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Learn to understand your chinchilla


General advices








General advices


Many chinchilla owners become disillusioned because their pet doesn’t respond the way they think it should. New owners tend to continually reach into the chinchilla’s cage and chase it around until they are able to grab it. This frightens the chinchilla and frustrates the owner. With a new chinchilla, we always approach the cage quietly. We will open the door and put our hand in for the chinchilla to sniff, taste and explore. The first few times, the chinchilla may hide, but gradually it will come out to explore, making more progress each time until it eventually sits on your hand. This is a first step on which to build. Often, we have a new chinchilla’s cage set up on the floor in a quiet room so that we can sit down at the chinchilla’s level. Over time, this encourages it to venture out of the cage and crawl onto your leg or lap (be sure all doors are closed into this room so the chinchilla does not escape). Use these opportunities to gently scratch behind the ears or put our hands around the chinchilla and gauge the response. The first few times, the chinchilla will run back into its cage if it sees you move your hands. But it comes right back to explore again and again. If you touch your chinchilla, it may make a chirp "touch me not" sound or may jump away. This can mean it does not want to be touched or that you’ve tickled it.

Chinchillas are not born tame. They are not all alike and do have feelings. Chinchillas have a variety of moods and personalities just as humans do. Taming them takes time and patience because your chinchillas must learn to trust you before you can establish a relationship. Chinchillas have excellent short term memories and will remember if you hurt or frighten them. It is always best to reflect on this when approaching their cage or trying to grab them. Chinchillas respond to each person differently. The relationship you observe between the chinchilla and the breeder may be different than the one you are able to cultivate with that same chinchilla. Every chinchilla is different. Some are hyper, some are laid back, some are more cautious, and some are more aggressive. It is important to learn and recognize the type of personality your chinchilla has and respect that in establishing a relationship.

Chinchillas appear to enjoy having a set routine. Feed them at the same time in the morning and the evening. They will always wait by the cage doors at the usual feeding and treat times. Many chinchillas are a lot like people in that they don’t like a change in routine.

Chinchillas are naturally curious, and love to explore, run, jump and play. Be sure there are no exposed outlets, cords, garbage cans containing refuse, or anything that might be toxic to the chinchilla if ingested. Check carefully for any nooks or crannies where a chinchilla may escape or get trapped. Also, if using a bathroom, be sure the toilet seat is down and open drains are closed. This is particularly important if you have a baby chinchilla. Our chinchillas who are experienced in the playtime routine tend to come right into our arms and we just carry them to the play area. Chinchillas can run very quickly and disappear in the blink of an eye. That is why it is important to let them out only in a room that can be secure. Supervising their playtime is advisable because they like to gnaw and can discover that your wood trim is a great chew block. Any toys you give them should be non toxic and not upset their digestive system should the chinchilla chew the toy.

All animals can bite when provoked or frightened and chinchillas are no exception. If your chinchilla should bite, please do not hit your chinchilla. A good training technique is to blow directly into its face while it is biting. Chinchillas do not like this and will learn to associate it with biting and eventually stop. However, do not confuse biting with curiosity. Baby chins, like human babies, will put everything in their mouths to taste. Sometimes the baby’s teeth can be a might sharp if it tastes your finger. A chinchilla will definitely bite fingers if you have a tasty food residue (especially raisins) on them. This is why it is always advisable to thoroughly wash your hands before touching your chinchilla. Also, many times, your chinchilla may groom your hand or arm. Do not confuse this with biting. It will be a light to medium nibbling on the back of your hand (sometimes even pulling out a hair or two). This is your chinchilla’s way of letting you know it is your friend.

Chinchillas become frightened when they hear loud, sudden noises or movements. This includes the sound of barking dogs. Repeated stress like this can lead to fur chewing, loss of appetite and a general decline in your chinchilla’s health.

