Can Chinchillas Be Trained? Do they Scratch?

Mary writes:

I am getting a silver colored chinchilla from a breeder. I wanted to know if chinchillas run too fast when you let them out of their cage such that you can't catch them to put them easily back in to their cage. I also wanted to know if they scratch you. Can you train them to go to the bathroom in a certain place like a cat with a litter box? Will they go to the bathroom wherever when they're not in their cage or will they go back in their cage to go?

Thanks for your help.

Our response to Mary:

Chinchillas are pretty quick on their feet and evading capture. They also like to bounce off of walls to quickly change directions. Very entertaining. Back to your question. You will have trouble catching them if they are in a large room. At first, it is best to have them run around in a small room until they become comfortable with you. If you chase them every night they will probably become afraid of you all the time. It's also a good idea to let them out of the cage at the same time of day and put them back in at the same time of night. After doing this for a while our chinchillas run in to the cage on their own.

The don't scratch and rarely bite. Ours only bite when our fingers have the smell of raisins (their treat).

They can't be trained to use a litter box like a cat. They will do "number 1" in a litter box with shavings in their cage, but "number 2", which is dry and pellet-like, will happen all over the place.

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28 Comments

  1. I got my chinchilla 2 days ago and i think i hold him to much at first.. Do you think that is going to make him not like me or anything?

    • Elisabeth, I think that is great!! Most chinchillas dont like be held. But, if yours allows you to hold him without much of a struggle, then Im sure this will help you and your chinchilla to bond very deeply....Good Luck...K

  2. I have trained my Chin to pee in a square cake pan I use as a litter box. He uses this both in his cage and during play time in the bathroom. But poop seems to be another matter (although he seems to do it out of his cage a lot less now) - you just have to live with little poops here and there. As for getting them back in the cage, if my Rocky is being uncorporative and won't jump on my shoulder (which is how I trained him to come out of the cage and go back in it) then I use the dust bath method like Sharon suggests, works every time. Once back in the cage no matter what method, I always give him a treat.

  3. Chris Celnar

    Christine, The droppings will never step and it has nothing to do with being nervous. It's just they way chinchillas' digestive systems work.

  4. We recently got a chinchilla. He is 1yr old. I would love to let him run around for a little while but it is very hard since he does leave droppings EVERYWHERE. Is this b/c he is still nervous? Will he stop if I continue to let him out? I have been letting him out in our bathroom lately for a short while.Do people who let them out just deal with the droppings everywhere or are they trained to go back in their cages to poop? Christine

    • Christine, Just as Danielle said, this is the nature of chinchillas. Its pretty hard to train them to use a litter pan. If you love your chinchillas you will have to accept that they use the bathroom everywhere! Just make sure you have a dustbuster to cleannup their messes. My chinchillas are so adorable that I accept their messes and clean up behind them. And i have it really hard! My chinchillas have their own room, no cages, so Im cleaning up every evening in the room. I allow my chinchillas to have their freedom, because I feel they are happier and need lots and lots of exercise. But, they do try to chew on everything. I have to chinchilla proof their room so that they dont chew on things that could harm them. Enjoy your chinchilla, Christine, they are very special pets.........Kim

  5. Although I have never had a chinchilla intentionaly scratch me, they do have nails. If they decide to use you as a launch pad you may get scratches from where the jumped off, or landed. They are not deep and you can hardly feel them, but I get them all the time. Also to anyone with a chinchilla run around ball. They can be VERY VERY dangerous. A chinchilla can overheat very quickly inside one of those balls, they have terrible ventilation. A friend on another forum recently lost her chinchilla due to over heating while playing in the ball. Also I have seen pictures of chinchillas with missing toes because the got them trapped in the "ventilation slots" and the chinchillas toe got ripped right off. Not a pretty sight. Run around balls are just not safe!

    • Chinchillas don't scratch on purpose, they just are used to using their nails to grip things so that they don't fall.

  6. Hi Micki I just found this web site tonight, so I'm not sure how old your post is, but I will share my secret with you to get Chins back into their cage. (You are correct to worry about chasing her, undoing the trust. Chins, in my experience, seem to have great memories and once you've scared or stressed them, it takes a while to rebuild the trust.) The secret to getting a Chin to do something i.e. going back into their cage is bribery! HaHa. My Chin does not have unlimited access to her bath, and if there's anything a Chin loves almost as much as raisins...it's their bath. So she free runs in the Chin-proofed bedroom with me each evening, and when I'm ready for her to return to her cage, I simply place her bath on the floor next to me. Sometimes it takes a minute or 2, but that's about as long as she can resist. Once she's hopped into the bath, I slowly and steadily lift it to her cage door (keeping my hand over the opening of the bath of course). When she's done with her bath, she hops out into her cage and promptly begs for her reward for being a good girl...a banana chip. She's happy and stress free and I'm ready for bed. By the way...my Chin is in love with our Seeing Eye dog and vice versa. And in case you find that hard to believe....here's a link to their slide show. While this is extremely rare and not something I would recommend others try....it works for them! Enjoy!

  7. Micki. The only thing I can say she can learn it does take some time she needs to get use to her new home as well give her time and you will see that she could be free and return to her cage when she does come back to her cage to drink or eat give her a treat they love raisins. My 3 chinchilla run free they know when they did to go back to the cage. The run free at night and when they know I am up they come out and I give the a raisins then they go in the cage. I never lock the cage up unless I am going out. But this is been this life since day one. Chin are so smart they do learn just give her some time and you will see. MY chinchillas are all so letter trained that took me six monthes to do so things do come to them it just takes time. I hope this helps you in some why if you need any thing else just let me know.

