First and foremost, please always quarantine any new chinchilla(s) you adopt from your current chinchilla(s) for at least 30 days to prevent the spread of disease. This means keeping them in separate cages away from each other and no playtime together. Newly added chinchillas need a minimum of 2-4 weeks to adjust to their new surroundings. Bonding can be highly stressful and should be delayed until the new chinchilla has time to acclimate to their new home.
That being said, there are several ways to introduce two or more unfamiliar chinchillas. The two we recommend are the smoosh and side-by-side/split cage methods. Please note that if either of these are improperly performed, there is a high risk of fighting, injuries, and/or death. It is very important to follow these steps precisely.
When should I bond my chinchillas?
For chinchillas under 7 months old, they are still considered babies. Here are Sunshine chinchillas, we encourage our adopters to wait a few months before bonding a kit (baby) to an older adult. Young chinchillas are more prone to hypo/hyperglycemia due to their hormones not yet being as regulated as an adult. Hyperactivity, over-handling, playtime, and fighting can spike their blood sugar leading to possible health concerns.
We tend to play it safe and recommend starting the bonding process once the youngest chin is past 6-7 months. For adult animals, bonding can start immediately once quarantine is completed.
Does My Chin Need a Friend?
Chinchillas can be social animals, but they can also be very solitary. It really depends on the individual chin and their owner. They do not become depressed or lonely, nor will they exhibit self-mutilating behaviors being alone; a cage mate is not a requirement. Usually it is more for the owner's benefit than the chin.
However, this doesn't mean that chinchillas don't enjoy each other's company or should never have a friend. It is up to the owner to weigh the pros and cons of bringing in another chin. Take in mind, some chins do not want to bond with another. This is why we recommend having a full-sized second cage on hand in case the bonding does not work.
Should I Get An Opposite Sex Cage Mate for My Chin?
Chinchillas do not need an opposite sex cage mate, this can actually be more likely to cause fighting. Males and females will try to breed, if the female does not want to she may attack the male. These mating hormones lead to more possible fights than just having two same sex chins. Female chinchillas do not need to experience birth or motherhood, this is irresponsible and dangerous thinking.
Spaying and neutering is not a great option either as the risks far outweigh the benefits. Male pairs are not more prone to fighting, nor are female pairs. Same sex pairs are the best and safest option for pet homes.
Please note, we do not encourage the breeding or bonding of opposite sex animals that are unpedigreed, not show quality, and not from a reputable breeder. Chinchillas DO NOT need opposite sex cage mates. Chinchillas can live happily alone or in same sex pairs, trios, or colonies. Opposite sex chinchillas WILL breed, leading to potential complications such as genetic problems, incest, pregnancy/birth issues, and possible death if the animals are not show quality and not from a reputable breeder. Pairing opposite sex animals also runs the risk of fights breaking out due to hormones and mating, this can cause serious injuries and/or death.
What is the safest bonding method?
All bonding methods come with risks. However, the smoosh and side-by-side/split cage methods are the best according to many reputable breeders and rescues. Take in mind, nothing is 100% effective. Some animals may never bond, some may un-bond years down the line, and others may stay happily bonded forever. It all depends on each chinchilla, their personality, and their environment.
It is always a good idea to have a second full-size cage on hand in case of emergencies such as un-bonding. Cages we recommend for homes with multiple chinchillas are the two-story Critter and Ferret Nation style cages. These cages have a middle section that separates the top and bottom half, there is a hole in it to allow the animal to access each level. In cases of un-bonding, the access hole can be blocked off to keep the top and bottom separate. The chinchillas can then be housed separately and safely without a way to reach the other. The top and bottom halves can hold up to 2-3 adult chinchillas each without taking up a large area of space.
Long, Inconsistent Bonding Does Not Work
A strong bond must be developed quickly and consistently, while avoiding situations that will create a weak bond. Long, drawn out bonding methods do not work and are dangerous. Introducing chinchillas through playtime in a neutral area is not a good idea. It is far too inconsistent; each time you put away your chinchilla into their separate cages, the bonding must start all over again. Chinchillas do not pick up where they last left off; they need to be able to constantly see, smell, and hear the other chinchilla to develop a strong bond. Thus, you are restarting each time you separate them. This is the most common reason for chinchillas to un-bond and/or fight due to dominance. Frequently putting chinchillas together and then taking them apart will not allow them to determine who is dominant, this will lead to chasing, humping, biting, and potentially fighting to the death.
Allowing chinchillas to interact on an infrequent basis does not build a bond, this actually works against you. They do not remember each other every time you put them together and then separate them. Chinchillas are not like dogs or cats where they will remember a playmate or friend. They are a rodent and do forget, this is why prolonged infrequent introductions never work. Every time you take them apart and then reintroduce them, it is as if they are meeting all over again.
This is why the smoosh and side-by-side/split cage methods work MUCH better than infrequent introductions during playtime.
