Chinchillas are reasonable creatures that are usually very easy to get along with. But this does not mean they are perfect. They are fairly mild-mannered animals, but that does not mean they are Zen masters 100-percent of the time.
These small pets have their moments of panic and stress, just like all other animals. So, what does that look like? And how can you help? Here are some things to keep in mind about chinchillas regarding their stress:
Chinchilla Stress Signs
Chinchillas are not secretive pets—everything they feel, you will know about it. When you are first learning about their behavior, though, their signals may be a bit confusing. Here are some of the major signs that your chinchilla is feeling stressed.
1. Excessive amounts of barking, whistling, or grunting
If your pet is feeling stressed over something, they will tell you about it. Chinchillas have no qualms about giving you their piece of mind. Typically, once a chinchilla is comfortable with their owner, they can get pretty chatty around them.
However, when they are stressed, a chinchilla’s vocalizations become more frequent and insistent—and instead of sweet little noises, they will bark aggressively or whistle or grunt.
2. Hiding in their cage or having reserved behavior
A comfortable chinchilla is usually out-and-about and jumping around in their space, especially if they are happy with their cage and their owner. But a stressed chinchilla does none of this. Instead, they might burrow in the corners of their cage, curl into a ball when you enter, or freeze upon seeing you.
This is a major tell of a chinchilla’s stress because if you have had your chinchilla for a while, their sudden shift into hiding from you can be alarmingly different from how they normally act around you.
3. Abnormal chewing of their fur
Chinchillas normally chew their own fur or their cage mates’ for cleansing purposes—called barbering. However, it is not normal for a chinchilla to chew their fur constantly, or until they have bald spots. If you notice this happening, it means something is either physically irritating their fur, or they are stressed over something.
4. Pacing in their cage
While chinchillas are active animals that like to jump and run around their space, it is not normal for them to pace in circles or from end to end in their cage. If you find your chinchilla doing this, they are upset or bothered by something.
5. Lack of activity and decreased appetite
Each chinchilla reacts to stress differently, so while some might have increased physical activity under stress, others might have the exact opposite reaction.
Some chinchillas become lethargic when they are feeling stressed, which means they hardly move and have a decreased appetite. They may even start to act oddly with their food—like playing with their food or their water bottle, rather than eating from it.
6. Teeth grinding
This is a smaller tell that has specific reason, but teeth grinding is a good way to see if your chinchilla is feeling stressed. When they are in some form of dental or other physical pain, chinchillas will grind their teeth together to relieve some of the tension. It is very easy to tell when they are doing this because it makes a very loud sound.
7. Aggressive behavior
This is an all-encompassing tell. If your chinchilla starts to exhibit any sort of aggressive behavior—like struggling when being handled, biting, or attacking their cage-mates—they are obviously being stimulated by some sort of stressors.
Why is my chinchilla stressed?
Now you know how a chinchilla might react to stress, but you are still probably wondering what might cause them to even become stressed. They are such easy animals, right?
Here are some major things that might put your chinchilla under some stress:
Chinchillas are really social animals. They love to play with their own kind as they jump around. In the wild, chinchillas live in herds, so they are genetically bred to socialize. If they are not getting enough of this, they can become depressed, which can lead them to exhibit those under-stress behaviors.
They can also become lonely if their owner is not spending time with them. If they do not have a cage-mate to interact with, then their owner must pick up the slack and make sure their chinchilla is getting enough attention.
2. New pets in the house.
As goes with any animal that feels comfortable in their throne as the pet of the household, introducing a new pet or new cage-mate to a chinchilla can make them feel a little stressed out.
Chinchillas can be territorial—mostly the females—and being forced to get along with any other animal’s presence after being the only one for a while can be highly stressful for the small animal.
You probably feel a little crabby and stressed when you are sick, too. When a chinchilla is sick, all of their survival instincts come out to play. They try to stay still and heal, or chew it off. Illness will make anyone feel a little panicked, and chinchillas are no different.
4. Lack of space.
Chinchillas need lots of room. If they do not have enough room to jump and play and expel their energy, they will get very stressed from the pent-up energy. Wild chinchillas have lots of space and rocky terrain to explore, so they naturally need a lot of room to imitate that in a domestic, pet setting.
5. Loud noises.
These animals are not overly sensitive to sounds, but they can hear some things you cannot. Chinchillas have very good hearing, and they can hear high pitches better than humans, plus they have a farther hearing range, too.
Just like loud, sudden noises can catch you off guard and scare you, the same things can happen to a chinchilla. Abrasively loud noises would put anyone on edge, so it is no wonder why they would stress out a small chinchilla.
Chinchillas are not made for lots of casual travel. They can infrequently travel short distances, but they should not be expected to consistently travel from city to city. Chinchillas are homebodies who love to stay home and command their own space. If they are forced to travel a lot, they cannot form that settled, stable mindset that comes with a stable home enough to feel comfortable, which can put them under a lot of stress.
How do I help my stressed chinchilla?
If you feel like your chinchilla is stressed, here are some things to try out that might calm them down a bit:
1. Get them a friend.
The best way to combat loneliness-induced stress in chinchillas is to get them a cage-mate. Giving them someone to play with will help take some of the pressure off their owner to constantly give them attention and affection.
The chinchilla may go through an additional, new pet stress stage, but once they are used to their friend, they will be happy to have a new partner. Plus, you get another pet!
2. Get them a bigger cage.
If your chinchilla is stressed because of their lack of space, simply get them a new cage—one big enough and with enough toys for them to climb on. Letting off some steam with some good-quality jumping will make them feel instantly better.
3. Move their cage.
Sometimes the placement of a chinchilla’s cage can bring more stressors than other places. Some parts of the house can be too loud, or they might be getting too much sunlight in one area, making them unable to sleep properly during the day (since they are nocturnal). Try moving their cage to a different location and see if the chinchilla’s stress is reduced.
4. Give them attention.
Your cute chinchillas deserve daily playtime out of the cage.
This is the easiest way to relieve your chinchilla if they are stressed. Sometimes—like when a chinchilla is not feeling well or is feeling love-deprived—you just have to spend some time with them. Let them climb on you and give them some gentle pets.
5. Take them to a vet.
If you have tried everything you know to try to relieve your chinchilla’s stress, and nothing has worked, it is time to take them to a vet. Sometimes a chinchilla’s stress stems from things we cannot see or figure out, so take them to a professional, exotic-animal vet who might be able to give you some insight into their true illness and problems.
Can my chinchilla die from stress?
This is the million-dollar question. The easy answer is no, your chinchilla will not die from stress alone. However, when the small animal is left to deal with their stress alone for a long time, they can develop some health issues that may result in their death.
Chinchillas are not fragile creatures, so sudden stresses like new animals or loud noises will not kill them. But leaving your chinchilla to deal with illnesses, lack of socialization, or any other stressor that can result in decreased appetites or depression for long amounts of time can be detrimental to their long-term health.
In other words, chinchillas can die from stress-induced health problems, but not from small, immediate stressors.