What Scares Chinchillas?

Chinchillas are well known for getting stressed and scared. But what scares chinchillas, and can you help a scared chinchilla? Do you even need to?

New owner, don't know where to start? Or do you need a handy chinchilla reference guide? Check out our Chinchilla Care 101 eBook, or get what you need from our online store!

Chinchillas are well known for getting stressed and scared. But what scares chinchillas, and can you help a scared chinchilla? Do you even need to?

What scares chinchillas? Chinchillas scare easily, and loud noises, sudden movements, strangers, being touched unexpectedly or being handled roughly, other pets, being chased, and fighting between cage mates can all make your chinchilla scared. To calm your chinchilla down, ensure it has a suitable cage by removing bullying cage mates and giving it somewhere to hide. Avoid handling your pet too frequently or making loud noises when you’re at home. But even if you do all this, you can’t stop a chinchilla getting scared sometimes.

The guide below first looks at why chinchillas get scared so easily, plus the signs to look for in a scared chinchilla. Then we’ll cover what scares chins and how to fix each of them.

Do Chinchillas Get Scared Easily?

Chinchillas do get scared easily. They’re skittish and can get stressed at what, to us, are normal things. While you can prevent some things that regularly frighten them, such as loud noises from the TV, your chinchilla will occasionally get spooked by things that are outside your control anyway.

Why Do Chinchillas Get Scared So Easily?

Chinchilla natural habitat.
Chinchillas need to listen and look for predators. Image courtesy of Jaime E. Jimenez.

The reason chinchillas scare easily is that being alert and being aware helps them survive in the wild. Chinchillas are prey animals, so they’re always listening for predators on the prowl (hence why they have such big ears).

Being so easily frightened helps each chinchilla, and each chinchilla group, thrive. A cautious chinchilla hops straight back to its hiding place, so avoids being eaten; one that isn’t will end up as prey. Plus, chinchillas can afford to be cautious because they eat both during the day and at night, and their food (grasses and shrubs) are always there. So when the predator leaves or catches something else to eat, the chinchillas can come back out and carry on eating as they were before.

Unfortunately, your chins don’t know that they’re completely safe in your home. As such, they retain these instincts to constantly listen out for noises and hide if something scares them.

Signs a Chinchilla Is Scared or Stressed

You can instantly tell that a chinchilla is scared, stressed, or otherwise feeling bad from its body language and behavior. Chinchillas communicate their feelings well because they live in groups in the wild, and communicating feeling helps them maintain group bonds and hierarchies. Things to look out for include:

  1. Running away. Your chinchilla’s most basic instinct is to get away from whatever frightens it.
  2. Hiding. If there’s somewhere appropriate to do so like a hide or underneath some stairs, your chinchilla will hide there.
  3. Alarm calls. Chinchillas make loud ‘alarm bark’ noises when they sense something dangerous. The idea is to warn other chinchillas in the group that there’s danger around. Chins do this even when they live alone.
  4. Fighting with cage mates. Stress can make two chinchillas fight even if they’re otherwise friendly.

So, if you think your chinchilla might be scared, observe it for a while. Try to think back to what might have scared it, too.

What Scares Chinchillas?

It’s no problem if your chinchilla gets scared once or twice. But if your chinchilla seems to be constantly afraid of something, you ought to figure out what it is and correct it. Here is a list of the most common reasons chinchillas get scared to help.

1) Loud Noises

What scares chinchillas more than anything else is loud noise.

There are two reasons for this. The first is that hearing is the principal of your chinchilla’s senses. It’s very sensitive, so comes in handy when chinchillas need to hear predators approaching. They’re therefore always listening for noises, and any noise your pet doesn’t recognize could make it frightened. It becomes alert because the noise, so it thinks, could have been a predator coming for it.

The second reason is that your chinchilla’s hearing is so sensitive that noises seem louder to it. So what might seem like a normal noise to you, like a door closing, is louder to your chinchilla. That’s why chinchillas jump and start at noises you can’t even hear. And just like it is for us, loud noises are more frightening for your pet. This is one of the easiest ways to accidentally frighten chinchillas.

2) Sudden Movements

Chinchillas don’t like sudden movements either, for the same reason they don’t like loud noises: they might signify nearby predators.

