Chinchilla books praise the social, friendly nature of chinchillas. They do, after all, live in large groups and are highly intelligent, making them highly sociable. Reality is unfortunately very different for many chinchilla owners. Chinchillas are skittish and can be difficult to even pet when they first come home with you. While socializing your chinchilla can seem a daunting task, the process is relatively easy, and certainly worth it. Chinchillas can live up to twenty years and your time with your chinchilla will be much more rewarding if she likes you. Follow the tips below for a friendly and social chinchilla pet:
Give Your Chinchilla Time to Adjust
Chinchillas are easily stressed and dislike loud noises and sudden movements. Consequently, coming home from the pet store or breeder will be a stressful experience for your chinchilla. Place her cage in a quiet room that doesn’t get too much foot traffic, and avoid attempting to handle her for the first several days. Allow her to see you providing food, and talk to her in a calm quiet voice, but avoid creating any situations that might cause her unnecessary stress. You can begin attempting to socialize her after about a week at home, when she has acclimated to her cage and surroundings.
Use Food Rewards
Chinchillas, like most animals, love food, and raisins or pieces of animal crackers make excellent treats. Do not overfeed your chinchilla because chinchillas have a tendency to get fat. Instead, start slow. Feed her a few treats each day through the bars of her cage. The next week, begin opening her cage to feed her food. Then slowly build up to getting her to climb onto your shoulder. You can begin by placing a raisin on your fingers, and after you get her accustomed to taking food this way, you can move the raisin closer and closer to your body until your chinchilla is happily hopping onto you. Say her name in a calm, soothing voice every time she takes the treat and she will begin to learn to respond to her name and come when you call her.
Try Hand Feeding
If you have the time and dedication, hand feeding is one of the fastest and most effective ways to socialize your chinchilla. Remember that chinchillas graze throughout the day, so you will need to remember to hand feed her two to three times a day. Instead of putting food in her bowl, provide enough hand fed food to sustain her, and she will learn that you are a source of food and affection.
Provide Play Time
Chinchillas need lots of time to exercise and play, so it is imperative that you provide your chinchilla with time out of her cage in a chinchilla proof environment. Make sure there are no closets she can get stuck on or electrical cords she can chew on. For some people, the bathroom is an excellent option for this. Rather than try to directly interact with her, simply be present while she plays. If she jumps on you, you can give her a treat. Over time, your chinchilla will grow to trust you and you can begin petting her and playing with her when she is out of the cage. Remember that you are very large compared to your chinchilla and this can be scary, so remain sitting when she is out of the cage!
Picking up Your Chinchilla
The absolute best way to pick up your chinchilla is to train her to climb onto your shoulder, but if your chinchilla is not yet socialized and you need to pick her up, try giving her a piece of food and then scooping her up. Do not pick her up by her tail; this is frightening and can break her tail. You can, however, grip the very base of her tail where it connects to her body to help to anchor her and keep her still when you are holding her. Just don’t hold too hard or you’ll hurt her!