    • what kind of litter do you get?

    • Phi, I would love to know how you litter trained your chins. Please tell me your technique in getting them to go to a litter pan. I commend you on being able to do this!! You've got to be pretty special to get them to accept a litter pan!....Kim

  8. I need a little help... I'm taking care of a friend's chinchilla while she studies abroad for a little over a year. The chinchilla is well trained to be handled, not run away, and responds to her name. I wanted to give her outside of the cage excersize time, but she will not return no matter what I try. As far as I know, she's never been trained to run outside an enclosure, but rather an excersize ball. Her cage is very large but unforunately the door is too far from the floor to have some sort of ramp to run up. I've tried small locations (such as a bathroom) on a schedule to maybe ween her into getting used to having outside play for x amount of time. However, no matter what I try she has a flight response when time is up. I'd really like for her to have the enrichment of explorative freeroam play, but am afraid of undoing her trust in me. I've had many free-roaming house rabbits in my lifetime, the chinchilla is perplexing me though. Anything that I can do to have her return when play time is over? Or is this a futile effort to begin with? Thank you for your time!

    • My chinchilla can't resist climbing up the tubes from carpet rolls, I have several and one of her cages (yes she's spoiled) is on top of a chest of drawers so I put the tubes on an angle leading into the entrance of the cage. I've never tried to toilet train her, but she has chosen a spot in her cage herself to wee in. The poo is so dry and inoffensive that it can just wait until I feel like using the vacuum.

    • Try putting her dust bath in her cage. If she doesn't go to it after seeing it, try putting the dust bath in front of her. When she gets inside, simply lift the cage into her cage. She probably won't mind too much. My chinchilla can't ignore a good dust bath!

    • Micki, Try the trick that Sharon uses. Either get the chinchilla to get into its bath house, then cover the hole un til you can get it in the cage. Or, try tempting it with a snack such as a raisin or a banana chip, by placing it inside the cage. I guess Im lazy, I had the same problem. So, I chinproofed a rrom for mine and they dont live in a cage. They can play all they want. They are happy chins. This works for me, cant say that is right for other chinchilla owners........Kim

  9. I have three chinchilla one of them is letter trained took me 6 months but he runs around the house. Hes never in his cage unless I am not home. I just got the other two so working on letter training them all so. I leave the cage open all day so he can go and come as he please. Hes food and water bottle in the cage so when he needs water or food he goes in his cage. But for me to do this I had to but all my wires in snake skin it works really well, I did this in case he ever tied to chew the wires. Then next thing I have wooden toys on the floor for him to chew. MY house has to be spotless every day nothing can be around its like safe haven for him here. To train you chinchilla to do what I did take months but in the long run it worth it. MY chinchilla all comes when you call him he will come right up to me to give him a treat pet him on the head. but he does like being held only for a few seconds but that how chinchilla are.

  10. Chris Celnar

    Mike, Have you read our article on training chinchillas?

  11. why is it that my chinchilla is always scared of me and he has bitten me once,he makes a bark like noise when i try to touch him i have had him for already 4 months.how do i get him to be nice

  12. My chinchilla is a adult can i still buy him a wheel and would he use it?

  13. Chris Celnar

    Valerie, Males are generally friendlier than females. Of course, there is variation within each gender. As for trainability, it's best to assume that you won't be able to train a chinchilla. They don't fetch, sit, or rollover. You'll be lucky if you can get them to sit still for a while.

  14. I am trying to do as much research as I can before I decide on owning a chinchilla so I was wondering if you can tell me if there is a difference in temperaments and trainability between females and males? Thanks!

  15. Chris Celnar

    Christine, We welcome your feedback. We'll have to agree to disagree on this one though. We are, however, happy to hear that you watch them at all times while they are in the ball. Some people think the ball is an excuse for not paying attention meaning that that they may not respond to trouble fast enough.

  16. I only have only experienced two chinchillas so far (one I own the other I babysat for), but I still disagree with what you said about the exercise ball. The two chinchillas I've seen have LOVED it and when I put in back in their cage (to allow them to get out of the ball) sometimes they won't get out of the ball, they'll wait for me to close it and start running around again! It is very important though to watch them the whole time to make sure that if they do pee you take them out right away and clean the ball.

  17. Chris Celnar

    Debra, Exercise balls are bad in our opinion. We don't recommend you use one. Overheating in one is common. They're also stressful to chinchillas.

  18. I just bought a 13 inch exercise ball for my chinchilla and introduced it to him. I was cleaning his cage while watching him from afar and seemed to be enjoying it. When I was done and picked up the ball to return him home, he immediately went to his bath and started eating after. Then I noticed the ball had like 50 pieces of stool and evidence of urine. Is this normal behavior for a chinchilla to do that being it was his first time in a ball or did he get stressed out? Also will he get back in the ball another time if it was stress he experienced?

  19. Chris Celnar

    Debra, Sure it may be better if a chinchilla gets a wheel when they're young, but there's no reason they won't start using it even when they're older. It might take a little extra time if they're older, but they'll eventually figure it out.

  20. My question is about the exercise wheel. I heard on another web site that it's better to start the chinchilla on the wheel at a very young age or it will not get on it when it is an adult. Is this true for all chins. My chinchilla is 6 months right now but have not bought a wheel yet and will in the future.

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