Cuddly chins?

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Jawramik

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As most of us who have chins or who have even just researched them a bit probably know, chinchillas are not normally known for being especially "cuddly" pets. They're typically very interactive and even affectionate with their humans, but most don't really appreciate being picked up, held, and cuddled by their human caretakers. Many can be conditioned to tolerate being picked up and handled when necessary, but it's generally not something most chins enjoy or seek out.

Until recently, I would have described my chin, Margaret, as being pretty typical in this regard. She'd run to the cage door when she saw me, she'd gladly accept pets and scratches, she'd take food, treats, and chew toys from my hand, and she'd even jump and climb on me, but if I made any move to grab her or pick her up or restrain her, she'd try to escape. I could manage to pick her up and handle her for brief periods when necessary (like transferring her between her cage and playpen), but it definitely wasn't something she enjoyed, so I tried to handle her briefly and infrequently, and only when necessary.

However, over the past couple months or so, that's been changing. A while back, she started jumping into my arms when I'd open her cage. At first she'd just stay there for a second or two before jumping back into her cage (this is all happening with me standing right at the open cage door, where she could escape from me by jumping back into her cage at any time), but over time, she started spending more and more time sort of loosely cradled in my arms. I could actually cuddle her a bit, and the amount of time she'd spend in my arms and her level of comfort being there gradually increased. It got to the point where I could even sort of pick her up in my hands and re-position her against my body without her becoming startled or uncomfortable.

So about a week ago, when she'd been comfortably being cuddled in my arms right in the open cage door for a few minutes, I decided to try an experiment. I made sure she was situated in such a way that I could safely tighten my grip on her to prevent her from getting loose if necessary, and I took a step back from the cage. She didn't panic or struggle. She just sort of looked around. So I took another step back from the cage. Margaret remained calm, so after a minute or two, I started slowly walking around the living room with her in my arms. I wasn't really holding onto her or restraining her, though I was keeping a very close eye on her body language and was ready to catch her at a moment's notice if I sensed she was thinking about making a break for it. She seemed very relaxed and content just looking around from her vantage point in my arms. She'd move around a bit to get better views of things, but never panicked or made any attempts to escape from me.

I've repeated this several days in a row now for about a week. Two or three times a day, I'll open up her cage, she'll jump into my arms, and we'll just walk around my apartment together. She's always very calm, relaxed, and curious to look around at stuff. Sometimes she'll get up on my shoulder, but mostly she just hangs out loosely cradled in my arms. She seems to especially like being up right under my chin. There have been a couple times that she's been startled by a loud noise, but rather than trying to escape from me, she just snuggled closer to me and hid her face in the crook of my elbow. Every so often when I have her out I'll go back in front of her open cage and give her the chance to jump back in the cage if she wants, but she usually just cuddles closer to me or jumps up on my shoulder rather than going back in her cage. In fact, it's sometimes a bit of a struggle to get her back in her cage when I actually need to put her away. She'll just keep trying to jump back into my arms or onto my shoulder, haha.

For those who don't know, I originally got Margaret back in October of last year as a rescue. She'd been purchased from a big chain pet shop by someone and then returned to the pet shop a few days later because she'd apparently bitten her first human. The pet shop declared her to be aggressive and unsellable, so they were planning to euthanize her. My previous roommate (who worked at the vet clinic this pet shop used for their animals) heard about the situation, and we offered to take Margaret off their hands as an alternative to putting her down. I instantly fell in love with her, and the rest is history. It's kind of crazy to me that a chinchilla who was once sentenced to death because she was perceived as being aggressive and bad-tempered has now morphed into being the ever-elusive and much-desired "cuddly chin" less than a year later. And it's not like I'm some sort of chinchilla-whisperer with any special skills or abilities. Margaret is my first chin, I'd never even touched a chinchilla before getting her. Point being, I didn't do anything special or out of the ordinary to make Margaret cuddly. All I did, besides making sure I was caring for her properly, was exercise a little patience and compassion with her. She's an incredibly sweet-natured animal who just needed someone to be patient with her and earn her trust.

Sorry this got so long, I just wanted to share this with some folks who might at least have some idea of why it's so exciting for me, haha.

What have your experiences been like when it comes to handling your chinchillas? What degree of handling will your chins allow or enjoy, and how long did it take for them to get to that point? I know that many new chin parents (myself included) experience some degree of anxiety and frustration around the issue of touching and handling their chins, because it can often take some time before a chin will even allow their human caretaker to touch them, let alone pick them up and handle them. Maybe this thread can be a place for us to share our experiences, worries, triumphs, questions, and advice on the subject of touching and handling our chins. And to be clear, I'm not trying to hold myself up as some sort of expert on the subject. I think I just kind of lucked out with a chin who has turned out to be very tolerant and affectionate with a little time and patience. But I'm curious to hear about other people's experiences.
 