Chinchillas can break bones just like humans can. Use good judgment when taking your chinchilla out of the cage, taking care s/he doesn’t jump out of your arms and onto the floor from a high distance. Also be sure not to place them on high surfaces (bed, tables, etc.) unattended.

© Oxford Chinchillas

© Chin-chillas


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Chewing & Gnawing

·     It is trying to wear out its teeth;

·      This is a good time to offer a chew block.

Grooming itself

·     It is relaxed and feel at ease at home;

·     It has taken pleasure in the new home;

·      You have done a good job providing it a home.   

Holding Food

·     It is appreciating its own;

·      Let it enjoy its food.

Hopping and jumping around

·     Playing without inhibition;

·      Let it play.

Lying around doing nothing

·     Either it is tired and is taking a rest now;

·     Or it is bored and decides to laze around;

·      This is the best time to interact with your chinchilla.  Play with it or introduce new toy.

Persistently doing the same thing

·     It is thinking of ways to achieve its goal;

·     Make sure what it is doing is safe; you don't want it to be chewing off your electrical cord here;

·      Distract by giving chew toys or treats if what it is doing is unsafe.

Running around and nibbling here and there like a butterfly flying among flowers

·     It is curious;

·     It is just checking out the environment to make sure the things are in the right places or if the thing is edible;

·      It does not mean any harm.

Running back into the cage with objects

·     It has found a new toy;

·     It is going to hide the newly found treasure;

·      Check to make sure the new found toy is safe.

Sleeping on its side

·     It is pregnant;

·     The environment temperature is too high (over 25° C, 77° F);

·     It is exhausted;

·     It has just found another sleeping position.

Sniffing one another

·     One chinchilla is establishing contact with another. Beware that a fight might starts;

·     If it is an adult sniffing a young one, the little one is being accepted by the adult;

·     If it is sniffing your nose, you are being greeted and accepted as another chinchilla;

·      Perching next to each other is a sign of acceptance too.

Standing half-erect

·     It is anticipating that something to happen soon;

·     Good time to teach new tricks and offer new food;

·      It is ready to learn new things.

Standing straight with hind legs up

·     It is being very defensive;

·     It is ready to shoot pee at its target;

·      Better to leave it alone now.

Standing very straight & still

·     It is very alert;

·     It is also investigating the environment, perhaps a new scent or a strange sound, could be danger or could be just curious;

·     It is ready to dash back to the cage;

·      Let it alone.  

Waiting in front of the cage door

·     A begging gesture;

·     It is asking to be let out of the cage;

·     It is time for exercise!!

Withdrawing in a corner of the cage

·     It is frightened and showing anxiety;

·     You should talk to it soft to calm it down;

·      If all forms of coaxing fail, leave it alone for a little while.

© The Chinchilla Information Guide


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There are many sounds made by a chinchilla to express its emotions and needs. Chins communicate each other by using a comprehensive repertoire of sounds. It takes a little while to learn what message is carry out by each call. Each chinchilla is unique in its cry just like each human has different voice tone and pitch, so take some time now to learn them. If you listen to their sounds attentively, you'll recognize a high similarity to human sounds and emotions. If you prefer to hear them, Michael Termathe has a sample of the different sounds he recorded.


The Basic Cry

All chinchillas have a basic cry that will be used commonly from birth. It is used as a signal to others. This is a 'clicky' sound which is almost as if one animal is telling another to stop what they are doing and to go away. For example a female will often 'click' at her young if they nip her whilst feeding or if they are fighting amongst themselves.

Fear or Pain

If an animal is nervous it will quite often let off a shrill squeal, or perhaps if it is being handled awkwardly. A variation of this is if an animal bumps itself. The squeal of pain is slightly different and will diminish in volume and tone as the pain leaves the animal.


This is a noise often made by the kits which is a loud squawk. The kit will raise its nose at its mother requesting to be fed and mothered. The mothers’ response to this sound and action is usually to nibble the babies’ ears and clean the kit. Then she may push it down to the side of her to feed. These sorts of noises may also be heard between the mother and the young, or the young to each other, as if they are holding family discussions! Also, when the kits are not near the mother they may squawk loudly as if they are lost and the mother will then send them a soothing reply and let them know that she is nearby.


