By Marty Hull
Why do chinchillas bite?
In the wild, chinchillas are prey. They are hunted and killed by predators. The chinchilla’s first response to danger is to run away or try to escape. Chinchillas generally live in rocky areas, so they will retreat to a safe burrow in the rocks if possible.
This behavior changes when a chinchilla is in a cage. The confinement of a cage may make the chinchilla believe there is no place to escape. With no escape route available, the chinchilla may bite the threat (often the owner’s fingers). This type of biting is most common if the pet owner tries to reach in suddenly to grab the chinchilla.
Chinchillas have long and extremely sharp front teeth. A bite can be severe, deep and painful. If you use some type of “chinchilla house” in the cage, be sure it has a front entrance and also a rear or side “escape entrance.” Without the option to escape, the chinchilla may feel trapped and be more likely to bite if an owner reaches into the “house.” If the owner provides an environment where the chinchilla does not feel threatened, then chinchillas very seldom bite.
Gain Your Chinchilla’s Trust
To avoid being bitten, take some time to gain the chinchilla’s trust. Place your hand and fingers just inside the cage door and leave it there for a few minutes. Get a chair so you can sit down. Most chinchillas are naturally curious and in time will come over, sniff the hand and probably nibble some part of on your hand. Chinchillas also will nibble on jewelry, fingernails and anything else that sticks up above skin level, such as a scar or scab.
Once the chinchilla willingly comes over to your hand, then try gently rubbing or scratching the chinchilla under the chin or along the side of the neck. At first the chinchilla may run farther back into the cage, but in a short time, the chinchilla will come forward again. Gaining this trust may take a couple weeks. In time, most chinchillas become accustomed to being touched and may enjoy the scratch sessions.
Once the chinchilla is more relaxed around you, then you can try to pick up the chinchilla by reaching underneath. Some chinchillas do not mind being picked up, but many never wish to be picked up. If picking up the chinchilla is absolutely necessary, for example to check an injury or to feed the chinchilla a supplement, then there may be a bit of a struggle if you reach in and grab. However, if you have established good trust beforehand, the chinchilla usually does not hold a grudge and will come for scratches and pets after a little time has passed.
Other Reasons For Nips Or Bites
If a chinchilla smells a particularly yummy scent on your fingers, he may take a gentle nibble to “taste” or may bite harder believing your finger to be a delicious treat. This type of bite is not done in fear or anger. To prevent this, always wash your hands before handling your chinchillas.
Sometimes chinchillas will gently nibble on your hand, arm or fingers. This is a type of grooming behavior chinchillas normally do to each other. Usually one chinchilla grooms the other for a few minutes and then they trade back and forth. Your chinchilla may gently nibble for a bit and then stop. He is waiting for you to reciprocate. Often you can give some gentle scratches under the chin, between the front paws, around the neck, down the back or even around the face.
Occasionally if a chinchilla does not want to be held any longer or has to urinate, he might gently nip your hand a couple of times and may even give a squeak or two. If you ignore these nips, your chinchilla may nip more strongly to get the point across or may have an “accident” in your lap.
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