Help, my chinchilla escaped! Every experienced owner says this at some point. Knowing what to do can be the difference between losing your chinchilla for good or getting it back.
What should you do if your chinchilla escapes? Begin by searching under the furniture of the room it escaped in. If it’s not there, try the furniture in other rooms. An escaped chinchilla could get into the wall or floor cavities of your home, or escape outside. You can try catching it with a friend, luring it with food or a dust bath, or using a humane trap.
Luring or trapping your pet is better than chasing it, as chinchillas are nimble and quick, and doing so will stress your pet out. But you may need to try all three ideas to get your chinchilla back.
What to Do when Your Chinchilla Runs Away
Do chinchillas run away? They do, although it’s infrequent for them to do so. There are two things which make this so:
- Chinchilla owners are typically more capable pet owners than those who own other rodent pets. That’s because chinchillas are not considered starter pets/suitable pets for children.
- Nevertheless, chinchillas are not as domesticated as other pets. This means that they prefer being in the wild to being in a cage/home.
As such, your chinchilla may try to escape from its cage. It will especially do so if there is an obvious place for it to escape from, e.g. if there’s no lid on the enclosure. Your chinchilla may also try to run away when you take it from its cage for handling or playing.
It’s also possible for your chinchilla to unintentionally escape. When they are happy, chinchillas display a behavior called ‘wall-surfing’. This is where the chinchilla quickly runs up or jumps up the wall repeatedly. If the top of your chinchilla’s enclosure is not secured properly, or if the door is open, your chinchilla could wall-surf its way out of its enclosure. Once out, it may hide.
Catch It, Lure It or Trap It
If your chinchilla escaped, you have to catch it somehow. You can do that either by manually catching it, or by luring it out of hiding. You can also catch it in a small humane trap if these two options don’t work.
Any approach you take must be taken quickly. Your chinchilla will likely be in danger. For example:
- If your chinchilla escaped outside, it could get wet, be hit by a moving vehicle, or be caught by a predator.
- If your chinchilla escaped into your home, another of your pets could attack it.
This means time is of the essence. But before you get your pet back, you need to know where it could be hiding.
Where to Look for an Escaped Chinchilla
Your escaped pet won’t spend its time out in the open; so, where do chinchillas hide when they escape?
but hidden in places like under the wardrobe or in wall cavities if they’re accessible. This means you’re unlikely to find your pet with a quick sweep around the house.
1) Chinchilla Escaped During Handling/Exercise
If your chinchilla has only just escaped, it is likely to still be in the same room. This is especially the case if you follow handling/exercise guidelines, and keep all doors and windows closed while you allow your chinchilla some outside-its-cage time.
Begin by looking in the most obvious places, such as under furniture.
Check under the bed or the wardrobe, for example, or under the couch or coffee table if it escaped in the living room. The room in which it escaped is where you should start, but your pet could have escaped to another room. So, check under all the furniture in your house if you can’t immediately locate your pet.
2) Chinchilla Escaped into Walls
Your chinchilla could also have escaped into the wall or floor cavity if there is a gap through which it can find access. Rodents keep close to walls and other tall structures as a means of staying safe, because it means they cannot be attacked from that side.
Chinchillas can display this behavior when loose. Gaps into the wall cavity can go unnoticed behind kitchen units or in utility rooms, for example. If your pet gets into a wall or floor cavity, you will likely hear it running around.
Catching your chinchilla when it’s in a wall or floor cavity is more difficult than when it’s in the room. It’s also an issue because your pet may have easy access to the outside.
3) Chinchilla Escaped Outside
The worst case scenario is that your chinchilla has escaped outside. Once outside, your chinchilla can get far away. It could find its way into another nearby building. Your chinchilla would head here because it needs shelter. It could also find its way into the disused burrow of another animal, in which it would be impossible to find.
Wild chinchillas don’t make their own burrows, but use those which other animals have made. Your chinchilla may display this behavior when it escapes.
If your pet escapes outside, you must be prepared for the eventuality that it will not return. In addition to being much more difficult to find, it is also vulnerable to the rain and to predators.
