Bonding chinchillas is tricky business, as if you put them together straight away, they’ll fight. But chinchillas thrive in pairs and groups—so how are they formed?
How do you introduce two chinchillas? Put the pair in cages side by side, two inches apart. They can smell each other but not fight. After a week, introduce them in a neutral cage. This can be done with a bonded pair and a new chinchilla, too. Alternatively, ‘smooshing chinchillas’ is putting a pair in a carrier for a day that’s too small to fight in.
These ideas work well, especially when combined with some of the tricks and tips below. But there are other methods, too, that some owners and breeders swear by… So, what’s the deal? Let’s find out!
Can You Put Two Chinchillas Together?
Chinchillas are social herd animals, and can live in pairs or groups as pets. But you can’t throw your chinchilla pair together without bonding them first. That’s what this guide is about: how to bond chinchillas, and what can go wrong if you don’t.
This requires more equipment and more effort than most inexperienced owners realize. But it can be done.
Are Chinchillas Better in Pairs?
This is something that chinchilla owners argue about. Wild chinchillas live in herds of up to a hundred (or would, if they weren’t nearly extinct). This herd behavior is passed on to pet chinchillas, so it’s reasonable to assume that they will thrive best if placed in groups, or at least pairs.
But some owners keep chinchillas on their own. It seems that so long as you spend lots of time with your pet, it won’t get lonely or stressed. Furthermore, some chinchillas aren’t as social as others and will fight with others more frequently. These chinchillas are best kept alone.
Some owners think that chinchillas should be kept in pairs anyway. But so long as you don’t neglect your pet, it should be fine, whether it’s kept on its own or not.
Do Chinchillas Fight?
Chinchillas can fight. Fighting is an inevitable consequence of living in groups, because while the group members will mostly co-operate, sometimes one chinchilla will want something another has. That could be food, shelter, or mating rights.
Fights vary in intensity from huffs and spats to full-blown attacks. They can be a serious problem if one chinchilla is much larger than the other, as the larger one will bully the other.
This is one way in which keeping a chinchilla on its own is better. But for the most part, paired-up chinchillas provide each other with company and positive social interaction.
Can Chinchillas Kill Each Other?
One chinchilla can kill another if it’s much larger. Larger chinchillas bully smaller chinchillas, and in some cases, this aggression can become very hostile. If the pair aren’t separated, the bullying will continue and can turn violent.
The problem here is that if a wild chinchilla were being bullied, it would go to live on its own or with another group. But in a cage, it can’t do that. So, the bullied chinchilla becomes stressed and unhappy as a result. The bullying chinchilla wonders why it won’t leave despite being treated so badly, and so can treat it even worse. This is how fights escalate.
Fighting occurs more between chinchillas that don’t know each other. That’s why you have to bond the two chinchillas first. That’s what the rest of this guide is about!
A Guide to Introducing Two Chinchillas
There are two main ways to introduce chinchillas to each other. The first is the split cage method, and the second is ‘smooshing’. The point of these methods is to get the chinchillas used to each other before they live together.
Sex the New Chinchilla, or Have a Breeder/Vet Do It For You
Unless you want to run a breeding program, you should only pair males with males and females with females. If you pair a male and a female either on purpose or by accident, they are guaranteed to mate eventually. While it’s a cute, fun idea to look after chinchilla kits, this is something only advanced owners should do.
As such, you need to be certain beyond doubt that the new chinchilla is the same sex as your current chinchilla. Its sex is determined through a process called sexing.
In short, you check the chinchilla’s genital area. Both males and females have something called a urethral cone that looks like a penis. But you can tell males from females as in females, the cone and anus are very close, while in males they are far apart. This is something that can be seen easily with experience.
If you have kept chinchillas for a long time, you can likely do this yourself. But if you’re not absolutely certain, you should have a vet or breeder check for you. Ideally you should buy your chinchilla from a breeder rather than a pet shop anyway.
Quarantine Your New Chinchilla
Before you do anything to bond the pair, you have to quarantine your new chinchilla. This is an essential step that you cannot skip. The new chinchilla could have an illness of some kind, or could even have an infestation of lice or fleas (although this is rare). This is necessary even if it looks like the chinchilla is healthy, because conditions like ringworm are difficult to spot at first.
