Posted: May 13, 2011, 5 a.m. EDT
Q: I'm worried about my male chinchilla, Loki. We recently lost our female, Chica, and they were extremely close. They stayed in the same cage and would even get upset and act up if they were apart for more than a few minutes. Even when they unexpectedly had babies we couldn't remove the male because they got so upset. Loki took care of the babies just as much and just as well as Chica did. Now that Chica has passed away, though, Loki is acting strangely. He's eating OK, but doing things like moving part of his food to a different part of the cage and stashing it or scattering it. He has also taken to trying to groom me. When I put my hand into the cage he nips lightly, scrapes his teeth over my skin and will even remove skin if I have a scratch or hangnail or something. Then he will sit there and cock his head to the side and move toward me and wait to be groomed by me. I can't exactly do it the way his mate did, but I do try to simulate the act because I don't know what else to do. We've talked about getting another female for him, but we aren't sure if that's the right solution or not. Do chinchillas bond more than once to a mate? Is it more likely that he would be upset that the new chinchilla isn't the one he was so used to, and therefore hurt it? Can you help me to figure some of this out? I really want to do the absolute best for Loki. I love him.
A: Many chinchillas form deep bonds with partners or cagemates. If one of the pair dies, it is very common to see dramatic changes in behavior in the surviving chinchilla. These changes may include refusal to eat or drink, withdrawal, listlessness, sulking in the rear of their cage and vocal calling in hopes that the mate will return. Give the surviving chinchilla more attention.
If the chinchilla stops eating, try giving some yogurt, our chinchillas like strawberry yogurt the best, or some baby food. Gerbers 3rd Foods Apples and Bananas with Mixed Cereal is well received. The goal is to get the chinchilla interested in eating again. Both yogurt and baby food contain fluid and calories and will help avoid chinchilla health emergencies while the chinchilla is grieving. Avoid high-sugar treats, as this may cause dehydration if the chinchilla is not drinking water.
See if the chinchilla will accept more scratches; try scratching around the head and ears and under the chin and along the side of the face. The chinchilla may groom you in return and will expect to be scratched and groomed when it is “your turn” again. Continue giving extra love and care until the chinchilla starts to return to more normal behavior.
Yes, many chinchillas will bond to more than one mate. Finding a new partner is a good idea but is not always successful. Chinchillas have long, sharp front teeth, and a fight lasting just a few seconds can bring grave injury.
A male chinchilla that has had a female partner often will accept another female, but the new female chinchilla may not accept the male. Pairing two male chinchillas can be dangerous, as they may fight over dominance or territory. Pairing two mature female chinchillas often fails. An older female is more likely to accept a very young female or a very young male. Chinchilla males are sexually active by 10 to 12 weeks, so this pairing may bring a litter of new chinchilla babies.
When possible, place the potential cagemates next to each other in separate cages to see how they get along. If the chinchilla sleep next to each other, then there is a better chance they can be safely and successfully put together.
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