Do Chinchillas Like to Be Held and Cuddled?

Chinchillas are incredibly fluffy, and look like cuddly pets. But experienced owners will tell you that they shouldn’t be cuddled and held close. Is that because chinchillas don’t like being handled?

New owner, don't know where to start? Or do you need a handy chinchilla reference guide? Check out our Chinchilla Care 101 eBook, or get what you need from our online store!

Chinchillas are incredibly fluffy, and look like cuddly pets. But experienced owners will tell you that they shouldn’t be cuddled and held close. Is that because chinchillas don’t like being handled?

Chinchillas don’t like being handled, although some are more trusting than others. Chinchillas are small and have fragile ribs so are skittish when held close. However, chinchillas enjoy being petted and brushed. You can tame a chinchilla to be handled over time with patience.

This is a shame because chinchillas look so fluffy and cuddly. But if you tame your chinchilla and learn more about it, it may let you cuddle it… And that’s what you’ll learn about below.

Are Chinchillas Affectionate?

chinchillas cuddling
Image courtesy Ilya Ktsn, CC by 2.0.

Chinchillas are affectionate pets if they trust you. They can enjoy being petted and stroked. Some enjoy being handled and held closely, although not too tight.

Chinchillas can also enjoy spending time with you. At first, your pet will want to do its own thing when outside its cage. But when it trusts you, it may come to spend time near you or even in your lap.

Do Chinchillas Like to Be Pet?

Most chinchillas like to be pet. They enjoy being pet on their backs, around their necks and on the backs of their heads. Chin rubs are a favorite too. Some chinchillas like belly rubs, but others are nervous because their bellies are delicate.

But that doesn’t apply all the time, and it doesn’t apply to every chinchilla.

A chinchilla won’t enjoy you petting it if you haven’t cared for it for a long time.

Also, if your chinchilla was cared for by an inattentive person or kept in a pet shop for a long time before you bought it, it won’t be comfortable with rubs yet.

Chinchillas are similar to other household pets. They only like to be pet when they want to, not when you want to. And some like petting/handling while others prefer you leave them alone altogether. Attune to the personality of your pet and don’t force yourself on it.

Do Chinchillas Like to Be Handled?

There’s a big difference between being pet and being held. Most chinchillas are comfortable with being scritched and scratched, but not picked up. This can be a source of frustration for owners because chinchillas do look cuddly.

The reason for this is that a pet is vulnerable when it’s held. If you’re scratching your pet’s head, it can run away if you hurt it somehow. But if you’re holding it, it can’t run away.

Also, chinchillas can’t easily be held safely. They have delicate ribs, so when experienced owners have to pick up their pets, they lift them by the bases of their tails. Chinchillas know they’re delicate, so don’t normally like being held.

That being said, some chinchillas are more trusting than others. These don’t mind being picked up.

Do Chinchillas Like to Cuddle?

Chinchillas shouldn’t be cuddled closely in the way that other pets are. You can hurt your pet easily if you do.

But if you avoid snuggling your chinchilla too close, cuddling is fine. Holding your pet in your lap or in your hands won’t hurt it unless you squeeze it tight.

That being said, most chinchillas don’t like being cuddled close. Yours may fidget until you let it go. Another may sit still and wait until it’s let go of, clearly not enjoying being so close. Chinchillas aren’t natural lap pets, so don’t get one if that’s a quality you strictly want in a pet.

Do Chinchillas Like to Be Brushed?

If a chinchilla trusts you, it will enjoy being brushed. It’s a pleasant feeling, so in the same way that your pet likes being scratched, it will enjoy being brushed.

However, chinchillas shouldn’t need to be brushed. If your pet has regular dust baths, its fur should be grease-free and clean. And your pet will groom and barber its own fur (as will its cage-mates).

Also, it’s difficult to find a brush that correctly brushes a chinchilla’s fur. Chinchilla fur is so soft and dense that a regular brush isn’t fine enough to ease out small tangles. The best choice is a baby’s hair brush. These have soft bristles which are close together.

Why Don’t Chinchillas Like Being Handled?

There are many reasons why chinchillas don’t like being handled. If you think from your pet’s perspective, and learn more about them, this makes sense.

1) Your Chinchilla Thinks You Are a Predator

Animals are naturally afraid of other animals, especially if they’re bigger. That’s because a bigger animal is likely to be a predator. Even if it’s not, it could still be dangerous because of its size and strength.

