You let your chinchilla out for some exercise and playtime while you clean their cage and prepare dinner. After about thirty minutes or so, your chinchilla has gone back into his cage to rest, and you wonder if it was enough.
Should you let them out to play more later? Thirty minutes is plenty of time for most chinchillas, but younger chinchillas may be better off with only fifteen minutes, and some very energetic chinchillas may need one hour.
However, there is much more to chinchilla playtime than just age. Read on for details.
Why is playtime important to chinchillas?
Like us humans, chinchillas also get physical and mental health benefits from playtime. It seems like a simple concept, but there is much more to playtime than just exercise.
Even a thirty-minute session of play and exploration will release stress, alleviate boredom, stretch muscles, and burn excess energy.
Mental Health Benefits
Playtime encourages creativity and exploration. It alleviates boredom, creates a routine, and keeps the mind sharp. This leads to a pet who learns quickly and is easier to train.
Chinchillas can also get neurotic behaviors if under-stimulated. Things like fur chewing, cage chewing, and biting can occur.
Daily play and exploration are a great way to make them less likely to begin engaging in neurotic behaviors and mitigate the damage they can do to a chinchilla’s physical health.
Exploring a chinchilla-proofed area is essential and should be encouraged daily. If time and temperature allow, having a morning and evening play session can also be beneficial.
Physical Health Benefits
Physical health is as important as mental health. Playtime and exercise come with all sorts of physical benefits for chinchillas.
As hindgut fermenters, colic can be a life-threatening problem for chinchillas.
Playtime, and all the hopping and happiness that ensues, help keep the chinchilla’s gastrointestinal tract moving and healthy.
Playtime and exercise also help keep muscles and joints in good condition. Even in an appropriately-sized or larger-sized cage, there is still limited space.
Stretching those muscles and joints to their full potential is a lot more difficult in a cage and less enjoyable to the chinchilla.
Along with benefits to the digestive system and muscles, regular playtime and exercise can help maintain ideal body weight.
Chinchillas do like to eat, and most are big fans of treats, so regular exercise and playtime can help burn any excess calories they may consume to keep them in good shape.
What determines how long a play session should be?
A chinchilla’s age must be considered when determining how long to let a chinchilla play.
Young chinchillas under 6 months old have a harder time regulating their body temperature. It is recommended to observe them for any abnormal behaviors or signs of overheating.
Young chinchillas will also get tired quicker than adults due to lower stamina. For most chinchillas under 6 months of age, 15 minutes of playtime daily is usually enough.
For chinchillas over 6 months of age, playtime can range from 15 minutes daily to up to 2 hours. For most adult healthy chinchillas, 30 minutes of active playtime daily will be enough.
Body Condition and Health
Body condition should be considered as well for playtime length. A chinchilla who is overweight, too thin, sick, or elderly should still have the option for playtime.
However, the time should be limited to 15 minutes, and they shouldn’t be forced to be active.
Instead, they should be allowed to explore independently under careful supervision and return to their cage when they are tired.
Weather and Humidity
As discussed above, the ideal temperature for a chinchilla’s environment is between 50- and 70-degrees Fahrenheit.
However, it is essential to note that humidity also plays a part in ambient environmental requirements. If the humidity is higher, the ambient temperature needs to be lower.
Merck Veterinary Manual has an excellent “rule of thumb” involving some simple math.
If the ambient temperature measured in degrees Fahrenheit is added to the percentage of humidity, the resulting number should be lower than 150.
If the ambient temperature in a room is 70 degrees Fahrenheit and the humidity is 37%, the total would be a score of 103. Plenty safe for the chinchilla.
However, if the same 70-degree Fahrenheit room at 78% humidity, such as in Florida, the final score of 148 would approach the limit of 150.
These values need to be considered when deciding how long to allow a play session to be. Play areas should have areas for a chinchilla to cool down, such as a tile floor or even just a slab of tile or marble.
Though there are products on the market specifically for this, like the “Chin-Chiller”, a ceramic floor tile from a hardware store will do just fine.
If needed, a fan may be used to cool a room. If possible, a ceiling-mounted fan is a better option than a pedestal or box fan for safety reasons.