If a chinchilla becomes angry, i.e. perhaps fighting over who is going to get to the food bowl first! The animal will make a rasp like snarl. This may also occur when youngsters fight over mothers teats.

Alarm Calls

This noise is usually a sequence of loud high cries which can go for anything up to around twenty cries. These are a signal that the animal is agitated or excited. The animal may also make this call if he/she sees something unusual that worries him/her. In the wild this call could have been made by the animal that was the 'look out', to advise the others of danger perhaps. For example, if two animals are separated they may call out to each other from one side of the room to the other; they appear to be having a long distance chat!

Short Alarm Calls

This is often a short burst from a chinchilla when they hear a noise that they cannot quite locate and are not sure what it is! This is to warn any other animals. The other chinchillas will quite often leap around their cages, upon hearing this cry, trying to hide, in case something dangerous is around!

Teeth Noises

When a chinchilla is upset it may chatter its teeth, or it could also be that the animal is miserable and wants to let others around know the mood he/she is in! Quite often, it does appear that chinchillas also grind teeth after eating as if cleaning the bits of food from them; some chinchillas also grind teeth to keep them in condition.

Mating Call

Unless you are breeding chinchillas you will never get to hear this strange sound that the male emits after mating his female. It sounds almost as if he has the hiccups and will usually last for a couple of minutes.



























































© Michael's Chinchilla Homepage

© Crystal Chinchillas


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Burdick & Miller (1975) found that the chinchilla, a member of the rodent family, could learn to distinguish between /a/ and /u/ not only for different vocal productions by the same talker, but could generalise this discrimination to vowel statements by different talkers, changes in pitch level and changes in intensity.

Kuhl & Miller (1975) using synthetic speech had shown that chinchillas can distinguish between /ta/ and /da/, between /ka/ and /ga/ and between /pa/ and /ba/. In another study using natural speech, they had found that, following training, syllables containing either /t/'s or /d/'s can be discriminated by chinchillas despite variations in talkers, in the vowels following the plosives and in intensities.

Morse (1976) found that when using the discriminations /b/ /d/ /g/, rhesus monkeys, despite their inability to produce the full range of human speech-sounds, nevertheless discriminate between-category change in place of articulation better than a within-category change, this was an unexpected finding. In this connection Morse commented that it was of interest that chinchillas classified the speech stimuli so as to put the boundary in much the same place that human listeners do. These results demonstrate that chinchillas are able to make distinctions between sounds that are characteristic of human speech.

Even more relevant for the human language ability is, how are chinchillas and monkeys able to make these discriminations? Presumably they have not learnt human speech-sounds and they can have no schemas to match them against or at any rate no vocal schemas. They must have a set of abilities:

  1. to attend selectively to speech-sound as such

  2. to analyse the sound in some way to extract uniform elements from it

  3. to transfer the elements to another functional system or transform it in that system

  4. to recognise uniformities there

  5. to activate a discriminating response in the second functional system specific to the categorically distinct sound-element.

Quite a performance! This is very similar to what the human needs to do to extract uniform speech-sound patterns from very various acoustic experiences.

Auditory feature analysers may conceivably be a property of the mammalian auditory system rather than unique to a species that has evolved the ability to produce the range of human speech. Patricia Kuhl, (1975-76) a psychologist at the University of Washington who studies both children and animals, found that chinchillas and humans used the same temporal criteria to tell whether a sound was a [d] or a [t]. The distinction here rests on the timing between the moment the vocal cords of the larynx begin to move open and shut in a regular manner, producing phonation, and the moment your lips open, producing a puff or burst of air noise. If the noise burst and phonation occur within 20 msec (a msec is 1/1000 of a second), both the chinchilla and the human will hear the sound [b]. A longer time delay yields a [p]. The decision-making criterion seems to be the length of time that must intervene between two different sounds in order for the hearer reliably to know which occurred first.

