Why Are Chinchillas Hyperactive? Is Popcorning Really A Thing??!!


Chinchillas make awesome pets. They are generally playful, friendly, and can often become a bit excited and hyperactive. If you’ve been wondering why your chin has been bouncing off the walls, we can help, so read on.

Chinchillas appear hyperactive when they’re excited and happy, and bouncing off the walls or ‘popcorning’ is normal behavior for these active creatures. However, they can also show neurotic hyperactive behaviors, such as circling and pacing if they are bored or stressedOpens in a new tab..

Because each chinchilla has its own unique personality and environment, the reasons for its hyperactive behavior may differ.

Understanding typical chinchilla behavior and possible stress factors will help you properly take care of your chins and decrease hyperactivity related to stress or boredom. Then you’ll know your popcorning chinchilla is doing it because they’re happy, and excited to be alive.

Is Hyperactivity Normal Behaviour?

It’s absolutely normal for chinchillas to be hyperactive, and this mainly happens during the early morning and late evening hours of the day. Unfortunately, they can also appear hyperactive if they’re feeling stressed, or bored.

Originating from the Andes Mountains and South American countries like Bolivia, Argentina, and Peru, chinchillas are adorable furry rodents that haven’t always been ‘chilled out’.

Ordinarily, they’re skittish animals due to being a prey species in the wild, having to dodge predators like snakes, big cats, wild dogs, and birds of prey. They have to be constantly on the lookout for nearby predators, and this perpetual alert state makes them appear hyperactive, always ‘on the go’.

Since domestication, however, they can relax and chill out knowing they’re safe from predators. This results in some chinchillas bouncing around with happiness, and burning off some of their excess energy

What Does A Hyperactive Chinchilla Look Like?

As with people, each chinchilla has its own unique personality. Some chinchillas are more inclined to be energetic and wild, while others are more mellow and prefer to relax on the side-lines. Chinchillas show hyperactive behavior in several ways, and for many reasons.

Some hyperactive behaviors include:

  • Making happy little noises like grunting, squeaking, and chirruping, or general chuntering. See this postOpens in a new tab. for more ‘happy noises’
  • Barking – this is a sign that they’re very stressed. Have a listen here Opens in a new tab.to a chinchilla barking
  • Bouncing from side to side in their cage – having the ‘zoomies’
  • Running in circles around the cage, possibly with another chin chasing them – this is a stressful situation
  • Jumping into the air or ‘popcorning
  • Chewing obsessively
  • Literally jumping off the walls of your house when they’re out and exercising
  • Sometimes they’ll bounce into each other with joy – almost like they can’t contain themselves (watch very young boys in the playground, they’re often the same!)

Hopefully you’ll see some of the fun behaviors, and will know you have yourself a happy, energetic chinchilla.

Kits Are More Hyperactive Than Adult Chinchillas

Similar to toddlers, baby chinchillas under six months of age, called kits, are more active than their adult peers. However, individual chinchilla energy levels are more to do with how they feel versus their age.

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While kits may be pretty hyper, the transition from their mother to their own cage, or a cage with other chins, may cause them to show stress-based hyperactive behavior.

Typically, this transition is around the 8- to 12-week-old mark, and should be watched with care, as some chins may need more help adjusting to their new environment (it can be hard leaving home for the first time!).

As chinchillas get older, they’ll not do much more than sleeping and eating, so don’t be surprised if their level of hyperactivity also fades, even when they’re out and supposed to be exercising.

Why Are Chinchillas So Noisy When You’re Trying To Sleep?

You may have noticed that it is hard to get some shut-eye when your chinchilla is constantly moving around in its cage at night. This is because chinchillas are crepuscular, meaning they sleep during parts of the day and night, and are usually most active during the twilight hours between dusk to dawn.

Chinchillas are not exactly nocturnal, which would mean sleeping all day and being up all night, but are instead awake during parts of both the day and night.

This sleeping schedule is linked to helping wild chinchillas avoid being eaten by nearby predators, as well as the flexibility to find food when most other animals are sleeping.

They’re generally also awake during the early morning or late evening hours, and this coincides with the cooler parts of the day, which keeps chinchillas from becoming overheated (due to their incredibly dense, thick fur).

Other crepuscular animals include domesticated cats, hamsters, and skunks.

Do Chinchillas Get Easily Bored Or Stressed?

Chinchillas are highly intelligent creatures, and can easily become bored or stressed without any mental or physical stimulation. This may cause them to exhibit unusual or neurotic behavior to help them burn off pent-up both physical and mental energy.

These hyperactive behaviors can be expressed as pacing in circles, somersaulting, biting their fur, or obsessive chewing.

Chinchillas aren’t meant to sit in a cage for hours without much, if any, interaction or play.

This doesn’t mean that chinchillas aren’t fun pets to have — because they are! — it just means that these friendly critters are naturally inclined to be more active, so they require some attention, an enriched environment (with lots of toys inside their cage), and outside-the-cage exercise.

Chinchillas are naturally heavy-duty chewers but if your chinchilla’s cage is bare, with no toys, or they don’t receive much attention from you, then look for signs of this becoming an obsessive behavior (happening over and over again in the same place).

In contrast, your chinchilla may bite the cage bars, water bottle, or other objects in the cage if they’re feeling rambunctious. This doesn’t mean they’re unhappy or on-edge – some chinchillas are just destructive!

We’ll discuss ways you can help your chin reduce their hyperactivity due to boredom or stress in just a moment, and most of them are great opportunities to bond with your chinchilla.

