what is popcorning in chinchillas

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Why is my chinchilla jumping around like crazy? When your pet’s outside its cage, or it gets a treat, it might leap/jump around without warning! But why?

What is popcorning in chinchillas? Popcorning is where the chinchilla leaps up into the air, either from a standing start or while it’s running. Popcorning is a happy chinchilla behavior: it means your pet is excited. Some chinchillas popcorn frequently while others never do. If yours did but doesn’t now, it may be sick and unhappy.

Popcorning is the absolute cutest behavior, which makes it so sad that some new owners don’t even know what it is! Our guide below explains everything you need to know.


What Is Popcorning?

popcorning chinchilla
Chinchillas popcorn when they get excited, e.g. before a dust bath.

Popcorning is a form of happy chinchilla behavior. You’ll also see it in other species of small pet, too.

This behavior gets its name from what it looks like. When a chinchilla popcorns, it jumps upwards quickly from all fours. It’s different to regular chinchilla jumping because it occurs during play.

What makes popcorning so lovely to see is that it’s such a sudden motion. Your chinchilla will be playing excitedly before falling still. If you then were to approach it, it would leap upwards into the air before sprinting away, like a spring releasing its energy (or like a popcorn kernel popping, which is where the behavior gets its name).

This behavior can be displayed from a standing start, or when the chinchilla is running from one point to another. There’s also a related behavior called ‘wall-surfing’, which is where a popcorn-jump is combined with jumping into and kicking off a wall.

Other small pets including rabbits and guinea pigs do the same thing. So, if you’ve had these pets before, you’ll be familiar with this behavior. You may have heard the term ‘binkying’, which is roughly the same behavior.

What Does Popcorning Mean in Chinchillas?

If your chinchilla is popcorning, that means it’s happy and excited. It’s not just content; content chinchillas display other behaviors like winking. Popcorning shows that the chinchilla is feeling playful, so you’ll likely see it:

  • When your chinchilla knows it’s getting outside-the-cage time
  • Before you give your chinchilla a treat it loves
  • After you give your chinchilla some scritches in just the right way

Conversely, if your chinchilla never popcorns, that may be because it’s unhappy. That isn’t necessarily the case, but it could be.

Why Do Chinchillas Popcorn?

Chinchillas are natural jumpers, so it makes sense that some of their behaviors relate to jumping.

Wild chins live in the rocky Andes mountain range of South America. Whether it’s to access a hidey-hole or hop around looking for food, chinchillas spend much of their days jumping from one rock to another. That’s why they can leap so high (up to five feet).

It’s for the same reason that chinchillas should have platforms in their cages.

Why Is My Chinchilla Popcorning So Much?

Chinchillas popcorn when they’re excited. So, it stands to reason that if your chinchilla won’t stop popcorning, it must be very excited indeed! If your chinchilla keeps popcorning, that’s not a problem. You don’t have to make it stop.

Some vets may suggest that popcorning is related to vitamin deficiencies. However, how this behavior would then only be expressed during excitement and happy times isn’t clear. If this is something you’re concerned about, we suggest talking to your vet for more information.


How to Tell If a Chinchilla Is Popcorning

You can tell if a chinchilla is popcorning or jumping for some other reason through its behavior. Chinchillas have many behaviors that display their happiness and excitement. These behaviors include:

  1. Running around. Popcorning is often combined with running around, so the chinchilla will leap up into the air as it runs from one place to another.
  2. Hiding and exploring. Happy and playful chinchillas are naturally curious. They will explore open boxes, gaps underneath things, and so on.
  3. Starting and stopping. When a chinchilla plays, it runs from place to place. Sometimes it will stop for a few seconds before excitedly leaping and sprinting away. This is similar to playful behavior in other animals.

After you’ve owned a chinchilla for a long time, you get a ‘sixth sense’ from your experience where you can tell what your pet’s behaviors mean and how it feels. You can tell when it’s happy, excited, depressed or sick from its general behavior; its general aura. With that ‘sense’, you know instantly when it’s excitedly popcorning.

Do All Chinchillas Popcorn?

baby chinchilla popcorning
Baby chinchillas popcorn more than adults.

Not all chinchillas popcorn, but if yours doesn’t, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s sad.

Baby chinchillas popcorn more than adult chinchillas. This would be because they’re more playful and are more easily excited by, and curious about, new experiences. Some adults continue popcorning frequently into adulthood; yours might popcorn any time it gets a treat, even as it’s happily running in its wheel!

If your chinchilla doesn’t popcorn and instead seems lethargic while your others are excited, check its health. There may be a problem that’s dampening its mood. Chinchillas with malocclusion, for example, don’t play or popcorn because they’re in pain.

Some chinchillas never or hardly popcorn even if they are excited. That’s nothing to worry about. Chinchilla behaviors are partly innate and partly learned. So, a chinchilla kit will learn how to do certain things by watching its parents. If its parents never popcorned, then it may not either. Chinchillas can also learn how to popcorn from new cage mates.

This is related to how all chinchillas have their own personalities, too, as some are more excitable than others solely due to their natures.

Popcorning vs. Inner Ear Infections & Head Shaking

One issue you do have to be aware of is ear infection. This can make popcorning appear different.

A chinchilla with an inner ear infection won’t have as good balance as a normal chinchilla. That’s because the ears contain fluid in a canal that moves as an animal moves its head. Tiny hairs sense the movement of the fluid, which send this information to the brain. The brain can then figure out whether the animal is leaning at an angle, or is upside down. Ear infection causes inflammation which interferes with this process.

This is important because your chinchilla won’t popcorn so well. It may leap up to the wall to wall-surf, but belly flop into it instead, and fall to the ground. Or when it’s leaping, it may twist its body and land on its side or back by accident. It will also shake its head and paw at its ear.

If you suspect your chinchilla has an ear infection, take it to the vet.

How Do I Make My Chinchilla Popcorn?

All you have to do to get your chinchilla to popcorn is make it happy and excited. If your chinchilla likes you, and is generally happy, then it will do so on its own when it’s playtime or it gets a treat.

You can’t physically make your chinchilla popcorn. Say for example that yours never does. You could let it out of its cage to run around its play pen. Picking your pet up to simulate the jumping motion won’t teach it how to popcorn! It has to do it on its own.

What you can do is encourage your chinchilla to popcorn by giving it fun, exciting experiences.

Provide New Toys

If you were cooped up in your home all day, every day, you would quickly get bored if you only ever had the same things to do. Chinchillas are the same, so a new toy can be very exciting for a chinchilla. Examples of potential toys and cage accessories you could use are:

  1. A chinchilla-suitable running wheel
  2. A chinchilla hammock
  3. A new kind of chew toy, e.g. one that hangs from the top of the cage

The excitement from interacting with the new toy and using it for the first time may make your chinchilla popcorn.

Dust Bath

Another way of getting your chinchilla to popcorn is to give it a dust bath. Chinchillas enjoy their dust baths and can get excited looking forward to them. When a chinchilla is given a dust bath at the same time of day, on the same days each week, it can learn when to expect one and get excited beforehand. And if your chinchilla sees the dust bath outside its cage, it will realize what’s coming, and may start popcorning!


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