Jawramik

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Here's a picture of Margaret and me (I'm not the greatest at selfies to begin with, and wrangling my phone with one hand and a chinchilla who wants to chew on the phone with the other hand made it extra challenging, but I did my best, haha):
 

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Chinmin

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Thanks for sharing a nice story about your adorable Margaret. How old is she now?
And thanks for sharing a picture too, it's still a good selfie by the way.:)
 

Jawramik

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Thanks for sharing a nice story about your adorable Margaret. How old is she now?
And thanks for sharing a picture too, it's still a good selfie by the way.:)
It's hard to know, since I'm not quite sure how old she was when I got her, but I'm guessing she was around 6 months old when she first got here, give or take a couple months (based on the fact that she wasn't a tiny kit, but she did gain some size and weight in the first few months I had her), so I'd guess now she's somewhere between a year and 18 months old. I can't believe how far she's come in such a short time!
 

Chinmin

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I thought she's way older. It's so amazing how she's become extraordinarily smart and affectionate among others. Or does age really matter?:) Thanks for your reply and hugs to Margaret.
 

Jawramik

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I thought she's way older. It's so amazing how she's become extraordinarily smart and affectionate among others. Or does age really matter?:) Thanks for your reply and hugs to Margaret.
My first-hand experience is admittedly limited, but from everything I've heard and read, it doesn't necessarily seem like age is a deciding factor in how cuddly or handleable a chin is. It seems like it's more a function of personality. Some are very affectionate and handleable from birth, while others are extremely skittish even into old age (though it seems like most chins fall somewhere in the middle between cuddly and skittish regardless of age). Some of it may also depend on their history....but Margaret's early experiences with humans were probably not so great, yet she came around relatively quickly, and I've heard of other chins from reputable breeders and wonderful forever homes who have only ever experienced kindness from people and are still extremely skittish and shy, so my impression is that it's mostly a function of individual personality. I've always found it interesting how animals' personalities often differ as much as humans' do.

It's probably worth mentioning that Margaret is really only friendly and affectionate to me. She's still pretty quick to spray urine at anyone else who tries to touch her (though she's never bitten anyone since she's been with me). She wasn't too keen on me at first either, and I took quite a few sprays to the face when we were first getting to know each other. But I managed to win her over in the end!
 

Chinmin

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It must be so amazing to have that extraordinary bond with Margaret. You pretty much earned her unconditional trust, and then she's in complete surrender?:) Thanks again for your reply.
 

Jawramik

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It must be so amazing to have that extraordinary bond with Margaret. You pretty much earned her unconditional trust, and then she's in complete surrender?:) Thanks again for your reply.
I'm not sure I'd say I have her unconditional trust so much as I've learned how to read and respect her boundaries.

The other day, I needed to do a deep clean of her cage, so I really needed her to be out of the cage in her playpen while I did that. Normally she likes going in her playpen, but for whatever reason, she wasn't into it that day (I think she was in heat, so that may have been a factor). I ended up having to force the issue a bit and grab her out of her cage, since she wasn't coming out on her own. I think she was a little peeved at me, because she was more stand-offish and less affectionate for a day or two after that. So I gave her space to sulk, and within a couple days she was back to her usual friendly self. She got over it relatively quickly, but she definitely let me know that she didn't appreciate being forcibly (albeit gently) removed from her cage. She really only likes being handled when it's on her terms, haha.
 

Amethyst

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I've had a variety of chins from cuddly to "no touchy". I think this is a good example of how you really do need to have patients and earn their trust. You have to wait until they come to you and make sure every step of the way you aren't pushing them. I don't know how often I've see people ask or want to just force themselves onto the chin to force them to, I guess just give up, and let them hold them, it doesn't work that way like it can with some other animals. With chins their trust is not easily given but can be quickly lost, which again I think is often a big issue some people have, they don't realize that it can often be one step forward and two (or more) steps back if you make a mistake.

The most cuddly chin I've had was Wally, and that was an unexpected one, someone left him in a box outside a privately owned pet store. We were friends with the owner and we were one of the few people around that had chins at the time so he called us to see if we would take him (we had taken in other "drop off" rodents from that store before and later another chin too). The pet store owner didn't sell animals as pets he didn't personally breed or order in from his suppliers, so it was either feed him to a snake or find him a home. They told us over the phone he was really wild and hard to handle, but as soon as he saw me he cuddled right into the shirt I was wearing like he always knew me. He wasn't really friendly with others, not like he was with me, he was my baby. I would come home from school and take him out and he would ride around on my shoulder around the house and while I did house work, hop around while I did homework, and even went into town with me a few times (I DO NOT advise doing this I was a kid and didn't really understand the danger I was putting him in), and would nap in my flannel shirt I wore as an over shirt (it was the 90s, lol).
 

Jawramik

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I've had a variety of chins from cuddly to "no touchy". I think this is a good example of how you really do need to have patients and earn their trust. You have to wait until they come to you and make sure every step of the way you aren't pushing them. I don't know how often I've see people ask or want to just force themselves onto the chin to force them to, I guess just give up, and let them hold them, it doesn't work that way like it can with some other animals. With chins their trust is not easily given but can be quickly lost, which again I think is often a big issue some people have, they don't realize that it can often be one step forward and two (or more) steps back if you make a mistake.

