If you want to walk your pet, you put a collar or harness on it. But can you do that with chinchillas? What will happen if you do? Are they safe?
Can chinchillas wear collars or harnesses? They shouldn’t, because collars and harnesses are dangerous for chinchillas. They can bend or break your pet’s ribs, causing damage to internal organs. Or, they could make your pet choke. Besides chinchillas shouldn’t be allowed outside as the elements, other pets and wild animals are all dangerous for them. If your chinchilla is bored inside, spruce up its cage, or chinchilla-proof your room and let it out.
The guide below will detail exactly why chinchillas shouldn’t wear collars. This might sound like an exaggerated case of health and safety, but it’s not: your chinchilla could get seriously injured, even killed, if it wears a collar especially if it’s unattended. We’ll also make lots of recommendations you can follow if your pet is bored that won’t threaten its health and well-being.
Can Chinchillas Wear Collars?
There are three different reasons why you might want to put a collar on a chinchilla. The first is if you want to walk it, and the second is if you’re making it wear a flea collar. But for reasons we’ll explore in a moment, neither reason is good enough to use one—and they could harm the health of your pet.
The only exception is if your chinchilla has to wear a collar after surgery. If your chinchilla won’t stop poking at its wounds and nibbling at its stitches, that’s something for you to talk about with your vet.
Can Chinchillas Wear Harnesses?
Harnesses pose the same problems as collars do. If you aren’t aware, a harness wraps around an animal’s body, under and over its legs. You can then attach a leash to it like you would a collar.
While a harness won’t specifically put pressure on your pet’s neck like a collar would, it’s still not a good idea to use one. That’s because chinchillas are delicate. A harness could break your pet’s bones as it hops. Besides, you should never let your chinchilla outside, so there’s little point in making your pet wear one.
Do They Make Collars Specifically For Chinchillas?
There are lots of companies that make collars and harnesses for small animals. There are relatively few that are for chinchillas only. That’s probably because the kind of collar that, say, a rabbit would wear wouldn’t be much different to one a chinchilla would wear.
There are also collars that chinchilla ranchers use. These are made especially for chinchillas. They’re made of thin metal and they stick out from the neck, up to an inch or two. These are for a specific kind of breeding setup called a breeding run, which is where individual females live in cages, while a male is allowed free access to each cage (through a ‘run’, that runs behind or on top of the individual cages). The females are fitted with wide collars so they can’t get into the run—only the male can.
These collars are only relevant and useful if you have a breeding setup like this. They aren’t for walking your pet, treating fleas, or any of the normal uses collars are used for.
Why Can’t Chinchillas Wear Collars or Harnesses?
When you want to put a collar on a dog, it’s fine. Dogs are big, strong, and don’t mind having collars put on.
Chinchillas, though? That’s another story. You could hurt your pet, even kill it, if you put a collar/harness on it and take it for a walk. Let’s find out why this is a problem you can’t get around.
Chinchillas Aren’t Fully Domesticated
Domestication is the process whereby people train and selectively breed animals until they become docile and/or helpful to us. Take the dog, for example: we first domesticated ‘dogs’ more than ten thousand years ago. Back then, they were wolves; wolves were useful to us because they protected us from predators, and helped us to hunt. We were useful to them because we shared our food with them.
Over time, we selectively bred wolves for certain traits. We wanted them to still be strong and fierce, so they could help with hunting; but also to be docile and to respond to commands. It’s because of this breeding process that today’s dogs are so loyal and, generally, caring towards people. It’s for this reason that they allow us to put collars and leashes on them. Try doing the same to a wolf and you’ll see how effective selective breeding is!
Chinchillas haven’t been through such a process. They have only been consistently domesticated for around a hundred years now. That’s not enough time to selectively breed an animal and significantly change its physiology and behavior. As such, if you tried to put a collar on a chinchilla, it won’t understand that you don’t mean it harm—remember, the only time anything touches its neck in the wild is if a predator tries to kill it.
