Chinchillas have needs like any pet. As the pet’s owner, it’s your job to provide for these needs. But do chinchillas like to play, and do you need to keep them entertained?
Chinchillas get bored if they don’t have enough to do. You can tell because it will start displaying repetitive behaviors, such as digging, bar chewing, and excessive barbering. Chinchillas get lonely and even more bored if kept alone. You can help a bored chinchilla by getting it a cage mate and some toys.
The guide below first establishes whether and why chinchillas like to play. Then, it covers how to tell if a chinchilla is bored or unhappy, and how to entertain one with fun boredom busters.
Do Chinchillas Like to Play?
Chinchillas enjoy playing, like many animals. You can see these behaviors both in the wild and in captivity. When your chinchillas are playing, you may see them:
- Exploring. A playing chinchilla will run about sniffing new places. This is especially the case for pet chinchillas, which get excited when you let them out of their cages.
- Jumping. Chinchillas jump when they’re excited, and can leap up to four feet in the air.
- Climbing on and jumping off things. Chinchillas are from the mountains, and when they play, they jump up and down off rocks. Pet chinchillas do the same with surfaces.
- Play fighting. A chinchilla may kick its cage-mate to get it to chase it.
Your chinchilla may also play with you in these ways. It may clamber onto your shoulders, for example. Or, it might jump onto you and off you again. When you watch your chinchilla doing these things, it seems like it’s having fun.
While you shouldn’t anthropomorphize your pet (think of it like a little person), it’s clear a chinchilla is happier if it can play than if it can’t.
Conversely, if a chinchilla is kept in its cage on its own all the time, it can’t display these behaviors. This is when you notice your chinchilla getting bored.
Why Do Chinchillas Like to Play?
There are several core reasons why they enjoy, and even need, to play. While chinchillas aren’t as intelligent as people, they like to play for the same reasons that we do:
- Chinchillas are social animals. Play builds bonds and reinforces social structure. From the time that they’re kits, chinchillas learn to play with their siblings and parents.
- Play is a kind of practice. Animals chase each other and use self-defense when playing, which can serve as practice for real situations.
- Play is fun. Animals take pleasure in many things, just like we do, including play. This is something that’s impossible to measure, but which you can see as a pet’s owner.
- Play fighting is the best example of how play prepares an animal for dangerous situations. Kits (baby chinchillas) fight each other to develop their strength and self-defense abilities. Fighting strength also establishes dominance and attracts mates, so developing it from an early age is necessary for surviving and establishing breeding rights.
Without play, animals become bored. In the complete absence of stimulation, they can become stressed, depressed, and even ill. That applies to captive animals like pet chinchillas too.
Do Chinchillas Get Lonely?
Chinchillas do get lonely when they can’t interact/play with other chinchillas. In the wild, chinchillas are herd animals. The size of a herd can range from a dozen up to a hundred, which as you can imagine, means that wild chinchillas socialize a lot.
Chinchillas don’t like being isolated from this natural group setup.
If a chinchilla is kept alone, it will miss out on this socialization: the play fighting, the collective foraging for food, the alarm calls from other chinchillas that keep the group safe, and the use of a shared burrow.
When any animal can’t demonstrate natural behaviors and inclinations like these, it becomes unhappy and lonely. Chinchillas are no exception.
How to Tell If a Chinchilla Is Bored
You can easily tell when a chinchilla is bored. You should notice your chinchillas playing frequently. Your pet will also display behaviors which indicate it isn’t happy. You can spot these behaviors and give your chinchilla something to do, and if you do, these negative behaviors should stop.
So, is my chinchilla happy, or is my chinchilla depressed or bored? Here’s how to find out.
Your Chinchilla Is Inactive/Lethargic
Lethargy, also known as inactivity, can be a sign of different health issues. But it can also be something you see in a bored chinchilla. When a bored chinchilla doesn’t have enough to do, it will sit still and not do much. This applies even if there are lots of things in your pet’s cage.
This indicates that a chinchilla is bored of its surroundings. It may have previously run on its wheel (for example), but has since become bored and lonely. Over time, it becomes depressed.
Your chinchilla will remain like this for a while. It will then start showing other symptoms of boredom which are more serious.
Repetitive Chinchilla Behaviors (Stereotypy)
This is an issue that you will see with all kinds of pets, chinchillas included. When a pet is bored, it will perform repetitive actions. These actions may be damaging for the pet’s health.
Because chinchillas and other rodents have been kept in labs and farms, we know lots about these behaviors. An article in the Journal of Veterinary Behavior Clinical Applications and Research looked at this specific issue.
