
Are Male Chinchillas Territorial?
It’s easy to misunderstand the ideas of territoriality and dominance in chinchillas. We assume that chins are similar to other pets in this context, but they aren’t. It’s generally held that male chinchillas aren’t as territorial as females, aren’t as dominant or aggressive and can coexist, if anything, better than females.
The likely reason for this relates to the wild chinchilla’s group social structure. Chins live in herds, and while group size is lower than it used to be, they retain the same social instincts as they have had for millenia. While social groups in wild chinchillas haven’t been extensively studied, it’s likely that the females form the core of the group while males can move from one group to another to find mates. In this way, the gene pool is kept ‘fresh’. This is how similar rodent groups operate.
This would have the knock-on effect of making females more territorial than males. It’s in the female’s interest to protect its group and only to allow the strongest males to join. She will therefore display aggression towards males she is unfamiliar with and this, indeed, is what we see in captive chinchillas. It’s in the male’s interest to have offspring with chinchillas it isn’t related with, and to try and find as many viable females as possible, which leads him to leave in search of other groups.
What this means is that if you keep two male chinchillas together, they won’t fight over water bottles, food and space just because they’re male. They may fight, as any two chinchillas might fight, but are if anything less likely than a female pair to do so.
Are Male Chinchillas More Territorial than Females?
Females display more aggressive behavior than males.
One thing females do more than males is spraying. Spraying is using urine as a defense mechanism. If the female is approached by another chinchilla she doesn’t recognize, or by a threat, she will stand on her hind legs. This is her way of making herself look bigger, and therefore more threatening. If the predator or chinchilla doesn’t back away, she will then spray urine right at it in a powerful stream. For a predator, this is shocking and may make it run away. For a chinchilla, this is highly inconvenient, as it will take a long time for its fur to dry.
Males try to spray like females do, but they aren’t typically successful. That’s because the female’s urethra is better shaped than the male’s urethra/penile cone to shoot a steady stream of urine at a target. Whether because it’s not good at doing so, or because of the social structure of chinchilla groups, males therefore don’t spray as much as females.
That’s not to say that males can’t be territorial or dominant at all. They can. But they’re not bone-headed monsters that will fight over anything and everything.
How to Introduce Male Chinchillas
All that being said, if you put two male chinchillas together without introducing them, they will fight. That’s because any two chinchillas who are strangers will, when put together, fight. That applies to both males and females.
Rather than putting them together straight away, you have to introduce the two males to each other. This is a multi-stage process that gets them used to each other before they’re placed in the same cage. If you do this right, then the pair will become friends, and can happily coexist.
The Split Cage Method
The split cage method is a tool that owners of many different rodents use. Chinchillas aren’t the only rodent pets that live in pairs or groups, so this is a problem that people have had to overcome for decades now, and this is probably the best way to do that.
The idea behind this method is simple. You put each chinchilla in its own cage, or in one half of a cage that’s split in two. Each has everything it needs to thrive: food, water, space and so on. Because there’s a dividing wall between them, they can see and smell each other, but can’t fight. They each have their own clearly defined space.
Over time, each chinchilla gets used to the smell of the other. At first they might avoid the dividing wall and stay as far as possible from each other as possible; or, they might ‘yell’ at each other and get agitated. But gradually, gradually, they’ll almost certainly become friends (this method works almost all the time). They’ll spend time near each other with only the dividing wall in between them. They’ll stop acting aggressively. Once this happens, you can put them in the same cage and they should get along.
The ‘Smooshing’ Method
The smooshing method is a controversial method, both because some people think it’s cruel, and because some people think it doesn’t work.
The idea is to put the chinchillas together in a very small environment. Owners use travel carriers for smooshing. Because the enclosed space is so small, it’s difficult for the chinchillas to fight; it’s also neutral territory, in a sense, because the chinchillas have been taken from their ‘own’ cages. This method has been used for many years by many owners, lots of whom are very experienced, and it seems to work.
That being said, just as many owners are dead set against it as they think it’s cruel—and they do have a point. In almost any chinchilla pair, there is one dominant and one subordinate chinchilla. The dominant one is typically the larger of the two, although it may simply be more ‘confident’ and aggressive. Whatever the case, the dominant one rules the roost. But if the dominant one is much bigger or much more aggressive than the other, it can regularly mistreat the other by barbering its fur, biting it, chasing it, and generally making its life miserable. The smaller may even fear for its life (which you can tell when it screams, a horrible sound).
Putting two chinchillas together, you can never know for sure how they’ll react. One might be significantly dominant over the other, in which case the smaller might be deathly afraid. It certainly wouldn’t be happy being locked in a tiny cage with the bigger, threatening chinchilla.
What’s worth saying is that if the split cage method doesn’t work, it’s likely that the pair will never get on. Some chinchillas seem to prefer being alone, or are so aggressive that they can never stay close friends with another chin. If that’s the case, whether you ‘smoosh’ it or not, you will probably have problems with it down the line. Keep it on its own in a cage instead. This isn’t a problem so long as you spend lots of time with it.
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