Chinchillas are smarter than people credit them for, but aren’t known for their eyesight. They also don’t naturally spend time around people in the wild, so whether and how they could recognize you is an interesting topic.
Can chinchillas recognize their owners? They can, and will behave differently around you than around other people. This is normally positive, i.e. the chinchilla will only tolerate you handling it. Chinchillas use sight, sound and smell to distinguish owners from strangers. To build this bond with your pet, spend lots of time with it and treat it kindly.
This, really, is what all owners should aim for: a bond of trust and recognition. Read our guide below to learn how chinchillas use their senses to recognize you, and how to build that bond that every owner wants with their pet.
Do Chinchillas Recognize You?
Chinchillas can definitely recognize individual people. Ask any owner and they’ll tell you that their chinchilla doesn’t behave in the same way around strangers as it does around them. That’s because they know and trust you, while strangers are an unknown quantity.
You can see this in your pet’s behavior. Here’s an example given by one owner:
Mine absolutely act differently with me than with others! Many of them will come up and hop out onto my arms, or let me scritch them at the front of the cage, but if someone else is with me they will hide as though they have never seen a human before! —Moon, Chins-n-Hedgies.com.
Most owners agree, and will say that their pets are only fully comfortable around people they know and recognize. Examples of this in action include:
- The chinchilla will pop its head out of its hide when it hears your voice, but will stay hidden when it hears other people
- The chinchilla will become hyperactive, ready for playtime, only when you’re nearby
- The chinchilla will beg you for food because it knows you give it treats
- The chinchilla will bark when it sees or hears somebody it doesn’t recognize
Recognition also prevents negative behaviors. This is especially evident with females (no offense meant!) Female chinchillas will spray urine when threatened or angry. Some particularly cranky or easily-frightened females do so frequently. This can be lessened over time by the chinchilla getting to know the owner, but if a stranger were to approach, they would likely get sprayed on. This can even happen with females that never display spraying behaviors otherwise.
How Do Chinchillas Recognize You?
It makes sense that chinchillas can recognize individual people. For example, wild chinchillas are preyed on by many predators, some of which are birds of prey. Chinchillas need to distinguish between these birds and other birds so they know if something is coming to attack them. They also need to recognize chinchillas that are from their herd vs. chinchillas from another herd.
It’s a short leap from there to recognizing different people—some of whom, from a chinchilla’s perspective, might be a threat. So, chinchillas use their senses to tell their ‘enemies’ from their friends.
- Smell. Chinchillas rely on their sense of smell. Even if you don’t know it, you’re giving off a unique scent that nobody else does which chinchillas can pick up. That’s not an insult aimed at you—everyone does!
- Sight. A chinchilla’s sight isn’t as good as its hearing or smell, but they can likely nevertheless remember what you look like.
- Hearing. A chinchilla’s most sensitive sense is its hearing, and chinchillas can tell your voice apart from those of other people.
A chinchilla can also sense that your hand is nearby using its whiskers. Whiskers are very sensitive, and chinchillas use them to know where they are and how much room they have. But a chinchilla likely can’t tell your hand from somebody else’s hand.
Do Chinchillas Imprint on Their Owners?
Imprinting is a commonly misused word. Most people take it to mean recognizing, but it actually doesn’t. Imprinting is a specific psychological process that occurs in certain newborn animals. The first thing that the newly born or hatched animal sees, it will imprint on—normally its mother. The baby will then follow the mother around for protection and care.
Of course, all animals do this to an extent. But in animals that imprint, if the first thing they see isn’t their mother, they’ll imprint on that instead. This leads to all sorts of animals, particularly birds, accidentally imprinting on people.
Chinchillas don’t imprint. Neither chinchilla kits nor adult chinchillas will imprint on their owners in the sense that the definition of the term refers to. But that doesn’t mean a chinchilla can’t recognize you at all.
Do Chinchillas Bond with Their Owners?
A chinchilla will bond with its owner to an extent, but that bond won’t be as deep as between an owner and another kind of pet. Pet chinchillas can enjoy spending time with their owners, sitting on or with them, or even falling asleep on them (which they only do if they really trust you). But they wouldn’t do these things with strangers. This indicates some kind of bond, at least of trust.
But as experienced owners will tell you, while chinchillas do have unique personalities and are smarter than they’re given credit for, they are still ‘only’ small animals. To think that chinchillas can understand bonds of friendship or even love like a person can, or another more advanced animal can, is to misunderstand them.
Do Chinchillas Develop Deep Bonds?
Chinchillas don’t develop deep bonds like people can. They can be happy to be around certain people, but won’t mourn somebody if they die.
To think that an animal has emotions like a person is called anthropomorphism. While ideas like animal grief and depression are real, they don’t necessarily apply to the relationship between a pet and an owner. As such, to think that an animal will react in the same way as a person is to misunderstand how your pet’s mind works.
You could hypothetically demonstrate this with your chinchilla. If it trusts you, it may run to you and respond positively to your attention. Say, for example, that you’re then in an accident and you can’t look after your chinchilla properly: you miss a few days feeding it and bathing it. The chinchilla won’t understand and want to stay with you anyway. The moment it got the chance, it would head off to find something to eat and likely not come back!
Do Chinchillas Like People?
This is something related to each chinchilla’s personality. Some chinchillas will rush up to see you the moment you get home, and would spend all day every day playing with you if they could. Others, meanwhile, will sit in their hides and avoid you. The same applies to chinchillas’ attitudes to other chinchillas (some are social, some are not).
What yours is like is partly pot luck, and partly learned behavior. If every time you interact with a chinchilla kit, you have lots of fun and never hurt it, it will probably love spending time with people when it grows up. It has learned that people aren’t a threat. But if it’s neglected and mistreated, it will learn that people aren’t to be trusted.
Rather than liking people, it seems that some chinchillas tolerate people. This is the case with many pet animals which aren’t fully domesticated. While pet chinchillas are distinct to wild chinchillas, they aren’t fully used to people like other pets or farm animals are.
How Do I Bond with My Chinchilla?
The best way to bond with your chinchilla is to be a good owner. There’s no shortcut to building a relationship of trust between yourself and a pet. Being a good owner means:
- Never forgetting to provide your chinchilla with enough food and water
- Spending lots of time near your chinchilla’s cage and regularly handling it (or respecting its wishes if it doesn’t want to be handled)
- Keeping your chinchilla in an appropriate cage with lots of toys and accessories to keep it busy
- Not forcing your chinchilla to live with another chinchilla if the pair are always fighting
- Don’t stress your chinchilla out by making lots of loud noises, or keeping it somewhere loud and bright
- Always keeping your chinchilla’s cage clean and tidy
As for the specific process of getting a chinchilla to trust you, you can begin this after a couple of weeks of it getting used to your home. Start by sitting near your chinchilla’s cage, occasionally talking to it. Progress by offering it your hand to sniff, sitting closer, and eventually handling it.
The happier your chinchilla is, the happier it will be when you handle it and spend time with it. Positive, happy interaction will make your pet trust you. Otherwise, if you only ever stress your chinchilla, it will want to avoid you.