Also, no other animal interacts with other animals like people do.

No other animal keeps chinchillas as pets. So, your chinchilla will be confused why you interact with it until it learns to trust you.

You can unintentionally make your chinchilla more afraid of you through poor handling technique. Wild chinchillas are attacked and eaten by birds of prey. When you reach into your pet’s enclosure to pick it up from above, it may panic, thinking it’s being attacked by a bird.

These reactions are instinctual. There’s nothing you can do but gain your pet’s trust over time.

2) Chinchillas Have Delicate Bones

holding a chinchilla
Image courtesy Ernie & Katy Newton Lawley, CC by 2.0.

Chinchillas look like they have big bodies, but they don’t. Chinchillas only look large-bodied because of all their fur. Underneath, they are small and vulnerable like any other rodent. You can easily hurt your pet by accident when picking it up.

Chinchillas are also especially delicate because of their unusual skeletal structure. Like all mammals, the chinchillas has ribs. But these ribs aren’t like normal ribs; they’re known as ‘floating ribs’.


In mammals, ribs are attached to the spine by cartilage joints. These joints don’t allow for much movement, but can expand slightly for breathing.

Most of these ribs curve around and attach to the sternum through more cartilage joints. This forms the ribcage. Some ribs towards the bottom of the ribcage don’t connect to the sternum. These are known as floating ribs.

While it has long been thought that chinchillas have floating ribs, that’s not true. You can see as much in the image below. Rather, the problem is that the chinchilla’s ribs are mostly cartilage, unlike ours which are mostly bone. Cartilage is much weaker than bone.

What this means is that if you pick up a chinchilla, you can push these ribs into its lungs/other organs. This causes internal damage which can be fatal.

Chinchillas know that they’re delicate. But through good care, you can teach your chinchilla that you won’t hurt it.

3) Chinchillas Don’t Like New Owners

chinchilla skeleton
The chinchilla’s skeleton.

Chinchillas don’t trust people they haven’t met before. Again, this is instinctual. If the chinchilla doesn’t recognize your smell, it doesn’t know if you’ll be a friend or a predator. So, it’s wary of you, and won’t want you to handle it.

Also, a novice owner may not know how to handle a chinchilla correctly. One might:

  • Pick up his/her pet too quickly
  • Hold his/her pet too tightly
  • Make too many loud noises and sudden movements when holding his/her chinchilla
  • Pick up a chinchilla when the pet clearly doesn’t want to be held
  • Mistreat the pet unintentionally

Any one of these issues could mean your pet doesn’t want you to handle it. But as you learn more, your chinchilla will learn to like you.

Do All Chinchillas Dislike Handling?

New owners may not realize that chinchillas have personalities. Each chinchilla is different. Some are more ready to trust owners, and will let you handle them even without you taming them.

Others have to be tamed over time. These won’t like you at first, but can grow to like you eventually. With patience and respect, you can handle them.

Others will always be skittish. They may never trust their owners. If that’s the case, you must respect your pet and allow it space. You can’t force it to like handling.

Your chinchilla’s personality is partly genetic and partly related to how it’s raised. If you treat a baby chinchilla (a kit) with respect and kindness, it will trust you more readily. But some won’t like handling no matter what you do.

How Much Attention Do Chinchillas Need?

handling a chinchilla
Image courtesy Tom Pavel, CC by 2.0.

Chinchillas need to socialize because they live in groups in the wild. They thrive if they have attentive owners.

Your chinchilla won’t need as much attention if it has a cage-mate. Chinchillas can be kept in same-sex pairs or opposite sex pairs, although an opposite sex pairing will result in kits.

If your chinchilla has a cage mate, you should interact with it every other day at least. If your chinchilla lives alone, interact with it every day instead. Playtime should last between half an hour and an hour. The more playtime, the quicker your pet will learn to trust you.

There are conflicting views on how much attention chinchillas need. One will certainly survive if it doesn’t get much socialization, but it won’t be as happy as it could be. As such, different owners have different views.

Below, you can find our chinchilla quiz, new posts for further reading, and a signup for our Chinchilla Newsletter!

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The question is, what's going on?

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10 / 10

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New owner, don't know where to start? Or do you need a handy chinchilla reference guide? Check out our Chinchilla Care 101 eBook, or get what you need from our online store!