Tips for Chinchilla Playtime!

As all chinchilla owners know, chins are high energy and high maintenance – there’s no sugar-coating it! We go out of our way to provide safe multi-level havens for our babies, order them the finest foods, and hope that one day they’ll come around and show us some love back! A major part of chinchilla health and bonding is playtime. Playtime is critical for chins, as it gives them a chance to discover a new environment, stretch their legs, and get to know their owners a little better.

Get to know your fluffball. Playtime is an incredible way to get to know your little babies. Chinchillas have abundant personalities, and you miss a lot of that while they’re in their cages. Letting them out will encourage them to approach you (as so oftentimes it’s the other way around) and share their squeaks, leaps, wall jumps, and more with you! I encourage all owners to be very aware of their chinchilla’s behaviors – study them: their idiosyncrasies, movements, and physical characteristics. Any change in personality or behavior can be indicative of a health issue and should be carefully monitored – but you need to know your chinchilla’s baseline personality in order to detect any semblance of a change. There are a lot of health issues or injuries that can be fixed simply by detecting them early, and to put it simply, you can’t catch it if you aren’t looking.

Be present at playtime. Watch them like a hawk! – at least, keep a very watchful eye when you first start letting your chinchillas out. As you get to know your chins, you’ll be able to know which ones respect authority more than others, which ones you can trust around the furniture, and where they like to hide. There’s nothing more terrifying than fearing your chinchilla has dissipated into thin air when they’re actually snoozing under the couch – true story.

Set your boundaries. Many people like nice things, chinchilla owners being no exception (in fact, I think we have the best taste). So, it’s natural to be apprehensive letting your chinchilla out with such lovely molding, fabrics, and wooden furniture strewn about – chins are known for filing their teeth on wooden toys, and they don’t care whether that toy is your bed frame or an appropriately sized apple stick. It’s critical to set your boundaries and take up a stern talking with your chin. The easiest place to start for most homes is the bathroom or closet, as it’s a confined space and easier to spot a misbehaving chin. When you feel comfortable moving into a larger space, start in the new space by keep the playtimes short and working your way up. Trust is something that is built over time, chinchilla-human relations being no exception.

Chin-proof the playroom. The method I use for training my chinchillas not to bite my things starts with me. As people, we are responsible for our furniture, rug, walls, and important documents. No one can protect these things better than ourselves. Oft, it’s as simple as moving something important out of reach or closing the drawers. Chinchillas are so curious – you really can’t blame small animal instinct for why your favorite book (or camera, or passport, etc.) got destroyed. If you can see it, they can probably get to it. There is always a way. So put the birth certificates away, remove the climbing mechanisms, tape cardboard against your molding (make sure the tape is not reachable), shove pillows and blankets under your couches and around your radiators, and close those windows. When you’re done, you’re probably still not done. Those little buggers are more compact than your foresight will lead you to believe, and aren’t scared of venturing where no chin has gone before. It’s best to simply be there and catch them before they do the deed.

I know many owners have playpens, and I’m all for that – but if you have the time and energy to expend on chin-proofing, you’ll find it’s a much more interesting experience, allowing them to be more fully integrated into your space, if only for a moment.

Train. I don’t use treats when I train, I simply use the concept of ‘playtime’ vs. ‘home’. If they want to be out, they have to be good. If I see someone lingering by a wall for too long, I’ll say his/her name in the same manner I’d speak to a disorderly 4-year-old or a misbehaving dog – I’ll utilize the don’t you dare tone. They will hear you, and if they know you well enough, they’ll turn to you and be aware that you are talking to them. Sometimes they’ll stare right at you as they decide their playtime fate, chomping into a picture frame or art piece. Then, they’re headed home to think about what they’ve done. Less intellectual chins may never put it together, wondering with the same fascination each and every time why they’re going back to their cage! However, most chins will begin to see a trend in playtime consequences and learn what they can and can’t bite. I leave chew toys out for them, and allow them to bite on certain furniture such as my barn wood table and wicker chair. Everything else will simply buy them cage time. Again, you must be present in order to train. You can’t be sending mixed messages while they’re out (i.e. when you’re lazing they can bite, when you’re training they can’t), as it defeats the consistency required to teach & learn. If my chins are good, they can be out for up to 45 minutes before they decide they want to fall asleep, tap on the door to go home, or need a sip of water. I’ve found that some of my chins are now able to communicate their needs to me, which is extremely rewarding to recognize.

Enjoy and take your time. My chins are my children. I love spending time with them! They are badass kids at times and don’t care at all for what I have to say. That’s fine, they’ll learn – and, don’t tell them, but if they don’t, I’ll still love them. And watch out for them, and take care of them, and make sure they are safe and healthy. When playtime is over, be sure to collect your chinchilla carefully! Do not rush that final process, and if your pet escapes your clutches, do not panic. Be patient and coax your kids back into your arms or their cage, as long as it takes. I have heard too many horror stories of owners losing their chinchillas by stepping on their beloved pet accidentally, or falling on them when chasing an escaped chin. With all your might, try your best to avoid thoughtless and tragic accidents. Safety first! My best advice is to just take your time – don’t force it, and be genuine. If you love them, they’ll know – and on some level, they’ll reciprocate. Enjoy their company and never stop doing your best. Patience, practice, consistency, and human foresight can all create an extremely fun and productive playtime for all.