Most owners put their chinchillas through a two week quarantine process. This doesn’t involve anything special that you shouldn’t already be able to do. The process is as follows:
- Set up the new chinchilla’s cage. It should be as if the chinchilla is going to live there permanently. It need food, water, an exercise wheel, bedding etc.
- Put the cage in a separate room to your current pet. This will a) stop your chinchillas stressing each other out, and b) prevent the spread of illness and infestation.
- Spend some time with your new chinchilla. Try to get it comfortable both with you and its new environment. The more comfortable it is, the more likely that introducing the pair will go smoothly.
- Change clothes and wash your hands after handling your new chinchilla. You can easily, unknowingly, transfer illness or infestation to your current pet if you don’t.
Once the initial two weeks are up, you can continue with the process below.
Many breeders put their chinchillas through a longer quarantine period of thirty days. This all but guarantees that the chinchilla is healthy and won’t introduce any outside illnesses or parasites to the herd.
You cannot skip this step as your pets’ health is paramount. But also, you’ll need a separate cage anyway—what if the pair don’t get along, and you need somewhere to put the new chinchilla? This is an eventuality you must be prepared for, as not all chinchillas are social.
1) Split Cage Method of Introducing Chinchillas
The split cage method is how owners of many different animals introduce pairs and groups. It’s also known by other names like side by side introduction.
It involves putting the cages of each animal side by side. The name comes from a special kind of cage (a split cage) which has a wire barrier running down the middle which can also be used. The cage should be set up on each side with everything each chinchilla needs.
You can do this with two individual chinchilla cages instead. Once quarantine is over, place the new chinchilla’s cage next to your current pet’s cage. Keep the side of one cage at least two inches away from the side of the other cage.
The point of this method is that the chinchillas can smell each other, but can’t fight. Over time, they will each get used to the proximity of the other’s smell and are bonded. The pair may scrabble at each other through the cage bars, but they can’t reach. That’s why a two to four inch gap should be left between them.
This takes a variable amount of time. In some cases, it takes a week. In others, it takes several weeks. You can tell that the pair are more comfortable with each other because:
- The pair will stop scrabbling through the cage bars to fight
- The pair will sometimes sit as close to each other as possible
Once they show signs of bonding, you can introduce them in a neutral cage, as described below.
2) Smooshing Method of Introducing Chinchillas
Smooshing is an alternative method of introducing chinchillas that takes a different approach. Rather than keeping them in their cages, after quarantine, the pair are placed together in a small carrier (hence the term ‘smooshing’). The carrier should be big enough that the pair can sit or stand, but not big enough that they can fight.
From how the split cage method works, you may think that this would do more harm than good. But it works by giving the chinchillas something other than each other to think about. They are slightly stressed by being in a new environment, so shouldn’t pay too much attention to each other.
Smooshing can take up to a day. If it doesn’t work first time, you can try several times.
It’s also possible to leave the pair in for longer. So long as they have hay, water and bedding, that’s not a problem. Spot clean the carrier each day as you would for a chinchilla cage.
Neutral Cage for Introducing Chinchillas
You should have a third cage: one for each chinchilla, plus one neutral, unused cage. Once you’ve smooshed or split-caged your chinchillas, you then put them together in this third neutral cage.
The point of this is to stop fights over territory. Chinchillas in their own cages will feel protective of what they feel is their own space: their hide, their food, their platforms. Ownership is determined by smell, and a chinchilla’s cage smells like the chinchilla (even if you can’t smell anything).
As such, you need a neutral cage that neither chinchilla has lived in. It should be cleaned before use, and lined with entirely fresh bedding and new accessories. Put two bowls, two hides and two water bottles to minimize the chance of fighting. At first, don’t include a hide, so that the pair can see whether they fight.
If you can’t afford a third cage, or have no room for one, you could try cleaning one of the chinchilla’s cages. Take one chinchilla from its cage and place it in a play pen, and leave the other inside its own cage. Then, take the opportunity to deep clean the first chinchilla’s cage. This means taking out every cage accessory and cleaning it, completely replacing bedding with fresh, and wiping down the entire cage with something antibacterial. This may then seem like a neutral cage to both chinchillas.