A chinchilla’s eyesight isn’t as sensitive as its hearing. It’s blurry, similar to a short-sighted person’s vision. And on top of that, chinchillas can’t see color as well as we can. But all the same, if your chinchilla sees sudden movement from a source it doesn’t recognize, it thinks “That might be a predator!” So, it becomes alert or runs away.

The source of this movement could be anything. If a door blows shut because of a sudden draft, for example, the sudden movement combined with the noise of it slamming would scare your pet. Movement on the TV or you waving your arms about (for whatever reason!) could scare your pet too.

3) People They Don’t Know

If you’re good at recognizing patterns, it won’t surprise you that chinchillas can also be frightened by smelling something they’re not familiar with. This can manifest itself in a few ways, but especially when your chinchilla meets somebody it doesn’t know yet.

We don’t fully appreciate it as our senses of smell aren’t anywhere near as sensitive as the chinchilla’s. But every person smells completely different! It’s a combination of our sweat, our pheromones, the perfumes and colognes we wear, the soaps we use, the products we wash our hair or clothes with and so on. Your chinchilla gets used to what you smell like, so when you approach it, it uses its sense of smell to recognize you, and if it trusts you it will feel secure. But if it’s approached by somebody who smells different, they’ll be more wary.

4) Being Touched Unexpectedly

what makes chinchillas scared
Your chinchilla may not be expecting you to pick it up.

Chinchillas can also get scared if you touch them when they aren’t expecting you to. The only sense you can’t frighten them through is their sense of taste! This isn’t easy to do, because your pet will hear, smell or see you coming. But it can happen when your chinchilla is asleep.

Have you ever walked over to your chinchilla’s cage to give it a treat only for it to start when you make a noise, for example by opening its cage door? Or have you ever picked up your chinchilla, only for it to leap back and give you an annoyed look? Well, chinchillas take frequent sleeps throughout the day, and can sleep with their eyes open too. It may look like your chin is awake when it isn’t really. By touching it while it’s asleep, you (accidentally of course) scare the living daylights out of it.

5) Other Pets

Other pets like dogs or cats can also frighten your chinchilla. Again, this is because chins are prey animals, so they’re wary of anything bigger than they are. They’re right to be, too, because even well-behaved dogs have hunting instincts (which is why they like to play fetch and similar games).

Even other pets that aren’t predators might scare or stress your chinchillas. That’s because chinchillas want to keep their resources (food) to themselves. So even if your chinchilla smells something non-threatening like a rabbit it might feel stressed out.

6) My Chinchilla Is Scared of ME!

Perhaps the leading cause of owner-related stress in chinchillas is improper handling.

The only reason a chinchilla might be picked up or carried in the wild is if it’s being attacked by something. So, handling by an owner can cause stress, at least if the chin doesn’t trust the owner yet. And even if your chin likes you, the best it can do is tolerate rather than enjoy handling. There are several ways handling can go wrong:

  1. Handling your chinchilla too frequently. Twice a week is fine, plus regular play time without handling on other days. You don’t want your chinchilla to only associate you with handling.
  2. Handling your chinchilla roughly. Chinchillas are delicate so don’t like being squeezed, poked and so on.
  3. Moving your chinchilla around too quickly. You could frighten your chin by moving it from hand to hand quickly, by lifting it up and down, and generally by making it feel like it’s not in control of its movements.
  4. Grabbing at your chinchilla. Again, the only reasons chins in the wild are grabbed is if by a predator. That’s why grabbing causes fur slip.
  5. Handling your chinchilla when it clearly doesn’t want to be handled, e.g. if it’s stressed.

On top of that, some chinchillas plain don’t want to be handled—not now, not ever. You have to respect your pet’s wishes if that’s the case.

7) Being Chased

Chasing is a confusing issue, because in some circumstances, chinchillas can enjoy being chased. Two chinchillas can play by chasing each other, for example.

There are two problems. The first is that chinchillas that are fighting can also chase each other, or more accurately, the ‘bully’ can chase the other chinchilla around. This is highly stressful for the chinchilla being chased because the ‘bully’ could hurt its cage mate. The second is that being chased by a bigger animal reminds chinchillas of being hunted by predators.

8) Dominant Chinchillas

Your chinchilla could also be frightened of its cage mate.