So, as soon as possible, use one of the three tactics below to catch your chinchilla before it gets outside.
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#1 How to Catch a Chinchilla without Hurting It (Do’s & Don’ts)
Catching a chinchilla is no easy task. They are nimble and quick, good at hiding, and have an in-built instinct to avoid being caught. But because they are delicate, you could easily hurt your chinchilla by catching it incorrectly.
Luring your chinchilla out of hiding is much less stressful than catching it. While you aren’t planning on killing your chinchilla, it doesn’t know that. Its automatic fight or flight response will kick in if you try to chase it like a predator would. This will:
- Make it surprisingly difficult to catch your pet
- Make your pet dislike you
- Lead to dangerous situations where your pet could hurt itself, or you could hurt your pet by accident
As such, wherever possible, you should follow the ‘How to Lure a Chinchilla Out of Hiding’ guide below where possible. But if you must chase your chinchilla, bear in mind the following points.
Do: Get Help
It’s far easier to catch a chinchilla if you get help to do so. As a pair, you can corral your pet in the direction that you want, something which is difficult-to-impossible when you try alone.
Having a helper also means that you can search more quickly.
This is important because while you’re searching, your chinchilla could try to get outside, which will make it much tougher to find. Besides that, your friend may also think of hiding places that slip your mind. So, enlisting a friend or relative to help you search is ideal.
Do: Keep Your Doors Shut
The moment your chinchillas escape, you should keep your doors shut. Begin by shutting the door to the room in which your chinchilla escaped. This is your main priority, as if you can keep your chinchilla in one room, catching it becomes a lot easier.
Your next priority is to ensure that any doors and windows to the outside world are shut, too. The outside world is dangerous for your pet, because there are environmental hazards (like rain) as well as other pets and predators. Keep all unsupervised doors shut at all times until you have found your chinchilla.
Don’t: Catch Your Chinchilla By Its Fur
Chinchillas have lots of fur you can grab on to. You may think that by catching your chinchilla by its fur, it will struggle to get free, and that while stressful this would allow you to catch it sooner.
However, this isn’t the case. Chinchillas have developed a defense mechanism called ‘fur slip’, which you may have already encountered. This is where chinchillas instantly shed the fur that a predator has caught onto.
If you handle your chinchilla, this may occasionally happen. Tufts of fur will come from its body or its tail, even if you don’t grab onto them with any force. So, when you try and catch your pet by its fur, all that will happen is fur slip (and you’ll cause your chinchilla lots of stress besides).
The same applies to catching your chinchilla by its tail. This may seem like a good idea, because your pet’s tail is long and is the easiest part of its body to catch. But you could easily cause fur slip, or even break its tail, by doing so.
Do: Be Careful in Your Home
While your chinchilla is on the loose, it’s at high risk from environmental dangers. One of these dangers is you. You could accidentally step on or sit on your chinchilla, for example, and severely injure it. As such, take basic care when moving around your house.
Don’t: Use a Towel
One of the easiest ways to catch an animal is with a net. It’s easier to throw a net over one than to catch it with your bare hands. As most houses don’t have nets at the ready, you may be tempted to use a towel instead. But this is an exceptionally bad idea.
First, it’s highly unlikely to work because a) hardly anybody is proficient at catching animals with nets, and b) your chinchilla can easily escape from it.
But besides that, your chinchilla doesn’t like shadows looming over it. It has an instinctual reaction to large and quick-moving shadows, as in the wild, chinchillas are hunted by birds of prey. Throwing a towel over your pet will make it think it’s being hunted, and will cause considerable stress for your pet.
#2 How to Lure a Chinchilla Out of Hiding
Luring a chinchilla back into its cage is easier than catching it. It also has the benefit of not causing your pet stress.
There are several things you can lure your pet with, including food and dust baths. Leave these in your pet’s cage to give it incentive to come back, and keep the cage supervised (from afar if possible, so that you don’t scare your pet away). If you offer the treat outside the cage, your chinchilla will likely come to take it, but immediately run away again.
Then, when your chinchilla returns to its cage, you can quietly close the door behind it.
