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Having Fun with Your Chinchilla

By: Talia Starkey

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The chinchilla's thick luxurious coat and pint-sized round body amount to false advertising: This is not a pet you can cuddle up with. Chinchillas are far too active – too interested in their surroundings, too jumpy and too energetic – to make good lap pets. Yet chinchilla owners learn to enjoy their pets' eccentric social behaviors and amusing antics.

Having fun with your chinchilla means participating in his cleaning and exercise regimen and letting him explore a room in your house once you know each other well.

Bath Time Is Fun Time

If you've ever doubted your chinchilla's gymnastic abilities, take a close look at him during bath time. Chinchillas love to roll and flip in the fine powdery dust marketed as "chinchilla dust," which is actually a powdered concrete by-product, at your local pet store. The dust penetrates your chinchilla's thick coat to soak up oils and clean him better than water could. In fact, you should never get your chinchilla wet.

Give your chinchillas a large flat-bottomed container that has two inches of dust at the bottom to bathe in. Bread pans and cat litter bins work well, but large goldfish bowls and gallon jars are better because they have high walls that can keep your chinchilla from showering the floors with dust when he cavorts in the bath. Your chinchilla would wiggle his way happily through the dust every day if he could, so try to make him happy and offer a dust bath for 15 minutes to an hour daily. You can reuse the dust several times if you remove the bin from the cage after each bath session.

Pick His Toys Wisely

Baths are entertaining for chinchillas and owners alike, but they only last five minutes out of the day. Chinchillas need playthings to keep them busy the rest of the night. Every chinchilla cage should have a hideout for the chinchilla to sleep in, but it should also be equipped with other objects for your chinchilla to munch on and move around.

Breeders recommend wooden blocks to chew and clean dry cardboard pieces (like toilet paper rolls) to destroy.

You can give your chinchilla a carpet remnant to sit on and watch him redecorate the cage by moving the rug around and flipping it over. Do this when your chinchilla can be supervised to ensure that he does not chew or try to eat pieces of the carpet remnant. If he does try to eat or chew on it - remove it.

Tree branches also make good chinchilla toys, but choose a mulberry branch or a pear tree branch over cherry wood or a branch from a citrus tree.

Time Out

Most chinchilla owners agree that their pets are happiest when they get some supervised time outside of their cages. Chinchillas can't be walked like dogs, but they do like to scamper around and explore.

Just make sure that the room you pick for your pet's romp is chinchilla-proof: Remove breakable objects, block spaces behind cabinets, close the windows and make sure the cats and dogs are outside. Lift electric cords off the floor and move your household plants into the next room. It's important that you never give your chinchilla "free rein" to explore parts of your house without your direct supervision. Your furniture will suffer and your pet may be hurt or even disappear.

You should not let your chinchilla out to exercise until you've built up a good rapport with your pet. Scary pursuits and captures are not soon forgotten, and your chinchilla will distrust you if you have to chase him around the room to get him back in his cage. Tempting him back into the cage with a raisin, the chinchilla's all-time favorite treat, is a much better idea.

Chinchillas are creatures of habit. They are most willing to play if you approach them at the same time every evening. As with most small animals, the more a young chinchilla is handled and played with, the more social a pet he will be at maturity.

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