Chinchillas are natural born chewers, which is something you need to know before you let yours out of its cage. But do they chew wires and cables? And if so, why?
Do chinchillas chew on wires? They do, and you can’t train them not to. It’s a hard-wired behavior that stems from the chinchilla’s evolutionary history. They chew both because they need to keep their teeth short, as they continually grow, and because they live in burrows that plant roots grow into. This is an issue because live wires can electrocute your chinchilla or cause fires, and the plastic cables get stuck in your chinchilla’s gut. To avoid these problems, either tidy away the wires before letting your chinchilla out, set up a play pen, or pick a room that doesn’t have any wires.
The guide below first looks at whether and why chinchillas chew wires, before addressing the health and safety problems this issue can cause. We’ll also make a few recommendations on how to stop chinchillas chewing wires; while you can’t train your pet to stop, you can work around its habits, and make its life longer and safer in doing so.
Do Chinchillas Chew Wires?
Chinchillas are well known for nibbling and gnawing on any cable they find, be it a power cable, a USB cable, or something else. While they like to chew on almost anything, they seem to pay wires and cables special attention. This is a big problem if you let your chinchilla out of its cage, as there are no doubt lots of wires in your bedroom (or wherever you keep your chin). You therefore have to prepare your room before you let your chinchilla out.
Why Do Chinchillas Chew Wires?
Chinchillas are hard-wired to chew on wires and cables, and there’s nothing you can do to get around that fact.
The problem here is that wild chinchillas have evolved over many thousands of years to chew on cable-shaped things. That might seem odd—they live in a remote and inhospitable place, and were there long before people were. So, how come they like chewing cables so much?
What’s really happening is that the chinchilla thinks the cable is a plant root. Chinchillas don’t burrow like other rodents do; they make use of existing burrows that other animals have made, or rock crevices that form naturally. Plant roots can grow and push their way into these burrows, and if the chinchilla doesn’t deal with them, they can quickly take up much of the space down there. So, wild chinchillas get rid of them by chewing them up.
Besides that, chinchillas have a very generic desire to gnaw on any suitable material. They need to chew on things to stop their teeth from growing too long. That’s why chinchillas chew on all the things in their cage, or when you let them out, why they chew on baseboards, walls and furniture. Giving your chinchilla lots of chew toys like apple wood sticks can prevent this to an extent, but even if you take every precaution, your chinchilla would probably still chew any wires it finds.
Do All Chinchillas Chew Wires?
There are no chinchillas that don’t like to chew, although it does seem that some chins are more destructive than others. The reasons for this are unclear, but all chinchillas have their own personalities, so it could be something to do with that. It could also be related to learned behaviors, and chewers learn from chewers; or, it could be genetic. In that sense, it’s a lot like the nutrure vs. nature debate related to fur biting.
Even if your chinchilla doesn’t seem particularly destructive, we don’t recommend allowing it out of the cage without tidying wires away first. Pets are unpredictable.
What Happens If Chinchillas Chew Wires?
There are a few problems with your chinchilla chewing wires. The first is that almost all wires are made from plastic or some similar man-made material, and as your chinchilla gnaws on them, it ingests some of this material, which can be bad for it. The second issue is, of course, if the wires are plugged in.
Do Chinchillas Die If They Chew Wires?
The first issue, one that is relevant to any wire, is that it’s bad for your chinchilla to chew on things made of plastic. There are several reasons why.
One is that when chinchillas gnaw on things, they ingest some of whatever they’re gnawing on. If you give your chinchilla a suitable wooden toy, this isn’t a problem. That’s because the wood and bark of certain trees are safe for your pet to ingest. Unfortunately, your chinchilla recognizes plastic as something it should chew even though it’s not suitable. When your chin ingests plastic, it doesn’t degrade in its gut, nor is it passed easily. It stays in the gut indefinitely, and any time your chinchilla chews on something plastic, more plastic is added until a blockage is caused.
A health issue known as ‘gastrointestinal stasis‘ then results. This is where the chinchilla stops eating and stops pooping; in short, its digestive system stops working and shuts down. Needless to say, this is exceptionally dangerous, and left untreated is invariably fatal.