What happens when a chinchilla plays for too long?
The biggest danger with excessive amounts of playtime or exercise is overheating.
A chinchilla’s plush coat is excellent at insulating and retaining heat. While this is great for winter, it can prove deadly in summer.
It’s crucial to ensure the designated play area is in the suitable temperature range of 50F to 70F for the chinchilla’s comfort and safety.
There are ceramic tiles and marble slabs that can be placed around the play area for the chinchilla to rest on and help reduce their body temperature.
Chinchillas who play too long can get tired and injure themselves. They may try to make a big jump onto a surface and misjudge the landing,
injuring themselves in the process. Chinchillas have very small bones, and a fall can easily break or sprain a limb.
What happens if chinchillas don’t get enough playtime?
We have discussed the vast benefits of chinchilla playtime, but what happens if they don’t get enough? Unfortunately, some negative behaviors can start to happen.
Stress and Anxiety
Stress and anxiety are a problem for chinchillas. Because they are prey animals, they tend to naturally be a little high-strung.
Minimizing stress and anxiety are very important to chinchilla health. Many things can increase their stress levels: noise, smells, other animals, handling, new people, etc.
Confinement can also be stressful. Chinchillas are naturally curious and intelligent animals.
Exploring their environment is important to them, and being unable to explore and play can lead to stress and anxiety.
It is always important to watch for the signs of stress and anxiety that manifest as abnormal behaviors like fur chewing and pacing back and forth.
Chinchillas will bond with their owners. They look forward to interacting with owners, and they like routine.
Not being able to interact with their owners and the world outside their cage can cause them to become depressed.
Having a daily play session at the same time each day satisfies their cravings to explore while keeping a routine.
Chinchillas who cannot release stress by playing and exploring can become frustrated and hostile. They may resist being handled or bite their owners.
How to play with your chinchilla
There are many ways to play with your chinchilla.
Using toys, treats, training exercises, and even just spending time together watching TV or sitting on the floor while your chinchilla plays will encourage bonding and the pet-owner bond is what being a pet owner is all about.
Chinchillas like toys, especially the ones they can chew on. Chinchillas are power chewers, and anything they encounter is fair game.
Therefore, toys must be chosen carefully. Untreated wood blocks like the kind made for birds, pressed blocks of timothy hay, and willow balls are all fun toys for chinchillas.
Chewing is entertaining for chinchillas and necessary for maintaining dental health since their teeth never stop growing.
Exercise wheels and exercise balls can be an excellent way to get a lot of energy out.
There are a couple of different types of exercise wheels, with the “flying saucer” style wheels being safer due to not having spaces chinchilla feet can fit through.
Exercise balls are also a popular choice for chinchilla owners since they give the chinchilla more ability to roam without threat from other pets in the household.
There is a downside to balls, though. The chinchilla must still be monitored while in the ball to ensure they don’t overheat or injure themselves.
Hiding places are necessary and very enjoyable for chinchillas.
They can be as simple as a single cardboard or PVC tube or a series of tubes placed near each other to create a maze-style playground for them to explore.
Hammocks and tents can also be fun for chinchillas if care is taken to ensure they don’t chew them.
No matter the assortment of toys a chinchilla has, it is important to rotate them out regularly.
Changing the assortment of toys in their environment regularly helps prevent boredom with each individual toy.
Time to explore their surroundings outside their cage is essential for a chinchilla.
Their comfort with their surroundings helps reduce their stress level and familiarize them with the sounds and smells they encounter daily. It also satisfies their curiosity and lets them exercise their mind.
Chinchillas are intelligent creatures and benefit from some training. Many are food motivated and will learn their name and simple tricks.
Many will hop onto their owners’ hands to be removed from the cage. They can even learn to go back into their cage when tired and finished with their playtime.
Quality Time with Owner
Quality time spent with their owner helps with the bond between owner and chinchilla.
Quality time can be as elaborate playtime with treats and a maze or just hiding in a pocket in their owner’s hoodie while the TV is on.
Each chinchilla will have their own preferred way of spending time with its owner, and as the owner and chinchilla get to know each other, they will determine the best approach.