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17 comments

  1. Hello! How would you handle a chin that does not like to go home during playtime? I have trouble getting my boy out for playtime because when its time to go home, he absolutely refuses. It takes blockades and lots of quick thinking to get him back in his cage. I have tried to lure him with fresh hay, dust bath, and that doesn’t really work. Let me know what you think πŸ™‚ Thanks!

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    1. Great question! Our Mitty is exactly the same way – if he isn’t ready, he’s doing everything in his power to stay out! We keep playtime in the living room, and it’s quite safe for running around. What I suggest is to make sure that he’s getting the exercise he wants while he’s out and if you notice him in a corner or relaxing for an extended period of time, then it’s time to go back in. There isn’t really a benefit for him to stay out if he’s showing signs of wanting to relax, because he should learn that he should be relaxing in his home, and not out when out. I encourage playtime as more of an opportunity for interaction and physical outlet. Another thing to know is that you may have to (continue to) do a lot of encouraging and blockading, which is what I have to do when Mitty’s being very stubborn. He’s very fast (even when he’s over playtime) so you just have to keep going til he’s tired. He’ll finally slow down and be able to be caught easily. It’s good to teach him the value of playtime, meaning that I encourage him to use the space and do what he wants – but if he is being disruptive, biting, or tired, then he’s going back – even if he doesn’t want to. These decisions set a good precedent for your chins and give them a baseline understanding of what’s expected of them – and it’s also fair, too. You have standards and as long as they adhere, they can stay and have fun. It’s training, over an extended period of time.

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  2. Hi! I have a female chinchilla who has ATTITUDE! By attitude I mean aggression; which she’s had since I first got her from the pet store. Playtime is probably the most stressful thing for me because of it.
    I’ve had her for three years, and she’s gotten a lot better since we first met, but only with letting me pet her, scratch her chin and ears, and trusting me enough to hop on me sometimes when she’s playing. However, she’s never liked being held and it’s very difficult to get her back into her cage without me getting sprayed, hurting her, or getting growled at.
    I used to nudge her bottom (maybe sometimes too hard because of anger and frustration or not knowing my own strength) with an object (non-harmfully) to try to coax her back in. But realizing this is harsh, I have turned to throwing a soft blanket on her and scooping her up in it and putting her back into the cage. (I also scoop her up in the blanket while she’s in the cage when I want a snuggle session, even though she struggles when I hold her). How do I deal with a chinchilla that only chews my baseboards, hates being touched when playing, and hates being picked up? This is not the fluffy snuggle buddy I hoped I would have three years ago. Have I done something wrong? She responds to scolding quite rebelliously and usually squeaks and/or continues to chew whatever she isn’t supposed to. Is there any way I can have that fluffy friend everyone else has?

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    1. Hi Jessie! Awww, sounds like you ended up with an early verson of Fifi! πŸ˜› Honestly, with chins, it’s the luck of the draw. I came to know this only after having all five: each are completely unique, with their own personalities and idiosyncrasies. It’s quite a shame that they all can’t be huge sweet fluffballs that lay back and ask for scratches. Part of being a chinchilla parent is accepting your baby for who he or she is. I know your pain; sometimes it’s totally frustrating and aggravating to not be able to comprehend why they’re acting certain ways. Tons of factors play into each chin’s behavior: past trauma, general health and diet, genetics, and living conditions. Unfortunately, sometimes chins just end up with a cranky attitude – and sometimes health or trauma has nothing to do with this! Fifi and Lulu are sisters, and while Lulu is totally adrift and oblivious, Fifi is constantly skittish. I’ve come to take her behavior with patience and practice. I suggest not giving up on your chin – for example, Muff was a nightmare until one day it all seemed to click, and he learned how to trust! Now, he’s always asking for scratches and hangout time with mom. The more time you spend with her, the better. I suggest having playtime in a more confined area if you find yourself needing to use a blanket, as that method is totally terrifying for chins. If you’re in a smaller, more safe area, you won’t have to worry about hurting her so much or scaring her into returning. Always treat your chin with love, because they don’t really understand cause and effect or behavior and consequence. Over time, with lots of love and care, she’ll turn around. Another thing to note is that no chinchilla is snuggly, at least not to humans, in the way we expect. They love us in their own way, and we should make every effort to try and accommodate their spoiled butts! πŸ™‚

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    1. I have a separate cage for cleaning time with a chinchilla wheel, so they have daily exercise for about 10 minutes (on top of their very spacious cages). On top of that, I give them playtime maybe once every two weeks due to my work schedule. However, I always contain their playtime to around 10 minutes at a time – it’s always best to stay alert and always watching the fluffballs – the short time period is also to minimize dehydration or overheating. πŸ™‚

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