Becoming a chinchilla owner for the first time can be a challenging experience. Chinchillas are adorable pets with fantastic personalities but their true behavioral traits will not be so obvious when you first introduce them to their new home.
Since changing environments is very stressful for your pet, you might encounter that your pet is not leaving it’s hide box and is refusing to eat or drink. This behavior is common and it should go away within a day or two as your pet gets more familiar with it’s new home. To make the adjustment phase easier make sure that the cage is in a quiet part of the house, that your pet has it’s privacy, fresh food, water and hay.
Why is my new chinchilla not eating or drinking?
Chinchillas are very sensitive animals and there are numerous situations that can stress them out. Chinchillas usually do not take well to traveling and bringing your new pet home will be a stressful journey from which your pet will have to recover and it will need time to calm down.
Since your pet will be placed in a new cage for the first time, it will also need time to adjust and be familiar with the smells and sounds surrounding it’s new home, plus the activity of the people in the house and the visuals which he/she can see from the cage.
During this period, it is normal for your pet to not eat its food or even drink water. You can expect that your pet will be probably crying and hiding, this is why you should set up a hide box in the cage before your put your new pet in.
How can I help my chinchilla?
Properly set up the cage
The main thing you should do is properly set up the cage in order for your pet to feel right at home. You should have the cage ready before you bring your new chinchilla home, so that you can remove your pet from the carrier and give it more room and space to be comfortable.
The cage should have soft bedding at the bottom so it would be clean and dry. You should put in at least one hide box or a little corner house where your pet can curl up and feel shielded and safe. Fresh pelleted food and a lot of hay should be already awaiting your pet as well as one or two water bottles on different levels of the cage (to encourage drinking).
Make sure you have chosen a quiet and calm part of the house to keep the cage in, as you want to reduce all stimulants. The cage should be away from direct sunlight and make sure the temperature and the humidity in the cage are at optimal levels – 60-70°F and the humidity lever lower than 50%.
Provide a comfort blanket
If your new pet has a rag or a blanket that it used in its old cage, bring it with your pet in the transporter and then place it in the cage once you arrive home. This blanket has a familiar scent to it and it will provide comfort to your pet, soothing him/her and it will help your pet accept its new place quicker.
If your new chinchilla did not previously have a comfort blanket you can introduce one. A comfort blanket or fleece toy made for small pets should be made from chinchilla-safe materials and they will provide comfort and a soft place where your pet can curl up and feel safe.
Try changing the food
Chinchillas are picky eaters. If your new pet does not want to eat the food in its cage, you could try to find a different trusted brand and offer another type of food. A little research goes a long way, that being said try to find out what food your pet is used to and what was he/she eating in its previous home. Buying the same brand of food will be another step in helping your pet adapt quicker to its new home and start eating. Even if your pet does not like the food at first it will enjoy fresh and crunchy hay, so always have an abundant of hay in the cage.
It might seem that your pet is not eating at all but you can always weigh the pelleted food when you put it in the cage and weigh it the next time you are feeding your pet – you will know right away if your pet has been eating. Chinchillas like to drag the hay around in the cage and pull out multiple threads until they find the yummiest one – if you see that the hay feeder is disturbed in any way, be sure that your pet was probably having a snack.
Monitor the water level in the water bottle, most water bottles have rulers on the side that will help you accurately track how much water your chinchilla drank. Make sure that the water bottle is not dripping. A healthy chinchilla, depending on its preferences, will drink somewhere around 2 Oz of water a day, although there are chinnies that drink even more.
Talk softly to your chinchilla
Once you bring your pet home you would want to leave it for a while so that it can relax and be free from any outside stimulants. After a couple of hours (upon regularly checking up on your pet) you can sit closely to the cage and speak softly to your pet, welcoming it into it’s new home. This way your new pet would start to get familiar with your smell and the sound of your voice, which will help it associate it’s new home with you. While you are doing this you can offer a small treat like rose buds or dried oats to get on it’s good side, but do not overdo it, you want your pet to start eating “regular food” and not getting full of treats.
How do I know if my chinchilla will be OK?
If your pet is not eating for a longer period after you bring it home (like a day or two) there are ways to tell if your chinchilla is still adapting or if something is wrong. A healthy chinchilla will be curious of it’s surrounding and will have “an eye on you” when you are near its cage.
It will pop its head from the hide box and maybe even shortly step out just to zoom in back again. A healthy chinnie, even if it is not eating a regular amount of food, will still have poopies that are smaller than usual but consistent and it will be peeing in a certain corner of the cage. The urine could be a darker color than what it usually is, due to the lesser water intake. A healthy chinchilla is alert, quick and responsive.
Unfortunately, there are situations where stress can get the better of a chinchilla or simply it might have an underlined illness. The signs which point out that your chinchilla is not ok are it being lethargic, not responsive or alert and at this stage you would be able to pick up your chinchilla without it trying to bounce away. Your chinchilla would also not poop enough or none at all, the poops might be wet or even runny. Check to see if your pet is drooling or if it is wet under the lower jaw area. If any of the above-mentioned behaviors or symptoms occur, you should take your new chinchilla to a specialized vet right away.
How long will it take until my chinchilla starts eating?
Chinchillas, just like humans, have different personalities and moods. Once you bring your new pet home it will depend on the personality of your chinchilla until it starts eating again. Some chinchillas adapt quicker to changes in their surroundings and they will start eating as soon as a couple of hours since they arrived at your home while others can take up to two days until they feel comfortable enough.
This behavior does not depend solely on the chinchilla’s mood, as mentioned previously in this article – the cage and environment in which you have placed your chinchilla should be adapted to its needs and as much effort you put into getting your pet comfortable the easier it will adapt.
Getting a new chinchilla is stressful, but very rewarding
Once you finish with the stress phase and the not eating or drinking period you will finally be able to start bonding with your pet and its true personality will slowly emerge as it starts trusting you.
Bringing home a new chinchilla is difficult at the beginning and you have every right to be concerned about your pet’s health, but in most cases, these are just normal phases which your pet and you will have to deal with before you become best friends for life.
So, if your pet does not eat or drink water at first, just give it some time and monitor its mood and droppings, this is the safest way to know if everything is ok.