The scientists behind this study looked at chinchillas kept on a farm. They found that rodents kept in barren cages usually develop some form of abnormal repetitive behavior, which can indicate a past or present welfare problem.
One of these abnormal behaviors is fur chewing. A small amount of barbering is normal. This is where a chinchilla grooms its own fur, or the fur of its cage mates. But in a barren cage, a chinchilla may do this too much, which can cause fur loss.
This is the most common stereotypy behavior. But there are others to look out for. These include:
- Bar chewing. A chinchilla may bite or chew the bars of its cage, as if to try and get out. This can cause its teeth to point in the wrong direction.
- Cage scratching. A chinchilla may scratch at the floor of its cage, again, as if to try and dig out.
- Backflipping. While this behavior can look cute, it can also be a sign that a chinchilla is bored.
If you spot these behaviors, you should immediately take steps to make your pet happier. These symptoms of boredom won’t go away on their own.
How to Entertain a Chinchilla
There are lots of ways to keep a chinchilla entertained. Each of the ideas below will make your chinchilla happier, but will also make it more fun to keep one as a pet. So, how do I keep my chinchilla happy?
Don’t Keep Chinchillas Alone
Keeping a chinchilla on its own is a bad idea. As stated above, these are herd animals. They get bored quickly if kept alone because they can’t socialize. As such, you should introduce your chinchilla to a new friend.
But you can’t dump them in one big cage together if they don’t know each other. If you do, the pair will fight.
Instead, you have to use the split-cage method. This is where you have a big cage with a divider down the middle. You keep one chinchilla in one side of the cage, and the other chinchilla in the other. Occasionally swap the pair from side to side, so that each gets used to the smell of the other. You can also do this with two separate cages rather than a special split cage.
Over time, the pair become more comfortable with each other and are bonded. You can then keep them in the same cage. You may need to get a bigger cage if you want to keep them together.
Make a Chinchilla Pen/Let Your Pet Out
Animals aren’t supposed to live in cages 24/7. Unless the cage is big and rich in enrichment like a zoo enclosure, your pet will get bored sitting inside all the time. You should let it out regularly.
Your pet will enjoy sniffing around and exploring a larger area. While this may not seem important, it’s vital for your chinchilla’s mental health.
But letting your chinchilla out isn’t as easy as opening the gate every once in a while. You have to make sure that your room is chinchilla-proof. That involves:
- Remove all power cords from the room. Your chinchilla will gnaw through them, and if they’re plugged in, they will electrocute your pet.
- Keep doors and windows closed. Chinchillas can jump up to four feet high, and are unpredictable when excited.
- Block up any holes in the wall or in/under furniture. Again, chinchillas are quick and unpredictable when playing.
To make life easier, most owners put their chinchillas in pens. Pens are large enclosed areas with walls. You can either buy one or make one. Ensure that the walls of the pen are tall enough (taller than four feet) to prevent your chinchilla escaping.
Buy Your Chinchilla Toys
Your chinchilla could also be bored because it doesn’t have enough stimulation. While all chinchillas enjoy exploring the areas outside their cages, the ideal cage setup for a chinchilla should be enough to entertain it. That means having enough space, with lots of toys, and several levels.
Chew toys are a favorite of chinchillas. They have to gnaw frequently on hard objects/materials like wood to keep their teeth trimmed. This keeps a chinchilla busy, giving it something to do throughout the day. There are lots of things chinchillas can safely chew.
Another toy you could give your pet is an exercise wheel. Wheels like those used by other rodents aren’t recommended because of their shape. As chinchillas are big, running in a wheel can damage their backs.
But you can buy your chinchilla an exercise saucer. These look like large shallow dishes made of metal that rotate like discs. Because these are flat, they let your chinchilla run full pelt, but without having to bend their backs.
Other Fun Things to Do with Your Chinchilla
The easiest thing you can do with a bored chinchilla is spend time with it. Chinchillas get bored because of a lack of stimulation. Some owners report that their bored chinchillas are lethargic all day, but get excited when the owner moves towards the pet’s cage. It’s clear that chinchillas, like all pets, crave interaction, stimulation and fun.
You can spend time sitting next to your chinchilla’s cage, watching it play. Some chinchillas find this fun, although your pet will still be in its enclosure, so can’t do much.
Alternatively, spend time with your pet when it’s in its pen/outside of its cage. If it trusts you and likes your company, spending time with your chinchilla will make it happy. It’s fun to watch your pet running and jumping around, because chinchillas get so excited when they’re outside their cages.