Building a bond with a new chinchilla is easier said than done. That’s because they instinctively don’t trust people. You can overcome this by teaching your chinchilla to trust you over time.
How do I get my chinchilla to trust me? Spend time near its cage without making loud noises or sudden movements. Talk to it gently. Day by day, move closer and begin offering your hand to your pet (e.g. with food). Then let your chinchilla run around outside its cage where you can handle it to build a strong bond.
The guide below explains exactly how to bond with a chinchilla: from overcoming initial trust issues, to building a deep bond that will last a lifetime. We’ll also cover niche cases like bonding with a rescue chinchilla or a timid chinchilla so that nobody is left out.
All it takes is four steps…
Do Chinchillas Bond With Their Owners?
Most small furry pets, particularly rodents, don’t bond with their owners quite like bigger pets do. They can be affectionate and friendly, but don’t build deep bonds as consistently as more common household pets.
Chinchillas, though, are smarter than the average rodent. As an owner, you probably already know that!
A chinchilla can learn to trust an owner, and once it trusts them, may enjoy playing, spending time and cuddling with them too. Not all chinchillas do, as each has its own personality and some are more social than others. But it’s definitely possible.
That only leaves the question of bonding with your chinchilla in the first place…
How to Bond With Your Chinchilla
For a new chinchilla bonding is a stressful process. There aren’t any shortcuts you can take that will make it quicker. All you can do is care for your pet properly and befriend it slowly. The guide below explains exactly how to do that!
1) How Do I Get My Chinchilla to Trust Me?
Before you can handle your chinchilla, it has to trust you. A chinchilla kit (baby/young chinchilla) may not have spent much time around people, so won’t know what to expect from you. An adult chinchilla may be more used to people, but will think of you as a stranger rather than a friend. And if you have a rescue chinchilla, there are obvious reasons why it may be afraid of people.
You begin building trust step by step. Here’s a quick rundown of how it’s done.
- Sit a few feet away from your chinchilla’s cage. Allow it to go about its business, whether it’s napping, eating, playing or exercising. Over time, it will learn that you aren’t going to hurt it. Once it understands this, it will spend less time hiding and more time outside its hide when you’re around.
- You can then sit closer to your chinchilla’s cage. Again, your chinchilla may be nervous at first, but eventually it will understand that you aren’t there to eat it.
- Move on by reaching out with your hand towards the cage, or even towards your chinchilla. This is the first time you’ve been an active rather than a passive observer, so your chinchilla may not like this. If it’s time to feed your pet pellets or replenish its hay, this is a good opportunity to reach out towards it.
Most owners will feed their chinchillas treats through the bars of the cage at this point. This makes the chinchilla associate you with treats, which is a good thing.
Eventually, your chinchilla will be fully comfortable with your presence. It’s only then that you can progress to the next stage, which is outside-the-cage time.
2) Let Your Chinchilla Out of Its Cage
Letting your chinchilla out of its cage will eventually be necessary, whether it be in a play pen, for handling, or for a health checkup. But if you let your chinchilla out before it’s comfortable with you and its environment, you’re making a mistake.
Like we said above, chinchillas will hide when they feel vulnerable. In its cage, this isn’t a problem, as your pet has somewhere specific to go (its hide). But once you let it out, it could hide anywhere. That’s a big, big issue because it could hide underneath furniture where it might get hurt, or it could even get outside.
That’s why you have to prepare your room before you let your chinchilla out. This is known as ‘chinchilla-proofing‘. You will have to:
- Pick a room that has few places to hide and doesn’t have much furniture, e.g. the bathroom.
- Block off all exits from the room, including doors and windows (chinchillas can leap five feet in the air).
- Critical: don’t leave any wires loose as the chinchilla will chew them.
Once your chinchilla is out of its cage, let it do as it pleases. It likely won’t sit next to you straight away, as now it has much more room to explore, it will feel more secure away from any ‘potential threats’. But stay in the same room nevertheless, and over time, it will get used to you.
Eventually, it will be comfortable sitting near you. It may even want to climb on you, which you should let it do.
Note: you should only let a chinchilla out of its cage after it reaches six months of age.
3) Handling a Chinchilla for The First Time
Next, you can start handling your chinchilla. At this point it’s reasonable to say that your chinchilla trusts you, but that can all go wrong if you don’t handle it the right way.
That’s because chinchillas are fragile, and they know that. The chinchilla’s rib cage is made up of roughly half cartilage, which makes it bendy and easier to break than bone. You can easily break its ribs accidentally or through rough handling (which is why chinchillas don’t make good pets for kids).
Before you fully pick up your chinchilla, get it used to sitting on your hand. Offer your hand with an open palm. If it might help, consider putting a chinchilla-safe treat like a rosehip in your palm to get it to sit still. You don’t need to move your hand around just yet: getting your pet to sit on you for a second is all you’re aiming for now. Touch it along its back at first rather than its face and tail.
Afterwards place both of your hands palm up for your chinchilla to sit on. This is your chinchilla’s platform to stand on when you handle it. As long as it’s in your hands, always provide it a platform like this that it securely stand on.
Your chinchilla will want to explore once it’s out of its cage, so it will scuttle around in your hands. As it does, pass it from hand to hand to provide it with a consistent ‘floor’ to stand on. While chinchillas are good at jumping and falling, your pet will prefer feeling secure. You can also let your chinchilla run up and down your arms, across your shoulders, and across your lap while you’re sat down.
