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CHINformative - Promoting Chinchilla Welfare
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Claire D

Exercising Chinchillas

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Exercise & Chinchillas

We all love to see our little furry friends bouncing about outside the confines of their cages - there is nothing nicer than watching a chinchilla explore it's environment with all the energy they possess. However exercise is an area where careful animal husbandry is essential. It is important to find out whether the chinchilla has been used to exercise in order to properly plan a safe exercise regimen.

A chinchilla who has come from an environment where they have not received free (i.e. out of their cage) exercise will not be physically capable of extended periods of exercise - imagine in humans terms it is a bit like expecting a couch potato to exercise madly for hours or run a marathon! A new chinchilla should be given only 10 minutes of exercise initially every few days - if there are no signs of exhaustion or symptoms of fitting then the time can be very slowly increased. Do not allow a new chinchilla to run free for hours at a time - this can have a deleterous effect on the chinchilla even if it is not apparent on the outside. Metabolic, cardiac, and pulmonary (heart and lung) demands on the body will vastly increase during exercise - it takes time for a chinchilla to build stamina.

There have been occasions where chinchillas have had serious fits and on rare occasions have died as a result of exercising when they were not physically able to tolerate it. It is far better to take things slowly and cautiously than to risk a chinchilla becoming exhausted.

Chinchilla Age & Exercise

It has been recommended that young chinchillas (under 6 months) are not exercised - this is because there seems to be a high correlation between hypoglacaemia fitting (fits due to lowered blood sugar levels) and juvenile chinchillas.

Personally I do not allow chinnies younger than 6 months to exercise outside their cage and after that age I allow them only short periods of time exercising - 5 minutes at a time and gradually build the time up over a period of months up to 30 minutes on cool/cold days. Once they reach 6 months, I allow them the same amount of exercise as my older chinchillas - this varies from individual to individual since some of my more "excitable" chinchillas have a tendency to run themselves ragged which is not beneficial to their long-term health.

Chinchillas who have reached what is considered an "older" age (8+) should also have their exercise restricted. In human terms, exercising a chinchilla over the age of 8 is a bit like asking your elderly grandparent to run a marathon (in a fur coat!). Gentle exercise is beneficial for older chinchillas but it should be approached with caution and restricted if necessary. Some older chinchillas will naturally pace themselves (and potter about sedately like my Monty) but it has been known for older chinchillas to exercise themselves to exhaustion.

Heat and exericse

Chinchillas who have been previously kept in an outside enclosure (such a s a shed) and are now living in an indoor environment will take longer to adjust to exercise due to the differences in temperature. The physical difference may only be a few degrees but the chinchilla will need to time to adjust to the new (warmer) environment. This is another reason for limiting exercise to short periods of time in the initial stages - chinchillas are not always sensible and will sometimes run until they drop (literally). Imagine asking someone to run about in a full fur coat (head to foot) and watch them sweat! Chinchillas cannot sweat so it is very difficult to cool them down when they over heat.

Do not allow any chinchilla to exercise/continue to exercise when their environment is warm or their ears are dark pink/red. This will certainly lead to heat exhaustion and possible fitting with potentially lethal effects.

Illness and Exercise

Chinchillas who are ill may require a drastic reduction or possible even a complete avoidance of exercise when they are ill and even while recovering from illness. Exercise will drain the body of resources which may be required by the chinchilla to stay alive, heal, and recover.

Chinchillas who's digestive system is upset and who's nutritional input is poor may "burn" scare energy and deplete their muscles and fat stores etc - this may be a reason why chinchillas who are allowed to exercise while recovering from dental/digestive problems continue to lose weight even though they are eating better. It is more beneficial to wait until the chin has fully recovered from their illness before allowing them to exercise - and then the build up should be gradual and over an extended period of time.

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