The most cuddly chin I've had was Wally, and that was an unexpected one, someone left him in a box outside a privately owned pet store. We were friends with the owner and we were one of the few people around that had chins at the time so he called us to see if we would take him (we had taken in other "drop off" rodents from that store before and later another chin too). The pet store owner didn't sell animals as pets he didn't personally breed or order in from his suppliers, so it was either feed him to a snake or find him a home. They told us over the phone he was really wild and hard to handle, but as soon as he saw me he cuddled right into the shirt I was wearing like he always knew me. He wasn't really friendly with others, not like he was with me, he was my baby. I would come home from school and take him out and he would ride around on my shoulder around the house and while I did house work, hop around while I did homework, and even went into town with me a few times (I DO NOT advise doing this I was a kid and didn't really understand the danger I was putting him in), and would nap in my flannel shirt I wore as an over shirt (it was the 90s, lol).
Definitely agree about the importance of being patient and interacting with the chin on their terms and at their pace. That said, I understand why some people get frustrated. Chins are just so darn cute and have literally the softest fur on the planet. It's hard to see an animal like that and NOT want to cuddle it. But as with any animal, our job as their caretakers is to put their needs and wellbeing above our own desires and expectations and learn to approach them, appreciate them, and love them on their terms rather than trying to bend them to our will. In the end, that makes for much more rewarding relationships and more meaningful bonds with our pets than just trying to dominate them. That's especially true of many "exotic" pet species that don't have the same level of domestication as something like a cat or a dog. Their wild instincts are more intact, and those instincts tell them that something with the size and strength of a human is potentially a dangerous predator. Any attempts to handle them by force or otherwise physically dominate them just reinforces that instinct that humans are something to fear.

Wally sounds incredible! ❤ That's amazing that he trusted you so instantly. Thanks for sharing.
 

Amethyst

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Wally sounds incredible! ❤ That's amazing that he trusted you so instantly. Thanks for sharing.
He really was, the bond I had with him was like no other, I think he was really a once in a life time pet, not just chinchilla. Sadly he passed just a few years after I got him, it's been about 20 years since he passed and I still kind of miss him. He had health issue likely from improper care before and after I got him since the info back then was not good (a lot of bad info on diet), and he had tooth issues. On a happier note, although he didn't like people other then me, and really hated one boyfriend I had (like actually charging at him barking and trying to bite), he really seemed like the guy I ended up marrying, so I'm glad they got to meet.
 

Binki

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I got him, it's been about 20 years since he passed and I still kind of miss him.
I was thinking this morning that the world is divided in two groups: those who have (or had) a chin and those who do not, because once you had one you are never the same again.

More than any other pet I know chins open for their owners a door to an uncharted and surprising universe. Margaret, little by little, opened a world of amazing affection, my chin, who does not do affection (probably thinks it is not manly), let me explore a world of unexpected intelligence: his ability to learn the meaning of words, to invent games, to communicate his wishes using different and often surprising means, including making a racket with his cage's ramp.

You take a chin home and they take you to their magic kingdom.
 
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Jawramik

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He really was, the bond I had with him was like no other, I think he was really a once in a life time pet, not just chinchilla. Sadly he passed just a few years after I got him, it's been about 20 years since he passed and I still kind of miss him. He had health issue likely from improper care before and after I got him since the info back then was not good (a lot of bad info on diet), and he had tooth issues. On a happier note, although he didn't like people other then me, and really hated one boyfriend I had (like actually charging at him barking and trying to bite), he really seemed like the guy I ended up marrying, so I'm glad they got to meet.
We can only ever do the best we can with the information available to us at the time. I've kept reptiles since I was a kid, and I'm pretty sure one aspect of my husbandry for my first bearded dragon is ultimately what killed him....but it was considered the best practice at the time.

That's awesome that Wally got to meet your husband, and that he approved. It's funny how animals are often excellent judges of character. One of my cats is a better judge of character than I am. The worst roommates I've had were always the ones she refused to be in the same room with. 😂

It seems like it's pretty common for chins to be sort of one-person pets, where they'll bond really strongly with a single person and not really have much use for any other humans. I always have to warn guests who come over not to stick their fingers in Margaret's cage, or even to put their face too close to her cage, because she'll spray them. Learned that the hard way. 🤣
 

Jawramik

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I was thinking this morning that the world is divided in two groups: those who have (or had) a chin and those who do not, because once you had one you are never the same again.

More than any other pet I know chins open for their owners a door to an uncharted and surprising universe. Margaret, little by little, opened a world of amazing affection, my chin, who does not do affection (probably thinks it is not manly), let me explore a world of unexpected intelligence: his ability to learn the meaning of words, to invent games, to communicate his wishes using different and often surprising means, including making a racket with his cage's ramp.

You take a chin home and they take you to their magic kingdom.
Yeah, chins are pretty magical creatures. I've struggled with anxiety for most of my life, and while I've always found it therapeutic to work with virtually any animal, I've discovered that interacting with Margaret specifically soothes my anxiety in a way that no other animal ever has. I can't put my finger on exactly why that is, but whenever I'm feeling anxious, spending time with Margaret makes me feel better almost instantly. And it's been that way since before she was affectionate and cuddly. Even when she'd barely let me touch her, there was just something about being around her that put me in a good headspace.
 
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