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Taming A Terrified Chinchilla

Is it possible to bond with a chinchilla who is terrified of people?

Marty Hull
Posted: August 15, 2014, 8:30 p.m. EDT

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© Marty Hull
Chinchillas need time to adjust to a new environment.

Q: I recently got a new chinchilla called Tea. Tea is a 2.5-year-old, beige, uncastrated male. We also have three other chinchillas at home, but we are not going to combine them with Tea. We got Tea from someone who bought him from a pet shop, but he didn’t spend any time with Tea and never tried to bond with him, so Tea is extremely scared of people. I have tried offering him a raisin through the bars of his cage while turning my head away and closing my eyes to show him that I am no danger to him, but as soon as I approach the cage, he starts barking at me and screaming for several minutes. He also "grinds” his teeth together to make a scrunching sound. When there are people in the room, Tea won’t move in his cage, he just hides behind his wooden house. Our other chinchillas are more than 5 years old, and they are quite tame. They let me pet them and they even know how to come when called. I don’t know how I should approach Tea, or even if I will ever bond with him at all. Please help me with this.

A: It sounds as though Tea had a stressful time in his previous environment and perhaps wasn't handled enough to tame him down. There is no guarantee that Tea will tame down and be as friendly as your other chins. Every chinchilla is different. Some are naturally mellow, others can be a little more tense and high-strung. 

No chinchilla likes to experience a change in environment and routine. They do take a period of adjustment when moved to a new location. There are new noises, different people and a new routine to which your pet must adjust. We normally suggest keeping a new chinchilla in a quiet area, perhaps with a cage at a lower level. Visiting your new chin, talking to him, opening the cage door and setting your hand/arm inside so your chin can smell it are all ways your chin can become more familiar with you. It takes time and patience. Reaching in and grabbing your new chin will frighten him and make him more wary of you. The sounds Tea is making are all indicative of his fear and distress. 

You may want to offer him a treat when your hand is in the cage. Sometimes it is necessary to leave your hand in the cage, motionless, for several minutes. Hopefully, within several minutes, you will see a change in demeanor from hiding, being afraid and wanting to run away, to being curious about exploring the hand. Depending on the level of fear that Tea has, bringing out this natural curiosity may take several days to a week of putting your hand in and waiting. Once he comes over to your hand, let him climb on your arm and explore; talk gently to him. When he is done, carefully remove your arm from the cage. You need to make him feel you are friend, not foe. After doing this several times, Tea will begin to realize that you are not going to reach in and grab him every time you come toward his cage. This is the first step in building a trust bond with your chinchilla. 

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And check out:
15 Questions And Answers About Pet Chinchillas
Life With Your First Chinchilla
See all of Marty Hull's chinchilla Q&A
See Marty Hull's bio
See all questions and answers about chinchilla health

Posted: August 15, 2014, 8:30 p.m. EDT

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