Human beings and chinchillas use the same auditory criterion to categorize these sounds because humans retain the basic primitive mammalian auditory system found in chinchillas. Chinchillas can also hear the boundary between consonants, and they hear it categorically, with a boundary at around the same place where humans hear it. Discrimination of the duration of such sound gaps is best at the durations where perception of a baa sound gives over to perception of a paa sound. Differences between pairs of durations that are either longer or shorter are harder to detect. Kuhl and Miller (1975) have demonstrated that the same is true for chinchilla. Hence, chinchillas distinguish between these two phonemes as humans do.

In Miller's words (Miller 1990), a way to test the claim that speech perception is species-specific becomes obvious: examine speech perception in nonhuman animals whose basic auditory systems are similar to those of humans, and see whether these animals process speech in the same way humans do. As unlikely as it seems, the study Miller cites (Kuhl 1978) involved comparing humans to chinchillas (chinchillas were used because they and humans have very similar basic auditory sensitivity). The experiment compared the reactions of the two species to a specific speech feature, Voice Onset Time (VOT), which is used by humans to help discriminate between consonants. By varying the VOT of a computer regenerated voice, the syllable "ba" can be transformed into "pa" (as perceived by humans). The ba/pa boundary occurs when VOT = 25 milliseconds. The chinchillas were trained to have different conditioned responses when they heard "ba" or "pa". When they were subsequently given the same stimuli as the human subjects, the chinchillas showed the "ba" conditioned response until VOT = 25 milliseconds, where upon they switched to the "pa" response. This strongly suggests that the two species share a common (or at least very similar) neurological mechanism for detecting this particular speech feature. There is still much research that must be done on this question, but the early evidence seems to indicate that the auditory processing mechanisms that humans use to perceive speech are common to other species as well.

© The origin of language: The general problem Language and Evolution Homepage, by Robin Allott

© The semiotic organ: Language and the brain by James H. Bradford

© Psychology of language How to write a good essay question, by Katie Russell

© ChinCare - Chintelligence, Speech Recognition


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How smart are chinchillas?

They are smarter than a lot of small animals and much more fun than the average small animal pet. They are different than dogs, cats, ferrets, birds, etc.

Chinchillas memorize their trails, and have good memories. If you frighten them, they will remember it for a fairly long time, and you will have to regain your trust.

Chinchillas are excellent with mazes or figuring out where to go. They are able to come out of almost anything. There actual body under all that fluff is really small in diameter. Unlike hamsters, rats, and mice they need no time at all to come out of the maze.


How do I know if a chinchilla likes me?

Chinchillas become attached to their owners and will even rub their heads on them to show affection. They will welcome your arrival with a soft chuckle. When you open the cage door they will jump into your hands or simply let you pick them up. Socialized chinchillas love attention and will play with you for hours, but they can take up a lot of your time. You may want to consider buying a companion for your chinchilla if you don’t have all the needed time. This way it will trust you and still have a friend to keep him or her happy.

To stay healthy, happy, and maintain happiness with you the chinchilla needs supervised exercise periods outside its cage. Before you let the animal out of its cage for its playtime remove any breakable objects and block off access to spaces behind refrigerators, ovens cupboards, and basically any place they can get into. While the chinchilla is exploring watch it carefully to make sure it doesn't gnaw on electrical cords or your furniture because they love to do this!


Can I get friend for my chinchilla?

If you decide to add another chinchilla to your home, introduce them gradually. You may want to keep them in separate side-by-side cages for a week or two, so they can get used to each other. When you place them in the same cage, observe them closely to make sure they're getting along. If they nibble on each other or snap are each other it is just their way of getting to know each other, but if you see fur fly start the process over again. If by the second process you have no luck they most likely will never get along. They love to cuddle with each other, sniff each other, especially around the rear and tail. This is their way of identifying each other.