This isn’t just bad because it makes your chinchilla feel bad. It’s bad because it could make your chin panic. Your pet could do itself significant harm trying to get away from you when you try and put its collar/harness on.
Chinchillas Have Delicate Bones
Even if you do convince your chinchilla to wear a collar, that doesn’t mean your pet is safe.
Chinchillas have delicate bones, as all rodents do. It’s easy to accidentally break one of your pet’s bones if you cuddle it too hard, for example. So, if you put a collar or harness on it, you could hurt it. As you guide the chinchilla by pulling on its leash, you could easily damage its neck or at least make it stressed and unhappy.
What makes a chinchilla especially delicate is its rib cage. A common misconception is that chinchillas have ‘floating ribs’, meaning they don’t have a sternum, but this isn’t quite true. Chinchillas do have a full rib cage, as you can see from the diagram above. However, their ribs aren’t only made of bone. Many are made mostly of cartilage, which is a far less rigid material than bone. This means their rib cages don’t have the strength that those of other animals do.
In practise, this means that a harness could be potentially life-threatening. If you put one on your chinchilla, it could:
- Break your chinchilla’s bones
- Press its ribs into its internal organs
- Restrict its movement as it hops, as chinchillas hop rather than walk
- Get caught on something, applying uneven pressure and breaking bones that way
Collars, too, could get caught on things and damage your pet’s neck. Chinchillas move by hopping and leaping, which makes this even more likely. This is the core reason why we don’t recommend either collars or harnesses.
Could a Collar Choke a Chinchilla?
This isn’t as likely to occur, but it’s possible. A collar that you fit too tight, or that gets caught on something, could choke your chinchilla. That’s especially the case if you’re thinking of something other than a quick-release collar.
This is a particular risk in the use of breeding collars. Breeding collars come in set shapes and sizes because they’re made of metal. Cases of one collar being too small, with the next size up too big, have been reported; in these instances they can cut off the chinchilla’s circulation and deprive it of oxygen. On top of that, breeding chinchillas are typically infrequently checked on compared to pet chinchillas, so these problems can go unnoticed for some time. We don’t recommend using these collars for these reasons.
There’s No Point
Besides that, there’s absolutely no point putting a harness or a collar on a chinchilla. That’s because they shouldn’t go outside anyway.
Chinchillas have adapted to the unique environment of the Andes Mountains. These mountains are very tall, very dry, and very cold. That’s why chins have such thick coats. But if you live anywhere but a similar environment, your chinchilla wouldn’t survive for long periods outside, because:
- Chinchillas overheat quickly in direct sunlight. In the wild, in the daytime, they hide from the sun in underground burrows or rock crevices. If your pet is on a leash/harness it can’t do that when you walk it.
- Chinchillas get hypothermia quickly if they get wet. The Andes are very dry, so this isn’t a problem for wild chinchillas. Even if it rains, they can hide in burrows. If it rains when you walk your chinchilla, again, it can’t hide from the elements.
Plus there are other animals to think about. A cat or a dog, or even a wild animal, could attack your chinchilla. It would be entirely unable to defend itself.
And if you’re thinking about flea collars, they’re unnecessary too. Chinchillas only very rarely get fleas, and when they do, they’re relatively easy to treat. That’s because they only affect the thin parts of your pet’s fur: on its tail, on its face and on its thighs. These localized infestations are easier to beat than full ones. Plus, there are potential health issues related to using the wrong kind of flea treatment (like how dogs and cats need different flea remedies).
Alternatives to Chinchilla Collars & Harnesses
If you want your chinchilla to wear a collar or harness so that you can give it more interesting play time, don’t. Try these alternatives instead.
Chin-Proof Your Room
Instead of taking your chinchilla outside, make your room more suitable for it. This is a process known as ‘chin-proofing’. You have to make your room safe for your pet to run around in.
