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Picking up and holding a chinchilla isn’t like handling other kinds of pet. They’re delicate, so you need to learn the proper way to hold a chinchilla for the first time.

How do you handle chinchillas safely? From the side, not above, place a hand on your chinchilla’s front and another on its rear. Take a firm, but not pinchy, grasp of your pet’s tail and lift it. Support its front with your other hand if possible. You can then hold your chinchilla by supporting its feet from underneath with both hands.

You must lift your pet this way because it has free-floating ribs. A chinchilla doesn’t have a sternum, so if you lift one up by its middle, its ribs could damage its internal organs.

To learn more about lifting and handling a chinchilla for the first time (and especially handling without biting), read our guide below.


How to Hold a New Chinchilla

holding a chinchilla for the first time
Image courtesy Meagan Lloyd, CC by 2.0. Get your chinchilla to trust you, e.g. by feeding it, before trying to pick it up.

Handling a chinchilla is easy, so long as you know how. To pick up a chinchilla, either lift it by the base of its tail, or allow it to hop onto your hand. Then, the proper way to hold a chinchilla is to support underneath its feet with both hands for maximum security.

At times it will sit still, in which case it’s easy to hold. Other times, it may want to move around, in which case you should continually pass your chinchilla from one hand to another. Bear in mind that a chinchilla which has never been handled before will be uncomfortable at first.

But holding a chinchilla for the first time is about more than picking it up. There are several steps you have to take before you can pick up a chinchilla for the first time:

  • Understand your chinchilla. Most chinchillas don’t like handling, and as an owner you have to understand why.
  • Get your chinchilla to trust you. Chinchillas naturally don’t trust people, so overcoming that is a must.
  • Picking your chinchilla up safely. You could easily hurt your chinchilla if you pick it up from the ground in the wrong way.
  • Holding your chinchilla safely. Once you’ve picked up your chinchilla, again, you could easily hurt it by dropping it or holding it wrong.

As such, this guide will touch on several issues in addition to ‘how to handle a chinchilla’.


Do Chinchillas Like Being Handled?

holding a chinchilla
Image courtesy Arkangel, CC by SA 2.0.

Chinchillas don’t like being handled by people they don’t know. While other rodents don’t mind, chinchillas do. This is a source of frustration for new owners, because they look so cuddly, but you can’t cuddle them.

Over time, you can get your chinchillas used to handling. But this takes time and trust. You can’t force a chinchilla to like you, or being handled.

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.

  • Chinchillas have delicate bones. Their ribs are thin and connected to the spine by cartilage. Through handling, you can break these connections and damage your chinchilla’s organs. Your chinchilla knows that it’s delicate.
  • You are much bigger than your chinchilla. All animals are nervous around animals much bigger than they are. You’re a threat, whether you want to be or not.
  • Your chinchilla will think you’re a predator. The only reason that another animal would touch a chinchilla is to eat it. So, your pet will think you’re a predator.
  • You don’t know your own strength. You can easily hurt your pet by accident.
  • If you’re handling your pet for the first time, it doesn’t trust you yet. It will be more comfortable with you later on.
  • New owners aren’t confident. When you handle your pet, you might shake and be nervous. Your pet will pick up on that.

The first three issues can never be corrected. But through learning more about your pet, and how to handle it, the latter three can be. That’s the purpose of this guide.

Do All Chinchillas Dislike Handling?

 
handling
Image courtesy Anthony Sokolik, CC by SA 2.0. Some chinchillas don’t like handling no matter what you do.

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 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.

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How to Get Your Chinchilla to Trust You

Before handling your chinchilla, you must get it to trust you. This isn’t something you can do overnight, so don’t expect immediate results. There are several things you can do to gain your pet’s trust.

The best way to do so is with your chinchilla outside of its cage. When it’s in its cage, if you come towards it, it will feel cornered.

Its ‘fight or flight’ reaction will kick in, and it may try to escape or bite you. So, let your pet out into your chinchilla-proofed room. Alternatively, put it in a play pen. In these spaces, your pet will be less afraid when you approach.

At all times, treat your pet with respect. Don’t force it to do things. If your chinchilla shies away from you, don’t chase after it, for example. Allow it to feel comfortable and over time it will like you.

Can You Force a Chinchilla to Be Handled?

Forcing a chinchilla to enjoy being handled is a bad idea. It is possible in a sense. Some owners tame their chinchillas by picking them up and not letting them go, no matter how much the pet doesn’t like it.

This will have unintended effects. On the one hand, your pet will get used to you. But you will also teach it that you can be cruel.

Besides that, a chinchilla that’s trying to escape will be in fight-or-flight mode, with adrenaline in its bloodstream. Too much adrenaline over time is bad for health (chronic stress).

And even if the chinchilla does stop struggling, that doesn’t mean it likes you. Rather, it gives up. It has learned to be helpless. That’s why you have to teach your chinchilla to trust you instead.

Make Sure Your Chinchilla Is Happy

Taming your chinchilla is impossible if it’s unhappy. A chinchilla kept in improper conditions is easily aggravated. It won’t want to spend time with you when in pain or stressed.

Also, if your chinchilla isn’t happy with its enclosure, it can get sick. A sick chinchilla doesn’t want to be handled because it feels vulnerable. When an animal is sick, it’s particularly vulnerable to predators.

So, before you do anything, check your pet’s enclosure. Read our care guides to ensure that your chinchilla is kept in the right conditions.

Let Your Chinchilla Sniff Your Hand

Chinchillas, like all rodents, have a sensitive sense of smell. They use this sense to navigate the world, and to understand what things are. They learn what a person’s smell is, and can recognize it.