The Smoosh Method
The smoosh method is most commonly used by many reputable breeders and rescues. This involves using a very small carrier, only large enough to fit the animals in that are being bonded. You DO NOT want to have ANY space in the carrier, this is very important so they cannot move around to fight. Once they are in the carrier, they need to be taken on a 30 minute minimum car ride.
Why a car ride? Chinchillas need a small stressor to more easily seal the bond. A car ride is the most effective and safest way to induce that stress. After the drive has concluded, the chinchillas need to be left in the carrier for an additional 4 hours. Don't worry, they will be fine without water or food for this amount of time. Chinchillas are from the Andes Mountains, which is a desert environment. Thus, a few hours without water or food will not hurt them.
Once the 4 hours is up, the chinchillas can then be placed into a clean, neutral cage. Almost 99% of the time they will not fight or need to be separated. Although, there are some cases of chinchillas who just do not want to bond with another. This is rare but it does happen, this is why we recommend having a second cage just in case. Highly dominant or aggressive chinchillas may not be good candidates for bonding to other chins.
This bonding method should only need to be done once. Separating and reintroducing will break the bond and can result in fighting.
The two carriers below are small enough to smoosh 2-3 chinchillas. When smooshing 2 chinchillas, a towel or fleece must be placed in the carrier to fill in the gap of space. The smoosh method indicates the animals must be "smooshed" so close together they really cannot move around much. Instructional photos for the smoosh method can be found on RDZC Ranch's website, here.
The Side-by-Side, Cage Within a Cage, and Split Cage Methods
Our favorite method of chinchilla bonding is the side-by-side cage method; the cage within a cage and split cage methods work in the same way. This is done by placing two smaller cages next to each other so that each chinchilla can see, hear, and smell the other at ALL times. It is very important that each chin can constantly smell and interact with the other or this method will not work. Another way to do this is by putting a smaller cage inside a larger cage, or splitting a cage down the middle with wire (photos below).
Each chinchilla, or chinchillas if multiple are being bonded, must stay in one side of the cage. They must live this way for a minimum of 2 weeks to get used to each others scent and presence. You can alternate cages during this time, but it is not necessary. Alternating would mean that chinchilla A would be put into chinchilla B's cage, and chinchilla B would be placed in chinchilla A's cage. This can be done daily to further acclimate them to each other's smell. Do NOT place them in a cage together until the 2 weeks has concluded.
Once they have lived side-by-side in close proximity for 2 weeks, you can then place them together in a clean, neutral cage.
We prefer this method as it reduces fighting due to dominance and allows the chinchillas to be in constant contact with each other. If the smoosh method is done incorrectly, it can result in fighting and potential injuries. Although long, drawn out bonding methods do not work, this one does because the chinchillas are in constant contact with each other. This is the key to this method being successful, example photos are below.
If the chinchillas still fight or act aggressively towards one another once together, more time may be needed for them to become comfortable with one another. These methods can be used indefinitely to attempt to get the chinchillas to bond. The key is to make sure that they can always see and smell each other. This way, they will always know the other one is there and will not forget their scent.
Worst case scenario, you may need to be prepared to have another cage on hand if the chinchillas never bond. There are some chinchillas that do enjoy living alone, it is not uncommon for older established animals to not accept a younger cagemate. Although we hope for the best, it is always a good idea to also be prepared if it doesn't work out.
How do I know if my chins have un-bonded?
Chinchillas will determine who is dominant and may chase each other around for a bit to determine this. They may even hump each other as a means to do this, this does not indicate anything sexual. This is normal behavior they do to determine the hierarchy between them.
Fighting behaviors usually are chasing paired with barking, spraying, fur slipping, or drawing blood. If at anytime your chinchillas draw blood or seem to be attacking each other and pulling out fur, this may indicate fighting or un-bonding. Chinchillas can and will fight to the death if things become serious. This is why it is important to immediately separate if fighting is suspected.
Take in mind, once the chinchillas are separated for an extended period of time, they will no longer be bonded. This is why we encourage having an extra full-sized cage on hand for these circumstances. You may be able to attempt bonding the animals again at a later date, but this does not guarantee they will bond again.
Why Can't I Bring My Chin to Meet the New Chin Before Adoption?
Many times we get asked this question. Allowing chinchillas to briefly meet prior to adoption does not indicate whether they will get along or not. Many times we have had owners bring their chinchilla and put the newly adopted chin in with the other. Usually, the chinchillas will act fine upon first observation. But as soon as they are home, fighting ensues. Due to the stress of a car ride, the unknown environment and a new friend to meet, most chinchillas will be overwhelmed to the point that they will not act the way they would normally in their familiar home habitat.
This is why we don't encourage you to bring your already established chin on adoption day. It can cause unnecessary stress on both animals and usually does more harm than good. The best way to ensure they bond and get along is following the side-by-side or cage within a cage method. This way they can get used to each others smells and slowly integrate over a few weeks. This reduces both stress and aggression which will prevent fights breaking out and unnecessary tension.
**Photos for demonstrative purposes**