If you need to pick your chinchilla up, you can pick it up by its tail. You grasp the base of the tail firmly and lift the chinchilla upwards. A chinchilla’s tail is sturdy enough that this won’t damage it.
4) How Do I Get My Chinchilla to Cuddle?
Cuddling and handling aren’t the same thing. Handling is where you hold the chinchilla in your hands, while cuddling is hugging it, squeezing it and pressing it to your body. You can’t assume that a chinchilla which is comfortable with handling will also be happy with you cuddling it.
Truth be told, few chinchillas like to be cuddled. Again, that’s because they’re fragile, squirmy and skittish. If your chinchilla doesn’t want you to hold it close, don’t force it, because doing so will make it dislike you.
If your chinchilla likes people more than most do, it will enjoy sitting in your hands or in your lap. You can hold it against you, but mustn’t squeeze it tight, otherwise you could hurt it.
It’s worth noting that there’s more than one way to raise a chinchilla. If you’re an experienced owner, you may have tried different tactics in the past that have worked for you. So long as it works, and it doesn’t put either you or your pet in danger, there’s no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ here.
How Long Does It Take a Chinchilla to Get Used to You?
A new chinchilla will take two or three weeks to get used to its new home. During this time, leave it alone. You will only frighten or stress your chinchilla out by trying to bond with or handle it now.
Your chinchilla will learn that you aren’t a threat within a few days of you sitting near its cage. If you do everything right, your pet will trust you within a week, although it takes longer than that to form a deeper bond.
At this point you may handle your pet, although it won’t be fully comfortable. It’s only gradually that it will become so, and owners find this happens at variable rates.
Bonding With a Timid Chinchilla
Timid chinchillas pose an extra problem: if a chinchilla doesn’t like people, how do you spend time with it? How can you keep it comfortable and build trust with it?
To bond with a timid chinchilla, give it much more time and space than you normally would with a chinchilla. This means:
- Don’t sit close to its cage straight away
- Do everything at your chinchilla’s pace rather than moving on to the next step before it’s comfortable
- Be extra careful not to make loud noises or sudden movements
This may mean that it takes a very long time for the chinchilla to learn to like you. If that’s the case, there is no shortcut or ‘hack’ to get around it.
How to Bond With a Rescue Chinchilla
It may be nigh-on impossible to bond with a chinchilla if it’s a rescue. Most have been through negative experiences with people, of neglect or even cruelty. They are at least highly likely to have been handled and cared for improperly.
This means it will take much, much longer even than with a timid chinchilla for it to get used to you. You must be prepared for this if you plan on getting one.
Signs Your Chinchilla Likes You
At all stages of the bonding process, you have to gauge how comfortable your chinchilla is with you. You should never force it to do things it doesn’t want to do, because to do so will only make it dislike you. Here are a few ways of checking how much your chinchilla likes you and what you’re doing.
1) Increase in Activity
A chinchilla that’s uncomfortable around you will spend lots of time in its hide. The hide is the safest place for it to be when it feels threatened. But a chinchilla that likes you will be happy in plain view.
Some owners with chinchillas that really like them report that they can even act like other pets. A chinchilla might jump up and rush towards you (through its cage) when you get home, for example. Or, it might beg for treats.
2) It Doesn’t Spray
Female chinchillas display an interesting behavior called spraying. This is exactly what it sounds like. The chinchilla will stand up on its hind legs and spray a stream of urine straight at you.
As you can surely guess, this is a sign that the female doesn’t like you. They will do the same at males that want to mate when they aren’t in heat. The idea is to get you to leave them alone.
A female that likes you won’t spray at you. A female that’s wary of you might, particularly if you get too close or reach out towards it. This is one reason why lots of owners prefer male chinchillas, because while males will try to spray, they don’t have the right anatomy (so all they produce is a dribble, even if they really try).
3) It Falls Asleep on You
This is something that some owners never experience. A chinchilla has to be very trusting of you to fall asleep in your presence, let alone on you. Sleeping shows that it has absolutely no fear of you hurting it.
If your chinchilla never falls asleep where you can see it, don’t think “My chinchilla hates me!” It’s natural for a skittish animal like a chinchilla to keep safe when sleeping by hiding somewhere it can’t be seen.
How to Rebuild a Bond With Your Chinchilla
There are all sorts of reasons why your chinchilla falls out with you. You may have accidentally scared it, or picked it up when it really didn’t want you to. Or, you could have done something for its own good, like taking it to the vet. Afterwards, your chinchilla might be annoyed with you or even dislike you.
If that’s happened to you, there are steps you can take to correct the situation. They aren’t complicated. In fact, they’re the same as the steps above.
First, gauge how much your chinchilla doesn’t like you. Its dislike can range from being slightly annoyed with you, to being deathly afraid of you. You must use this information to figure out how best to build your bond again.
If your chinchilla is slightly annoyed, this isn’t an issue. Owners accidentally annoy their chinchillas all the time. Their pets will be standoffish for a moment or two, and then be back to normal. But if your chinchilla hates you, start the trust-building process again: sit next to its cage for a while and gradually get closer. Eventually, your pet will let you handle it and spend time with it again.