Do Chinchillas Live in Pairs?

A pet chinchilla is great fun, but what’s even more fun is having more than one chinchilla. If you do, you could either keep them as a pair/group, or keep them in separate cages. But which is best?

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A pet chinchilla is great fun, but what’s even more fun is having more than one chinchilla. If you do, you could either keep them as a pair/group, or keep them in separate cages. But which is best?

Do chinchillas live in pairs? In the wild, chinchillas live in large groups. As pets, they can be kept alone, in pairs, or in groups. If you keep a chinchilla on its own, you must interact with it to prevent it becoming lonely. Same-sex pairs of cage-mates are ideal.

Monitor your pet to see whether it prefers living alone or with another chinchilla. Then, give your pet whatever it wants.

Do Wild Chinchillas Live in Groups?

Wild chinchillas live in groups called herds. These herds can be large, anywhere from a dozen up to a hundred individuals. Living in herds offers distinct advantages:

  1. There will always be mates available nearby. This allows chinchillas to reproduce quickly and easily. It also helps them avoid inbreeding.
  2. Chinchillas can warn each other of danger. A chinchilla which notices a predator will announce its presence with a loud bark, and the others in the herd will run and hide.

The chinchillas will then hide in rock crevices or under bushes to escape whatever predator is nearby.

Alongside this warning bark, chinchillas have at least ten distinct sounds they can make, each of which has a different meaning. Furthermore, they display social behaviors like grooming and playfighting. This underlines how the chinchilla is a naturally social species.

Can Wild Chinchillas Live by Themselves?

Wild chinchillas have interesting group dynamics. An individual chinchilla may not necessarily stay with the same group for its whole life.

This is one difference between wild female and male chinchillas. Males can travel between groups. This allows them to mate with many different females, and thereby diversify the gene pool of a group. Females are more territorial because they form the core of the group, and stick with the same group for most of their lives.

In the meantime, a male can live on its own while it searches for another group. However, it will prefer living with a larger group as bigger numbers mean more protection.

Unfortunately, evidence relating to how chinchillas live in the wild is almost nonexistent. That’s because both long tailed and short tailed chinchillas were hunted to near extinction. Now, only small groups in arid areas in and around the Atacama desert survive. Scientists have to use night-vision cameras to even find them, so studying their group dynamics is practically impossible.

Can You Keep Two Chinchillas Together?

Keeping two chinchillas together is the default setup for owners. Doing so allows the pets to display natural behaviors like grooming and playfighting, which is good for their wellbeing. It also means that you don’t have to dedicate lots of time each day to spending time with your pet, as it already has company.

If you do want to keep two chinchillas together, you have to introduce them first. Otherwise, they’ll fight. You do this using the split cage method, which is where you keep the two chinchillas somewhere they can smell each other but with a dividing wall between them.

What most owners do is keep them in two cages separated by a couple of inches, and allow them playtime together on occasion. Over time they become used to each other and you can house them together.

Can Chinchillas Live Alone?

Pet chinchillas can either live alone or in a group. Many owners keep single chinchillas, and report that their pets are happy. But chinchillas are naturally social, so they can also live in groups.

Also, not all chinchillas are the same. Some are far less social than others, and will get aggressive when they see another chinchilla. This especially applies to females, which are more territorial than males. However, this is the exception rather than the rule, so assume that your chinchilla would be happier living with another until proven otherwise.

Can Chinchillas Get Lonely?

Loneliness is a difficult emotion to define. The need to be social is not unique to people, but it’s incorrect to assume that other animals feel ‘lonely’ in the same way that people do. What we do know is that chinchillas enjoy living in groups, and can display negative behaviors when kept alone.

So, if your chinchilla seems lonely, the easiest fix is to find it a cage-mate. You could also consider spending more time with your pet, as solitary chinchillas do best when they get lots of care and attention from their owners.

Can Chinchillas Die of Loneliness?

Chinchillas cannot die of being alone. But what can happen is that loneliness contributes to ill health through stress and unhappiness.

A neglected and lonely chinchilla will display negative and repetitive behaviors, such as biting at its cage bars. This in turn can cause malocclusion (teeth pointing the wrong way), which can kill a chinchilla. Or, loneliness might contribute to stress as the chinchilla feels vulnerable, which negatively affects overall health.

So, loneliness cannot directly kill a chinchilla; but it can contribute to things that do.

Do Chinchillas Like to Be Alone?

Again, this depends on the chinchilla. Some clearly want to be left alone, and will get aggressive if you try to spend time with them. A female which wants to be left alone may rear up on her hind legs, for example, or spray urine.

Other chinchillas clearly want to spend time with other chinchillas, or with their owners. You may notice your pet scrabbling at the wall or jumping up and down when you come near in anticipation of playing with you.

And like people, sometimes chinchillas want to be social, and sometimes they don’t. So, a pet which enjoys spending time with you may occasionally get defensive if you try to handle it because it wants to be alone for a while. There isn’t necessarily any reason why; just like people, sometimes they want to be left alone.

Advantages vs Disadvantages of Keeping a Single Chinchilla

Some owners dislike the idea of keeping chinchillas alone; but it does have its advantages, provided you spend lots of time with your pet. Below is a table highlighting the benefits of keeping your chinchilla alone, vs. the advantages you get from keeping it in a pairing or group.

Alone In a Group
It’s cheaper to keep one chinchilla rather than a pair or group. Chinchillas naturally live in groups; it’s your job as your pet’s owner to give it as close an approximation of its natural life as you possibly can.
Your chinchilla is more likely to bond with you, as you provide it with its dose of social interaction. The chinchillas can spend lots of time with each other, so leaving your pets alone won’t send them stir-crazy.
Your pet won’t be territorial of its belongings, as it doesn’t feel threatened by any other chinchillas. If you have a male and a female, you can breed them (not advised for novice owners).
You won’t have to divide your attention between several pets. Your chinchilla can display social behaviors, which helps it de-stress (e.g. grooming).
Chinchillas living in pairs or groups can fight, over-groom each other, injure each other and even kill each other (although introducing the pair properly should prevent this). Chinchillas which used to be paired or grouped up before you bought them will miss being social.
  It’s fun to watch a chinchilla pair or group all interacting with each other.

The fact that there are advantages to both approaches is why owners take different views. The most important thing to note is that good care goes a long way, whether you keep your chinchilla alone or not.

Keeping Two Chinchillas in Separate Cages

An alternative setup is to keep two chinchillas, but have each chinchilla in its own cage. They won’t be living as a pair/group, but they can at least ‘talk’ to each other and see each other. You can do this to keep a territorial chinchilla happy; it won’t want another chinchilla in its enclosure, but it will benefit from seeing and ‘talking with’ another chinchilla.

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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!