The first thing you need to do is keep all the windows and doors closed. Chinchillas can be tempted to run away, so yours might make an escape attempt if you let it. That’s a serious problem, because if your chinchilla gets outside, it would likely pass away. Whether because of rain or heat, your pet would pass away because of the elements. And as chins like to hide in burrows and crevices, it would be next-to-impossible to find.
You also have to tidy away any loose wires in the room. Picking a room that doesn’t have wires in it is a shortcut here: the bathroom is a good example. Chinchillas like to gnaw on things, and all rodents have an instinct to gnaw on plant roots. Power cables remind your pet of roots, so it will chew on them. If they’re plugged in, they could kill your pet; if they don’t, a frayed wire could burn down your house. This step is definitely non-optional!
Once you’ve chin-proofed your room, you can let your pet run around it to its heart’s content. It will enjoy its freedom. You can see that it’s happy because it popcorns and wall-surfs, and plays either with you or with its cage mate. Once it knows what it’s like to run around your room, it will get excited when you come across to its cage to let it out, too. So if you were thinking of letting your chinchilla outside for some fun, know that you really don’t need to.
Make Your Chinchilla a Play Pen
A play pen is another option at your disposal for outside-the-cage time. A play pen is a small controlled area that the chinchilla can’t get out of, outside of its cage. They’re like the ones you can get for other pets, or for kids.
A word of warning: don’t let your chinchilla play in its play pen outside. Chins are enterprising little creatures and can jump surprisingly high. If yours wanted to, it could probably leap out of its play pen easily and escape. For the same reason, it’s best to chin-proof your room even if you only let your pet play in a play pen.
Can Chinchillas Run Around in Exercise Balls?
We recommend entirely against putting your chinchilla in an exercise ball. They simply aren’t suitable. There are several key problems with them:
- Your chinchilla goes to the toilet as it goes about its day. If it’s in a ball, it will get covered in its own excrement, and chinchilla fur is difficult to clean.
- Chinchillas overheat easily, especially when they exercise. If you put your chinchilla in an exercise ball it could get heat stroke.
- Exercise balls are very difficult to control. Your chinchilla will roll around banging into things and could hurt itself.
- Chinchillas don’t run, they hop. This makes the exercise ball even more difficult to control.
- Exercise balls have tiny gaps in the plastic so that pets can breathe when they’re inside them. Your chinchilla could get its toes or feet caught in these gaps, and break them (this happens all the time with wire exercise wheels).
- Chinchillas rely on their senses of smell and hearing, not their sense of sight. Your pet would be rolling around without any idea where it’s going.
For these reasons, you shouldn’t let your chinchilla use an exercise ball whether inside the house or out.
Make Your Chinchilla’s Cage More Interesting
If you wanted to let your chinchilla out because you felt it was getting bored, you can always spice its cage up somehow.
There are lots of toys you can put in a chinchilla’s cage. Chinchilla-safe exercise wheels are a good choice, as are all kinds of chew toys. Boredom-buster balls, pumice stones, tiny bridges and hides, tunnels, hammocks and more all help chinchillas stay happy in the confines of their cages.
The trick is to replace the toys every now and again. Sometimes, this isn’t something you can help doing: chins chew their things to the point of them breaking. But in another sense, it’s good to rotate what toys your pet has in its cage so that it doesn’t get bored with them. You can have extra toys on hand and switch one out each week. That will mean your chin can stay entertained on its own.
Another way to keep your pet from getting bored is to give it a cage mate. Chinchillas thrive when kept in same-sex pairs. While chins can live alone, they are only happy if they have some form of company, be that your company or that of another chinchilla. So, if you don’t have much time to keep your pet entertained, another chinchilla could do that job for you.
All that being said, don’t worry too much. Chinchillas like to have their alone time. You don’t need to constantly feed and entertain your pet; it can largely take care of itself. Just don’t put a collar on it and it will be fine!
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