Either way, you must monitor the pair after they are introduced. If they fight to the point of fur slip or blood is drawn, separate them again.
Other Methods for Introducing Chinchillas
Keeping chins isn’t an exact science, so over the years, owners have come up with lots of ways of introducing them. The two described above work well, but you may find that one of the following works better for you. Experimenting and learning more (although not at the cost of your chinchilla’s safety and health) is part of becoming an experienced owner. So, consider the following methods:
- Introduction during playtime. When outside the cage, the chinchillas don’t have to be so close. This is bad because the pair can avoid each other, but good because they won’t fight. This works less consistently than other methods.
- Cage swapping. Swap the chinchillas between their cages every once in a while. This makes Chinchilla A’s cage smell a little like Chinchilla B, and vice versa. Over time the pair get used to each other. This method can be used in conjunction with split cage.
- Cage within a cage. The new chinchilla’s small cage is placed inside your existing pet’s bigger one. Again, the pair can’t fight but can smell each other.
You may find that you have success with one of these methods over the ones we describe here. That doesn’t mean any particular way is ‘wrong’, so long as it doesn’t stress or injure the chinchillas. Different owners swear by different methods, so what matters is finding what works for your pets.
Tips for Introducing Chinchillas
There are lots of things that inexperienced owners do, where they think they’re helping, but in reality they aren’t. There are also a few tips and tricks you may not have thought of that experienced owners and breeders recommend.
- Try trimming your chinchillas’ whiskers down to an inch long. As chinchillas use their whiskers to feel the world around them, this makes them feel smaller and less territorial. If you want to do this, keep the cage simple so they aren’t bumping into things or falling from height.
- Don’t hold the chinchillas up to each other so they can ‘see’ each other. It’s important that the smaller chinchilla is able to run and hide if it feels threatened. It can’t do that if you’re holding it.
- Try dabbing your pet’s nose with vinegar. This stops it smelling the other chinchilla and getting territorial. You can also dab your pet’s rear end, as this is where it produces much of its scent.
- Put lots of things in the neutral cage. The more chew sticks and hay they have, the better. If you put a dust bath in there, that’s something else to distract the pair from fighting.
Most owners need use only one or two of these tips (e.g. lots of things in the neutral cage, plus dabbing a different scent on the nose and tail). Combined with smooshing or side by side introduction this is normally enough. Some owners report that they’ve never had an introduction fail if they use tips like these.
Whisker trimming is another controversial subject (there are lots when it comes to owning chinchillas!) Some owners and breeders think it’s barbaric and that it hurts the chinchilla to do so. But whiskers are a specialized, thicker form of hair made of keratin. In the same way that cutting your hair doesn’t hurt, nor does trimming a chinchilla’s whiskers.
What is true is that the chinchilla will find it stressful if you trim its whiskers. If that’s true of your pet, try the other tips instead.
Does Introducing Chinchillas Always Work?
Some chins won’t bond no matter how long and what you try. This isn’t necessarily a reflection on you, as some chinchillas are naturally more anti-social.
When introduced to other chinchillas, the anti-social kind will always try to fight the other away. You could try it with other new chinchillas, but the same result will occur, so don’t bother.
Introducing More than Two Chinchillas
If you’re planning on having a group of two males and one female, don’t. There is no way to make this work. The males will always fight over the female. Professional breeders rotate males rather than have them compete with each other.
Three males or three females can get along, though. You use the same methods described above. The only difference is that it’s less likely to work.
How to Tell If Chinchillas Are Getting Along
You can easily tell if the pair aren’t bonding properly. If the pair don’t bond, they will fight. Fighting has many obvious signs, including:
- One of the chinchillas constantly hiding. This shows that it feels threatened.
- Fur slip. Fur slip occurs when a chinchilla’s fur is grabbed and pulled.
- Drawing blood. There’s no reason your chinchilla should be bleeding.
- Loud noises. Fighting chinchillas make squeaky noises. If one feels very threatened, it may make a screaming/wailing noise.
If you notice any of these signs, separate the pair immediately. Leave them for a week at least before trying again; some experts recommend not even trying to pair them again at all.
Above all, be patient. As an inexperienced owner it’s easy to get things wrong. But you will only make things worse if you force the chinchillas to live together, and your pets won’t be happy.