Offer It Food
The easiest way to lure your chinchilla is with food: either its regular food, or a treat. Escaped chinchillas need to eat, and may find their favored foods hard to come by depending on where you live. This means that your chinchilla will come back to its cage for food.
If possible, put treats down at the same time as you would in your normal schedule. So, if you leave a treat in your chinchilla’s enclosure every Wednesday evening, continue doing so even if your pet has escaped.
Chinchillas learn to live by your schedule. As chinchillas are naturally active both at day and night, some even become diurnal or nocturnal depending on your schedule so that they can spend more time with you. So, if you ensure that there are treats available at the time it normally gets treats, that will likely work.
Offer It a Dust Bath
As it still needs food, so too will your escaped chinchilla still need dust baths. The right kind of dust will be even harder to find than the right food. As such, you can tempt your chinchilla back by leaving a dust bath out.
Again, do this according to your pet’s schedule. Offering a dust bath at the same time of day, on the same day each week, trains your chinchilla to expect one. This can be used to your advantage when it escapes. If your chinchilla doesn’t come back at the scheduled time, leave the bath out so that it can return at any time.
#3 Use a Small Humane Trap
If you cannot catch or lure your pet, you have no option but to trap it. It makes sense to set this trap as soon as your chinchilla escapes, as it can save you lots of time and effort. It also offers you something to corral your chinchilla towards.
A company called Havahart make live traps.* These are intended both for catching wild animals, and for catching loose pets. The trap is baited, like other kinds of trap are. But rather than hurting the animals they catch, they contain them in small cages. Larger traps are expensive, but smaller ones are affordable, and they can be reused. Other brands are available, but Havahart are the best known.
Guidelines state that you should set the trap up where the animal is likely to be. Placing the trap against a wall in your home is a good idea for catching a chinchilla. As you would with any other trap, check it occasionally to see if you have caught your chinchilla.
After You Catch an Escaped Chinchilla
With your chinchilla back in its cage, you can rest easy. But to ensure it doesn’t happen again, there are a couple of steps you should take.
The first is to figure out how your chinchilla escaped in the first place, and correct whatever issue arose. So, for example:
- Did your chinchilla escape through its unlocked cage door? Take care to keep it shut in future.
- Did your chinchilla escape from its play pen while it was exercising?
- Did your chinchilla run from its room through an open door? Keep the door locked at all times when your chinchilla is unsupervised.
Other fixes depend on exactly how you keep your chinchilla. So, make a note of how your pet got loose, and correct whatever’s wrong.
Top Tip #1: Don’t Punish Your Chinchilla
Many owners, not just of chinchillas, make basic mistakes when they catch escaped pets. The easiest mistake to make is to punish your pet for escaping.
This can be a natural reaction: you feel like you’re teaching your chinchilla a lesson. You may believe that it will think twice in future before escaping again, as it will think back to its punishment (whatever that might be).
It cannot be overstated how bad an idea this is. Your chinchilla will associate the punishment with the act of coming back, that much is true; but rather than thinking “I better not do that again,” your pet will think “I best stay away next time!”
Instead, you must reward your chinchilla for coming back. Offer it a treat or two immediately once it’s back in its cage. This will teach it that returning to its cage is a positive behavior which you will reward. This should make future escapes less of a serious issue.
Top Tip #2: Check Your Chinchilla Is Happy
The happier your chinchilla is in its enclosure, the less likely it is to try and escape. There are many things you need to do to keep your pet chinchilla happy, including:
- Giving it platforms on different levels to jump to and from
- Giving it chew toys so that it can display the natural behavior of gnawing
- Giving it a hide that it can hide in
- Giving it appropriate foods (hay and a small amount of fresh vegetables)
- Keeping it somewhere that isn’t too hot, too bright or too loud
- Keeping it with at least one other chinchilla for company
If you tick all these boxes, you should notice your chinchilla trying to escape less frequently. So, check the rest of our care guides to ensure that you are caring for your chinchilla correctly.
*Note: we have not been paid to endorse Havahart, and other brands are available.
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