Caution should be used when introducing a chinchilla to other animals, such as cats and dogs. Some owners have great success keeping these animals together while others end up with disastrous results. I believe it depends on the breed of dog or cat you introduce them to.  Keep in mind that ferrets and snakes are natural enemies of these gentle fluffy loveable animals.

If you decide the chinchilla is the pet you've been waiting for, try to set up all the equipment you'll need before you bring home your new pet. Your chinchilla will appreciate coming home to a cage that already has all the supplies it will need. Another thing to note is you can pair them up normally without problem, but if you want more friends it is a lot harder because either the 2 girls will fight over the one male or the 2 males will fight over the female.  The only way that really works is the same sex so if you put together 3 females or 3 males without the opposite sex present or around them they should be ok. The safest bet is just to pair them up, but some people can’t have enough chinchillas in their house and try to bunch them together. In the wild they travel in herds of 20-30 chinchillas, but in the wild they can come and go as they feel while in a cage there isn’t room!!!


What are their behavioural habits?

Chinchillas are nocturnal, spending much of the day sleeping. They will be active during the day if there is something interesting going on around them like a TV or radio or if you want to play with them. They love to run on wheels, especially at night, so you don’t want to be keeping your chin in your bedroom because the noise from the wheel will try you mad. They make noises to let you know you are not paying enough attention to them so be on the lookout for this as well. They are very social and can be hand tamed to play and interact with you if you are willing to spend time with them and show that you love them a whole lot.

Chinchillas are adaptable and if the time that you want to play is in the afternoon, then they will be more than willing to accommodate you providing you are fun to play with and consistent in your play time. They can wake up in the day time and then doze again, just make sure they get their proper amount of sleep in total. This is provided you give them a consistent schedule. When they sleep don’t be alarmed but they will look dead as they lay on their sides a lot stretched out. When we first started we would get scared they one of our chins had died, but then realized their sleeping. Chinchillas hate change and prefer consistency. If you move them, give them time to get used to the new surroundings, so please don’t move their cage all the time unless you have no choice.


Are they noisy?

They do not bark like a dog, but they do have barks and other noises that they use periodically. They run on wheels and if the wheel squeaks that is noisy. They tend to rearrange their cages. That can by noisy if they start moving bowls! They tend to chew on whatever is in the cage to chew on, including the box or domicile you have for them to hide in. Between chewing on it and moving it, they can be noisy. If all of that is considered by you noisy then they are noisy, but in all honesty the average chinchilla makes little to no noise, excluding the wheel and rearrangement of their cage.


Do they chew their cages?

They will chew on cages if the parts of the cage are wood. They will chew on anything that seems to be chewable. They chew on walls, woodwork, wall board, electric cords, books, pumice stones, branches, chew blocks, cardboard, paper, and whatever is chewable. They will even nibble on you to see if you are chewable or edible. The other thing they will either chew on or play with is something you seem to pay more attention to then them like a soda can your drinking out of, a keyboard if you at the computer, the TV if their able to reach it, or even something your handling more then them.

The suggestion is that you have an all metal cage, a wheel, lots of chew toys like wooden blocks, pumice stone, wooden toys, branches, mineral stones, cardboard, paper, etc.) to allow for chewing. Give them a house of wood, or cardboard and they will chew it until little to nothing is left. I suggest that unless you can chin proof a room or supervise them, that you not let them out because you’ll come back to check on them and the walls or something you don’t want damaged will be damaged.


Can I train my chinchilla?

Chinchillas can be conditioned and trained, but it takes a while to train them, and you need to go slowly and do one thing at a time. Take the time to get to know your chinchilla, gentle it to your companionship, and gain its trust [takes up to 6 months] then try to get it to come to you using sweets like raisins. It can take a while to train one, especially if it has had bad experiences with humans before you got a hold of it. They are so intelligent and responsive if they trust you then it is worth it.

© Chinchilla Rancher


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