So, to trust you, a chinchilla has to know what you smell like. With your pet outside of its cage, reach your hand towards it. At first, it may shy away or hide. If so, don’t force it to come towards you, or move yourself closer. Leave your hand there for a minute before moving it away.

After a few tries, your chinchilla will come to sniff you. It won’t immediately be comfortable with handling, but it will be less scared of you.

For best results, avoid having anything smelly on your hands like soap or perfume. You want your chinchilla to get used to your natural smell. Don’t do this in your pet’s cage, because it will feel cornered. Only do so with your chinchilla in your room or in a play pen.

Let Your Chinchilla Run Around on You

handling a chinchilla
Letting your chinchilla become comfortable outside its cage is a good idea.

Once your chinchilla knows you, it will be comfortable around you. But it still won’t want to be handled. During this in between stage, it may climb around on your shoulders and along your arms. If it does so, let it.

This sounds easy, but chinchillas have tiny claws/nails which can be sharp. These can scratch bare skin. If they do, don’t react by yelping or moving quickly. This will make your chinchilla wary of you. Wear a thick sweater to prevent this.

Over time, this will get your chinchilla used to being on you. It likely still won’t be comfortable with being handled, but it will be soon.


How to Pick Up a Chinchilla

Picking up a chinchilla is easy once it trusts you, and if you know how. You must lift it up by its tail, not its middle, and by placing your hands around it rather than reaching from above. Once you’ve picked it up, you can support your pet by placing your hands underneath its feet. Then you can handle it, carefully, like you would any other pet.

Here’s a step by step guide which explains everything you have to do in detail.

1) Can You Hold a Chinchilla by The Tail?

Picking up a chinchilla by its tail is the method approved by all experienced owners.

This may seem both unusual and cruel. People who own pet rodents will tell you that this is a bad way to pick them up, and they’re right. If you do this to other rodents, you can hurt them, and even break their backs.

Chinchillas, though, are different. You can hold them by the bases of their tails with no risk of this happening. Furthermore, this method avoids the problem of lifting your chinchilla by its middle (as we’ll come to in a moment).

To lift your chinchilla by its tail, this is what you have to do.

  1. Sit near your chinchilla and observe it. Ensure that it’s comfortable in your presence. If it isn’t, your chinchilla doesn’t trust you yet.
  2. Move your hands towards your chinchilla. Do so from underneath rather than from above.
  3. Collect your chinchilla with one hand around its front, and one around its rear. 
  4. Take a firm, but not pinchy, grasp of your chinchilla’s tail. Lift your chinchilla by its tail while keeping your other hand close underneath your chinchilla’s other end.

This is what most owners do to move their chinchillas around. So, for example, if you have to put your chinchilla back in its cage, this is how you would do it. The first time you do so, your chinchilla may struggle, but remain calm if it does. After repeated handling, your chin won’t mind so much.

However, holding your pet chinchilla by the tail for a long time isn’t a good idea. That’s because your chinchilla won’t enjoy being held like this for a long time. Your pet can only dangle helplessly, so will want to get back on its feet. Also, you won’t enjoy holding your chinchilla like this for a long time. You can’t cuddle your chinchilla, hold it close or play with it when holding it like this.

Rather, this is intended as a way to quickly pick up a chinchilla without causing it harm. Once you’ve picked your chinchilla up, you can begin to handle it.

2) Can You Hold a Chinchilla by The Middle?

Holding a chinchilla by its middle is a bad idea unless you know what you’re doing.

If you are going to hold your chinchilla by the middle, don’t let your chinchilla balance all of its weight on your hand/s there. What this means is that you can hold a chinchilla by its middle, but not if you’re supporting its whole weight.

The issue with doing so is related to your chinchilla’s ribs. Chinchillas have delicate ribs that are mostly made of cartilage. Cartilage isn’t as solid as bone; it’s more flexible, so your pet’s ribs can more easily bend. This can crush your pet’s ribs. They are also thin enough that they can easily snap and puncture your chinchilla’s lungs or other organs.

However, this isn’t an issue if you are supporting your chinchilla underneath its feet. It’s only an issue if you pick your chinchilla up off the ground, putting all of its weight into your hands holding its middle. Allowing your pet to scamper about in your hands is no problem.

3) Distract Your Pet

When holding a chinchilla for the first time, keep it distracted. If your pet has a snack or chew toy, it will be more comfortable. It doesn’t matter what the snack is, so long as it’s healthy.

With your chinchilla in your hands, see if it begins to squirm, or squeak/squeal. If it does, give it a treat or chew toy. This may quiet it down. This will let you hold your pet for a minute or so without it being scared.

Over time, your pet will feel happier when you handle it without a distraction. That’s because it associates handling with something good, i.e. a treat.

When your chinchilla doesn’t want to be handled before, or you want to put it back, lower it down back into its enclosure (or into its pen, if you have one).


How Long Can You Handle a Chinchilla For?

You can handle a chinchilla for as long as it’s comfortable. This varies from chinchilla to chinchilla. Some are happy only for a minute, while others will sit in your lap for hours.

Don’t impose a time limit on your pet, e.g. handling it for exactly twenty minutes. If your chinchilla wants to leave, let it leave. It will show that it wants to leave by:

  • Squirming. The chinchilla is trying to make you drop it.
  • Making loud noises. When frightened, chinchillas make barking noises or squealing noises.

When you notice these signs, let your pet go. You can try handling it again later. Don’t drop your chinchilla from a height. Instead, lower it to the ground and allow it to hop from your hands from a couple inches off the ground.

To be clear, chinchillas are comfortable jumping up and down much further than that. They can jump three feet. But if your pet isn’t expecting to jump/fall from such a distance, it may hurt itself by accident.


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