Chinchillas Respond To Their Environment

Environmental stress may cause your chinchilla to become more hyperactive because it is receiving too little or too much stimulation. You’ll need to find the right balance of activity in your household, or their immediate environment, so it doesn’t cause your chin to become stressed.

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So, check your household, and the room your little chin stays in. Is it underactive, moderately active, or overactive? Is it noisy, what times of day is it noisy, what types of noise is it?

Check your space for constant foot traffic or loud noise, as well as other pets that could stress your chinchilla out by wanting to be nearby. Think of your intimidating large dogs, or your curious cat.

An underactive environment will leave your chinchilla relatively ignored with little to do or play with. No stimulation, no sounds, just a quiet house or room.

Some older chins find this restful and are glad of the peace and quiet, but most young chinchillas are highly sociable and require sounds, and activities to keep them entertained and happy.

On the flip side, an overactive environment can really stress out your chinchilla and cause them to show hyperactive, neurotic behaviors.

You want to aim for a moderately active environment for your chin, one that pairs a variety, sounds, a quiet television to watch at night (yes, it’s healthy for chinchillas to watch TV), and out-of-the-cage bonding time with you. Add in some quiet time for daytime sleep, and your chinchilla should be feeling healthy and balanced, with no stress-based hyperactive behaviors.

Signs Of A Happy Chinchilla

A happy chinchilla is easy to recognize, so take it as a good thing if your chinchilla suddenly leaps in the air (they can jump up to six feet), does a backflip, or begins bouncing around its cage. This usually means they are happy, and is often accompanied by a variety of noises.

Because chinchillas can be found easily hopping and climbing over mountainous terrain in their South American habitat, don’t be surprised if your chinchilla wakes you up at night because they are practicing their hyperactive happy dance in their cage. It’s just their nature!

When they’re outside playing, expect to see them bounce off the walls, doing flips, and wall running – chinchilla parkour! Very happy chinchillas.

Chinchillas ‘Popcorn’ When They’re Happy, But What Is ‘Popcorning’?

Chinchillas like to do what is called a ‘popcorn,’ which is when they jump on all fours straight up in the air. This is a classic sign of happy chinchilla behavior, though it’s not specific to chinchillas as small rabbits and guinea pigs do this too. Baby chinchillas do this more often than adult ones.

Watch your chinchilla when it’s playing – you’ll see your chin run and jump, or simply leap into the air from standing still. They may even do a combination of jumping onto a wall and popcorning off it. This is great because it means they are happy!

You don’t have to worry about making your chinchilla stop if they continue to popcorn. Let them get their energy out!

How To Help Your Chinchilla Overcome Boredom And Stress

There are several things you can do to ensure that your chinchilla isn’t bored or stressed out and that they are hyperactive for all of the right reasons.

I’ll be putting together a post shortly about what to include in a cage to provide the best environment possible for your chinchilla, but for now, the following should be a good guide:

Cage enrichment for chinchillas

In order to provide a healthy, enriched environment for your chin, you want to give them plenty of toys they can pull, chew, jump on, swing on, and probably poo and pee on!

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Have a few different types, and change them weekly as they’ll soon get bored with the same things. Hang up some hay cubes so they have a bit of a challenge to get the hay out. Add ropes, shelves, hanging treats, bits of apple branch, etc.

Be creative, but check for allergensOpens in a new tab., and make sure the treats are safe. Peppermint leaves are a tasty snack, and can be ‘hidden’ on the top of the cage to make them work hard to get them.

Try placing a few extra chewable toys in your chinchilla’s cage, like editable tunnels, wooden ledges, and bamboo-made chew toys. As a chinchilla’s teeth will continue to grow throughout its life, they need something to help wear their teeth down, in addition to providing mental and physical stimulation.

Another option for playtime is to add a wheel to the cage, (preferably of the flying saucer type as they don’t trap tails, rather than the one shown below), and your chin can exercise whenever they feel like it (which I guarantee will be just as you’re nodding off to sleep!!).

Out of cage playtime

You may also want to regularly take your chinchilla out of its cage for some free playtime. Chins need to stimulate their curious minds and burn off all the energy in their tiny bodies, and exploring a chinchilla-proof* room is a great way to do that.

You can easily do this in a playpen, or a small room, just be sure to block off any entrances or exits to avoid a great escape (chinchillas love to hide in dark places, and are very very sneaky at finding the best places to hide when they don’t want to go back in their cage).

Make sure the area is not too large, as chins are still prey animals, and will often be struck with fear at being out in a wide-open space. Playpens are ideal as they protect the chins and the environment.

Add some logs, or other objects for them to leap on, and a cushion for you to sit with them – there’s nothing more enjoyable than having a chin (or many) use you as a launching platform as they hyperactively burn off some of their happy energy.


*Ensuring the room is chinchilla-proof is very important, both for your house and the chinchilla!!!

Feel free to download the chinchilla room-proofing guide below:



Adding another chinchilla

Lastly, you can introduce another chinchilla, so your pet has a playmate, but you must introduce them slowly. There are a lot of issues to contend with when adding another chinchilla, so please get advice beforehand.


In summary, hyperactivity is most often a good thing and signs of a happy healthy chinchilla. Obsessive hyperactive behaviors, however, should be investigated further as your chin may be stressed or bored.

Jo

I'm a Biomedical Scientist by trade, (over 22 years and counting), but my goal is to rehabilitate animals for an living. I started offering Canine Massage, and Equine Shiatsu alongside my lab work, but this has had to take a backseat to the pandemic. So I thought I'd put together a blog of (what I consider to be) helpful advice for chinchilla owners, and prospective chin parents. I hope you find something useful.

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