Chinchillas form hierarchies in their groups, whether that group is a pairing or larger. In a pair, there is typically one chinchilla that is bigger, stronger, or just more confident than the other. This chinchilla could bully the other one. Bullying can be something like stopping the other chinchilla from eating or drinking, fur barbering, or it could be full-blown fights. But either way, the subordinate chinchilla will be scared of its cage mate.

This is especially the case if one chinchilla is much bigger than the other. It’s not a problem if one chinchilla is dominant but doesn’t seriously hurt the other; they can still co-exist. But if one chinchilla is much larger and consistently fights the smaller one, in the wild, the smaller one would leave the group to join another one or even live on its own. In a cage, it can’t do that, so the bullying becomes worse and worse.

When this happens, the bullied chinchilla becomes very scared, even terrified. It makes horrible screaming noises that you can immediately tell are from its distress.

How Do You Calm a Chinchilla Down?

If your chinchilla is clearly frightened, you can take steps to help it. These won’t instantly stop your chinchilla from being frightened any time it’s scared by something; that’s impossible, and it’s similarly impossible to stop your chinchilla from ever being scared. But they will stop your chinchilla’s skittishness from being a serious problem.

Give Your Pet a Hide

Every chinchilla cage needs a hide. A hide is like a small hut your chinchilla can retreat to any time it feels scared.

If your chinchilla doesn’t have one, it will feel vulnerable. In the wild, chins find shelter in rock crevices or old abandoned burrows. When they hear noises that frighten them, they scamper back to these hidey-holes as quickly as they can to avoid capture. Your chinchilla will benefit from having a hide so that it can do the same.

Identify What’s Making Your Chinchilla Scared

Beyond that, you have to figure out why your chinchilla is so scared, or is so frequently scared.

You can do this by observing your pet for a while. Sit near your chinchilla’s cage without making any sudden moves or loud noises and consider the following questions:

  1. Do your two chinchillas get along, or are they always squabbling? If so, the fighting is making your pet stressed.
  2. Does your chinchilla frequently stop what it’s doing to listen and start making alarm calls? It’s hearing something, maybe something you can’t, that’s making it frightened.
  3. Does your chinchilla not want to be around you? It may be frightened of you rather than anything else.

Move Your Chinchilla’s Cage

Moving your chinchilla’s cage to a more suitable location fixes many of these issues. Certain rooms in the home are better than others, whether because of temperature and humidity, interaction or because your chinchilla gets frequently scared there. The better rooms of the home include:

  1. Your bedroom. Bedrooms are typically quieter than rooms like the kitchen or living room. You also get to spend lots of time with your pet each day, and if it likes you, this will ease its stress.
  2. The basement. The basement is quieter and won’t get much if any direct sunlight. While your chins shouldn’t live in the dark, they shouldn’t be kept in direct light either because of temperature issues.

However, don’t move your chinchilla’s cage without thinking carefully. Moving is, in itself, stressful for your pet. As such, you should only move its cage if you’re certain that doing so will make it happier in the long run.

Leave Your Chinchilla Alone

There’s a chance that you are responsible for your chinchilla’s stress and skittishness. As such, it may be best for you to give it space.

New chinchillas take time to get used to their owners. There is no other animal that likes to spend time around your pet, aside from things that want to eat them. This means that handling is unnatural, and although your chinchilla can learn to tolerate it, it may not like being around you at first. You have to tread a fine line: one where you don’t cause your pet too much stress by trying to handle it every day, but also one where you don’t leave it alone completely so that it doesn’t get used to you. So think of your pet’s thoughts and feelings before you try to handle it.

Even chinchillas that trust their owners don’t like being handled every day. This seems to cause stress, and makes the chinchilla associate you with nothing but handling, which is a bad thing. Giving it time on its own where it doesn’t feel vulnerable, as if you’ll pick it up any second, stops your chin being so easily frightened. And when you do handle or spend time with your chin, treating it kindly will help too.

Below, you can find our chinchilla quiz, new posts for further reading, and a signup for our Chinchilla Newsletter!

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New owner, don't know where to start? Or do you need a handy chinchilla reference guide? Check out our Chinchilla Care 101 eBook, or get what you need from our online store!