Besides that, could a chinchilla get electrocuted by gnawing power cables? It’s possible, but only if they’re plugged in. Chinchillas can very easily nibble through the tough outer casing of a cable and access the live current within. As the cable would be in your pet’s mouth, it’s highly likely that it would be electrocuted as a result. Even if the cable isn’t plugged in, this is still dangerous, as when you next use the electronics in question you could accidentally cause a fire.
How to Stop Chinchillas Chewing Wires
There is no way to change or get rid of the chinchilla’s natural desire to gnaw. This is hard-coded into chinchillas from birth, both from its genes and learned behaviors from its parents. What you can do, though, is make your chinchilla’s room suitable for running around in. This is known as ‘chinchilla-proofing’.
Can You Train a Chinchilla Not to Chew Wires?
The short answer is no.
The longer answer is that there are all sorts of ways you can try, but none of them will work. In a very general sense, there are two ways to train a pet (or a child, for that matter!) and that’s with either positive reinforcement or negative reinforcement. Positive reinforcement is where you give praise and attention for positive behaviors, and negative reinforcement is where you ‘tell off’ your chinchilla.
Within these two definitions there are lots of shades of gray. You can positively reinforce a behavior by giving your chinchilla a treat, giving it a new toy to play with, spending time with it (if that’s something it wants), or by giving it affection. You can negatively reinforce a behavior by shouting, wagging your finger, rubbing your pet’s nose in what it’s done, giving it the silent treatment, or any one of many other ways.
No approach works.
Positive reinforcement can work in certain other ways. So, you can train your chinchilla to like you or to do tricks by offering it treats. But gnawing is such a deeply ingrained and important, natural behavior that it simply can’t be trained away. Even if you could, you shouldn’t, as chinchillas that don’t gnaw will develop malocclusion.
Negative reinforcement is even less effective. Take raising your voice, for example; your chinchilla won’t understand what you’re saying, of course, and it won’t associate the loud noises you’re making with its ‘bad’ behavior. It doesn’t even know that its behavior is ‘bad’ anyway. The exact same applies to hitting your chinchilla, which you should never do under any circumstances. All it teaches your pet is that you will hit it unexpectedly, and it was unexpected, since your chinchilla doesn’t understand what made you hit it.
How to Chinchilla Proof a Room (Chinchilla Proofing Wires)
What you have to do is work with your chinchilla rather than against it. Your chinchilla’s propensity to chew things is something you can never get around, no matter what you try. So, what makes more sense is to accept that fact but make this particular behavior less damaging. You can do that by ‘chinchilla-proofing’ your room.
The most effective way to chinchilla-proof wires is simply to remove them from the room. If possible, take all the electronics and move them to another room in the house. You can then put them back when your chinchilla is finished playing.
If this isn’t easy—like if you have your TV wall mounted, for example—consider picking a room that doesn’t have many wires in it. Owners find that the bathroom is a good choice for letting a chinchilla free roam, as the walls and floor may be tiled and there aren’t many wires around. Another room in your house may be suitable in the same way, like the basement.
If neither of these options works for you, try tidying the wires in such a way that they’re difficult to access. Don’t have them running along floor level; tack them or tape them to the wall so that your chinchilla can’t reach them. Bear in mind that your chinchilla would stand on its hind legs to reach up if it needs to.
What many owners do is set up play pens for their chinchillas to run around in. These are like the play pens you can get for other pets. They’re like portable fences you can set up in a circle to provide a large safe play space. There are other thing to consider when chinchilla-proofing a room, but by tidying away wires or setting up a play pen, you go a long way to making a room suitable.
Can You Use a Wire Tidy to Chinchilla Proof a Room?
A wire tidy is a long tube you can put wires in. It’s useful if you have lots of cables running from one place to another, e.g. if you have a TV with a surround sound system, DVD player, games console and so on all in one place with wires all running to the same outlet. The idea is that it makes the room look tidier—which it does.
Unfortunately, wire tidies aren’t the best for chinchilla-proofing a room. That’s because they tend to be made from plastic themselves. Your chinchilla will still likely chew on the wire tidy, and when it does, it will ingest some of the plastic material.
Besides that, wire tidies aren’t meant to be rodent-proof. They aren’t very thick or very durable, at least in the face of a chinchilla’s powerful teeth. Your chin will easily gnaw its way through, and when it does, the wires inside will be accessible anyway. This means that using a wire tidy is better than not using one, but it’s definitely not a good solution.