Chinchillas are social, intelligent, and highly sensitive animals with a wide array of complex behaviors. It can take careful observation to learn the meaning of their behaviors and vocalizations, but your chinchilla is communicating with you, even if you don’t realize it! Here are some common sounds and behaviors of chinchillas and what they mean:
Chinchillas, just like people, may chatter their teeth when frightened, and this is a sure sign that something is scaring your chinchilla. Don’t pick up your chinchilla, and look around to see if there’s anything going on in the environment that could be scaring her. Chinchillas especially dislike loud noises and sudden movements.
Chinchilla barks are high, squeaky noises that actually sound more like the honking of a children’s toy horn. While common wisdom is that these barks mean a chinchilla is in distress, chinchillas bark in a variety of contexts, and may bark when playing. They may also bark if they are lonely, bored, or to alert you to something they need like food or water. If you hear your chinchilla barking in the next room and there’s nothing going on that could be scaring him, it’s a sure sign that he is either bored and lonely or needs food or water.
This is one of the more unpleasant aspects of chinchilla ownership, and not all chinchillas engage in spraying. Those that do only spray when they feel completely backed into a corner and out of options. Spraying is a sign of absolute fear, so if your chinchilla tends to spray a lot it either means you have a fearful chinchilla or have created a highly stressful environment.
This is a softer sound and sounds much like the noise chinchillas make when eating food. If your chinchilla makes this noise when she’s not eating, it can be a sign of contentment or friendliness. This is a distinctly unthreatening and soothing noise, and baby chinchillas often make this sound to gain the attention of their mothers.
Chinchillas, just like dogs, can beg- for food, for attention, or to come out of their cages. Chinchillas beg by standing on their hind legs with their front feet pulled in and looking toward what they want. A chinchilla standing at the edge of her cage exhibiting this behavior is a chinchilla who wants to come out and play!
Chinchillas engage in two kinds of biting: exploratory and aggressive. Exploratory bites are soft bites to fingers, toys, and anything else a chinchilla can get her mouth on. If your chinchilla bites you in this manner on the finger, it’s not a threat– it’s a sign of interest and perhaps an invitation to play. Chinchillas bite other chinchillas in this way during play time. More aggressive biting is a bite strong enough, deliberate enough, and forceful enough to draw blood, and is a sure sign that your chinchilla is feeling stressed and overwhelmed. This kind of biting is often accompanied with the highly unpleasant spraying of urine that some chinchillas engage in when very afraid.
This guide is just a general, generic guide to the sounds and behaviors that most chinchillas exhibit from time to time. Careful observation of your chinchilla is likely to lead you to the conclusion that your chinchilla has a wide variety of complex behaviors. If you learn to carefully watch your chinchilla and pay attention to what she’s trying to tell you, you’ll quickly learn that she is very often communicating- or at least attempting to communicate- with you!