Posted: May 13, 2014, 8:10 p.m. EDT
© Gina Cioli/I-5 Studio
Before you can pick up a chinchilla out of the cage, you might need to spend weeks or months building trust with your pet.
Q: I have a female chinchilla that is 1 and a half years old. When I got her she was always stressed and seemed to not like me. But after a year of being together, I think she got used to me. At first it was hard for us both, and maybe I didn't treat her in the best way. But now I am calm and don't shout at her. She gets out of the cage every day for at least one or two hours and she likes to sit on high places. She has the "farting” habit ever since I got her, and she does so when she gets stressed, sometimes for no reason. I try to calm her down and show her that it's alright.
She always bit me, but not hard. Lately, when I try to check on her or check her ice cubes early in the morning, she bites me hard and today she even sprayed me. I do not know why. Is she afraid of my hand? Is it because I do not let her out at that time? When I close the door of the cage, she is back to normal, maybe a bit angry at me, although she lets me pet her.
There is also one more thing that is making me worry. Her heat period is supposed to be November to March, but she was in heat until June and she was open again in August. What could be wrong? She is sleeping, eating and drinking as she was before.
A: It is important to always be patient and gentle with chinchillas. They have extremely good memories and will remember being frightened or stressed. She may bite/spray because she feels threatened or would rather be left alone.
Chinchillas tend to feel more at risk if they do not have what they perceive as an escape route. They don’t like to feel trapped. For example, if you have a chin house or hideaway inside the cage, it will have a front door for entry but also should have a back or side door so your chinchilla can "escape” if she feels the need to do so.
Reaching in to pick up your chinchilla may make her feel very stressed even though you may be reaching in to get her out of the cage for playtime. It works better, but takes more time, if you open the cage door, put your hand into the cage, palm facing down, and leave it there. Chinchillas are naturally curious. After a while, the chin usually will come over and explore your hand, may nibble on any jewelry you have on your fingers, may chew on your fingernails and eventually may put her front paws on your hand. The moment you move your hand she may retreat, but in time she should get more comfortable. Once she starts putting her paws on your hand, see if you can gently scratch her fur under her chin. This approach lets the chinchilla be in control of contact. In time, trust builds and the chinchilla may let you scratch all around her head and onto her back. With continued progress, it is often possible to then gently scoop the chin up from underneath to move her out of the cage.
The above training is time-consuming but once trust is built, then getting her in and out of the cage will be much easier and faster, and you should get much more enjoyment from having her as a pet.
When you say "farting,” do you mean the release of a pheromone aroma? Chinchillas often do this when they are in a stressful situation or when they are trying to get the attention of a potential mate in a nearby cage.
Chinchillas usually come into "heat” every month throughout the year. They may have a small amount of clear liquid discharge. If the discharge is very milky with droplets, it is possible there could be a vaginal infection which should be checked by a qualified vet.
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