When owning a pet chinchilla, it’s impossible to ignore their innate ability to jump and climb. A healthy chinchilla is like a rocket, bouncing off of everything in their immediate vicinity while scaling any object they can get their paws around.
Since chinchillas have been domesticated pets for almost 100 years, it’s easy to forget their origins or even discount why they possess certain traits. People are fascinated by chinchilla behavior, however many are unaware of the reasons behind some of their most interesting actions.
I decided to write this article to help explain one of the most intriguing chinchilla behaviors: tree climbing. Let’s take a deeper look at the chinchilla’s ability to climb trees and explore how this behavior relates to your pet.
So do chinchillas climb trees? If a chinchilla were to be observed in their natural habitat, the answer to that question would be a resounding yes! Chinchillas are expert climbers, and in the wild, can often be found climbing trees and lounging in their branches.
Summary of today’s article:
- Why do chinchillas like to climb trees?
- Should I let my chinchilla climb a tree outside?
- How do I provide the tree climbing experience for my chinchilla in their cage?
- How can chinchillas climb effectively during playtime?
- Will my chinchilla climb on me?
- Chinchillas are happiest when climbing!
Chinchillas originate from the Andes Mountains of northern Chile. This region is known for its challenging landscape, primarily high plateaus and mountain ranges.
Wild chinchillas have learned to take advantage of this terrain and can be seen high up in tree branches, although due to their small size, they are not always visible to casual observers. Since chinchillas are prey animals, they are constantly in danger of predation from larger land-dwelling species as well as birds of prey.
Although they frequently hide in rock crevices, tunnels, and under plants, trees create a special form of safety. The lush trees of the Andes region provide sustenance and protection to wild chinchillas.
While nestled high up in the branches, chinchillas are able to avoid capture by predators who don’t have much climbing ability. Additionally, clusters of leaves found on many native trees conceal chinchillas from birds who may otherwise be able to spot them.
The high vantage point allows chinchillas to see what is occurring on the ground. This valuable insight pertains not only to the individual chinchilla but also to other members of the herd who can be warned if danger is present.
It is extremely important for your chinchilla to climb! A chinchilla’s anatomy has evolved to be adept at jumping and climbing, so they are literally built to do these things on a daily basis.
The long, spring-like back legs of a chinchilla aid in pushing off of the ground and bouncing to heights of over 6 feet. Their paws have sharp claws and protective pads which allow them to climb a variety of structures and provide the necessary traction.
Wild chinchillas can quickly climb rock walls and trees, often narrowly escaping approaching predators. A chinchilla’s hands are designed to grip tightly, which is an asset when reaching for branches or leaves.
Climbing is not only exercise; it also helps maintain your chinchilla’s healthy state of mind. Chinchillas derive much pleasure from engaging in climbing behavior, and providing ways for them to do this is imperative to their mental health.
A chinchilla who does not have the means to climb will not only feel bored, but will also develop feelings of insecurity and helplessness. These negative feelings will often result in anger, depression, and withdrawal.
Chinchillas who are not provided a proper environment to climb will often act out or even become aggressive. Unhappy chinchillas have been known to engage in a myriad of negative behaviors including, but not limited to, lethargy, incessant barking, fur chewing, and urine spraying.
Since chinchillas engage in climbing behavior as a means to stay safe from predators, having the opportunity to climb will help them feel secure and comfortable. Climbing trees is a natural instinct for your chinchilla and they must have the means to mimic this behavior in a domestic setting.
Never, under any circumstances, let your chinchilla climb a tree outside! Chinchillas are notorious for running off and hiding, and if you let them outside, there is a good chance that you will never see them again.
Chinchillas are very fast, and with their keen ability to hide, their play should always be supervised and limited to an area that is properly chinchilla proofed. A chinchilla climbing an outside tree would very easily reach heights which would be problematic for you to retrieve them.
They would naturally chew on the bark, and since many types of wood are toxic to chinchillas, this would not be a good idea. Additionally, chinchillas outside are especially vulnerable to predators.
Many large birds are capable of sweeping them away in the blink of an eye, which is just one more reason not to let your pet climb trees outside!
Luckily, recreating the tree climbing experience in your chinchilla’s cage is simple! The first step is to make sure that the cage is tall, preferably at least 3 feet in height.
You’ll want to install plenty of ledges and ramps that are made from chinchilla safe wood. A good rule of thumb is to shoot for at least 3-4 ledges which are spaced far enough apart that your chinchilla can hop or climb between them easily.
It’s also wise to invest in a wooden chinchilla hay holder, since much like the ledges, your pet can climb on it, and also use it to wear down their teeth. There are plenty of options for wooden chinchilla houses and tunnels, all of which provide comfortable hiding spaces and can be arranged in such a way that they provide climbing points for your pet.
Fleece hammocks are a great addition as well, and if your chinchilla doesn’t chew on them, are completely safe. By strategically placing multiple items in your chinchilla’s cage, you can create a space where they have plenty of opportunities to climb, which will give them the mental stimulation required to stay happy and healthy.
Playtime is a chinchilla’s time to explore and get a taste of freedom after being in their cage all day. It’s important for them to have adventures while playing, and a great way to do this is by letting them climb.
When searching for a climbing post, be sure to avoid any climbing structures not specifically designed for a chinchilla. Some people have tried cat scratching posts, which always end in disaster when the chinchilla urinates all over the surface after attempting to eat it.
There are many tall structures available that are made from chinchilla safe wood which can resemble a tree to your pet. Look for posts that have multiple ledges as these will provide a similarity to the resting points found on tree branches.
Huts with hidey-holes are great as well since they allow your chinchilla to feel protected and obstructed from view, much like foliage on a tree. Another option is to fabricate a custom climbing post. By using chinchilla safe wood and non-toxic glue, you can make your pet a climbing post that they will love.
There are many examples of custom climbing posts online and you will have peace of mind in knowing that it is safe and exactly what your pet desires.
If given the opportunity, a friendly, well-adjusted chinchilla will most likely attempt to climb on you. The key to this type of contact is establishing trust with your pet. Once your chinchilla trusts you, they are more likely to want to be physically close.
A fantastic way to get your chinchilla to climb on you is to lay on the ground and keep still while they are out for playtime. Chinchillas are very curious and will come over to see what you are doing.
Their investigation will consist of sniffing, nibbling, and even rolling around in your hair. Once your chinchilla is confident climbing on you while you are lying down, they will start to feel comfortable crawling on you while you are sitting up.
Speak gently to them and avoid sudden movements. Since chinchillas are fans of climbing high, expect that your affectionate chinchilla will eventually end up on your shoulder or even the top of your head!
Chinchillas Are Happiest When Climbing!
Now that you understand your chinchilla’s instinct to climb trees, it should be no surprise that they require a myriad of climbing apparatuses to be at their disposal. By providing a suitable cage environment for your chinchilla, your pet will be able to engage in tree climbing behavior in a safe, stress-free environment.
There is no shortage of accessories on the market to accomplish this task and you will have a blast putting together the ideal cage scenario for your chinchilla. Couple this with a fun playtime space and you will ensure that your chinchilla has everything they need to feel like they are climbing trees from the comfort of your home!