Exercise is seriously important to a chinchilla's health and well-being and they must be allowed to exercise outside of the cage environment for a minimum of 1-2 hours per night!
In the wild, chinchillas can exercise all they please, jumping with agility up to 6ft in the air and running at full speed but in captivity a chinchilla needs to be allowed to mimick this wild behavior by having freedom outside of its cage environment.
This basic aspect of chinchilla care is often overlooked by owners and a lot of chinchillas either remain in their cage or only come out to exercise sporadically. Some owners say they did not realize how destructive a chinchilla can be outside its cage environment until they have bought a chinchilla and got it home. This is bad ownership and should of been considered before buying a chinchilla.
A chinchilla that stays locked in its cage, will look at cage confinement as punishment and will start to acquire behavior problems such as Fur Chewing.
Without exercise a chinchilla will suffer from depression, feelings of fear, extreme anxiety and neurotic habits such as pacing in circles or somersaulting. A chinchilla will also loose mobility, suffer from lack of muscle tone and strength, which effects the ability to jump or run properly. A chinchilla in this condition will become mentally withdrawn and distressed at the injustice of being locked up with no exercise and deprived of their freedom.
Chinchillas cannot have too much exercise and will not run themselves to death.
A chinchilla does not run themselves to death in the wild and will not do so in captivity! Even if a chinchilla isn't on the move every minute the cage door is open they are still being offered their freedom - freedom to choose to exercise outside the cage or not, freedom to have some control over their life - to go where and when they want to. You will come to see the positive effects of regular exercise as your chinchilla's bonds with you and trusts you knowing they will be allowed exercise out of their cage environment regularly.
Chin Proofing a Room and Making It Chin Safe
You must ensure the room a chinchilla exercises in is chin-proof and safe. This means hide all electrical wires, block any small holes or crevices, remove pot plants, heavy ornaments and any other hazardous objects that can cause harm to a chinchilla. Get down on your knees and take a look around from the chinchilla's level before they exercise and remove anything that can cause harm or is too precious to be chewed.
A bathroom is not a good place to exercise a chinchilla although owners may think it is easy to clean it is seriously hazardous. There are small crevices behind toilets and sinks, which a chinchilla can easily get into, even if these are blocked up with items such as towels a chinchilla will work out how to move them.
If a chinchilla escapes into crevices they can either disappear into the cavity of your walls or stay put and take a long time to come out. There are also dangerous chemicals within a bathroom such as shampoo and washing agents, which if found by a chinchilla, will get chewed and be seriously detrimental to its health let alone the possibility of falling down the toilet!
The best room to offer a chinchilla to exercise in, will be a good size and large enough for a chinchilla to run, jump and bounce freely off the walls. There should be no shiny floor surfaces (laminate flooring or tiles) as this will not provide traction under the chinchilla's feet who will skid into the walls causing injury or hurt pride.
Keep the playroom door shut and if you live with others, place a notice on the door saying 'Chinchilla at Play' this will prevent a serious injury to your chinchilla if he's just behind the door and someone bursts in. It goes without saying really - but just incase - make sure windows are closed at all times whilst your chinchilla is out to exercise.
Chinchillas, especially females are frequently more domineering and territorial than males and you may notice your chinchilla (male or female) 'mark' an exercise room by urinating in the corner. This generally doesn't happen if their cage door is open but if this becomes a continued problem put a towel down where the chinchilla urinates and replace the towel daily.
It is also important to mention that if you have chinchillas that don't live together in a cage, they must be exercised outside their cages separately. Chinchillas are very territorial and will take the other one's presence as a threat, which will cause an attack and fighting. The same can sort of be said if you have chinchillas that live together in the cage - you may find one is more dominant when outside exercising so full supervision should always be maintained when chinchillas are allowed to explore and exercise outside their cage together.
Out of cage exercise is a recipe for trust, love and bonding between you and your chinchilla.
No chinchilla should have its exercise time sacrificed because of the time and supervision it takes to allow a chinchilla to exercise freely outside the cage or because of the destruction they make.
If a chinchilla gets bored or has nothing of interest in the room then he will start chewing the skirting boards, wallpaper, wall plastering, carpet edge and anything else it can find to file its teeth on.
Tip - To stop a chinchilla chewing on your carpet, place carpet tubes around the edges of the room so a chinchilla uses the tubes as tunnels and cannot get access to the carpet edge. Extra long carpet tubes can be picked up for free at local carpet wholesaler and sawn down to size as needed. Provide plenty of play items during exercise time to eliminate boredom and room destruction such as cardboard rolls and boxes, wooden houses/hideaways, cat towers for climbing, rocks/stones for curiosity and change the items around regularly to keep interest.
At first a chinchilla approaches a new exercise room with caution. Open the door and sit well back. The chinchilla will make a sudden dash out from the cage and will hide initially under a bit of furniture enabling him to 'suss' the rest of the room out from this location. He will then thoroughly explore everything, using his good sense of smell and functional vibrissae (whiskers) to monitor environmental information and make a mental note of where everything is - where there are places to hide and how to get to the higher levels.
A chinchilla will then go back around the exercise room testing out the objects by gnawing on them, seeing what ones are good for filing and testing out various textures. Keep a close eye on a chinchilla as when all his explorations are done this is the time boredom can set in and mischief occurs. A chinchilla will start to investigate all the tiny crevices it has come across and unless you have chin-proofed the exercise room properly a seriously problem can occur.
NOTE OF WARNING - If you change furniture around, which may not be fully noticeable, a chinchilla can easily crash into the object and suffer injury. Don't make subtle changes, when moving toys around, move all the toys so a chinchilla treads with a bit more caution at first.
Exercise time out of the chinchilla cage is your time to really interact and play with a chinchilla so turn off the TV and keep the room quiet with just the two of you.
Talk calmly to the chin and sit on the floor, which will allow him to come up and jump on you. If a chinchilla is nervous you can lie flat on the floor so you appear less threatening and within time, the chinchilla's inquisitive nature will cause him to approach you and begin to climb on you. You may even be privileged and get a chin rummage through your hair or start to nibble your toes and feet all of which will be a signal your chinchilla is grateful, happy, trusting and bonding with you.
Do not pursue a chinchilla when they are exercising but allow them to come to you - in fact the best thing to do is ignore them and read a book, the chinchilla's curiosity will bring him to you and you will soon find him flicking through the pages with you, eating them as he goes!
Some chinchillas aim for your feet when you walk around the room, especially if you wear socks or slippers, so tread carefully and always look where you are putting your feet! If you tread on a chinchilla it can be fatal! A chinchilla can suffer a broken spine, head injury or sudden death!
Use the chinchilla's exercise time as an opportunity to stroke and touch your chinchilla but don't grab them and hold them - remember this is THEIR free time and the last thing they want is to be held (unless they want to).
Playtime Is Over - So How Do You Get A Chinchilla Back Home?...